The first priority with an adopted, rescue, or foster dog is to have the dog feel safe and build trust. Dogs that have had to change homes are usually traumatized. The more changes in settings and the higher number of past homes the greater the traumatic effect on the dogs.
The first thing to recognize is the resilience of each dog is different and backgrounds vary. For some dogs, your home will be the first normal, calm, and safe environment the dog has experienced.
What happened the first sixteen weeks of the dog’s life will have a profound effect on the development, social and coping skills throughout the dog’s life.
Some of the most psychologically damaged dogs I have encountered are dogs that have been extremely isolated in outdoor kennels, tied to doghouses, puppy mill, or breeder dogs, with little exposure to new people and the sights and sounds of the world.
|I recommend the book Stress in Dogs by Martina Sholz & Clarissa von Reinhardt (This book is really excellent for anyone with an adopted dog or fostering dogs or just have a sensitive or anxious dog. Can order through www.dogwise.com or www.amazon.com )|
At first provide as quiet and peaceful an environment as possible. For many adopted dogs the effects of past traumas will not emerge for a few months so proceed slowly and always err on the side of caution. Adding too much activity and new stresses in the beginning may create behavior problems that could have been prevented with more gradual transitions.
Think of it as rehabilitating not dog training. Most dog training advice is for completely confident well adjusted dogs, this advice often does not apply in the case of the adopted/foster dog.
In my adult life, I have one way or another adopted all of my dogs. Some proved with time to be very adaptable, and others had deeply ingrained fears and anxieties along with poor coping skills. Each dog is a little different much like people.
I recommend creating a peaceful dog proofed space for the dog away from outside & inside sounds. I find most of these dogs do better in an exercise pen rather than a crate.
Many of these dogs have had bad experiences with confinement in crates, therefore; the added space of the exercise pen can work well for them. Put exercise pen on inexpensive carpet or if dog will chew it or not housebroken a big cut out piece of linoleum.
Play soft classical music or buy Through a Dog’s Ear, music created to relax dogs. Provide lots of safe and fun toys and chew items. Just like babies, dogs should not have anything that can be swallowed. Good toys for stuffing with food and treats are Kong Toys, Busy Buddy toys from the company Premier.
Good foods for stuffing are: peanut butter, fat free cream cheese, fat free plain yogurt frozen with treats frozen in freezer, avoid anything with chemicals and dyes and of course partially hydrogenated oils. For all natural chew items, bigger is better to prevent swallowing small pieces, like bully sticks from better small owner pet stores or online, get ones from the U.S. Merrick Co. makes some good natural treats, smoked stuffed bones. Balls at appropriate size, rope toys as long as dog doesn’t shred them are good. Buster Cube toy dispenses food randomly and is tough toy. These are just a few good toys.
|Remember NOT to use any punishment like threats, sound makers, shock collars, choke chains, verbal scolding, spray bottles, forced handling, etc. I have seen these practices create huge hard to repair behavior issues and will destroy trust in people.|
Chewing releases stress and will calm the dog so have lots available. Cover any windows where dog could see people or dogs outside or use baby gates to keep dog from rooms with windows where people, cars, etc. pass.
Feed dog in Ex Pen. If multiple dogs, feed all separately so they can eat without worry.
If the dog is afraid and cautious in house and/or yard, let the dog get comfortable in those spaces first before going out on outings.
When the dog is comfortable in the home environment, go out to very quiet areas and for short periods initially. I usually start with a quiet park trail at a quiet time of day and week. Most dogs do well in a no pull harness with clip on front of chest. Clip to harness and flat collar at first to ensure dog cannot wriggle out of harness. I like either the no pull body harness from the company Premier, or the Sense-ation harness from Softouch Concepts. Read instructions for all of this stuff, because there are important details. Sense-ation harness is only for walking not running, be sure it does not rub behind legs. For extremely fearful dogs that are afraid of handling put on a regular harness that can stay on and clips to leash along the back of dog. Some dogs are so afraid of people they must wear this with permanent leash because of extreme fear of handling. Use 6ft leash for most dogs. NO retractable leashes, these can lead to behavior problems, injury, poor control, and break often. Speaking of which, have your contact information on the dog before you even get the dog home. Use temporary write-on tag if necessary. The most common time for a dog to run away is when he is relocated to a new place or in transit to new place.
So for the first few weeks when this dog is ready, bring lots of irresistible food (ie. diced pieces of boiled chicken) on all outings, I usually bring around 2 cups and save any leftover in fridge for next outing. Let the dog sniff and take his time, so he feels safe in new environment. Detour away from people and other dogs at first, feed while you do this. This will set you up for success. Try to remain calm and relaxed while out, and don’t scold the dog for reacting to things. Keep quiet or use a soft gentle voice.
Avoid dog parks. These are often frequented by dogs with poor social skills and people that are misunderstanding bullying behavior for play behavior or, I hate to say it, are not using good judgment about looking out for the welfare of other people and dogs at the park. A bad experience could damage your dog and be overwhelming for an adopted dog. Wait for at least a few weeks before introducing dog friends and be sure these are mellow dogs and that your adopted dog doesn’t already have a bad association with dogs as many do. Many dogs live wonderful lives with people and not dogs. The exception would be a dog under approximately 6 months old. In this case, you want to be in a very positive and controlled dog class but again stay within the pup’s comfort level, don’t just throw him into a big group of dogs.
If you have other household animals, do gradual supervised introductions over a few weeks. The dog will do better if introduction is slow. Always, err on the side of caution.
If your new dog comes with common ordinary dog behaviors and needs some training, train without punishment. Start with a controlled setting, use a leash if you need a little more control. Use well timed positive reinforcement to teach desirable behaviors. Ignore unwanted behaviors like jumping up, being mouthy. The rewarded behaviors like sit, four paws on the floor, lying down, eye contact, will increase. Go to my blog at www.trainyourbestfriend.com to look for video example links coming soon. Often doing less and staying quiet, relaxed, calm, and still around dogs helps them quiet down. As famous dog expert Jean Donaldson says, the first question about each dog is “Is the dog upset?”, if yes then use classical conditioning to gradually change a bad association with something like car rides into a good association and this solves the issue.
An example of using counter classical conditioning, is to sit in yard with a dog, that gets very agitated any time a person walks by along fence, on leash with lots of over the top yummy food and the moment AFTER the dog looks in direction or you hear or see person walking by you feed the dog continuously until the person has passed and cannot hear person then feed a couple more seconds and stop. You do this each time someone passes and you keep dog out of yard when not working on exercise so the dog doesn’t see people passing without food only to ruin the great new association you are trying to build. Jean Donaldson’t book available online called “Mine!” has an outstanding explanation of how classical conditioning works and all the necessary details. It also has some excellent exercised for handling and restraint for vet visit as well as when necessary muzzle conditioning. These parts of the book are more than worth the price of the book even if your dog doesn’t guard things use the relevant for your dog sections of this book.
If the dog is not “upset”, than you can do normal training using the things that reinforce the dog in other words things the dog likes like food, toys, games, whatever the dog enjoys.
Introduce new things and situations gradually after a few weeks or when the dog is ready for more fearful dogs, when the dog is ready.
Never force a person, dog, or situation on a dog. Fear can create a permanent memory and cause problems in the long run. You want to avoid a behavior problem by introducing new things, people, or dogs, etc. when the dog is ready. Patience and time work wonders with these dogs.
See my site for more resources www.trainyourbestfriend.com
Jeni Grant BA, CPDT-KA