You have been dreaming about your rescue dog for a long time and now the day has arrived. Finally, you have adopted the dog of your dreams. What should you do next?
The temptation is to do everything all at once. We often compensate for a life that we felt wasn’t the best for our rescue dog. So, we take them for three long walks a day. We get all our friends and family to come and meet our much-loved new edition. We start socialising them with as many dogs as possible and teach them all the lessons they should have learned before they came to live with you. You book them into dog training classes as soon as possible.
All appears well at first. Then after a few weeks, things can start to change. The dog might start to growl over an object or food bowl. Or he barks when he sees dogs on walks. He might start lunging on the lead. The dog is stressed and not coping at all well.
What went wrong?
So, what should we do when we adopt a dog?
Take your time! Get to know who your dog is and let him get to know and, more importantly, trust you.
The first lessons your dog needs to learn are:
1. Where his safe place is.
2. That his garden or outdoor space is safe.
3. Where his toilet is and that it is safe to use.
4. Where his food is.
5. Where his water is.
6. Where his toys are.
7. That YOU are his portable safe space.
8. That you will care for him and provide affection, food, water etc. as he requires.
These lessons will take him up to a month or two.
Second lessons he needs to learn are:
1. What behaviours you like and will reward.
2. What behaviours you don’t like and will ignore (or ensure he is not able to practice).
3. Walks are safe, and he will not be mobbed by other dogs until you have determined whether or not he actually likes dogs.
4. YOU are his safe space outdoors.
5. You have his back and won’t allow strangers to mob him.
These lessons will take more than a month (maybe up to six months or more depending on his confidence). Items 1 and 2 should be starting in the first lessons section, but are lower in priority than safety.
Third lessons he needs to learn are:
1. That he can be safe at your home alone, in his safe space for very short periods.
2. These periods home alone should be gradually increased according to his ability to tolerate being on his own without you at home. Use a dog cam to monitor via a Smart Phone APP so you know he is coping.
3. Visitors to his home are safe and kind and don’t overwhelm him.
4. Some more complex training activities such a dog training classes or dog sports can be joined.
It can be a good idea to take your dog to training classes or classes for dog sports like Rally, scent work, Trei Ball, agility, hoopers, dog dancing etc. You should only decide to do that when you are sure of the following:
1. Your dog feels safe with you.
2. Your dog is comfortable around other dogs and people.
3. Your dog knows he is safe at his home and is more relaxed with new experiences. Being safe at home lowers overall stress levels and ensures the dog can tolerate more challenges.
Don’t enrol your rescue dog with a dog training class until you know he has settled down, likes other dogs and can cope with this new experience. Generally, I would wait between at least 1 – 4 months before doing this depending on the dog. In some cases, one to one training might be better if your dog is not comfortable being close to dogs or people. Ask to see how your dog copes by attending a single session first if possible. The trainer will appreciate this too as they won't want to enrol a dog and then find he can't cope.
Most importantly. Don’t rush this new relationship. Get to know each other and ensure your dog will enjoy the things you would like to do together. It’s easier to increase what you do with him rather than overwhelm him and then find you did too much. After this point, it would be more difficult for your dog to trust you and progress will be slower. Observe your dog, get to know how he feels about things and make sure you listen to his needs. Once he understands where he is safe, what behaviours you like him to do and what behaviours you will not reward, he will feel confident and secure.
Enjoy your new rescue dog!