Adopting a Dog ~ The Tools

A CRATE: When a new dog enters your environment, he first seeks the new “pack” rules. Kind of like opening a new iPOD and looking for the instructions on how to make it work. The crate provides a place of safety, security and most of all allows for the dog not to have to make inappropriate choices. Think of the dog like a one year old child you are babysitting. Since you do not know what this child will do when left alone, you would always make sure the child is in a playpen, a crib, or high chair…to prevent mistakes.

That’s what your crate is for. A prevented behavior will not develop, but a learned behavior is tough to cure. If a dog never gets a chance to chew on the leg of your coffee table, through habituation of alternate behaviors (appropriate chew toys, proper and sufficient exercise), the dog will probably never even try. Chewing the coffee table is an unknown, therefore not an option. So your crate is a safety net against the dog learning anything inappropriate while you are busy.

Do not be fooled by the “housebroken” label. When a dog moves from one environment to another, there should always be an initial re-housebreaking. Simply apply the basic rules of housebreaking (watch dog or put in crate, wild praise for going outside, monitoring to prevent indoor mistakes) and you will lay out a plan for the dog to follow by showing him/her the benefits. You will also avoid other possible inappropriate behaviors such as destructive chewing.

The dog should initially be fed in the crate to create a “denning” instinct and to make sure he realizes that it is a good place where only good things happen. It is NEVER a punishment tool. If there are other dogs in the home, the new dog MUST always be fed in the crate until he establishes himself with his new pack. Otherwise he will be considered an intruder. If it is a foster dog, he/she is NEVER fed with the other dogs in the household. If the dog is an adoption, his place in the pack will be established over time and group feeding can be initiated. But for heaven’s sake, don’t stress dogs out by requiring them to share their home with a surprise dinner guest.

THE LEASH: All fosters/adoptees should drag a short leash around the house (this is when the dog is being monitored, not in the crate…..NEVER leave a leash on a crated dog). Having that leash hang from the dog will become your main communication and corrective tool for behavioral mistakes. If you see the dog heading for an inappropriate behavior, the leash will allow you get the dog quickly, if you need to, without being too invasive (particularly important with small dogs who might be skittish). You are much better off and safer grabbing a loose leash than trying to grab a new dog by the collar. That dog has no idea what your intentions are when you reach for him. If he was inappropriately corrected in his former home, this could trigger an unnecessary fear response. Grabbing the leash is more instructive than punitive.

Say for example, the dog jumps up on the couch. Instead of screaming or grabbing a dog (especially one you don’t know) by the collar, you simply pick up the leash and say “off”, then praise and treat the dog. This is instructive and gives the dog CHOICE. You are maintaining your authority without intimidation as YOU DON”T KNOW WHAT BUTTONS YOU MAY PRESS otherwise. The leash is your signal to the dog that you are in charge of this environment and it is your tool to instruct and enforce the new pack rules.

TREATS: Food is the universal language. It goes back in our history as a sign of peace and commonality. Breaking bread with someone means making friends. To a dog it is the clearest marker of a dog making the correct choice. This is not to be confused with the dog making the choice BECAUSE of the food, but when the food is provided as a reward for behavior this increases the predictability that the dog will realize this is a behavior that should be repeated. You cannot use enough food rewards with foster/adopted dogs. If you couple the rewards with compulsion, the dog will be clear that when you speak, it means something and when they comply…something good happens! Its all about choice and balance.

When you feed a new dog a treat, specifically after asking for a behavior you are setting the tone of the relationship you hope to forge with this dog. You “provide” based on behavior. Particularly in cases of dealing in aggression issues, food is often a catalyst to better behavior. Dogs are predisposed to take advantage of any situation. They have survived for thousands of years on this premise.

Lets use a recent example of a dog named Diamond, a young Black male Great Dane with a stupid name. I happened to fall for Diamond. But it wasn’t easy. He was skittish and unpredictable around men. But after about 30 minutes of sit/treat, proper body language on my part, I had created enough structure and predictability about my intentions, that Diamond began to solicit affection without food, and even leaned on me, which is Dane for “I like You!!”.  Know your breeds.

Food rewards coupled with insistence on good behavior mark that good behavior better. In the case of foster parents, they are trying to profile their dogs for prospective homes, and have not yet been accepted as pack leader. The dog’s ability to make the right choice or more accurately, the choice that benefits them most helps give them the parameters of the dogs trainability. When a dog has been shown that by jumping on people he gets a knee or someone simply walks away (never knee a dog you don’t know WELL enough to know he can handle that type of consequence) but if he sits he gets a treat…..the choice that dog makes is obvious. As always “REACTION TO BEHAVIOR DICTATES FREQUENCY OF THAT BEHAVIOR”

Next month Adopting a Dog ~ Other Pets