New Dog in the House – Adopting an Adult Dog
New dogs come to us in many ways. Sometimes we have the luxury of preparation, sometimes they literally show up on our doorstep. One of the best dogs I ever owned was nearly named Pumpkin. One bright fall day my husband and I went out to get a jack-o’-lantern and came home with a terrified shepherd mix. We never did get the pumpkin.
Your new dog may be adopted from one of many excellent Georgia or South Carolina shelters or foster groups such as Coastal Pet Rescue. They may be the dog of a friend or relative who can no longer care for their pet; they may have simply been found, hungry and alone. It does not matter; they are now your dog.
Our first mission is to acquire appropriate things for our canine companion.
Necessary things for a New Dog
1. Food. Preferably good quality, grain free kibble. Grain, especially corn, is not digested by dogs. It increases stool volume without adding nutrition. Good food is not as expensive as it seems, because you feed less per meal. If your dog is malnourished multiple small meals will sit more easily on the stomach than one or two huge meals a day. It may take a dog’s stomach several weeks to adjust to a new food. Once you have things working well, don’t be in a hurry to change.
2. Water and food bowls, and a designated, quiet place for meals. Get bowls your dog can’t chew up or move around and something that’s easy to clean. I like big water bowls that I only need to fill once or twice a day.
3. Chew toys, especially for adolescent dogs and bully breeds. These dogs need to chew and they will chew something. If you don’t give them appropriate chew objects they will find something inappropriate. Give them their new toy and let them enjoy it in a quiet place. Don’t play any ‘will the dog let me take his food and toys’ games with a brand new dog. It is potentially dangerous and breaks down trust between dog and human. That nylabone may be the first thing your older dog has ever owned, and he may be terrified at the prospect of having it taken. Let the dog settle into your home for several weeks before you consider removing valuable objects or food. Children never, ever, take anything from a dog and always allow them to eat and sleep in peace. Children need to call an adult if the dog has taken something inappropriate. Be sure your young ones and their visitors are very clear on this rule.
4. No-Chew spray. There are many brands, Phooey, Bitter Apple, etc. They are all a little different, if one does not work, try another. You can spray your furniture, kitchen cabinets and your clothing. I spray flip flops and sneakers, and leave them around the house. “Oh, ick! Sneakers taste awful!”
5. Gates and Crates to keep your dog in limited areas in your home - Too much freedom too fast will undermine every civilized behavior you want your dog to learn.
6. A good leash and properly fitted collar or harness. Be SURE your dog cannot back out of their equipment, which may be how your new dog came to be a stray in the first place.
7. A clean bill of health. Your dog must be current on rabies and distemper. If your dog comes from a shelter or rescue get their shot and vet records. If your dog simply ‘came to you’ then take them to the vet to be checked for heartworm and inoculated for rabies and distemper. Speak to the vet about spay or neutering your new dog. A good heartworm prevention program is essential, especially in the South.
I’ve got the stuff, I’ve got a dog…. Now What?
Now the interesting part begins. Every dog is an individual. Some are sensitive, some are shy, and some dogs are the life of the party. Many dogs in a new environment are naturally reserved. Their true personality can take months to surface.
Your job is to show your dog what is expected in your home. Be consistent, be fair, and stay calm. Do not allow your new dog to be overwhelmed the first few days. Keep things quiet and let your dog ask for attention, don’t force it on them.
1. Reinforcing Good Behavior - More important than correcting bad behavior, is reinforcing good behavior. I keep a handful of Cheerios in my pockets when I have a new dog. If I catch them doing something good I praise them, using their name, and toss them a Cheerio. “Sparky, good boy!” Rewardable behavior may be as simple as laying quietly on the floor or as earthshakingly awesome as going to the door when they need to potty. The key to training a dog to do anything is, You Get What you Reward. Be careful of unintentional rewards. A dog who craves attention is rewarded for jumping when people push them away and speak to them, even if the words are “Stop jumping on me!” To an energetic dog this can seem like a delightful game. If your dog craves attention, simply walk away from them when they jump. If they sit politely be sure to stop and acknowledge the good behavior, you will get more of it. Use positive reinforcement to teach behaviors such as ‘come, sit, and down’.
2. Rules – Your dog needs consistent, fair rules. Have a family meeting. Is your dog allowed on the furniture? Are they allowed upstairs? Where does your dog sleep? Everyone needs to agree on the rules. Start by allowing a new dog less freedom. It is easier to let Duchess on the sofa after you’ve had her a year than to teach her that sleeping on the sofa, which was okay yesterday, is not allowed now. Remember, if you let Duchess on the sofa when you watch TV, she will get on the sofa when she is wet, or when you have parties. If you let Duchess jump on you and your friends, she will jump on your grandmother. The rules are yours, choose them wisely.
