Fortunately, you can make a big difference in how well your new dog adjusts to his new surroundings by making use of a few targeted strategies. On his first day home, your new best friend may not believe that he’s finally in his forever home — and with his own cozy bed and shiny new food bowl and everything. But your new dog may be a bit nervous, even scared, when he first comes home with you, despite the fancy new collar and deluxe chew toys. Lucky for you, this chapter tells you exactly what to do to ensure that your new four-legged friend’s homecoming is a happy one.
If you don’t already have a dog, you need to do some pooch-proofing before you bring your new friend home — to keep your new dog and your old possessions safe. Pooch-proofing is important for exploring, chewing, mischievous puppies and for adult dogs who haven’t quite learned what goes and what is unacceptable in your home. These precautions are particularly important for dogs who never spent much time indoors until now. Although an adult dog may not even consider gnawing on the legs of the kitchen chair, eating your shoes, or rooting through the garbage, you won’t know for sure until you bring her home. Better to pooch-proof, just in case.
You also need some stuff to keep your dog healthy, well exercised, and amused. For people who like shopping, this part of bringing your new dog home is fun.
Before bringing a dog into your home, you need to come to terms with the many things that a short four-legged animal can get into. Any dog in a new environment is bound to explore, and some dogs explore more — shall we say — enthusiastically than others. Puppies, in particular, explore the world with their noses and mouths, and that may mean chomping on choking hazards, chewing through electrical cords, and munching on your favorite nonmunchable possessions. Energetic puppies and older dogs unaccustomed to being inside also are at risk of falling, having things fall on them, and getting stuck in the strangest places. Some of these situations can be dangerous for the puppy, such as getting stuck inside a recliner or underneath a car in the garage.
Most puppy-proofing is a matter of common sense and can be essentially summarized in one Golden Rule of puppy proofing:
If you don’t want your dog to chew it, then put it out of reach.
A lot of dog owners discover this lesson the hard way. If you leave things like toys, clothes, slippers, new shoes, or wallets out where your dog can get at them, don’t blame your dog for thinking he can help himself. It is an impressively self-controlled canine who can resist these things when nobody is watching. This threat is an excellent motivation for children to keep their rooms clean or at least close their bedroom doors so the puppy can’t get in. Otherwise, they risk chewed up and ruined laundry and toys. (I can’t tell you how many pairs of underwear my puppy has chewed holes into in the last year, and you probably really don’t want to know.)
Dog destruction doesn’t just apply to your furniture and wearables. It applies to your food. Dogs of any age are incredibly clever when they smell something delicious. Adopted dogs may’ve spent some serious time scrounging for every piece of food they could find and going for long periods of time without any food at all before they came to live with you. These dogs can become extra clever at scoring tidbits, so you always have to be one step ahead of them. Don’t leave your dinner on the counter if your Great Dane can rest his head on the counter and stare at it. That’s just more temptation than the average dog can withstand.
Supervision is a key element to puppy-proofing. Although you may not be used to keeping an eye out for what your puppy is doing at all times, doing so is essential for your dog’s safety, not to mention a crucial part of housetraining (see Chapter Doggy Boot Camp: Basic Training and Behavior Management for more about that). Until you know exactly what your puppy is likely to do, watch her.
Gathering doggy accoutrements
Dogs get by perfectly well with only a few basics, but you may want to consider a few luxury items, too. Hint: Chew toys are not luxury items; they’re a necessity, especially for puppies.
Stocking up on doggy necessities
Dogs don’t require thousands of accessories, and you certainly don’t need to spend a fortune to equip your dog. However, to be able to manage and train your dog successfully, you need some basic tools that your friendly local pet store should be able to supply.
- Identification tags: ID tags are the most important dog accessory you can buy. Engraved with your dog’s name and your address and phone number, an ID tag can be your dog’s ticket home if he ever gets lost. A pet tag is important even if your dog has a microchip implanted from the shelter or the vet. Anyone can find your dog when it strays, but that doesn’t mean anyone can or will take your dog to a shelter or vet to scan for the microchip. An identification tag on the collar makes finding the animal’s owner easy. Put it on your dog and never take it off.
