What is the point of our rescue dogs?
Why should we care for these dogs that often show and further develop behaviour issues such as anxiety, fear, reactivity and aggression? Some people are pretty much house-bound because of their dog’s separation distress, some have to choose carefully when and where they walk their dog who barks and lunges at bicycles, people and dogs–which are pretty much everywhere. Add cats, livestock and wildlife to look out for and one becomes a hypervigilant expert at looking for triggers everywhere.
So why do we put ourselves through it?
Over time I have observed that no one originally signs up for behaviour issues. People generally have an expectation of a nice family dog, maybe with a couple of minor issues that can be handled. For some it is their first dog and they wanted to give a dog in need a loving home. The reality, however, can be very different. Our rescue dogs have special needs that can be challenging. In order to help them they have to be put first all the time.
Now why do we struggle with it? Because of the expectations: our expectations and societal expectations of what a good dog should be. But our rescue dogs challenge that and we suddenly find ourselves on the outskirts of the ‘perfect dog’ society and often uncomfortable and personally struggling.
Working with my clients and their dogs long-term I have observed that the dogs tend to highlight particular areas that humans often struggle with: patience, empathy, loss of freedom, sudden restrictions in their life, relationship problems, past trauma, lack of socialising, anxiety, dealing with extra stress etc. The emotional struggles of the dog and our struggle to cope with them often illuminate our own emotional issues in a way that can be stressful in itself but can also be helpful once we accept and understand what is happening. With acceptance and understanding comes progress for ourselves and our dog. We take the journey together.
They can teach us to be better people by requiring patience, tolerance, genuine empathy and commitment and an understanding that we should not project our expectations of an imaginary standard of perfection onto our canine partners but allow them to overcome their fears and be themselves–surely what we would have wished for ourselves as children.
If we genuinely commit to the dog, we can share their emotional progression and experience the changes with them–to some extent at least.
And that exactly is the point of our rescue dogs. They challenge the norms, they challenge us, they give us an opportunity to learn about ourselves and they pave the way for a more empathetic and considerate society that respects and welcomes differences to the norm.