Settling in the new canine family member

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You’ve bought or adopted a puppy, or adult dog, and you’re going to fetch the dog on Friday so that you can settle it in over the weekend and spend maximum time getting to know the dog and vice-versa. It’s the right thing to do.

Or is it?

Loving and caring owners want to welcome their new canine family member into their home by spending every waking and sleeping hour with it. Friday evening, the full day Saturday, the full day Sunday, often taking the dog with if they need to leave the house, and following the dog around as it investigates or encouraging the more shy dog to explore.

Monday comes, and the family goes to school and work.

This is an enormous shock for the dog and it is at that exact moment that things like separation anxiety and various other forms of anxiety-related behaviour develops. Whining, barking, attempts to escape the confines of the property and of course, blind destruction of gardens and physical items.

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We need to bear in mind that dogs are for all intents and purposes, creatures of habit and routine and above all else, animals that are completely and utterly dependent on man. As such, dogs form lasting bonds with their owners almost instantly, and it is extremely traumatic for them when their owners leave them behind (think about how we need to teach puppies and dogs not to follow us out the gate, run after the car, etc. — not something that dogs simply know not to do — it goes against every element of their being to remain behind while their humans leave).

Bringing a new dog into the home is a wondrous experience for all. But it is important that we establish routine off the bat, so that the dog is not left in a state of dumbfounded disbelief on the Monday when his 24/7/365 companions of the weekend simply “disappear”.

If you are bringing a new dog home, consider following some of these simple guidelines over the weekend:

  • Allow the dog to explore and investigate in his own time. Calling him to do things with you only enhances his need for your involvement in his life.
  • Let him rest wherever he chooses. Don’t encourage him onto the couch, or into specific spaces. If, on Monday, the couch is no longer available, he has lost a big part of what made him feel safe and secure over the weekend and that is his place to safely rest.
  • Leave him alone for short periods (leaving the house). When you return, do so with no fanfare or excitement. Do it a few times and he will soon learn that when you leave, you will come back. Do not enter the house unless he is quiet and calm — not whining, barking or displaying destructive behaviour). Gradually extend the periods of time that you are gone. If someone invites you to a quick lunch on Sunday, go! If your kiddo has a party to go to, take them. Just make sure that the dog is safely contained and suitably entertained with safe treats and toys, and let him come to grips with it all.
  • When he first gets to the house, show him the water bowl that he will use when he is home alone. Water is the dog’s most basic need (after his person) and him not knowing where it is will be very stressful.
  • Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because the dog lived with other dogs/cats/kids, he will automatically be fine with everything. These are different dogs/cats/kids, and do not as yet form part of his knowledge base. Do not leave him unattended with other species in the home until you are 100% sure that he is genuinely accepting of them.
  • I am a big fan of crate-training. It has so many uses beyond being a safe place for your dog to be within the home. It helps for their recovery at the vet, for instance. It lets them know that a “cage” is not a bad thing. If you are a crate-training person, employ the use of the crate from the moment the dog gets home. There are many articles available on line that detail kind and fair crate training; have a look at this one for some tips on how to raise a crate-confident dog (adult dogs can be easily taught to enjoy their crate, too — it’s not just for puppies). Key note here: do not, ever, give your puppy or dog the opportunity to break out of their crate. Fabric crates are easily destroyed by even small puppies; metal crates with clips can burst open if the dog is too animated. While you don’t want your dog stressing in the crate, some high energy breeds will do everything they can to break out the split second that they realise their human is gone. If they break out once, they will try again and again and often cause themselves injuries. If the clip mechanism on your crate is weak, re-inforce the panel joins with sturdy cable (zip) ties.
  • Reinforce the desired behaviours the minute he gets home. An example is not chasing the cat, eliminating on the lawn and not inside the house, and the like.

Which brings me to my final point.

Dogs operate with the mental capacity of a three year old human child at best. This brain capacity is considered intelligent in the dog world.

Particularly in the case of shelter dogs, people dismiss a lot of behaviour as “He doesn’t know”, or “Shame, he’s learning”. The only things that dogs will learn from — that will make them stop a behaviour — are things that result in discomfort and/or pain. Puppy chases cat, cat whacks puppy, puppy gets a fright and possible a bloody face and learns that cat is not fun to chase.

Anything the dog does that involves boosting their serotonin levels becomes self-rewarding. Dog chases cat, cat runs away, cat keeps running, dog keeps chasing, dog either catches cat or makes cat “disappear”, dog is rewarded by his action and the outcome.

Dogs and toddlers are very similar in their thought processes. The difference is that as humans age, the concept of action and reaction takes shape and that “What If?” thought process occurs. Dogs do not have a What If thought process, ever. They will only learn from commencing an action and receiving immediate feedback from it, whether positive (“that was fun!”) or negative (“that hurt/made me uncomfortable”).

Any and all undesirable behaviour must be tackled the instant it happens, and never be palmed off as being the behaviour of a dog that doesn’t know the lie of the land.

The very worst thing you can do as a dog owner is pity the dog — irrespective of the circumstances surrounding his acquisition. Dogs do not understand pity — it is not an emotion that exists in their world. As a result, pitying them by tolerating behaviour that wouldn’t normally be tolerated elevates their status within the pack, and it is why we often see new dogs who are “too big for their britches” so to speak, bullying the resident pack members who are too polite to defend themselves as they “mustn’t be mean to the new guy” according to the humans.

The dogs must settle themselves right from the offset, or they will do it when no-one is around the supervise. Of course there is the disclaimer that rationale and logic must be applied in terms of watching for escalatory (“Fight! Fight!”) behaviour from either the resident dog or the new dog and all must be managed equally and fairly.

Following the tips above are sure to provide a far more seamless transition into your new dog sharing your space, life and heart with you.

Happy homecoming!

(image of Bergan Safety Car Harness in action)