First off, thanks for visiting Mannerly Canine! My goal with my weekly blogs is to give away free information to help people start off right with their dog. Whether it’s a puppy, adult dog, or rescue dog, all of this will apply. This week I want to talk about how to properly allow your rescue dog to adjust to your home. Some call this “the decompression period.” I will not be able to get into the finer points because this could end up being a book! However, I want to touch on the macro side of things.
Let’s first touch on the psychology of adoption. Many people are adopting dogs today and that’s a great thing! After training dogs for a decade, in my opinion, people adopt because they obviously want a dog. But another motive, maybe equal to the first one, is they want to do a good deed. They want to give a dog a second chance in life. They want to provide a dog a home. With the home comes a plethora of other things like love, toys, treats, freedom, and access to comfortable sleeping areas (couches, beds etc.). Good people want to do good things for their newly adopted dog. They want to give him or her the life they believe will be the best for their new dog. Is giving all those things mentioned above in abundance really the best for the dog? The answer is no.
When people bring a rescue home, the first thing they want to do is to shower the dog with love. It just comes natural to many humans. Everyone gets excited, crowds the dog with excessive petting etc. — why is this a bad idea? I mean we’re just trying to show the dog we love him, right? It’s a bad idea because the dog just went from a shelter to a home full of strangers. The dog doesn’t really know what’s going on and a lot of times they can be unsure and stressed out. Dog’s don’t understand that all these new people are showing them love. They don’t understand your goal is to give them the best life a dog can have. Some dogs get returned within a couple of days because the dog growls or air snaps at the new owners or children. This happens a lot of times because people don’t allow the dog to get comfortable at the dog’s pace. Instead they push themselves way too hard on the dog. Whereas if they took it slow, the dog may not have reacted the way it did initially.
It’s a good idea to “just be with the dog” for the first several weeks when introducing them to the new home and it’s occupants. What do I mean by this? What I mean is allow the dog to come to you or your family members. Don’t push yourself on the dog. Especially, if you see the dog is nervous. Nervous dogs like and bond quicker with the people that don’t pay attention to them. That’s a fact. The “ole” sticking the hand out, getting on one knee or leaning over the dog to pet, can be intimidating. Dogs smell something like 40 times better than us. The dog can smell you right where you are. No need to stick the hand out. Also, excessive eye contact with a dog you don’t know can be viewed as a challenge or just intimidating. It’s a good idea to keep eye contact to a minimum with a dog you don’t know.
I often do training evaluations on fearful dogs. I’m a bigger guy with a deep voice so if the dog is going to be nervous about anyone, it will be me. However, I often get potential clients that say, “we’ve never seen our dog warm up to anyone that quick.” How is this achieved? I pretend the dog doesn’t exist. I don’t try to pet them or make eye contact. I let them warm up at their pace with me. I don’t push myself and my wanting of friendship on them at all. I “just be with the dog.”
Next let’s get into toys and why they “could” be a bad idea initially. Again, new dog, new home, new people with no expectations. If dogs were in the wild they would have to resource guard to survive. So resource guarding is in every dog’s DNA. We just have selectively bred away from it for hundreds of years. But it is not abnormal. Think about it, they’re a predatory animal by nature. So let’s say you give the dog a basket of toys day one. The dog doesn’t know you really. You have no training, no bond and literally little control over the dog. What’s not to say the dog gets nervous and decides to guard a rawhide because you’re giving off body language that tells him you might want to take it. Most people don’t even realize the signals they inadvertently give dogs sometimes. Look, I am not saying the dog can’t have a basket of toys one day, just not in the beginning. And by beginning, I mean the first couple months or so. It’s especially important to not keep toys down when introducing a new to dog to a multiple dog home. Fights can happen quickly over toys. Best to let the dogs figure out the hierarchy amongst themselves before you do that.
Let’s jump into how I like to feed a new dog in my home. For the first couple of months I feed directly from the hand. This helps with bonding quicker. The dog sees that it’s major resource, food, comes from your hand, not a metal bowl. Which in their eyes deems you as very important. If this is a multiple people household then I would encourage everyone to take a turn feeding the dog by hand daily. As the dog’s willingness to engage you for the food increases you can actually start training the dog. You’re killing two birds with one stone. Not only are you bonding and showing the dog how important you are, but you’ve also started teaching the dog to pay attention to you.
In multiple dog households I do feedings with new dogs in a separate area from the existing dogs. Reason for this is I want the dog’s full attention. I also don’t want him to view the other dogs as a challenge for the food I have.
Freedom… this is where people make major mistakes early. They adopt a dog and leave him loose in the house Monday when they go to work. Then they come home and the dog has eliminated in their home or got destructive. Generally shelters and rescues don’t always get all the information on a dog’s background. There are generally a lot of unknowns. There are a lot of unknowns because many shelter dogs are someone else’s screw up, i.e. previous owners didn’t socialize the dog, no training and no rules etc… Therefore people surrendering a dog a lot of times are embarrassed to give the full info on the dog. It’s hard enough giving up the dog as it is. With that being said, your new dog has to be crate trained to protect your home and more importantly your dog from himself. If your dog ingests items when your not home and gets a blockage, he could die or end up costing you a couple to several thousand dollars on a blockage surgery. Better to be safe than sorry, crate your dog! The crate will essentially prevent bad behavior when you’re gone. It’s a great tool while you are teaching your dog to be a house dog.
Our last topic for today ties into the previous one. Where should my new dog sleep? I’ll give you the answer quickly, not in your bed! Down the road that could change. But initially a new dog should be crated at night. Again, I am repeating myself a little, but we don’t know the dog and they don’t know us. Dog’s just don’t guard food, toys and water. They can also learn to guard people or the bed itself. What one dog views as a valuable resource another dog might not. But you won’t know that until you get to know the dog. And in a lot of cases if you crate the dog from the beginning and start training, making rules and consequences for bad behavior you most likely will never see your dog develop these behaviors even if he or she did them with the previous owner.
In conclusion, start your dog off on the right paw ! Could you not do any of this and the dog turn out fine? Of course. But you’re gambling a bit. This procedure is easy enough to follow. Plenty of dogs get returned to shelters quickly because people don’t follow this or a similar protocol. A new dog out of nervousness growls or nips at kids putting too much pressure on him or her. Where is if people would just follow this protocol that growl or nip wouldn’t have happened. The dog is allotted time to get comfortable in its new home with its new owners.
START TRAINING YOUR DOG DAY ONE!
Good luck with your new dog,