3. Exercise is key. The majority of homeless dogs are adolescents or young adults, past the point of being puppy-cute and not yet arrived at steady adulthood. This is when most dogs are brought to shelters or abandon. We spend a lot of effort keeping our adolescent children busy, sports, camp, school, church groups; it keeps them out of trouble. The same is true for young dogs. Dogs do not self-exercise. A dog alone in the back yard is likely to either sleep, saving energy for when you return, or practice things you don’t want them to learn, barking, digging, and eating things they find laying around. Exercise your dog. A walk is not exercise. Play ball, swimming, hike, jog with your dog, get them running. Schedule a minimum of two or three 20 minute sessions a day of vigorous exercise for an adolescent dog. A tired dog is a good dog. A dog without an energy outlet is like a bored teenager, they are going to get into trouble.
4. Barriers – Your dog needs to be kept in a safe, comfortable, and restricted environment when you are not supervising them. Crates or gated kitchens are perfect overnight or when you leave home. They are also a great help with house training. Bring your dog to their designated potty spot, on leash, as soon as you let them out of their area. Praise and treat them for eliminating in the appropriate place. Have an outdoor play session, then bring them inside and keep them where you can watch them. Allowing them to drag a leash inside your home when you are supervising is ideal. If they should put their head in the trash or get on a sofa you can calmly take the leash and move them away from the place they do not belong. You can also step on the leash using 30 second mini-time outs if your dog misbehaves. Simply step on the leash close enough to your dog’s collar that they cannot move about and totally ignore them for 30 seconds or until they are calm. Wearing their leash inside means you do not have to drag the dog by the collar if you need to move them. You don’t want your new dog to associate hands coming over their head and holding the collar with unpleasant things.
5. 12 Rules for New Dogs and Child Safety
Most dogs rapidly learn to love the children in their family. But until the bond is formed and you, as a parent are satisfied with your dog’s reliability, follow these rules and if you think something is wrong, trust your instincts and end the scenario that is making you unsure.
1. Children and dogs are supervised by an adult when together.
2. Children do not bother any dog, new or old, when they are eating or sleeping ever.
3. If a dog brings a toy or other object to the child and drops it the child can, with adult permission, play with the dog. Fetch is a great game for dogs, use two balls to keep it interesting.
4. The child does not touch objects while the dog has them in their mouth.
5. Some dogs are overly excited by fast motion; small children should not play running games with unfamiliar dogs.
6. Children do not lie on the floor with new dogs.
7. They do not put their faces next to the face of new dogs.
8. Do not let your child grab the dog’s collar to move them.
9. Children never follow a dog into a crate or under a table, chair, or other cave-like area. They never put any part of their body in a dog’s crate or bed. Every dog needs a place to rest undisturbed.
10. Have your children call the dog to them. If the dog does not move to the children it is asking for space. Respect that. Don’t let children mob a dog that needs is unsure or needs a break.
11. Hugging is a human display of affection, to a dog it is restraint and often perceived as a threat. No hugging.
12. Every new child who visits your home is an entirely new animal to your dog. Always supervise your dog when you have young visitors.
This seems like a lot to think about, but following these suggestions will help your dog become a loved, well adjusted family member.
DO join a well-run training class, or seek a qualified private trainer to help you teach your dog that listening to you is fun and rewarding.
DON’T use aggressive training techniques such dominance rolls, pokes, and other physical threats or punishment. Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and other universities have shown these techniques can backfire badly, frightening a dog to the point where they bite because they feel endangered.
If your new dog should do something which makes you nervous; perhaps you hear a low growl when you come near their bowl, or they stiffen and stare at you when you touch their collar, or seem furious when they see other dogs; end what is happening, back away, and contact a qualified professional dog trainer. Stopping a behavior early is easier than waiting until it is entrenched. You can find an excellent dog trainer in the Savannah, Georgia and Bluffton, South Carolina Areas. A good trainer should have experience and be happy to provide you with references, their qualifications and tell you what they will do to motivate your dog. Be careful where you get your advice.
If you want your dog to be a family member; you must treat them with the same love, fairness and respect you’d give to any other member of your family.
Claudia Black-Kalinsky, CPDT-Ka
Savannah, Georgia Dog Trainer
Bluffton and Hilton Head, South Carolina Dog Trainer