The world of dog rescue is under more pressure than ever at present. Rescue organisations are struggling against challenges such as the knock-on effects of financial stress on dog guardians (and would-be adopters), the sudden influx of unwanted “lockdown puppies” needing rescue space, as well as a society which is increasingly intolerant of many natural canine behaviours. This makes it even more vital that dog rescue workers have the necessary toolkit to effectively help the dogs under their care; and a sound knowledge of canine behaviour is a key part of this toolkit!
Anyone working with rescue dogs should be equipped with a thorough understanding of topics including (but not limited to) canine communication signals and how to respond appropriately to them, the underlying emotions and motivations which influence dog behaviour, and how to address problematic behaviours effectively and kindly. Having a level of expertise in canine behaviour allows rescue workers to fully assess the overall personality and immediate emotional state of each dog in their care, which is critical at every point in the rehoming journey.
At the point of intake and during each dog’s stay within the rescue organisation, an understanding of canine behaviour allows us to recognise when their psychological wellbeing is compromised – and gives us the tools to improve this. Risk prevention in the kennel environment also relies heavily on staff and volunteers being able to recognise and respond quickly to subtle communication signals, thereby avoiding bite incidents.
When matching rescue dogs to suitable homes, the ability to carry out a thorough and accurate behavioural assessment (and apply the conclusions of that assessment when considering potential home offers) can be the deciding factor in whether the adoption is successful or not. At best, an unsuccessful adoption will end in the dog being returned to kennels, and at worst there is the potential for a serious incident. Rescue organisations have a duty of care not only to the dogs under their guardianship, but also to safeguard the wellbeing of their adopters, other pets and animals, and the public at large.
Placing dogs into homes without a watertight behavioural assessment and matching procedure is a huge risk, especially where children or other resident pets or involved. The direct consequences of a serious incident involving an adopted dog are obvious – physical and mental injury to the victim of the incident, as well as the likely loss of life for the dog involved. However, if the incident occurred due to a lack of appropriate assessment on the part of the rescue organisation, the wider fallout could be huge. The reputation of the organisation in question could be irreparably damaged, leading to loss of support and funds, possibly even leading to closure. There will also be damage to the reputation of the specific dog breed or type involved, and to public perceptions of rescue dogs as a population. By fully equipping ourselves with the tools to understand the needs of our dogs and of their hopeful new families, we can help to ensure that our adoptions are a happy ending for everyone involved!
As rescue workers, we owe it to the dogs in our care to learn as much about their behaviour, emotions and needs as we can. This is why we at the ISCP are so excited to be offering a Diploma specifically aimed at canine behaviour in the context of dog rescue!
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