- Buckle collar and six-foot leash: Choose nylon or leather with a metal or plastic buckle, decorated or simple. For some small breeds or dogs that pull a lot, consider a harness in addition to a collar, but make sure you still can include identification tags.
- Crate or kennel: Choose a crate or kennel that is big enough for your adult dog. A crate is a plastic carrier with a wire front. Crates are sometimes called kennels, but “kennel” also refers to a wire cage. Your dog needs to be able to stand up, turn around, and lie down comfortably inside. If you have a puppy that will grow quite a bit, buy a crate or kennel to fit the dog’s adult size (if you know what it will be) and temporarily block off part of the crate to make it smaller. Otherwise, the puppy may use one end for a bed and the other end for a bathroom. The crate or kennel is absolutely essential for housetraining (see the section on housetraining in Chapter Doggy Boot Camp: Basic Training and Behavior Management) and general management, because it becomes your dog’s beloved den (see the section on “Showing your dog to his den” later in this chapter), and she will love it even more than you do. If you travel a great deal, look for a crate or kennel that can be buckled into the backseat of your car or van.
- Dog seat belt: No, this device is not a luxury, but rather an important safety item. If your dog’s kennel is too large to fit in the backseat or to buckle in, look for one of several different high-quality dog seat belts that attach to your car seat belt. Dog seat belts keep you and your pet safe in the car. Your dog will neither jump on you, distracting you while you’re driving, nor injure anyone else in the car in the case of an accident. With this device, you can all buckle up safely.
- Food and water bowls: Metal and ceramic are easier to clean and less likely to harbor bacteria, and they’re not tempting to chew.
- A high-quality dog food: Check out Chapter Caring for Your Adopted Dog for more information about choosing a good food.
- Assorted brushes depending on your dog’s coat: A natural bristle brush can be used for short and medium-coated dogs, and wire-pin and slicker brushes work for long or fluffy-coated dogs. Bristle brushes are good for regular maintenance brushing, while pin brushes are good for double-coated dogs because they brush down to the skin. Slicker brushes are great for pulling out excess undercoat during periods of heavy shedding.
- Shampoo made just for dogs: You’ll also want conditioner for longcoated dogs.
- A nail clipper made for dogs: This tool comes in sizes appropriate to your dog’s size (the label says whether the clipper is for small, medium, or large dogs).
- Pest control products to prevent fleas, ticks, and heartworms: The best ones come from your veterinarian (for more on pest control, see Chapter Caring for Your Adopted Dog).
- Chew toys: Puppies need to chew and need to have acceptable things to chew so they don’t chew your things. Chew toys can include hard rubber teethers and edible chew toys like rawhide, pig’s ears, hooves, and jerky treats.
Some vets advise against certain edible chew toys like rawhide for some dogs, because they can pose a choking hazard and/or stomach upset. If you aren’t sure about which edible chew toys are safe for your dog, talk to your vet.
- Interactive toys for bonding time: Whether you throw a tennis ball or a flying disc like a Frisbee or play tug-of-war with a rope toy, be sure to get a few toys that you and your dog can play with together. These toys give you great ways to play with your dog in the doggy way that she enjoys and help build a quality relationship between the two of you.
Loading up — a little or a lot — on luxuries
So much for the must-haves, now what about those luxuries? Okay, so your dog doesn’t really need that fancy dog bed that looks like a velvet chaise lounge from a French drawing room. But after all she’s been through . . . Well, you can buy some truly amazing high-end products for dogs that no dog needs but that pet owners simply enjoy. You can spend a little on fancy stuff, or a lot. Here are a few options:
- Clothes and hats: Some dogs love them; others wouldn’t be caught dead in the dog park wearing that stuff. If your dog enjoys doggy couture, look for matching sweaters for you and your dog, Halloween costumes and other holiday-wear, rain gear, leather jackets, even snow boots.
