The second installment in our series on adoption.

There is a common misconception that by adopting an adult dog, you save all the “puppy issues”. SURPRISE!!! You have just as much work with an adult dog and need to allow as much time. Always remember when you adopt that moving a dog from one environment to another, his former behaviors do not always transfer. Dogs reflect the environment they are in. So a new home, to a dog, means new rules with a new pack. You will need to teach this dog , just as you might teach a puppy, where the bathroom is, what behaviors(jumping on furniture, etc.) are acceptable, and most importantly that YOU are the new leader.

Lets start by defining the job of an Adoptive Parent. Definitions are often made clearer by what they are NOT as much as what they are.

A Good Adoptive Home is not:

  • A home with 5 existing dogs, 6 cats, 1 hamster, 3 goldfish and an ant farm
  • A home with children under 6 (Or a home with 6 children)
  • A home that does not have crates and know how to use them correctly
  • A home with no time to instruct and provide structure
  • A home where people HAVE to sleep with their dogs

A Good Adoptive Home IS:

  • A home with an environment that is structured and consistent
  • A home that will maintain the integrity of their existing pack
  • A home with time to be instructive
  • A home that thinks with their heads and not their hearts
  • A home that can come out of their comfort zones, and put the good of the dog first

The first thing we need to do is deal in generalities. Your adopted dog may have been “evaluated” before you met. Please let’s get something straight. No one can evaluate a dog in an hour. This type of quickie evaluation is a scam. Evaluation is cumulative and your adopted dog’s profile will be built over time. Because of time constraints involved with most shelters and rescues, it may be necessary to run certain tests on dogs to gain some insight into temperament. But it must always be remembered that evaluation of any dog changes with its surroundings and the people involved at the time of testing.

A true understanding of a dog’s behavior patterns are gathered through an assessment of the dogs’ ability to learn what we want and the number of times he chooses to comply (not his ability to tolerate and sustain human annoyance, i.e. sticking your hand in the dogs food). This is why Structure, Instruction and Monitoring is so important during the first 30 days of your new dog’s introduction to your home. You run the excellent chance of CREATING appropriate behavior. Plus, the profile you might receive with your adopted dog is useful only as an insight into “capable behavior”. For example, when someone tells you “this dog is housebroken”, that means merely that he was housebroken before and has shown that behavior. Whether he remains housebroken in the adoptive home is a function of the humans making sure the dog has the information to stay that way.

Life with us, for a dog, is like one big open book test. We provide the information of what we want. We show the dog the advantages of compliance and the consequences of non-compliance. This clearly will give you a better read on a dogs profile of living within a social structure. In other words…SET THE DOG UP TO WIN and see if he is sound enough to make that choice and how many times he does so. Remember that the more you know about a dog, the more you know about whether the dog is right for you.

With any new dog that enters your home, it is your primary job to be PRO-ACTIVE in structuring this dogs existence so you can better INSTRUCT them in the path to appropriate behavior. You also must consider that if a behavior issue is the reason this dog was displaced, it is you who must try and fix the problem. Your job is not to allow these poor dogs to remain victims but to rehabilitate, teach and insure that this will be their “forever home”. If you follow your brain and not your heart…you have an excellent start. Do what makes sense for the dog…not what feels good for you. For example, lets not start out with letting the new dog sleep on the bed because you “feel sorry” for him and send him the wrong message as to his status in your home. The bed is a place of earned empowerment. Definitely a no-no…these poor dogs should never be treated like victims if they are to normalize and assimilate back into normal life. There are overall rules for adopting a dog that are essential to the success of the entire experience.

The worst thing any new parent can say is “ Well I thought…”.  Thinking means you are not sure and a simple phone call to the shelter or rescue can turn that “think” into a “know”.  Always ask questions no matter what. These dogs are not science experiments where you simply see what happens. Always remember that they (the dogs) suffer the ramifications of any mistakes. When we take charge of a living being it is our job to know everything necessary to accommodate our new addition.

You start with basic concepts of learning and behavior. Here is your mantra: “Your reaction to anything a dog does, dictates the frequency of this behavior”. When a dog enters your environment, he is like an alien. He does not speak the language, know where the bathroom is, who is in charge, and worse than anything, he is in a state of trauma due to the loss of his old pack. You are his guide back to security and safety. You will do this by STRUCTURING, INSTRUCTING AND MONITORING.

Next Month Adopting Dogs ~ The Tools