My coworker rescued 2 cute beagles the other day and asked me what I recommend he does to get them settled. Well, that made me think about all the things I wish I knew with my first few rescues. I started to put together a list that I thought maybe you all could add to and comment on. What would you tell a new rescue owner (these dogs were not puppies (which has its own set of issues))? These are in no particular order except for the first one (I think that patience is the most important thing!) What do you think is important?
- Patience: The dog does not know you and you her. Do not expect her to trust you or understand you yet. Just like in any relationship, it takes time to build a rapport. Give your new friend space and time, and things will grow.
- Accidents Happen: Count on a dog marking or having accidents the first few days, even if he was housetrained. Have pet-specific cleaning products on hand. Also be prepared for other transitional behavioral problems.
- Positive Reinforcement Works: No one training approach is right for every dog. There are a variety of approaches based on positive reinforcement – the essence of effective training and behavior modification.
- Start day one by teaching your dog appropriate behavior through consistent, positive reinforcement.
- Don’t Lose Them: Keep an ID tag attached to a snug buckle collar at all times. When you first get them they are more likely to run because they are scared.
- Get them microchipped.
- Be The Leader: During the transition period, the dogs need time to adjust to the rules and schedule of your household. And s/he needs your leadership! A dog is a pack animal looking for guidance, and it is up to you to teach good, acceptable behaviors. If the human does not take charge, the dog will try to.
- Be Consistent: Dogs are creatures of habit. A consistent routine for feeding, exercising, and potty time will help your dog adjust.
- Supervise or Restrict: A dog cannot do damage unless you let that happen. Watch your new dog during the transition period. When you can’t supervise, keep them in a kitchen, crate or other secure area with chew toys.
- Keep dogs on-leash when outdoors in unfenced areas. Otherwise, you’ll have no control if your dog obeys instinct and chases a squirrel into the street…tussles with another dog…or runs after a child.
- Supervise even when the dog’s in a fenced yard. If there’s a way to escape, most dogs will find it.
- Don’t Assume They Were Trained or Socialized: Many adopted dogs have not had the luck to be socialized yet. Their baggage may include unacceptable behavior. Re-educate your dog with the help of books and qualified professionals.
- Do not keep dogs in dark, damp basements, garages, or non-family areas; this thwarts your efforts to raise a socialized, well-behaved, house-trained animal.
- Establish Who Is Boss: Don’t kiss your dog or place your face at the dog’s eye level before you’ve begun obedience training and established yourself and other humans in the home as higher up in the hierarchy. Dogs often perceive a face placed at their eye-level as a threat, and then bite.
- Beware of letting your dog on your bed or furniture if you haven’t established all human family members as the leaders (“alpha”). Dominance-related problems often arise when a dog is on a higher physical level. Dogs don’t seek equality; they seek and need leadership.
- Give Clear Instructions: Don’t issue a command unless you are in a position to enforce it. Telling a dog to do something, then not guiding him to obey if he chooses not to, teaches him to ignore you.
- Beware of sending mixed signals that bad behavior is cute or entertaining.
- Teach dogs good house manners from the start.
- For the first few days you have a dog, keep him or her in the same room with you – so that if the dog needs to potty, you can rush him outdoors…and so that if he engages in unapproved behavior, you can instantly correct the dog and substitute a more positive behavior. For example, removing the shoe from his mouth, then substituting a toy and praising.
- Be Selective With Treats: Avoid using overly desirable treats such as rawhides or pig hooves. Dogs will often fight with each other over them, and even attack people they perceive might desire their treats. Rawhide is also very hard on their tummies. I give them deer antlers (expensive but worth it).
- Play nice: Don’t play tug-o-war, rough-house, or engage in other combative play. These practices may encourage aggression in a dog you do not know well and teach your dog to challenge you.
- Realize there is always a solution to any problem – read and consult trainers.
- Changing a dog’s name: A dog can learn a new name quickly if you use it consistently. Start by linking it with the previous name, if you can for a while.
- Limit Visitors and New Stuff: A new dog feels bewildered and stressed by all of the changes, so surrounding her with too many people might cause her to cower or nip. So delay introductions to friends and neighbors until the dog has had a chance to settle in. (However, you can start obedience classes with a trainer right away.)