- Pretty charms and dog jewelry including hair accessories like ribbons and barrettes: Swarovski crystal collar, anyone?
- Retractable leashes: These leashes aren’t a requirement, but they can be useful for letting dogs get more of the feeling of being off-leash while still staying safe. They extend 10 feet to more than 25 feet, but retract into a plastic holder with the push of a button. Don’t use these leashes while training dogs to walk beside you on a leash. (For instructions on how to train a dog to walk beside you on a leash, see Chapter Doggy Boot Camp: Basic Training and Behavior Management.)
- Fancy dog furniture: Although your dog needs to learn to sleep in her kennel, especially during housetraining, some dogs just love to lounge on their own special furniture. Some available options include feathered canopy beds, upholstered leather couches, hammocks and trampolinetype beds, huge fluffy donut-shaped beds, and little doggy tents. Many of these items are designed to enhance the décor of your home.
- Cool toys. Dog toys have become truly innovative. Just browse the pet store or the Internet, and you’ll see some clever, fun, interesting inventions, like:
- Balls with bigger rubber tongues attached — a hoot when your dog has the ball in his mouth.
- Slingshots for finally launching tennis balls far enough to give your active dog a really good run.
- Vibrating toys that move on their own.
- Toys that let you record a message so your dog can hear your reassuring voice when you are away.
- Toys that you can stuff with all kinds of treats that your dog has to work to remove (these built-in rewards can keep your dog interested for hours).
- Toys designed to make the realistic sounds of small prey animals to fulfill your dog’s inherent hunting desires.
Catering to your dog’s needs
Some doggy accoutrements are necessities for certain dogs and luxury items for others. Dog litter boxes, ramps and stairs, and special grooming supplies are among the more common ones.
Dog litter boxes are good for pet owners who can’t easily take their little dogs outside, people with mobility issues, or pet owners who live in high-rise apartments in the city. Dog litter boxes are sized for different dogs and come with pelleted paper litter-box filler that absorbs moisture. When litter-box training your dog, you need to change the litter after each use. Another option is framed squares of sod or artificial turf so your dog gets the feel of going on the grass even while she’s inside.
Ramps and stairs are good for dogs with sensitive spines like Dachshunds or senior dogs with arthritis that have trouble jumping up and down from couches, beds, and cars. You can buy beautiful padded ramps and stairs for inside, or more utilitarian versions for cars and even for swimming pools and boats to help your little swimmer get out of the water more easily. This item may actually be an important safety device, if you have a swimming pool and your dog can’t easily get out of it. In that case, consider this item a must-have.
You can also buy grooming products with a personal touch. Coat conditioner and coat spray are essential for long-coated dogs. A square of velvet or a chamois to polish short coats is a nice addition. Some dogs look better when washed with special shampoos made to brighten white coats, darken dark coats, or soothe sensitive skin. Dogs with allergies or fleas may need special shampoos that help them resolve their health issues. Some companies make lines of dog spa products with natural botanicals. You can even buy doggy cologne to keep your pooch sweet-smelling.
Welcoming Doggy Home
After the house is prepared and well stocked, you can load up your adopted dog into the car (don’t forget a dog seat belt or crate!), drive home, pull into the driveway, coax him out of the car and then.. Wouldn’t it be nice if your new adopted dog bounded happily into the house, engaged in a quick game of fetch, sniffed and licked the family, then curled up in his doggy bed for a nap, happy tail a-waggin’?
Even though such scenarios have been known to happen, they’re not common. The more likely reaction you can expect from your adopted dog is that she will be a little nervous, maybe a little scared, probably curious, and maybe so excited that she can hardly contain herself. She may even experience a few more serious adjustment problems.
