Rescue Dogs Are Not By Nature More Aggressive

Dog aggression as defined by the ASPCA “The term “aggression” refers to a wide variety of behaviors that occur for a multitude of reasons in various circumstances. Virtually all wild animals are aggressive when guarding their territories, defending their offspring and protecting themselves.”

Rescue dogs are not by nature more aggressive than any other dog. Rescue dogs can come with behavior issues that may have been established in their first or previous home. Some of those bad behaviors can include fear, anxiety, inability to trust you or their surroundings. 

A rescue may have had a really tough life before they met you. Maybe they were beaten by their previous owners because they barked too much or became destructive in the house and could have been punished by being chained up outside the house. Leading to barking at other dogs and neighbors until the owner can’t properly work with the dog, so the dog is dropped off at the local shelter. 

Are rescue dogs more aggressive? The short answer is no. 

This is also not a breed specific issue either. You’ll find that many pit bulls and doberman get a bad rap. They are not inherently aggressive by nature. 

It takes training, in many cases to get them to become aggressive. 

Back in 2006, my husband and I rescued a sweet 4-year-old Weimaraner. He was being fostered at a home with three other Weims, and was not the Alpha dog at all. He was not at all confident and became a target for the other dogs he was being fostered with. 

This young puppy was living with a childless couple. He was the center of their attention - until they had a baby. The young Weim became jealous and would urinate on the clean laundry in the laundry room. This is behavior that is easily correctable, however this couple decided to “get rid of the dog” by letting him hunt for a new home on the Long Island Expressway. 

He was sent from one foster home to another until we finally adopted him. 

Initially, he did have some confidence issues. If he was left home in his crate, he would figure out a way to become destructive. He was never left home more than 2-4 hours a day. He actually pulled the area rug into his crate and chewed the end off. Socially, he feared other dogs and they knew it, so anytime we’d go for a walk in the neighborhood, I had to walk on the opposite side of the street or turn around and walk in another direction because he’d start becoming fearful and protective and lurching out at other dogs as he barked in somewhat of an aggressive tone. 

Instead of returning him back to the rescue - I did not want him to go through his life from rescue to foster home ever again. He was one of the most beautiful dogs I’ve seen. He had mad social anxiety and fear issues. 

After a few Google searches, I found a dog behavioralist located about 45 minutes from our home. He was trained in a matter of three weeks. We never had any further issues with him and he learned commands and was able to walk with us off leash. 

You do learn quite a bit as a dog owner. Whether the dog is a rescue or not, it’s up to you to help train him, trust you and deal with any anxiety issues head on. I’m so grateful we never returned him to the rescue, he went on to live a great life with us before passing away in 2015. 

Can An Aggressive Dog Be Cured? 

I think this mostly depends on the type of situation you’re dealing with. I’m a fan of Cesar Milan, and from watching him, I get the impression that every dog can be “cured” Assuming the dog is actually aggressive by definition. I would conduct a search in Google for “behavior modification for dogs” you’ll get a list of local dog trainers who can effectively deal with this.

As a responsible dog owner, you are responsible for your dog’s behavior. Making sure to find the right trainer for your dog should be a primary focus. Always make sure that even though your dog was trained, he can fall back into an aggressive state if provoked or he finds himself in a stressful situation. Never keep your guard down as a dog parent. 

Do not assume the dog will just “get better in time”. If you aren’t able to find a suitable dog trainer to properly deal with your dog’s aggression, have a talk with your veterinarian or look for a veterinary behaviorist to get the help your dog needs through behavior modification.

Here’s a helpful resource from the Animal Humane Society - Request Behavioral Help Online 

How To Calm an Aggressive Dog

Remain Calm always. As soon as you realize your dog has an aggressive tendency or, hopefully, before he gets into a situation that causes him or others any harm, find and work with a professional behavior expert. 

Make sure to keep your dog on a leash and learn to identify the triggers he has. Be the pack leader and take control over the situation. If you are scared, he will know it, and that puts you in the beta dog position. Never punish or scream at the dog. If you yell at the dog, they can react in a defensive manner. You must take control by remaining calm and speaking in a calm and commanding tone. Many times you don’t even need to use any language other than how you lead the dog - using hand gestures to “let’s go” moving the dog out of the situation. 

