Know your new dog's needs
What would your new shelter dog like you to know?
Giving a companion animal a second chance is highly ethical. It is also a powerful and practical way to improve their life.
There is something special about building a committed relationship with an animal from a shelter. Those who have done so should feel very proud of their achievements, particularly if it hasn’t always been smooth sailing!
As a new dog owner, you have likely had time to plan and imagine what life will be like when you arrive home with the animal.
The dog, however, has no idea what is going on, what to expect, or what is expected of them in their new home with you.
Right from the start, it is very helpful to be patient and empathetic.
By asking yourself what your dog feels and needs, you are less likely to become frustrated and more likely to think clearly. If you are thinking clearly, you are going to make good choices.
Commit at least a few full days together at the beginning because relationships take time to build.
By being present, you are helping the dog to adjust. It also provides you with the opportunity to adjust your plan if you notice behaviour that was not expected.
Know dog body language. Shelter staff, professional dog trainers and veterinarians are experts at reading dog body language so that they can avoid damaging relationships with dogs and keep themselves safe.
You will set yourself up for success if you know when to provide space for the dog and how to manage its environment.
Don’t scare or overwhelm the dog or you risk delaying or damaging your relationship.
Until you have built a foundation of trust, it is not a good idea to invite over an army of family and friends or to take the dog to busy public places such as cafes or dog parks.
Your dog needs time to build trust and adjust to life outside the shelter. Some undesirable behaviour may be the result of confusion or anxiety about their new situation.
Many problem behaviours can be reduced or eliminated through patience and the passing of time. However, if behaviour doesn’t improve in the first few weeks, working with a professional positive reinforcement trainer is a great idea.
While information about your dog's past may be helpful, it may also be detrimental to form opinions based only on their history.
To plan your future with the dog, the goal should be to assess your current situation and the dog's behaviour since coming to live with you.
Dogs are individuals and some take more time to adjust than others.
Time, patience and empathy often solve many problems in the first few months.
If you remain concerned, seek advice from the shelter where you adopted the dog or from a professional dog trainer before making big decisions such as surrender or rehoming.
This article was written by Jodi Harris, Delta Dog Trainer, Cert IV Companion Animal Services, Administration Officer - Dogs’ Homes of Tasmania.
Coren, S, How dogs think – understanding the canine mind, 2004, Psychological Enterprises, UK
Donaldson, J, Dogs are from Neptune, 1998, Lasar Multimedia Productions Inc, Quebec
McConnell, P.B, London, K.B, Love has no age limit – welcoming a new dog into your home, McConnell Publishing, 2011, USA
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