What to do if Your Rescue Dog’s Behavior is Getting Worse
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When you add a new dog to the family, you are committing to putting the time and effort necessary into their training.
This may include potty training, crate training, teaching leash manners, or working on basic obedience.
Whatever the skills you have worked on, it can be frustrating and disheartening if you notice that your rescue dog’s behavior is getting worse.
If your dog has taken steps backward in their training, you’re not alone.
This struggle, known as training regression, is one that many dog owners will face at one time or another.
The good news is that there ARE options to help you address your dog’s behavior issues and get them back on track.
Keep reading to learn 7 common causes of dog regression, what you can do to address the situation, and how to prevent training regression before it starts.
How Long Does It Take a Rescue Dog to Get Settled?
When you first bring a rescue dog into your home, they may feel overwhelmed or stressed by the amount of change.
Everything is new, and you can’t exactly sit them down and explain what is happening.
Instead, we need to give them the time and space to settle into their new home.
Many rescuers follow the 3 3 3 Rule
This “rule” helps to set out the expectations a new dog owner can realistically have in the first 3 days, 3 weeks, and 3 months following adoption.
Your new rescue dog will need:
- 3 days to decompress
- 3 weeks to settle into their environment and learn the routine
- 3 months to feel completely comfortable and secure in their new home
This means that asking a stressed and anxious dog to follow a schedule on the second day in your home would be unreasonable.
But, asking them to adhere to your family routine after two months in the home is a worthy goal to work towards in your training.
Common Rescue Dog Behavior Problems
Some rescue dog behaviors are commonly seen in the early days and weeks following an adoption.
Each of these behaviors can be traced back to a struggle or challenge your dog is working to overcome in their new home environment.
Not every dog will experience all these behaviors. On the other hand, your dog may struggle with several behaviors on the list.
The most common behavioral problems in rescue dogs include the following:
- Loss of Appetite
- Overeating or Eating Too Quickly
- Separation Anxiety
- Possessiveness or Resource Guarding
- Potty-Training Accidents or Marking
Each of these behaviors can be addressed with time, understanding, and proper training if you are willing to give them the time and support that they need.
Why is My Dog’s Behavior Getting Worse?
As your dog moves through the process of settling into their new home, they may experience setbacks in their behavior due to developmental stages, training errors, intense emotions, traumatic experiences, or medical reasons.
You can overcome puppy training regression. But before you can correct your dog’s behaviors, you need to identify the cause.
To help your dog move forward, you will need to address the cause directly.
This may require taking a step back to a more basic stage of their training, being more committed to the process yourself, or better managing their environment.
7 Common Causes of Regression in Dogs
1. Developmental or Age-Related Changes
We often talk about human children going through challenging developmental stages like the “terrible twos” or moody teenagers.
Our dogs go through phases of misbehavior and testing their limits like this too.
Dogs enter their adolescent phase anytime between 6 and 12 months. At this time, dog owners often see their dogs challenging rules and seeing what they can get away with.
We always notice developmental changes in our guide dog puppies at around 6 months.
Our puppies are usually doing great at around 4 months old then at 6 months they start to rebel.
They used to do a perfect “sit”, then suddenly at 6 months they just stare at you when you say “sit”.
2. Moving Too Quickly Through Training
Training is an ongoing process, and we all want to see our dogs succeed.
But you need to be careful not to push your rescue puppy to move through the training process faster than they are able to process the information, or it can cause a setback.
3. A Lack of Consistency or Follow-Through
One common mistake made by new dog owners is that they go all in on the training in the beginning but start to let that effort slide over time.
By not being consistent with your expectations, you create confusion.
Set rules and boundaries for your rescue puppy and consistently enforce them, even when it’s inconvenient to follow through.
A little extra work now will set you up for greater success long term.
I’m great when training my guide and service dog puppies but I definitely lack consistency with my own pet dogs.
4. High Levels of Stress or Anxiety
Arguably the most common reason for rescue dogs to experience training regression, especially potty-training regression or crate-training regression, is high levels of stress or anxiety.
Stress often comes from changes in your dog’s life.
Moving to your home is a huge change for a newly adopted rescue dog that can trigger regression right from the beginning.
This is why many dogs don’t show the same level of training when they first move to their new home that they did in their foster home or the shelter.
