I get many calls from people saying they just adopted a dog a few weeks or even days ago and want to be tested for our program. Pet Partners, our national therapy organization, requires the animal and owner to know each other or live together for at least six months before being evaluated. When I explain this and tell people it is never too early to begin solid positive training with their pet, but they cannot become a Love Dog therapy team until at the very least that six month period, they are amazed.
But it makes perfect sense, especially with rescued dogs. Firstly, the owner knows very little or nothing about the animal and the animal needs time to become at home in their new family.
It can take as long as six months for a newly rescued dog to become comfortable in his new home and believe he is staying. Often the shelter can provide you with some background information, but very often you don’t know why he was surrendered to the shelter or if he was neglected, abused or abandoned.
And all too often he has been bounced around from home to home.
My Benny was surrendered to a rescue at a few months old and adopted several times in his first year. Home after home returned him because of behavior problems. Having many different names, homes, people who didn’t know how to teach him took its toll on him and his training began the moment I met him. The most important thing for any rescue to learn is TRUST.
The best tool you will have is patience.
Here are some tips to help accelerate this process and give your dog the confidence to know this is his forever home now:
- Before you enter your home, let your dog sniff around his new surroundings outside. Let him become familiar with the area where he will be taken to eliminate and encourage him to do so.
- If you have other pets, have them meet outside the home and ideally take a walk together.
- Enter the home quietly. Don’t let other family members rush up to your dog, but sit calmly waiting for the dog to come to them.
- Take your dog through the house and show him where he will eat, give him some water in the spot his water bowl will be, and show him where he will be allowed to be on his own.
- Close doors to any room that will be off limits. Dog-proof your home, picking up tempting items from the floor.
- Set up your dog’s kennel or bed in a common area of the home so he can be a part of the action and be comforted. Show him his sleeping area and give him a comfort toy to keep with him his first night. This toy may quickly become his favorite and go everywhere with him.
- Now is the time to introduce him to the family members. Don’t let little children rush up to the dog or grab at him. This can be frightening and overwhelming. Small children can be seated on the floor at the dog’s level and quietly call to him, extending their hands palm down for the dog to sniff. Then they can slowly pet the dog under his chin and even give him a little treat.
Realize that the first few days and weeks with a rescue dog can be daunting. Your dog has to learn new routines, new people, new surroundings, new expectations and new joys.
Give him time and observe his behaviors. He may have unacceptable habits or he may have no manners at all. Join a group obedience class to help him with his basic manners and to also socialize him with other people and dogs and his new world.
Decide in advance what the house rules will be. Will my dog sleep in a kennel or a bed? Will he be permitted on the furniture or the bed? Will barking be permitted? Will the dog rule the roost or be a confident, happy family member?
Benny barked continually for hours his first night home with me. I had to ignore his barking and leave him in his kennel until he got tired and that of course made him stop barking. Once he was quiet, I went in quietly and just calmly opened the door. I didn’t talk to him or look at him. I just opened the door and walked away. For a moment, he just sat there looking at me and he got it. “So THAT’S how I get the door to open, I have to be QUIET!”
I went into another room and Benny quietly followed me, wondering what would be next. So I got a toy and I saw that he was interested in it. It was now the middle of the night so I walked back to his kennel holding the toy and he followed me. I encouraged him to “Go to your house” and he did. He snuggled in his kennel and I gave him his new toy to cuddle with. This very first night imprinted on him that this house had rules but if he listened to me and came with me good things would happen.
Be consistent and patient and your newly adopted dog will soon understand this is his forever home.