Living With A New Dog

Making the Transition Smoother

Because your dog is now in a rescue program, her past is likely not fully known. But since being rescued, she has been nurtured and cared for by people who have given her love, shelter, stability and as much routine as possible. Dogs are pack animals and need a routine. They need to understand their place in the “pack” and now your family will be this dog’s pack. No matter how much you love her, your new dog is the lowest member of your pack, and that includes your children.

Your dog will go through an adjustment period where she weans herself off the life she knew before. During this adjustment period, your goal is to make the transition from her old home to her new home as smooth as possible. Below are a few suggestions to make this happen:

Use the Vocabulary She Understands

Your new dog may or may not have a vocabulary she knows. If she does, use it frequently. It is the language she understands and it will help ease her into her new surroundings. Talk to your dog………… a lot. She will learn to understand you if you talk to her. But when it comes to giving her commands, don’t use sentences. Example: Pepper, sit. Not, Pepper, I’d like you to sit while empty the dishwasher. If you want quick responses from her, use her vocabulary words along with her name. She does not have a choice once the command is given. She may try to test you as the new leaders of her pack and not obey at first. This is normal. Be patient, but be firm. Once she does what you ask, always praise, praise, praise.

Exercise Her Daily

Most dogs have a lot of energy and needs to burn it off in a healthy way. Exercising her is a wonderful way to develop a bond with her. It also is an important aspect of developing her routine. Take her for long walks daily. Throw a ball for her. Play Frisbee.

Develop a Routine for Her Day

As pack animals, dogs strive for routine. They need a pack leader and they do best in an environment that is somewhat predictable. As the dog’s new owners, YOU will become her pack leaders. You will, just by going though your normal day, be establishing a routine for her. Don’t lose sight of the impact your routine has on her, in particular, the parts of your routine that include her. This stems from the time she is fed to when she gets her meds to what time you come home from work to when she goes outside to potty. Structure will make her transition into your home easier. Be aware of that, especially in the first few weeks you have her.

Establish Acceptable Behavior and Unacceptable Behavior Immediately

For about the first week or two, your new dog will be studying the lay of the land, checking out her new home, discovering all the new smells and seeing all the new sights. If she begins to exhibit a behavior or habit that is not acceptable, deal with it immediately. Don’t let her do things you don’t like for days or weeks. Tell her “No” when she does the unacceptable behavior, and replace it with something acceptable. Example: dog mistakes one of the child’s toys as her own and is chewing on it on the living room floor. You would say, “No, dog’s name. That is not yours.” Immediately give her one of her toys, and praise her. “Good girl to chew your toy.” “Good girl to take the ball.” The longer she is not corrected for doing something you don’t like, the more she believes she is pleasing you. This makes a negative behavior harder to break. Deal with it quickly.

Be Consistent

Much like child-rearing, dog training is an ongoing process. There is no beginning and no end. It is a daily commitment. When giving your dog commands, praise, corrections, touches… be consistent. The more consistent you are, the easier her transition into your home. Speak calmly and use simple words she understands. If she does not know what you are saying, she will read your tone and your body language. It is easy to be saying one thing vocally and exhibiting another emotion through your tone or your gestures. She will pick up on all of it. Think about that and realize she is trying to please you but needs to understand what you want. Be patient, be gentle, be firm. But most of all, be consistent. This will help her learn to trust you.

Be an Alpha

Dogs in the wild live in packs and have a leader, also known as an alpha. This instinct to have a leader is a part of a dog’s psyche. You must be the alpha. By using a consistent training vocabulary, walking her on a leash, giving her lots of exercise, insisting on good behaviors and correcting unacceptable ones, giving her praise when she pleases you, you will be establishing yourself as her alpha. She needs this. It is not about being overly assertive with her and certainly not about being aggressive with her. She simply needs to see that you are in charge and that she is part of your pack. Example: the pack leader eats first. All other dogs in the pack eat afterwards. In a perfect world, your family eats before her. That may not be realistic with family work schedules, but the concept is still the same. She needs to feel the hierarchy of your family and see her place in it. You are boss. You can love her and dote over her, but you are always the boss.

For women, this means using a voice the dog responds to. Some women have very high-pitched voices or speak so softly that dogs simply don’t respond to them. On the other hand, some men can be overbearing and harsh with their voice, even though they are vocalizing what they deem a simple “command.” The dog will pick up on any perceived harsh tone and think it is being punished, simply because of too strong a voice. We are all different in this regard. If your dog is not responding verbally to you the way you would like, examine how you are using your voice. You may not be using your best “alpha” tone or the alpha tone she responds to.

Use Lots of Praise

Emotionally balanced dogs have usually been trained using positive reinforcement. This means verbally showering your dog with praise when she does something that pleases you. To help her transition into your house smoother, watch for anything she does that pleases you. Give her lots of praise. “Good girl to say hi.” “Good girl to fill in the blank.” She needs praise every time she does something right. She will learn to respond to your words of praise as well as the tone of your voice when you are happy. She wants to please you. You should let her know when she does please you.

Don’t pet her on the head when you are praising her. Petting a dog’s head is actually an act of domination. Certainly you can stroke her head when you talk to her or are loving on her. But when PRAISING her, rub her chest with your fingers, gently. This is very soothing to a dog and non-threatening. (Note: chest rubbing for praise is not appropriate for small children, as it puts them directly at eye level with the dog. Have your children give verbal praise only.)

Touching the Dog

As for other types of touching, a dog wants to sniff the back of someone’s hand to gain an oral confirmation the person is no threat. Rescue dogs, in particular, may have been mistreated. They may have been struck by a human hand. For this reason, never reach toward any dog with an open hand (your palm). If someone were to meet your new dog for the first time, they should extend the back of their hand forward, slowly, and let her sniff it. Once the sniffing is over and she seems either indifferent or really happy to meet the new person, you would praise her: “Good girl to say hi, Pepper.” As a new member of your family, your dog may be frightened by lots of people approaching her at the same time to pet or interact with her. The sniffing technique is pretty universal. Let her do it. Instruct anyone who ASKS if they can touch the dog, and they should ask first, to touch her lightly on the back or gently on her chest. No one needs to be patting her harshly on the head.

Your new dog will be experiencing a baseline stress in her new home simply because her life, in her old pack, is missing. That was her stability. So ease her into new situations and new people. Give her a chance to get comfortable. Instruct people she meets how to touch her so she is not afraid of them. Don’t let lots of people rush up to her. Dogs tend to be people pleasers, so let her get confident enough in her new surroundings to greet people on her own. Don’t force her. Give her a chance to get to that comfort level as she adjusts to her new home.