Later in your time with your puppy, training regression may be caused by moving, a change to your daily schedule, a new family member, or a family member leaving (such as a child going away to school).
Overly excitable dogs may have lapses in their training recall due to excitement.
If you have a dog that LOVES people and you are hosting a large gathering at your home, they may feel so overwhelmed with their joy and excitement that their training regresses momentarily.
Luckily, this type of training regression is usually temporary and can be quickly addressed when the excitement wears off.
Since our Labrador and Golden puppies love people we often ask guests coming into our home to ignore our puppies until they calm down.
This is a good way to get your puppy to learn they only get attention when they are calm.
6. Negative or Traumatic Experiences
If your puppy has recently experienced something traumatic, it could have a direct impact on where they are at in terms of training.
This could be something more significant, like a house fire or a dog attack, or something seemingly small, like being scared by a large noise during crate training.
Picture a puppy that has been doing incredibly well with their crate training when one day, during a training session, a tree falls in the yard just outside the wall they are at.
They don’t know what the sound was or where it came from, but it was close to the crate and occurred while they were in the crate.
They may now fear that the next time they are in the crate, there will be danger.
If the traumatic event is not a large and obvious one, this may take a little investigative work and recall on your part to put the pieces together.
We’ve run into this issue with fireworks and thunder. If you experience these types of sounds when crate training your puppy beware. Your puppy may start associating the crate with these scary sounds.
7. Medical Reasons
Any behavioral change in your rescue dog could signify a deeper medical problem. Potty-training regression can happen because of a urinary tract or kidney infection.
Experiencing pain when laying in the crate can lead to crate-training regression.
If you’re unable to identify the reason for your rescue dog’s behavior getting worse, contact your veterinarian to rule out a medical explanation.
How to Avoid Puppy Training Regression
No solution will guarantee that you avoid training regression. But there are steps that you can take to lessen the chances of this frustration occurring.
Set and Stick to a Training Routine
When it comes to training, dogs thrive on routine and structure.
To give your rescue dog the best chance of learning, advancing, and recalling their training over time, you need to focus on consistency in this routine.
Lay down clear rules and make sure that you are always enforcing them. The same applies to everyone else in the family.
If you are trying to teach your puppy to relax during crate time, but your spouse lets them out when they cry, you send mixed messages.
Ensure that the entire family is on the same page.
Allow your dog to dictate how quickly or slowly you work through the training process.
They may pick up one command quickly and confidently while needing a little longer to process another.
Following their lead on how fast you move forward can avoid an otherwise preventable setback.
Manage the Situation
Take a moment to consider the situations your puppy will encounter and how you can manage them to avoid negatively impacting their training.
For example, if you are hosting a party, take the time to get your puppy situated in a quiet room safely away from all the activity.
This will reduce the stress, anxiety, or overstimulation that they may otherwise struggle with.
Regular Veterinary Checkups
Make sure you are making appointments to have your puppy checked at least once a year, even if they appear to be feeling fine.
This is an opportunity for your veterinarian to catch an illness or medical problem early.
Not only will catching it early help you to avoid any resulting training regression, but it may also save your dog a lot of pain or discomfort.
When to Bring in Professional Help
If you find yourself in a situation where you are overwhelmed or unable to help your rescue dog move forward, there are professionals that you can call.
By enrolling your puppy in a group training class or attending a 1-on-1 training session, you can learn the techniques necessary to get back on track with your training efforts.
This is a “training” opportunity for both you and your rescue dog.
Know that asking for help does NOT mean you failed. The most responsible dog owners are those that know when to ask for assistance.
Seeking professional help is especially important if your dog shows any signs of being reactive or aggressive.
Even mild fear and reactivity can progress to aggression and create a dangerous situation if it isn’t resolved.
If you’re rescue dog is experiencing fear or aggression you might consider contacting a certified professional dog trainer.
If your rescue dog’s behavior is getting worse, don’t panic. Training regression is a common struggle that many new dog owners will face.
Take the time to reflect on the situation, identify any changes that may have occurred, and assess the possible cause.
This may require an appointment with your veterinarian to rule out any medical causes.
Don’t hesitate to call a professional if you feel overwhelmed or recognize any signs of reactive or aggressive behavior.
Training regression in dogs will not self-correct in most situations. But it is a hurdle that you and your puppy can overcome.
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