The trick to helping your dog make a smooth and quick transition to her new home is immediately establishing routines and sticking to them. Dogs pick up quickly on the rules of a new place, so the sooner they get that information from you, the sooner they can adjust to their new situations. Keep initial introductions calm and limited. Don’t mob your new dog with people, toys, games, treats, and attention all at once. Dogs react to the moods and actions of the people around them, so if you want a calm, relaxed dog, then try to act calm and relaxed. If you act anxious, worried, or excitable, your dog picks up on your cues. If your dog thinks you have the situation fully and confidently in hand, she can relax a little bit and not have to worry about trying to manage things herself.
In most cases, calm behavior and a comfortable routine win out, quickly sending your adopted dog the message that all is right with the world again.
Dog, meet potty spot
Taking care of business is the first thing to do when you get home with your adopted dog. You know what business I’m talking about: the business of housetraining. Regardless of your dog’s age, adults and puppies need to know where they are allowed to fulfill their, um . . . elimination requirements. Housetraining problems are among the chief reasons why people give up their dogs to animal shelters, so managing this issue right from the start is super important.
Choosing a potty spot
Before bringing your new pet home, you need to know in advance where you want her to go. If you have a yard, you probably want her to relieve herself there. But you also need to pick a spot in the yard that will be most convenient, a spot where people aren’t likely to walk away from the pathway to the garden or gate. Secluded locations are better than spots right near the sidewalk or street. Some dogs don’t care where they go, but others may feel vulnerable and won’t want to do their business with cars whizzing by on the other side of the fence or other dogs wandering past with their owners and barking.
If you want to paper or litter-box train your pet, the spot where you place the receptacle needs to be ready to go before your new dog comes home. It needs to be placed in an area away from high foot traffic that’s easy to clean, such as on a linoleum or tile floor and far from your dog’s sleeping area. Dogs don’t like to eliminate near where they sleep.
Telling your dog where to go
As soon as you get home, you may be tempted to take off your dog’s leash and let her explore the house. Wait! Don’t unclip that leash from that collar just yet. First, take your dog to the place where you want her to eliminate, either in the yard or the area of the house you’ve chosen. Keeping that leash on, have your dog sniff, circle, and check out the spot, but stay where you are until she relieves herself. Although this process can take a long time, wait. If you know your dog recently relieved herself and simply doesn’t need to go, skip to the next section about introducing your dog to her den. You can go back and try this step again and again. And again! You’ll find repetition of this step a worthwhile endeavor.
Rewarding a job well done
When she does go in the right spot, say hooray! Praise her, pet her, call her a very good dog because she just did something very good. She went where you wanted her to go, and that’s a big step for a new dog in a new home. Make sure she knows she has pleased you.
Then, if you have a fenced yard, you can let her off the leash now to explore on her own. If you don’t have a fence, lead her around the yard on the leash and let her sniff, check out the perimeter, and figure out what’s what. Finally, bring her in the house. Or, if your dog’s potty spot is inside and you’re already in the house, you can let her have a chance to explore the rest of the house now.
Showing your dog to his den
Now is the time to grab some treats, because you’re about to introduce your dog to her new best friend, aside from you, of course. Dogs are naturally den animals and need a safe place to call their own. One of your most powerful tools for helping your dog feel safe and comfortable in her new home is the dog den.
Whether you choose to use a plastic crate (see Figure 5-1), a wire kennel, or a portable wire enclosure — sometimes called an exercise pen or X-pen —, your dog needs somewhere to feel safe. Crates and kennels with latching doors can help with housetraining and travel, but if your dog already is housetrained and not destructive, you may not need to latch the door just yet. If the kennel is all wire, cover it with a blanket, leaving only the front open. Dogs feel safest when they can rest without feeling they need to watch their backs. Your dog probably wants to be near you, so situate the den in a room where your dog can at least hear, if not see you, when she’s resting.
Figure 5-1: One good choice for a safe spot or den is a plastic crate with solid sides and a door that can be left open or closed.
