Small brown shelter dog looking up expectantly at new owner

Are Rescue Dogs More Loyal?

Last updated on February 18th, 2023 at 06:04 pm

If you are thinking about adopting a dog from a shelter or rescue organization, you may wonder if rescue dogs are more loyal than other dogs. After all, your new dog may have been very attached to his prior owner. Or, more sadly, he may even be leery of humans due to past abuse or neglect.

While it is true that many dogs in shelters have had challenging prior lives, it is also true that rescue dogs are incredibly more loyal than other dogs. Dogs who have been rescued can remember their past. So, when given a second chance, these grateful rescue dogs know the difference between being in a bad situation versus living with a new caring family.

Depending upon the level of grief over losing their prior family or if they have suffered abuse, a newly adopted pooch may need a lot of TLC. But even the toughest dogs will eventually come around after discovering they are now in a safe, loving home. Bad memories will be replaced with good ones. They will learn to return your love and be loyal to you for life!

How Rescue Dogs Demonstrate Loyalty

Once rescue dogs have adjusted to us and their new home they will show their loyalty in a number of ways:

  • Our new pals will run to us as soon as they see us
  • Dogs show affection by licking our noses and hands
  • They will become protective and guard you and your home
  • A loyal rescue dog will often follow his new owner around and stick close
  • Your new pooch will obey your commands
  • Some dogs even show concern when their owner is distressed
  • They will stare at you and look you in the eye
  • When your dog becomes attached to you he will snuggle close and lean on you

Try to Understand, Help, and Heal Your Rescue Dog

Rust colored terrior jumping on fence at shelter.
Distressed Terrior jumping at shelter fence.

First, it is important to understand that, like us, dogs have feelings. In fact, they have many of the same emotions as humans. I wrote a post on the 8 Primary Emotions that Dogs Share with Humans, that describes how dogs can have both simple and some complex emotions similar to ours.

Therefore, it is extremely important to learn as much as possible about your rescue dog’s past. See my post How Comfort and Heal a Rescue Dog for more on this. Your new rescue dog’s sense of loyalty will greatly depend upon your interactions with him Try to appreciate what your new pooch may be feeling.

Do not punish your new dog for unwanted behaviors. Rather, try to understand what he may be feeling and provide positive reinforcement to help him transition. Depending upon his past situation, he may be experiencing any one of the following emotions or behaviors:

  • Deep sadness over the death or loss of his prior owner/family
  • Fear after being abandoned, neglected, or abused
  • Aggression due to the need to protect himself from abusive or neglectful situations
  • Depression following the loss of family or a prolonged stay in a shelter
  • Anxiety due to uncertainty and the stress of living in a shelter or losing a home
  • The apathy can be similar to depression but more pronounced due to a lack of interest in anything

Barbara Zimmerman, a former professional dog trainer, wrote on July 13, 2017, in response to a Quora question about rescue dog loyalty, “My dog: The dog I have now was not in a shelter but was with a family that didn’t love her or take care of her properly and the owner gave her to me. Within three weeks of having her, she stopped peeing every time I talked to her; stopped cowering when I went to pet her; and learned basic commands very quickly.” Barbara only used positive reinforcement methods, and her dog eventually became very well-adapted and loyal.

Rescue Dog Loyalty Begins With Trust and Safety

Tan and Black Rescue Dogs Settling Into their New Home and feeling safe
My Two Rescue Dogs Settling In and Feeling Safe

Rescue dogs often become quickly attached and loyal to kind people who treat them well. Simple things like going on walks or getting treats can warm the heart of a very, lonely dog. Dogs are usually very intuitive and can often sense a person’s intentions. Your new pooch will usually want to be close to you and may even steal your spot when you get up to be reassured by your scent.

To help your newly adopted furry friend feel safe, let them know that you are a friend and not their foe. Go slow, and easy, and win them over a little at a time. Talk with them gently, give them space in their own bed or crate to relax; feed them at the same time each day; and keep their environment calm, peaceful, and away from anything that may threaten them.

Some dogs will run and hide under beds or in corners of the room when first brought home. You may need to coax them out with special treats they cannot resist. Your dog may cower when you raise your hand over his head. He may be afraid you will hit him. So, first, speak softly to him, then pat him on his chest or chin rather than on top of his head. Let him see where your hand is going and that it is not a threat.

Ultimately, however, your new rescue dog will begin to trust you and be more loyal than other dogs, as he comes to appreciate his newfound luck!

Strengthening the Bond

Some dogs may need a long period of positive behavior before feeling trustful or becoming attached again. Shelter staff often report that some dogs are very sad and depressed after being surrendered to the shelter or after the death of their owner. These dogs will show little interest in playing or interacting and tend to sleep a lot. Their sad eyes can be haunting.

In these situations, your dog may need a much longer period to feel safe. Before your rescue dog will truly trust you and display loyalty, he may need several weeks of quality time with you to learn that he will be treated well consistently. See more about the adjustment period for newly adopted dogs in my post, Everything You Need to Know About Adopting a Rescue Dog.

Certainly, dogs who have been abused will be more fearful, anxious, and possibly aggressive due to their need to protect themselves. But even dogs who come from a caring environment can display some of these behaviors. Therefore, consistent reassurance and comforting words and actions on your part will go a long way.

Sadly, on the extreme end is a dog who has never known human love. Some dogs have been trapped in cages for breeding or lab purposes or chained outside as guard dogs. These dogs may have given up on life and not even know how to interact with a loving human. Give them as much time, patience, and love as you can.

In some cases, you may need to get professional support from an animal psychologist or certified behavioralist A professional can provide a valuable intervention with a diagnosis and develop a care plan for your dog. Yet, even the most apathetic, depressed rescue dogs can come to life again! In time, they will be incredibly loyal to you for saving them!

A Lifetime of Loyalty

Once your new furry pal begins to trust you and feel safe, he may stick to you like glue! You are his savior, his best friend, his protector, and his security. It will be important to slowly connect him to other family members, friends, and pets. Otherwise, his need to be with you could become obsessive. See the post I wrote on rescue dog clinginess.

The first time I took my two rescue dogs to the vet, one of them hid under my legs and would not let the vet touch her. Charlotte was terrified that I would leave her. She had been abandoned in a shelter for nine months before I adopted her. She had already learned that I was good to her and she felt safe around me. But I suspect she still had memories of being left at the shelter. See my post about separation anxiety to read more about our story and how rescue dogs can be anxious.

Initially, your dog will begin to feel safe. Next, he will feel comfortable and at home with you. Eventually, your rescue dog will be grateful for being adopted and will be much more loyal than a dog raised from a pup. If you build on the basics of making him feel safe and secure, the loyalty bond will deepen over time. You can do this by spending quality time with him in obedience classes, taking him on walks, and going out together on special adventures and fun outings. To see the 12 steps involved with bonding with your rescue see my post How to Bond with Your New Rescue Dog.

All of these experiences together will help solidify your relationship and build strong bonds of loyalty and love.

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