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— August 21, 2012 —

How to transition a new dog into your home.
Here are a few things that new adopters need to know.

Over the years that we have been operating Bark Avenue Playcare, Inc. we have worked with a number of dog rescue organizations. We have helped many dogs go from unwanted stray or pound puppy to beloved family pet. Rescues work very hard to pick the right homes for their dogs. Usually it’s a great match. We have also witnessed our share of failures, where dogs were returned to the rescue for one reason or another.

Sometimes the new owner just didn’t realize how much work it is to take care of a dog. Sometimes the dog had serious behavioral issues that were only discovered after the dog was taken out of the pound-type situation: being in the home exposed something like serious separation anxiety or some other issue. Sometimes it was due to simple human error. I’d like to discuss a few of those mistakes and how not to make them.

Some dogs have such an affable temperament that they adjust and accept everything that happens. They take to a new home as though they belong there and the transition is a non-issue. On the other hand, there are dogs that need more time. They have no idea what this new place is and they can be very uncomfortable for a while. I generally advise new adopters to ere on the side of caution.

One of the most important things a person can do when they take a new dog home is to make the conscious decision to let the dog adjust on his own. You cannot make the dog get comfortable any sooner. In fact, hovering over the dog is likely to make him less comfortable than just leaving him alone. I generally recommend a period of a few days where we let the dog settle in. During this time period, the dog should essentially be kept calm and left to his own devices. If he is house trained, letting him have a quiet room to himself may suffice. If he is not house trained, kenneling him and going for long walks is ideal. The only direct interaction I recommend is these long walks and feeding. Excitement and affection should be kept to a minimum and rough play should be avoided all together.

Once your new dog begins to settle in, he will come to you looking for bonding and affection. Now is the time to begin your training. Instead of immediately delivering boatloads of treats and affection, be more conservative. If he wants petting, he should sit calmly for it. If you decide to give treats, practicing a few simple commands makes for good training.

So, what are some of the things that we would say NOT to do? Well, here are a few examples of mis-steps that we have witnessed and some ideas how to avoid them.

A couple of years back, two young ladies who were roommates adopt a dog from a rescue we were working with. They took her home and had a party with all their friends, THE SAME NIGHT! Needless to say, someone got snapped at and the dog got returned. Everything about this was wrong and the dog suffered for it. The rescue tried to do all the necessary things to ensure a smooth transition, but no one could have imagined that they would do something so irresponsible.
The issue: This dog had NO time to settle in. The fact that she went from a boarding kennel to a hectic house party with loud music and drunk people was completely inappropriate. This dog had no idea what was going on.
The fix: Have a party later, after you have gotten to know your dog. Take time to train and bond with your dog so that you’ll have a better idea of his/her limitations.

On another occasion, a newly adopted dog was in her home laying on the couch with someone she had bonded with. She had lived there for a few days. A guest came over and tried to give her a kiss on her muzzle. That guest got bit and the dog got returned.
The issue: This is actually two fold. First, the dog had only been there for a relatively short time frame. Two, it’s always a bad idea to kiss a strange dog. I generally tell strangers to, Stay away from the sharp end. Kissing a dog you don’t know is like kissing a person you don’t know. It often leads to bad things.
The fix: Again, too much contact and the wrong type of contact. If you have a dog, it is your responsibility to educate people about things like not getting into your dog’s face. Many people are bitten in just this type of situation.

Lastly, a dog who got adopted out was taken home and the new owner tried to play dress up by putting a nice pretty martingale-type collar on the dog. The collar was slipped over his head and she tried to tighten it. She got bit. Once she became intimidated by the dog, he read her nervous behavior as a problem and the issue compounded itself. He came back to the rescue.
The issue: Again, stay away from the sharp end. This dog was only there a few hours and this act was like tightening a noose around his neck while hovering over him. It would make anyone uncomfortable and it was too close to his face.
The fix: Wait. Just wait until the dog is comfortable and bonded to you. After the adjustment period you will be able to do all of this with your dog, but in his mind, he’s in a new place with a stranger. Give him time.

Adopting a new dog is a great time. We are getting a new family member and that can be very exciting. We just have to remember that the dog may not understand how wonderful all of this is. We have to give them time to adjust to their new environment and family.