There's a lot to be said for rescuing a dog from a shelter, pound, facility etc. Even the word 'rescue' itself lends to the idea that we are doing something heroic and in a way that is true. For anyone who has experienced the heartwarming feeling of bringing a dog who is down on there luck into their own homes and lives have no doubt also experienced the heart wrenching feeling that is associated with both the facility that holds the dog and the idea of what has seen them end up there in the first place. This is the truly difficult thing that a vast majority of people who rescue any animal will experience and it is the one thing that will truly hold back their new furry friend from letting go of any past mistreatment.
Over the years I have worked with too many rescue dogs to count. Some have been in a rescue facility, some have been with foster carers but most have been in a loving new environment with a family that wants nothing more than pure happiness for the dog. The thing is, love itself is never the issue. These dogs feel plenty of that from the people in their new surroundings and yet the very reason I am in their home is due to some type of behavioural issue. Many of these will have existed before the dog found it's new home, indeed it's the primary reason many are given up in the first place, however plenty will develop these negative traits with their adopted family.
If I could simplify with one sentence the best way to allow families of a rescue dog to fulfill the desire to have a wonderful, calm, happy life together it is this; Take control of now and forget about the past! Your dogs only interest is in what lays directly ahead. They are not thinking about the time someone was mean to them, someone struck them in a moment of misdirected anger, someone yelled at them in a moment of frustration. They will only associate to the negative things that may have happened in their history if they experience something that resembles that event again.
For example, if a dog was struck repeatedly with a rolled up newspaper by a person with negative intent, then they may experience that same feeling if they see someone nearby with a rolled up newspaper. However, they are not sitting around all day thinking about the potential for that specific experience to happen again.
So how do we change this dynamic? Obviously we are going to have certain feelings arise when we think about the experiences our dog has gone through, the key is to live more like the dog and less like the idea of the experience. In many ways, rescuing a dog is both a selfless and selfish act. If we really consider our motives, there is the aspect of taking in an animal that may otherwise lose it's life, a noble act indeed. But then there is the other side, the side where we fulfill our own desire to be the hero, the voice for the distraught, downtrodden and forgotten, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with this until it interferes with the dogs ability to enjoy today and forget tomorrow.
The key then is to direct our focus into the construction of a mutually respectful, trusting relationship whereby we temporarily put our own feelings aside, the ones where we want to cry and scream and rage against the injustice of it all, and realise that ultimately, holding onto these is a disservice to our furry friend and that moving forward means truly letting go of what was and embracing what is.