The concluding part of my Diploma Thesis:
Now, let’s say a dog has just been adopted and has arrived in its new home. Now what?
One of the biggest mistakes a new owner can make with a dog, any dog, is to automatically assume that the dog knows exactly what it’s supposed to do. They treat it like a human houseguest, and expect it to unpack its suitcase in the guestroom, put its feet up and the kettle on, and settle right in. What they don’t seem to realise is that the dog has never set foot in their house before, and has absolutely no idea where it is, what it’s supposed to be doing, or what is expected of it. Depending on its personality, some dogs may start sniffing around excitedly, climb up onto furniture, pee against the side of the sofa, or decide to play Catch, Tug or Hide-n-Seek with its new owners. Timid and fearful dogs, on the other hand, may cower on the floor and even urinate as a gesture of appeasement, just in case it’s done something wrong by being there in the first place! They may simply crawl off into a dark and quiet corner, and not come out for hours.
It is up to the owner to show the dog where to do its toileting, where its food and water bowls are, where it is to sleep, where the garden or yard is where it can sniff around and play, what toys it can play with, areas that are off-limits to it (like the toilet and home office, studio or baby’s room). The owner needs to show or teach their new dog basic “house rules”, where and what its boundaries are. It’s got nothing to do with dominance. Dogs that know what’s expected of them tend to behave better and are more confident in themselves, than dogs that are constantly confused and afraid to put one paw wrong, and who live in constant bewilderment in a state of constant agitation and stress. If a dog is not relaxed, but is constantly aroused, it will not be in any frame of mind to learn much, or even eat.
Before being adopted, the dog would have already been introduced to other members of its new family, including any other pets. It may take the dog a while to settle in, but with time and patience on the part of the new owner, this will happen.
The settling in period for Shelter dogs can be anything from 1 to 2 weeks to several months. The more extroverted dogs will “come out of their shell” within a few days, and settle right in at home like they were always there. Others may take a long while to come round. People can be too impatient sometimes, and give up too easily or too early, before they’ve even seen the dog’s true character emerge. These people are the ones who surrender or return their dogs and then try to get another one, one that they believe will be Perfect from Day One.
Such a dog does not exist.
Most Shelters have Trainers who will attempt to work through any teething problems or behavioural issues with new owners, in the first few weeks after they’ve adopted a dog. Many Shelters offer Training sessions for owners, to help them and their dogs get accustomed to each other. Such training can be in groups, such as Puppy Classes, or singly for dogs that need individually tailored help.
Shelters work hard to match the lifestyles and requirements of new owners to their dogs, before allowing a dog to be adopted out. It’s against anyone’s interest, especially the dog’s, for a dog to be treated as a “recyclable” commodity, being adopted and then returned, over and over again. There is only so much a dog’s psyche can take, before it starts developing bad habits and then has to be taught to unlearn such behaviour.
A good Shelter will thoroughly screen prospective adopters, by way of a Questionnaire, in order to determine if the person is a good match for the dog’s character and space requirements. Big dogs don’t necessarily need big yards, but they do need space indoors, so apartment dwellings may not be the best place for them. Some dogs are natural fence-jumpers, or escape artists, so the prospective owner must have secure fencing or high walls, or a secure yard to keep the dog in. Separation Anxiety can be a major issue for some Shelter dogs, so it is important to not let the dog go to someone who’s away at work all day long and only comes home at night. Some dogs may only suit part-time workers, or those who work from home, because they fret too much if left alone for more than a couple of hours.
Many dogs have been returned to Shelters because they were reportedly “destructive” and tore up the owner’s mattresses or sofas, chewed through all the wood in the house, ripped the curtains and carpets up, toileted in the most inappropriate places, or killed the cat while the owner was out.
Such behaviour is not necessarily genetic or inherent in the dog. It may be a sign of frustration or anxiety that the dog has “self-pacified” itself by chewing, digging or generally destroying the objects around it.
Dog Trainers are generally trained to make dogs do a certain behaviour on cue – walk on a loose lead, sit, lie down, stay, etc. Dog Behaviourists try to make dogs Stop doing a certain behaviour, by offering it alternatives with the aim of extinguishing the unwanted behaviour. Most if not all Shelters have Dog Trainers, but they are already hard-pressed to do their daily jobs looking after hundreds of dogs, and may not have the resources to devote an hour or so each day to each dog on an individual basis, over a period of time. That’s when a dedicated Dog Behaviourist can play an important part in a Shelter, 1) for dogs awaiting adoption, to increase their chances of getting adopted, and perhaps more importantly, 2) for dogs who have already been adopted but are at risk of being returned because their owners don’t know what to do about their problem. A good Dog Behaviourist will be able to offer owners real options and a plan of action for shaping their Shelter dog into their Best.Dog.Ever.
The secret to a long and happy life with any dog, are these 4 simple things:
You have a dog because you LOVE it. You develop PATIENCE when it’s learning how to be your dog in your house, you never, ever use anything but Positive Reinforcement to guide it. Certainly NO electric or prong collars and Never any hitting. With TIME and REPETITION, your dog will be shaped by you into the most beautiful dog you have ever had the privilege of knowing. It will be your faithful companion for Life, until it passes over the Rainbow Bridge. And when the time is right, you will do it all over again…for the Love of Dogs.