To attract your dog’s interest, make sure the den is comfortable and soft, and then open the door. Get your dog’s attention with a treat, or by leading her to the den by her leash. Then, toss a few treats into the den and step back. Don’t force your dog to go inside the den, and don’t shut the door after her if she does go in on her own. Leave the den open so she can explore. If she goes in to get the treat, praise her, but stay back. Let her know her den is a safe spot, not jail, and even you won’t grab at her while she’s in there. Talk softly and pleasantly to your dog as she explores her new den. Hide treats inside the den periodically, so your dog gets the message that she is likely to find something delicious inside that safe, comfy spot.
And what if your dog doesn’t take to the den right away? Young puppies can quickly learn to accept the den, but can endure being in it only a few minutes at a time at first. Even if whining and crying, don’t make a big deal about it, or risk increasing your pup’s anxiety. Put her in the den, shut the door, stay nearby, talk casually but reassuringly to the dog, and then let her out again. Increase the amount of time your dog spends in the den just a few minutes at a time over a period of a few days. Pretty soon, your puppy gets used to the routine and recognizes the den as something safe and predictable.
In the case of an older adopted dog that has neither been in a crate before nor had any bad experiences with the crate, not forcing the issue is an important attitude for you to take. Just leave the den door open and let your dog adjust at her own rate. If the dog is truly fearful of the crate, then use the schedule training method for housetraining (see Chapter Doggy Boot Camp: Basic Training and Behavior Management), and keep working to make the den an inviting place without putting any pressure on her.
If your dog’s first experiences with her den — and with the entire house and yard — are filled with positive associations like pleasant calm interaction and plenty of yummy treats, you can set the stage for a happy home.
You can actually let your dog rest in her den awhile or you can move on to introduce her to her new family if she’s ready.
Introducing your people
The more people your dog meets in a pleasant and positive environment, the better socialized she becomes. First of all, she needs to get to know you, her new favorite person. Next, she needs to meet the other people who live in your house. Finally, she needs to meet all kinds of other people, too.
Dogs that are familiar with many different people of different ages, sizes, hair types, colors, and mobilities become better judges of character than dogs that rarely see anyone beyond the people who live in the house. Dogs are social animals, and they find people fascinating even though prone to strange human habits. The more they know about the curious existence of their two-legged caretakers, the better they get along living in a human world.
Meeting the parents
Your dog first must get to know you and the other adults in your household. These introductions need to be positive, friendly, and not too overwhelming. Your dog is learning about you as you take him around the house and yard, showing him his new environment, but you also need to spend some time focusing on your dog on that first day, so that means:
- Sitting on the floor with your dog
- Letting your dog sniff you
- Petting your dog
- Talking to your dog
- Showing your dog some toys
See what happens when you throw a ball for your dog. Will she chase it? Retrieve it? Or ignore it? Try to figure out what your dog likes and doesn’t like, what interests her or makes her nervous. The more you find out about your dog, the more she also will learn about you.
When introducing your dog to other adults, one person at a time is plenty for your dog to take in. Have your dog sniff and investigate the other adults in the house, and have the other adults give your adopted dog treats and gentle petting. Take cues from your dog. If she seems overwhelmed or nervous, take it slow, or save introductions for later. If she seems interested to meet everyone, then give her that interaction time.
Lapping up the kid time!
Kids love dogs, and kids get pretty excited about a new dog in the house. Dogs love kids, too — most of the time. Before you’re completely familiar with your new adopted dog, however, prepare your child for how to interact with a new dog and carefully supervise all child-dog interactions. For that first introduction, clip on your dog’s leash.
Before bringing an adopted dog home, children need to know that this newest four-legged family member may be nervous, overly excited, or even scared. Loud, quick-moving children can intimidate a dog, especially one that isn’t familiar with children. Explain to your children that first impressions are important, and if the new dog’s first impression of them is one of fear, then the new dog may not want to play with the children. Children need to approach a new dog quietly, slowly, and with soft gentle voices.
