I was musing this morning, as I drove Luke to his swim therapy, what a huge role trust plays in the rescue life.

When a dog comes into a new foster home, she has to learn to trust the people (and the dogs) there. Some trust right away. This doesn’t necessarily have that much to do with where they came from, or their backgrounds.
I have had dogs leap into my arms right at animal control, while others were shy or even growly. Some crawl out of their cage slowly, and climb into my lap. Or they cheerfully trot outside and hop into my car without a backward glance. (I guess those figure that anywhere is better than that place!)

I have had dogs that came right from their families, who don’t trust anyone. We have no way of knowing how they were really treated, or why they might act the way they do. Some are protective of their toys and food, some hide under the bed. Some slot right into our cast of characters without a murmur, as though they were filling in a spot they’d rehearsed for their entire lives. (You can practically see them walk in, look around, and sigh with relief: “Finally! The right script!”)

The common principles seem to be stability, consistency, and gentleness. If we provide a stable environment, with a good schedule of food and potty times, behave consistently toward them so they know what to expect from us, and give them lots of affection, almost all come around to trust us. (Some good training techniques help too, as well as positive reinforcement of the behaviors you want.)

Then, we must place our trust in the people who apply to adopt from us. We talk to them. We check their references. We look at the application to see what dog might work (or NOT work) for them. We visit their homes. Sometimes it takes an immense amount of trust on my part to hand a dog over to her new home, when I’ve seen her learn to trust me again.

It is my greatest hope that these dogs somehow understand that their trust in me was not misplaced — that I too did not abandon them. I do believe that after they live in one of our foster homes, a dog is able to look at new people and say, “These people must be OK. My foster mom seems to like them, so I can trust them too.”


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