Adoption of dogs in need is a wonderful thing and there is clearly a surge in dog adoptions since this virus started, with some smaller shelters actually emptying. Adoption is a great thing and we cannot presume anyone’s reasoning for adopting during this destabilizing crisis, however we can help you make an informed decision. And if you have already adopted, we can help you do it right. FIRST, we are officially offering FREE PHONE CONSULTATIONS to anyone in need, during this crisis, to manage your canine companions’ problems TILL you can come in. SECOND, we invite everyone to read this excerpt from my book, to help create both instruction and structure for both new dogs and existing family dogs.
A Blueprint for Success
In my practice, I would safely say that out of my entire clientele, I deal with an average 40% of dogs that have been adopted, from either a rescue or a shelter.
Adopting transient dogs can be both easy and rewarding. Adopting a dog doesn’t mean you need to suspend all sense of logic. Adoption in itself is an admirable thing. But “forever” adoption is a thing of beauty. Its like meeting a soulmate. But meeting your soulmate takes time, reason and patience. Oddly enough , the majority of my dogs were picked on “feeling”, but they had already met all the essential qualifications. You SHOULD pick a dog on gut emotion, but your choices should be limited to dogs that fit your lifestyle. Purely emotional choices are often very much like gambling. The question of whether it was the right choice must now evolve. Purely emotional choices involve more work, because if you choose emotionally you have to adjust YOUR life, but if your choose rationally “the dog fits” your life.
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/stability
A home where people HAVE to sleep with their dogs
A Good Adoptive Home IS:
A home with an environment that has long term structure and consistency
A home that will maintain the integrity of their existing pack (human and animal)
A home with extended 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
Adopting a Dog-The Concepts
The first thing we need to do is deal in generalities. Your adopted dog may have been “evaluated” before you meet. Please lets get something straight. No one can evaluate a dog in an hour. Evaluation is cumulative and your adopted dogs’ 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 dogs 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). This is why Structure, Instruction and Monitoring is so important during the first 30 days of your new dogs introduction to your home. You run the excellent chance of CREATING appropriate behavior.
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 dog’s 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.
YOUR JOB: With any new dog that enters your home it is your primary job to be PRO-ACTIVE in structuring this dog’s 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, let’s 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”. Ask all 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.
Lets 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.
Adoption –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 showing both the benefits, but you will 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 that have 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 your are in charge of this environment and 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 with 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. Let’s 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 they have not yet been accepted as pack leader, the dogs ability to make the right choice or more accurately, the choice that benefits them most gives you parameters of the dogs trainability. If a dog has been shown that by jumping on people, he gets a knee (you put your knee up and BLOCK the jumping) or someone simply walks away. But if he sits, he gets a treat…..the choice that the dog makes is obvious. As always “REACTION TO BEHAVIOR DICTATES FRQUENCY OF THAT BEHAVIOR”
As wonderful and giving as it is to foster or adopt, it should never be at the expense of the animals already in the home. They are priority. You never compromise the integrity of your existing pack or you weaken your standing in their eyes.
Your first introduction can either make or break your success in allowing your own animals to accept this new “guest” or family member. Dogs should be introduced on-lead in a neutral zone. Walk them without letting them have contact for a few minutes. Then when body language appears comfortable allow them to get closer and closer, till they can properly introduce themselves.
This will lessen the feeling of intrusion for all concerned. That process should be repeated with each member of the existing household separately to avoid pack panic. In other words if you have three dogs and take in a foster, don’t let them all meet at once as pack dynamics can overtake the situation. Once an initial intro has been made, the new dog should be kept separate and allowed contact only in certain specified areas (backyards, basements etc.). If you allow the new dog total access, you completely change the dynamics of your own pack and this will stress the house dogs out. Your own dogs have a right to pack structure and stability. Keep the new dog in “guest” status and you will lower your risk factor of problems. NEVER FEED THE NEW DOG WITH THE HOUSE DOGS unless you have this dog for at least 30 days. They should always be fed in the crate for at least the first 2 weeks. All the dogs have a right to security while they acclimate to each other.
When new dogs are allowed to mix with house dogs, there should be no food based toys (rawhides, pigs ears etc). Nylabones, balls, Frisbees are fine. These toys will give you an idea of how well the new dog can “share” without tapping into the primal food instinct. Put no toys at all down if you have a house dog with possession issues.
If you do have a new dog for more than 30 days and want to feed him with your house dogs, start by feeding him last in an area away from where you feed the house dogs, but within site. If there is a problem, this gives you a chance to grab the new dogs leash and control the situation. If your own dogs have food issues, NEVER FEED WITH THE NEW DOG. The process will be different for every dog and never RUSH to teach the dogs to eat together. Let it evolve.
Cats or other pets are a judgement call. Always introduce with foster on leash and give the cats an escape route. If you have Parrots, with bird secured in cage, bring dog up to cage on leash. In either case, if there is no reaction by the foster dog…immediate praise and treat.
My opinions on the subject of children are very popular with breeders, shelters, rescues and others who know the following bite statistics. According to the CDC in Atlanta, 70% of all dog bites in this country are to children. 50% of that number is to the child’s face. Almost half of all dogs surrendered to shelters or rescue organizations, involve inappropriate behavior around children.
The problem appears to lie at the feet of the parents in this case. There is a bizarre notion in this country that a sign of a dogs temperament is measured by the amount of torture he will endure by the children in the family. I have had people actually brag about how “good” their dog is, because the kids climb all over him, pull his ears and hang on to his tail. Parents….read this next sentence carefully….DOGS ARE NOT TOYS FOR YOUR KIDS.I cannot tell you how many parents have sat in front of me with toddlers and a dog. I have explained that the dog is not the only one that needs structure for at least the first 6 months. The next part of the conversation invariably involves the parents lamenting on “how many times” they have told the children to behave around the dog. This usually cracks me up. I always follow up by asking them if their children play with matches, run in the street, play with their laptops, or light the stove??. The answer is always “NEVER”. Then the parental light bulb goes on and the parents realized that their ability to stop certain behaviors by their kids, which causes bad behaviors in the dog, is completely in THEIR parental hands.
People often ask which dogs are best with kids and my answer will always be the same. The dogs that are best with kids are the dogs in a house with kids who are best with dogs. Kids who are structured, listen well and old enough to communicate with a dog, are ideal to make this situation work.
The bottom line to adoption is to think with your head and not your heart. Done right, adopting an animal in need can be spiritual in its benefits. So, once you’ve made the decision to adopt take the time to make sure it will be a success and that you are the one’s to provide this new addition with a forever home.