Children likewise need to play with a new dog (or any small dog or puppy) while sitting with her on the floor, rather than trying to pick up the puppy and carry her around. Have the child sit, then let the dog approach the child while the dog is on a leash held by a responsible adult. Keep control over the dog so she doesn’t jump on the child, and make sure that the child handles the dog gently. Depending on age, you can let children feed the dog treats or offer her a new toy, but only under strict adult supervision. You don’t want your new dog bullying your child to get the treats. With your help, the child needs to be in control of when the dog gets the treat. This kind of positive first meeting sends a message to your dog that short little humans are just as nice and safe and rewarding as the taller ones. Your dog can become your child’s best buddy, but maintaining control over the situation is important so the relationship starts off on the right paw.
If your dog reacts too roughly or even fearfully or aggressively toward a child, take the matter seriously and don’t let child and dog interact unsupervised, ever, until the matter is fully resolved. Consult a professional trainer or behaviorist for advice. See Chapter Doggy Boot Camp: Basic Training and Behavior Management for more information about handling behavior problems in adopted dogs. Take aggressive behavior seriously and tackle the problem immediately. Aggression doesn’t just go away on its own. Don’t risk any child’s safety.
Relying on friends to help socialize your dog: The welcome-home party
Even if you have a big family, meeting other people is important for your new dog. It can happen on walks through the neighborhood or trips in the car, but another great way to socialize your dog with all kinds of people is having a dog party. Ask a variety of friends over for snacks and playtime with your new dog.
That doesn’t mean that you just let your friends mob your adopted dog. Remember that all your dog’s initial interactions with people need to be calm and positive. Give your friends treats to give your dog. Have them approach her one at a time for petting and play. As everyone gives your dog focused and happy attention, your dog gets the impression that people are just great to be around and well worth pleasing.
Before socializing your dog, make sure she doesn’t have any aggression issues, such as snapping to protect food, or fear issues, such as anxiety around certain kinds of people. Putting your dog in situations in which she feels nervous, cornered, or surrounded by too many people before she’s ready can actually make her more fearful or anxious. You’re the best judge for determining whether your dog is ready for this kind of stimulation and socialization. If you aren’t sure, try inviting friends over one at a time for awhile to find out how your dog reacts. And keep the treats coming.
Introducing other pets
Meeting the humans in the house is one thing; introducing other pets is another. Some dogs get along just fine with other dogs, but others have issues with their perceived competitors. Some dogs don’t think twice about cats, but others see cats as prey animals and great chase opportunities. Some cats, on the other hand, are not accepting and downright nasty about canines intruding on their happy homes. Small animals and birds can look a lot like prey animals, too. Your task: Carefully introduce your new dog to other pets in the household to prevent conflict and to subvert potential tragedy. Doing so can take some time, and some animals don’t adjust to their new siblings for weeks or even months. Take it slow, be diplomatic, and supervise all interactions until everyone can be reliably trusted. After that, you may be qualified to sub for Kofi Anan at the United Nations, or at least you’ll be better equipped for scheduling regular détente meetings between pets coming from opposite sides of the fence.
How dogs meet dogs
Most dogs tend to relate to each other in a hierarchical system of leaders and followers, and most dogs tend to be at least somewhat territorial. If you already have a dog that’s used to being the only dog in the house, he probably will see another dog as an interloper and want to make darn sure that the new dog knows his place.
A new dog on new turf may defer to the previous resident dog. On the other hand, expect no guarantees of a conflict-free meeting. Dogs learn crucial dog-to-dog communication skills when they are still with their littermates between 3 to 6 weeks of age. Puppies that are deprived of this time together may not understand how to communicate well with other dogs. Like people, some dogs just tend to have stronger personalities and try to be the leader. If you put two such dogs together, you can have squabbles.
You can reduce the likelihood of a brawl by taking some or all of these steps:
- Adopting a female dog if you already have a male dog, or vice versa. Male and female dogs together are less likely to fight each other than dogs of the same gender. Spayed or neutered dogs also are less likely to enter the fray.
