Rescue: who rescues who?
Having been in Rescue now since 2016, we have seen many changes and lots of dogs!! Having now saved over 700 dogs we feel we have got a handle on why we do what we do. Seeing each pair of eyes look at us after travelling for two days, taking them in our arms and seeing them flourish, grow in confidence, and soak up the love and attention of so many volunteers that help up rescue. Watching our admin team work on their behalf to find them the perfect home. Witnessing the vets we work with check that they are healthy. And appreciating the people along the way who support us to get them here. It becomes obvious that it is all only possible because of a circle of love.
When a potential adopter comes along and they greet their new pet, we often worry because the question in our minds is: Do they really understand what they taking on by welcoming a rescue into their life. These dogs can fit right into your life or they can present you with challenges that even we can not see coming. This is why we ask so many questions and we beg would-be adopters to do the same. Regardless, we are unable to cover everything these dogs may present down the line while settling into a new home life.
Below is a description of some of the behaviours that our dogs may present. Do take the time to read this, as it provides insight into what it's like rescuing a Romanian Dog (who by the way didn't ask to be saved). These dogs do not understand that we have uprooted them to save them from a life of misery, illness, death, and starvation. So if you feel that you want to try to rescue abroad because you have been unable to from UK kennels please remember what we are rescuing and that it's lot harder for both the dogs and the humans. Please remember that at the end of the day it is the dog that matters !
Adopting a Foreign Rescue
I’ve found it’s common for people to be under the impression that if you get a rescue as a pup it’s easier to mould them into a dog that fits into your lifestyle. Unfortunately this simply isn’t the case, and I find it’s often the foreign rescue dogs that have come over as young puppies that are the ones that end up back in rescue or worse: at risk of euthanasia.
1. Genetics - No matter what age they are rescued at, the pup you have in your home is still an ex-street dog. Through genetics, the traits are passed that best ensure survival on the streets. Traits such as: fear of people, territorial behaviour, and even breed specific traits such as guarding/herding. Many Romanian dogs have these working breeds in their mix. As your pup starts to mature these can become more prevalent and their environment/history will also play a role in the way they act.
2. Flooding - One of the biggest issues I find is that the pup has been overwhelmed with too much too soon (especially when they are fresh off transport). This means that they have been flooded rather than gradually desensitised to something. For example when training a dog that is fearful of traffic the flooding approach would be to throw them in the deep end and walk them right next to a busy road. On the other hand, the desensitising approach would mean you would start off on perhaps a quiet field with the odd car going past and gradually build up.
3. Body Language - Often times the dog's body language is not being listened to or noticed. Street dogs are great communicators and often offer lots of subtle body language to express they are feeling uncomfortable. For example when hugging a dog, ask yourself: What is their body language saying? Are they tense, whites of their eyes showing, tongue poking out, physically trying to move away? I’ve seen all of these when people post pics on day one hugging their new pup in joy. Sadly the reality is that only one of you in that situation is feeling joy! In some situations as time goes on they feel the need to escalate their communication techniques and make their stance clear through growling/snarling/biting.
4. Fear - Feeling unsafe in their home. I'm sad to write this but I’ve seen many dogs that have been so stressed in their own homes. Can you imagine living like that? Perhaps they’ve taken a dislike to your husband/partner/son (not to be biased towards one gender but men can naturally appear scarier due to their height, larger build, deeper voices, and testosterone). Or perhaps it’s unknown visitors to your home. They can feel trapped/cornered and be lacking a safe space or it’s territorial behaviour that has been passed on genetically. Either way, management techniques need to be in place and a training plan made.
5. Resource guarding - again genetics can play a role in this but this also arises from interaction/management in the home. Pups explore the world with their mouths and if they are constantly having things taken off them, it can get to the point where they start to simply get fed up and protect whatever they have! This is why with pups I always recommend swapping any item they have for something of higher value, keeping plenty of things they are allowed dotted around the house and teaching them a ‘drop’ or ‘show me’ command.
6. Rest - I’ve spoken about this before but rest and sleep is so important for dogs; especially developing pups. People talk about mental stimulation a lot and interactive food toys are fab. But often it’s overstimulation that contributes to behavioural ‘issues’. Doing too much with your dog! High arousal activities such as chasing balls, barking at things passing by from the window all raise their arousal levels and determine how a dog is going to respond to a situation. Our dogs need more downtime, and should be taught how to be calm. This is why I focus so much on introducing calm into the household and why down time should be introduced !
7. Social skills - Many of the pups in Romania have come from shelters where they’ve been housed with other pups so they’ve rough played without supervision/learnt to bark at passing dogs etc. Unlike adult street dogs, who often have fab social skills, pups can lack these and can either be great with other dogs or become reactive. Socialisation plays a role of course and by socialisation I mean positive encounters with other dogs, not a free for all. The dog's confidence levels, how they perceive the world, their environment and their management all play a part too. I could write a whole separate post on this.
8. Heightened senses - Street dogs naturally have to be alert in case of danger as their survival depends on it. Foreign pups/dogs often find it harder to cope living in more populated areas such as cities, being surrounded by other houses. Of course we can’t all live in rural homes in the countryside but it’s something that needs careful consideration and managing. Your dog may never feel comfortable enough to walk down a busy street and may need to be driven to quieter walking places for example. My dogs will do street walks but I can see even years later that when we do, they are more alert and not as happy. So the question then is why force them? Especially when a walk is meant for their own enjoyment. Being able to be more at one with nature is hugely important to these dogs who are in essence more ‘pure’ and like ‘real dogs’ which is exactly why I adore them.
9. Sensitivity - Following on, I find street dogs to be sensitive dogs, tuned into our energy and how we are interacting with them. It breaks my heart to see aversive methods of training and correction be used. I know that even a raised voice can be scary for these dogs and it’s utter rubbish that a firm hand is needed to train these dogs. Yes, that includes even the large shepherd mixes. It’s through understanding, free choice, and two way communication that real training can take place. This is the only way you will truly empower your dog.
I could go on but I will leave it there for now.
If you are in the position where you are thinking about adopting a pup from a foreign country please consider these factors! I can tell you one thing from my experience working in rescue and what I’ve learnt over the years (many mistakes too, it’s part of learning). Pups/dogs that are super friendly are usually genetically ‘easier’ dogs but a lot of it still comes down to how they are handled during those first days/weeks/months in a home. A great start will set them up for the rest of their life.