- Make introductions one at a time, on leash for control. Exercise and calm the dog before meetings, and have treats handy to shape and reward good behavior. You may want to have the dog on leash so that you can correct immediately as needed. Make sure the visitor is relaxed, and that you convey confidence.
- The dog may want to sniff the visitor first, before any petting. Beware: if the guest is tense, the dog may sense this as a direct challenge. So set the tone with your actions and attitude – wait until you’re happy and relaxed. Read cues from your dog: how comfortable does she appear? Many dogs love new people, while others feel overwhelmed.
- Expect your new dog to engage in behaviors you’ll need to correct, such as growling or jumping on people. Allowing a dog to jump on people is a common mistake, but to avoid exasperation down the line, teach your dog “off” from the start. In addition, don’t let anyone engage your dog in aggressive play such as wrestling, tug of war, or play biting.
- Set Up Good Potty Routine: Take your dog outside as soon as you wake up. If you feed him in the morning, leave him time to relieve himself after breakfast before you go to work.After you return from work, take him out immediately to potty and exercise. If he has exercised heavily, wait an hour before his evening feeding. He’ll need another bathroom break anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours later depending on his age and habits. Go out once more right before you go to bed. Withhold evening snacks.
- Teach Them That You Will Return: Initially, your new dog may experience separation anxiety when you leave. Using a crate can reduce accidents and other problems rooted in insecurity by providing a safe and welcome haven. Most dogs like cozy places, which is why you often see dogs resting under tables. Teach your dog from the start that “all good things happen in the crate.” Place nice bedding in the crate, along with dog toys that you can rotate for variety. Feed your dog in the crate. Give him praise and treats for venturing into the crate, and for resting there calmly. (One of my dogs loves her crate, the other will have nothing to do with it.)
- You can also confine your dog in the kitchen or hallway using baby gates. Jumping dogs may require you to piggyback two gates atop each other.
- Anxiety outlet: Try a Kong rubber chew toy that lasts a long time or a hollow marrow bone. Smear the inside with peanut butter and your dog will spend hours trying to lick it out. Add dry kibble for more fun.
- When you get ready to leave, quietly say “good dog!” and provide a small treat. Don’t say good-bye; just leave. When you return, quietly praise the dog for being good and take her out immediately.
- Make your schedule as consistent as possible. It is not fair to get upset if a dog has an accident after being left alone a long time. One popular solution: hire a mid-day dog walker. (I have had a dog walker for years and the dogs really appreciate the mid-day break. Then I walk them before dinner when I finish work.)
- To work against separation anxiety, don’t spend a whole day with new dogs. This is a big mistake that dog adopters make.
(1) Have her bed, safe chew toys and water ready in the confined area in which she’ll stay when you’re gone – whether it’s a crate or in a gated-off kitchen area. Take her to that area, tell her to lie “down,” give her a chew toy and a treat and praise, using her name.
(2) Step away. If she remains quiet, good; don’t talk to her, because that will distract her from this desired behavior. Before she begins to grow restless, take her back outside again to play or walk.
(3) Return her to the crate, then go into another room for longer periods.
(4) Leave the house and come back in right away. Gradually make those trips longer and longer; vary the duration you’re out. Your dog will be less anxious as she learns that when you leave, you eventually come back.
- Give her a treat while she’s in the crate, and talk to her while she is in the crate, so she’ll come to accept the crate. By being reliable, you’ll gain her trust – and teach her that you decide what to do.
- In many cases it’s counter-productive to crate more than 5 to 6 hours after the transition period. But used properly, the crate is an excellent tool for you and comfort zone for your dog. My Louise sleeps in her closed crate all night (her choice), that is her happy place.
- A tired dog is a happy dog. Before you leave your dog for extended periods, exercise her vigorously. Then, for 20 minutes before leaving the house, go about your business calmly – then just leave. Don’t make a fuss saying good-bye.
There is a great list on http://www.paw-rescue.org. Many of these ideas came from there.
What would you tell someone bringing home a new rescue?