- Introducing the dogs first on neutral territory, such as at the shelter or the home of a friend.
- Remembering that the first dog may see your home as his territory and feel threatened that another dog is on his turf. Be patient and supervise all interactions until the dogs accept each other.
- Being patient. Dogs may take a few hours to become fast friends, but some dogs may never get along very well. The relationship probably will improve with time, but it can take weeks or even months.
- Keeping both dogs on their leashes, with each handled by a separate adult. You must be a strong presence and maintain control. When both dogs think a third party is in control of the situation, they may feel less anxious, fearful, or defensive.
- Letting both dogs spend some extended getting acquainted time on either side of a baby gate (see Figure 5-2), screen door, or other barrier that neither is able to jump over. Doing so can help dogs gain interest in each other without the threat of one dog invading the other’s space.
- Giving each dog his own space, his own den, and room to run away to in case of a confrontation. A brand-new kennel or crate won’t automatically be the resident dog’s property, so it gives the new dog a place to feel safe. Keep the door open so the new dog can go in whenever he needs a safe spot, but keep the resident dog out of the new dog’s den.
- Giving both dogs plenty of attention and separate training time, especially your resident dog, who may be feeling neglected. Make sure he knows you aren’t replacing him!
- Taking it slow. Not everybody wants a new sibling. Let both dogs take time getting to know each other, and supervise all interactions until they work out their new relationship.
Figure 5-2: A baby gate can help your new dog and your resident dog get acquainted.
If your two dogs get into a fight, don’t stick your hand in the middle, because you can get hurt doing so. Keep a spray bottle filled with water handy and distract the dogs with a spritz or make a loud noise, like shaking a can of pennies or pebbles. As soon as they stop fighting for a moment, separate them immediately and put each in his respective den or separate room to cool off.
If you can’t seem to resolve the issue, call a local dog trainer who uses positive reinforcement. A trainer can work with you and your dogs, giving you some strategies tailored for your individual situation.
Some dogs get along just great with cats. In many cases, however, dogs that aren’t raised with cats see them as something to chase. Conversely, dogs that are raised with cats may let their guards down in front of a claw-wielding whirlwind, so be careful in that case, too. A new puppy probably can learn to accept your cat as a member of the family. An adult dog that has lived with cats successfully before also will probably be okay. Remember: A shelter or rescue worker may be able to provide information about the dog’s history. An adult dog that isn’t familiar with cats may pose a problem.
When introducing a dog and a cat, both need protection. Be sure your cat’s claws are trimmed to prevent serious injury to your dog whose eyes are especially vulnerable. And make sure your cat has safe places to escape if the dog attempts to give chase. Finally, supervise all interactions until you’re sure both pets can be trusted.
Some people keep their dogs and cats separated, giving each one a separate level of the house or its own room, but doing so can be complicated and a slip-up can cause disaster. Regular obedience training can help you and your dog communicate so that your dog understands what is and is not allowed in your home — and that includes cat chasing. A few dogs never are able to live peacefully with cats. If that happens to you, you may need to consider returning your new pet to the shelter or rescue group in favor of a dog that does get along with cats. Because returning to the shelter is stressful for the dog, I urge you once again never to rush into an adoption without a good chance that your new dog will fit into your home situation.
Small animals: Friends, not doggy snacks!
Some dogs have strong instincts for chasing and killing small animals. Terriers, for example, have been bred for centuries to strengthen their instincts for going after vermin — that’s why they’re called ratters. If you have hamsters, gerbils, rats, mice, guinea pigs, ferrets, or rabbits as pets, your dog may feel a compulsion to get to them, so you must be extra careful to keep these small creatures safe. Introduce them carefully, or keep the small animal in a place where the dog won’t see it, and never leave small animals or birds alone with dogs, for the safety of both — a dog can kill a small bird, but to a small dog, a large parrot is a formidable foe. Make sure that cages are out of reach and inaccessible to your dog.
