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Speaking Adopter to Adopter

By Robin Tierney

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The following Dog Tip was written by adopter Candy Hamner. This article covers many tips for success with a new dog, whether the adopter is a first-time or long-time dog owner.

Having just gone through the experience of adopting a rescue pup, I would like to share with you all the benefits of my experience based on books I have read, articles I have scanned, and advice from my vet and a trainer.

First, understand that adopting a shelter or rescue pup/dog is a noble and wonderful thing. It is giving an animal a new opportunity -- one he might not otherwise have. In some ways it will be like adopting a child -- they come with a little extra emotional baggage. Helping your pup/dog and yourself through the extra baggage can result in an absolutely wonderful dog and enriching relationship.

Chances are your puppy/dog is low on "puppy self-confidence," is not as trusting as he may have once been, and is not feeling secure. He may be behind in his socialization skills and has had limited obedience training. Remember, he may have lived in several places before coming to you and his surroundings have changed once again.

The dog needs time and attention focused on re-building his trust, gaining his self-confidence and establishing a sense of safety and security. He needs to play catch-up on emotional and social skills. He needs training and new skills. You will need to do this at the same time you are training him to sit, stay, become housebroken and everything else. Here are some suggestions to make it go easier:

1. Start your puppy/dog off "small." Meaning, let him get used to his new crate, new family, new things and a small area of the house. Don't overwhelm him by giving too much space and too much freedom or too many expectations. Let him know how pleased you are that he is there.

2. Keep your expectations "small." Remember, everything is new to him, so don't look for him to adjust in a few hours or days. Progress is measured in small steps. He lets you pet him. He keeps his crate dry. He doesn't cry anymore at night. He shakes less when you take him outside today than he did yesterday. Expect some setbacks. Persevere and be patient.

3. Keep him close to you those first few days. This builds your relationship, establishes trust and helps him to feel more safe and secure. Keep on a leash in the room you are in and give him a toy or bone. When he chews or plays with the toy, praise him: "Great work! Good Job! Good Play! Wonderful dog!"

4. When you take him outside, or in the car, keep the expectations "small." He may get frightened or nervous as soon as he gets outside or in the car. At first, you will need to decondition him through small doses of change. A short walk around the yard on a lead. Just sit in the car for 10 minutes -- don't go anywhere -- and let him have a treat! Next, take a short ride to the mailbox. Slowly expand his boundaries. Be patient! Cuddle and love him. Let him know he is your dog.

5. Tell him how wonderful he is every time he does something you want him to do. Focus on the positives: "Good quiet. Good play. Good boy." Let him know how pleased you are that he is happily chewing on his bone and not your shoe. Tell him how great he is when he goes potty outside!

6. Remove temptation. Remove breakable objects from his reach and don't leave him unsupervised those first few days/weeks unless he is crated or gated. Eliminate as many opportunities as you can for him to fail. Failure only decreases his sense of self. Don't let him fail. Set the game up for him to win. Winning increases his confidence and his trust.

7. Play games with him. It builds his self-confidence and makes him happy and relaxed.

8. Tire him out. Walk with him, run with him, play with him. Tired is good. It relieves some of the tension and anxiety and keeps him out of trouble. Tell him how wonderful he is when he quietly rests!

9. Expect him to be a puppy or a "new" dog. He does not come to your house knowing your rules. You must teach him the rules -- slowly, carefully. He is new, things are new, life has just been turned upside down, so don't try to teach him everything in one day.

10. Keep mindful of the environmental changes your dog has just been through. A dog living in a rural setting is exposed to less stimuli that a dog living in an urban area. A dog with a fenced yard is more protected from over-stimulation than the dog walked around the city streets. If you are bringing your dog from the country to the city or suburbs, be patient, introduce him to all the sights and sounds slowly, a small amount at a time. Let him acclimate slowly to change. When he is frightened by a siren, put him in a sit-stay and stand close to him, but do not coddle or you may reinforce the nervous behavior. Once he is calm, praise him: "Wonderful dog, good calm, good quiet, great job!!" Expose him to the new things a little at a time.

Remember how fearful you were the first time you rode a bike without training wheels or sang solo? New can be scary for all of us. Imagine how you would feel if you were suddenly taken away from your home and your job, then placed in a foreign country where you did not know the culture, the language or the social rules. You'd probably feel unnerved! Your dog is feeling that way too.

12. Reinforce the positives, ignore the negatives. If the dog is acting anxious, try to ignore it. As soon as he is calm, lay on the praise. Let him know that you love it when he is calm and brave. If you coddle him when he is nervous, he may mistakenly think you like him to behave that way. When he's doing something undesirable, ignore him or remove the object -- then praise him as soon as he does the right thing. Take care NOT to ignore the good. When he is good, make sure he knows YOU KNOW he is good!

13. Talk to your dog. Develop a rapport. Sing to him if you like to sing! You are the leader of the pack -- even if it is just two of you. Use your voice to establish your role and to reassure. Your voice can be very reassuring to the dog in many situations. I talk to my dog all the time when we walk, especially when we are in new and different situations. I tell her how smart and brave and wonderful she is when she is handling herself in a difficult situation. I see her respond to my words -- they help her to feel more confident.

14. Enroll in puppy classes, obedience classes or get a trainer. Read web pages, books and magazines. There is a wealth of knowledge out there to help you -- tap into it.

15. Give your dog time. He will not develop into the perfect pet overnight. Talk to other dog owners, talk to trainers, and read everything you can.

Remember, your puppy needs to develop self confidence. You can help him feel safe and secure so that he can develop to his full potential. ------

For more of Robin's Dog Tips, see the index at:  www.paw-rescue.org/PAW/dog_tips.php

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Last Updated: April 23, 2018 (LET) PawSupport