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Bringing Your Rescue Dog Home

by Maureen Byrne of Dogs Behaving Badly

Congratulations! You’ve taken the plunge and adopted a rescue dog! You’ve talked at length with the rescue people about what sort of dog will best suit you, your family, your lifestyle. Your home visit is done. You’ve waited for the right dog, rather than taking the first sad story that came along. You’ve found a friendly dog you like and who likes you. You’ve travelled to the rescue centre to meet and collect him, and finally… he’s HOME!

Now it’s time to shower him with adoration, treats, and freedom to do as he chooses, to make up for the hard times he has endured. Isn’t it? Think again!

Let’s look at this closer from the dog’s point of view. Of course your new pal is going to love all the affection and nice stuff! But dogs don’t dwell on their past: they live in the here and now, so showering him with great things to make up for their past is not interpreted as we might think. Dogs are quick to learn new things from us, both good and bad. So, it’s important to start as you mean to continue, and implement a number of ground-rules which will be consistently and gently applied by everyone from the start. If you don’t want your dog on the furniture, then don’t let him up on the couch from the start. If you don’t want him begging, don’t feed him from the table, and so on. Get yourselves into a good training class, or get a qualified trainer/behaviourist in to get you off on the right track.

Don’t expect too much from him. He’s in a new environment, with people he doesn’t know, in a strange house, with lots of new things. Getting used to all this is a huge task for a dog, so we must help him settle in with as little trauma as possible. A lot depends on the temperament and confidence of the dog: some will sail through it, others will take time to settle in, and others will find the whole change frightening. Your new dog may be used to living politely in a house, or he may be an untrained youngster who is now a bit of a hooligan! He may never have seen the inside of a house or met many people, and may be timid and nervous.

Of course you want the best for your new dog, but he doesn’t know this… yet! It’s fair to say that it takes months, not days or weeks, for a dog and owner to get fully used to one another. Whatever type of dog you’ve just got, give him time to make himself familiar with his new surroundings. First things first, when he’s had a sniff around and a pee, and has settled a little, offer him some dinner to create a happy association with coming into your home.

The main issues confronting new adopters include:

1. Housetraining: Your new dog has no idea where he’s “meant” to toilet, so as early as possible, bring him out to the garden to let him sniff and toilet under supervision. Bring him outside regularly, so he learns where the door is, and where his toilet area is.

A male dog may try to make the place smell like home by cocking his leg. Don’t have a fit if this happens, it’s a sign that he’s feeling a little unsure, so waving your arms and screeching won’t help! Calmly discourage him, and if he has an accident, clean it up with biological washing powder dissolved in warm water.

2. Making Friends: Don’t overwhelm your new dog by inviting all your friends, neighbours and extended family round to meet him on the first day. He already has enough to be getting on with! Keep it calm, keep kids calm, and don’t allow people to smother him with attention. Give the dog space and time to settle, and let him come to you when he’s ready.

3. The Resident Dog: If you already have a dog, you should carefully plan how you will introduce the new dog to the resident dog. Ideally, your resident dog should have met the new dog at least once before the great homecoming, and there should be a good early chemistry between them. A good rescue group will try to match the dogs’ personalities, putting calm with calm and active with active.

When you get the new dog home, have the resident dog out of the house so that the newbie can familiarise himself with the house without also having to contend with another dog (whose nose may be out of joint with the new arrival). Introduce the dogs on neutral territory before bringing the new dog into the house.

Lift toys, chews, and food until you’re more familiar with how the dogs get on. Provide at least one bed, one food bowl, one water bowl for each dog. They may eventually share a bed, but assume they won’t at the start. Carefully supervise mealtimes to ensure there are no guarding problems with food.

It is very sensible to have a crate in place for the new dog: this will become his “safe” place (as long as he’s properly familiarised with the crate first). It will allow you to leave the dogs alone, but together, for short periods until you’re confident that they get on well. The more time the dogs spend together, the quicker they’ll get used to each other. It is a vital management tool in the early days.

4. Cats: The crate is also very useful if you have a cat. Never assume your new dog likes cats, no matter what you’ve been told. Many dogs are fine with cats they know. However, coming face-to-face with a startled cat can be a very different scenario. Your new dog should never learn that he can chase your cat. For this reason, your new dog must be kept under physical control, either on-lead or in his crate, around the cat until you’re happy they’re comfortable around each other. Short, regular, pleasant introductions to the cat each other are most effective. The cat must always be free to escape if he so wishes.

5. Separation Issues: Some rescue dogs are worried about being left alone, but how we deal with this at the start can make a big difference. Take a few days off work to settle your new dog in, but do not spend all of this time at home with the dog. From the outset, leave the dog for very short durations at first, regularly going out, then coming back in again. Gradually build up the length of time you’re away. Regular exercises like this teach the dog that although you’re going, you’re also coming back! Your best friend at this time is the stuffed Kong Toy! Get your dog used to enjoying a stuffed Kong, and use the stuffed Kong as a “going away present” when you leave. It will remove negative associations with your departure, and keep the dog occupied whilst you’re out.

It may be very useful indeed to buy a DAP Diffuser (Dog Appeasing Pheromone), a plug-in scent-dispersal gadget which can really help keep a dog calm and relaxed, especially in these first few weeks.

Time is key, your new dog needs time to slot into your routine, and you to his. But most of all, enjoy the experience! In a few months’ time he should feel like he’s always been there! If in doubt, ask a qualified trainer or behaviourist.

maureenMaureen Byrne, Ph.D, Cert. Dog Psychology, MAPDT UK No. 924.

Visit her website to learn more about her services.


Copyright © 2010. Permission to reprint this article and photos must be obtained from author.

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