After your dog has had a bathroom break (or two), seen his den, met the family and other pets, and done some power sniffing around his new digs, give your dog some downtime. Take your dog back to her special safe place, throw in some treats, and let her go inside. If she won’t, herd her gently inside, and close the door. Praise her and talk gently and positively, and then without making a big deal about it, let her have a rest.
Your dog may whine, cry, or whimper pathetically, but never fear, you don’t have to leave her in there for hours. Instead, leave her in the den for at least 15 to 20 minutes. She may settle down and have a nap, or just watch you for awhile. If she seems nervous, you can stay in the same room, but don’t pay any attention to her. This time is specifically for your dog to be by herself, and your sympathetic attentions will only make her worry. Remind yourself that you aren’t ignoring your dog. You’re teaching her self-sufficiency and confidence, and you’re teaching her that when she is in her den, her time is her own and nobody will bother her.
After a short rest period, you can let your dog out of the den again. However, take her right back to that potty spot outside, on her leash, until she does her business. Then, get on with whatever activities you have planned next. Repeat these short, positive, nonemotional den rest sessions throughout the day; your dog will quickly learn to appreciate and even look forward to them. Pretty soon, she may go on in there all by herself.
When night falls, tuck your dog into her den until morning, close the door to keep her safely inside, and prepare to endure a night or two of crying and whining. Your new puppy or even an adult dog may not understand at first that this is time for sleeping and that she can come out again in the morning, but after a few nights, she’ll get the routine. Remember how much dogs depend on routine? Young puppies probably need a bathroom break during the night, once or maybe twice, but don’t get up every time the puppy cries to commiserate. Send the message, instead, that this is how it works, and everybody likes it that way. Soon, your puppy will like it that way, too.
For adult dogs that truly resist the crate, set up a comfy bed beside yours, so your dog knows you’re nearby (be sure to close your bedroom door so the dog isn’t free to roam while you sleep). Your new adopted dog needs a sense of security, and night is one opportunity to reinforce that. The first few nights can be trying on any new pet owner, but just think of how the adopted dog feels. Most dogs adjust very quickly and sleep through the night sooner than a human baby would. Plan on a nap tomorrow, and be patient. In a week, chances are that nighttime woes will be a distant memory.
Recognizing Adjustment Problems
Adopted dogs often make the transition to their new homes with only minor problems. Occasionally, however, adopted dogs suffer from more severe transitional issues such as anxiety, fear, and extreme hyperactivity. Many of these problems can be addressed by merely acting calm and not making a big deal about your dog’s behavior. He soon finds out that he’s worried or fearful over nothing. But sometimes, what you do at home just isn’t enough.
If your dog is suffering a serious transitional issue, you first need to have the dog checked by a veterinarian to be sure no health issues are involved, and if not, then seek the professional advice and aid of a recommended trainer who uses positive reinforcement.
After arriving in your home, you may see some indications that point to the need for professional intervention, if your dog:
- Injures himself trying to get out of his kennel or out of the house.
- Remains extremely hyperactive, racing around, barking, pacing, or panting, and won’t calm down after two hours, even after you’re calmed down and setting a good example.
- Becomes aggressive and bites or snarls for any reason.
- Shakes, shivers, and cries, and/or hides for more than a day, and you can’t coax him out of hiding.
- Refuses to eat for more than two days (more than one day for puppies).
- Has a seizure. For information on how to recognize and handle a seizure, see Chapter Caring for Your Adopted Dog.
If your dog experiences any of these conditions, seek professional help. You need to know that experiencing these conditions may mean your adopted dog needs a little extra patience and work, and in a few cases — not the majority, fortunately — dogs may never adjust and need to be returned. Talk to your trainer about what to expect and whether other family members (children, other pets) can be in a dangerous situation because of your dog. But also know that most of the time, adjustment issues can be successfully resolved. With a patient and caring owner like you, your dog has a great chance of settling happily in and, with time, learning to trust, love, and thrive.
by Eve Adamson