Avoid acting menacing or aggressive, and never get in between two dogs, which is a natural tendency to break up a situation. 

A qualified professional can develop a treatment plan customized to your dog’s temperament and your family’s specific situation. You should look for a professional with any of the following credentials Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB or ACAAB), a veterinary behaviorist (Dip ACVB) or a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) 

Behavior Problems in Rescue Dogs

Because your dog likely came from a shelter, or rescue or some potentially negative previous home situation where they were neglected or abused, therefore, you may see behavior problems that range from seemingly minor irritants to out right aggression issues. 

Below is a list of the most common behavior issues in rescue dogs: (There are others, but the ones I've listed are from personal experience with a few rescues) 

  1. FEAR: They can deal with their fears in a variety of ways including flight or fight response. If you are outside with the dog on his leash he could get spooked and decide to take off. In a fight situation they may fear their territory is being invaded or they may be socially anxious causing them to escape anyway they can.
  2. DESTRUCTIVE BEHAVIOR: This can occur most often when they are anxious or bored. If they are left at home for a length period of time too often, it can be caused by separation anxiety or having an excessive amount of energy. This too can be corrected. If you need to leave for work, simply walking for a good hour at least before you leave for the day can help him become tired and ready to rest. If you do plan to be out of the house for longer periods of time each day, having someone come in mid-day to walk him will also help. I used to walk my dog for at least a good 45 minutes then leave a peanut butter filled Kong toy in his crate before heading off to work. He loved the Kong! Keeps their minds working. 
  3. HOUSE MARKING: If you dog was never taught to know where to go out, he will have this issue. If he’s a new rescue, spend the first 2-3 days doing nothing but taking him out at least ever hour until he learns where to go to the bathroom. The marking is also typically done by male dogs to show they feel uncomfortable in a new home, and they need to make the area their own by showing dominance.

What to Do If Your Rescue Dog's Behavior Gets Worse

Of course every situation is unique. You have to ultimately do what you feel is best for our family. If you continue to see your rescue dog’s behavior get worse over time, and you’ve consulted with a professional behavior trainer, it might mean you have to re-home your dog. 

Everyone needs to feel safe at home and when you’re out socializing with neighbors and family. However, it's not a good life for anyone to have to live with strife. You should not fear your dog.

Related Resources: 

How Long Does it Take a Rescue Dog to Adjust?  You can expect that after three months, your dog should feel completely comfortable in his new home. There has been established trust and a bond developed between you and him and his routine has been well established by the time the third month rolls around. 

Can You Return a Dog You Adopted?  Not every adoption goes smoothly as planned. As long as you’ve tried everything to make the dog feel at home and cared for, but if you are not happy a good shelter will understand. 

The rescue or shelter you originally adopted your dog from will take them back. Don’t feel ashamed or guilty, if the transition doesn’t work for you both, its only fair to return your dog to find another home more suitable for him. Before I found a good dog trainer, I called the rescue where our dog was from and asked what their policy was about returning the dog back to the rescue. The rescue was very professional and talked with me at great length to see what other options I hadn’t tried to help him adjust more smoothly. I’m grateful for that long conversation, I never really wanted to return our anxious Weim. I began my search for a professional trainer and that gave him and us another chance.

Does Dog Aggression Get Better with Age?  Aging dogs behavior can change if they experience reduction in hearing, eyesight or sense of smell - these changes can result in aggression because he may startle or become easily provoked. 

An aging dog may also experience fears, phobias or hypersensitivity through loss of vision or hearing and the home can actually become a scary place to be. Avoid making abrupt changes in her schedule. Make sure to keep to mealtimes and walks consistent form one day to the next.  Be on the look out for any unusual behavior changes as they can also mean some newly developed illness in your dog. Always talk to your Veterinarian for advice any time you start seeing some unusual changes you never experienced in your dog previously. 

About the Author Janet

I'm Janet, avid rescue dog fan, and parent of two rescues - training them to run, hike, and enjoy their new forever home

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