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Dog Tip: Easing the Transition to a New Home

By Robin Tierney

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Our PAW dog adopters can benefit from good advice about realistic expectations, since the transition period comes with ample challenges. The following tip includes helpful advice from volunteer Lawrie Rich and Golden Opportunities/Golden Retriever Rescue of Illinois, Inc.

Imagine being transported to an entirely unfamiliar land and being taken in by people who don't speak the same language as you. You don't know what's expected of you; you're not even sure of what to do next. You're surrounded by strange people and things. You don't know how long you're going to be there; all you know is that it seems like the other people will be making the decisions, and you don't even know if you can trust them.

Now you're getting an idea of how bewildered a dog feels when entering a new home.

The reactions of the dog to this transition will vary depending on his temperament and background. Perhaps he was given up, or neglected, or lost. He has probably been on a difficult journey. Things started looking up once he was taken in by a rescue group, but still he has experienced distinct changes in environment and routine. Now that he has found what hopefully will be a permanent, good home, it is up to the adopters to help the dog learn his place in the family pack and to feel secure.

Volunteers at Golden Opportunities write: "In the process of transforming your dog's confusion into security and knowledge, it is important to look at things from his point of view. Most dogs are eager to please their owners once they understand the rules. It is your job to communicate clear rules in a way your dog can understand. Be sensitive to the fact that in your dog's previous home he may have been encouraged to sit on the sofa, beg for food, jump up for attention, or play roughly. If it is not permissible, teach him, do not blame him.

"Be kind and patient; dogs need repetition and consistency to learn. Instruct him in a positive way so that he does not feel defensive or confused. Reward him for good behavior with treats, hugs and a happy voice. Corrections for inappropriate behavior should be used sparingly."

Be sure to start teaching the dog basic commands early on. Obedience classes are essential for dogs of any age. They are as much for the owner as for the dog, for even a previously trained dog' behaviors will go downhill if the new owner does not practice consistent, positive reinforcement of desired behaviors. Obedience training is also an excellent way to bond with the new family member - and group classes offer a unique setting for improving the social skills of the dog, since they'll be interacting with dogs and people alike.

It can take a few weeks to several months for a dog to adjust to his new people and surroundings. Some dogs exhibit little stress, others a lot - but in any case, be understanding of the dog's need to learn, and start teaching the "house rules" starting on the adoption day.

Some other tips:

* During the transition period, confine the dog in a safe, secure area (with safe playthings) when you cannot watch him.

* Watch the dog for signs of discomfort or restlessness, then whisk him outside to a close-by potty place you have established.

* Supervise children closely when with the new dog.

* Keep the home relatively calm and quiet the first few days (which is one reason we caution families with busy households to avoid adopting around Christmas).

* Make sure you positively reinforce good behaviors and purposefully teach the dog good house manners. Food treats and positive, consistent praise generally work the best. Don't issue a command until you put yourself in a position to enforce it.

* Introduce the dogs to other people of all ages, but with your hand on the leash in case a correction is necessary. It is important to socialize the dog to different people and different environments, so you can enjoy going out together. You want to teach the dog that he can trust you to decide when other people and situations are safe.

* Use a well-fitted collar and keep the dog on-leash outside. Lassie may always come home, but the adopted dog is likely to run off if given the chance.

* By putting this advice into practice, the adopter will help the dog make a smooth transition into his or her new world.