10 rules to use with your new dogs
by Keri Whitfield
The following ideas and rules are a good set of guidelines to follow when bringing in a new dog to your home and life for the first time. Even if your new dog comes to you with some knowledge and skills, it is always best to lay out the correct groundwork before you begin allowing them free reign of your world. Every animal in our human world needs to understand their place in every new environment. With this understanding comes a sense of security and calm that cannot be reproduced with any training tool later down the road. Your most effective 'tool' to use is the energy that you share with your dog in every moment of your time with them. Every time that you are able to share with them the correct information - their trust in you and respect for you will grow.
1. YOUR NEW DOG KNOWS NOTHING
Although your new dog may have basic skills, manners and obedience - it is better to assume that they have NONE and take on the responsibility of teaching them everything yourself. If your new dog does have some positive life experiences under their collar - then GREAT - your efforts will be easier and you will be pleasantly surprised. Assuming and expecting your new dog to understand the rules and boundaries that you live by can only disappoint you each time that they fail. After all - it is not fair to assume that someone has put all of the time and effort required for the proper upbringing of this dog - and especially if they have ended up in rescue or at a shelter.
2. YOUR NEW DOG HAS NO PACK LEADER
A pack leader is the most important person in a dog’s life. Dogs live as our domesticated animals - in a dependent role. They are nothing without us and as dog owners - we bring them into a new world where we want them to be able to enjoy everything that we offer them. If we do not provide them with all of the information necessary to place ourselves in a leadership role - they will have no idea where to look for guidance. Life is full of change and if a dog has a pack leader - they can look to them to handle anything new in their lives. Even if you can show a dog where to find food, water and affection - this is not giving them a pack leader. Only when you can have them looking to you for guidance on making decisions can you affect their behavior on a moment to moment basis. Then you can be sure that they will be able to learn how to achieve this role as balanced life partner and pet.
3. YOUR NEW DOG NEEDS RULES
The most comforting feeling for a dog is to know what to do. Anxious, nervous, fearful or aggressive dogs do not act this way because they want to. They have these reactions because no one has ever shown them what to do. For example, before you bring your new dog home, take them for a walk. Surely you are anxious and excited to get them home and begin the affection - but remember - they may also be anxious and nervous about this major life change and your excitement will only compound their issues. You want to be calm for their main entrance into your new sanctuary and more importantly - you want them to be comfortable too. Taking them for a walk and expelling their energy - especially all of the pent up and toxic energy that a dog can accumulate from time caged in a shelter - is the best start you could ever offer. Also - you will get to show them how you are capable of not only taking them out of their cage - but you also understand what they need. If you can spend time with them on a walk and relieve their need for a release of their physical energy first - you are beginning the process of convincing them that you are ready to bring them fully into your life. Bringing them home to your yard and playing with them is not the same experience. Excited and directionless activity without the experience of moving forward and following will not be an effective release of productive energy. You have taken them from one enclosure to another and never offered them a leader to follow. A walk communicates your ability to guide them and provide for them from the beginning.
4. YOUR NEW DOG DOES NOT RESPECT YOUR HOME
Your new dog may have never been allowed to roam free in a house. If you allow your dog to run into your home ahead of you and have the freedom of the whole house - you are turning your whole home over to them. Unless you want to live in a dog den and/or your dog plans to pay your mortgage and clean your house - this is not an ideal scenario. After all - this is an animal first and even though they may take on the name and personality of someone very human and near to your heart - they still do not automatically know how we humans like to live. We appreciate dogs that do not go to the bathroom in the house, chew on our furniture, eat our laundry and feed themselves from our table. However, if from the first moment, we let our new dog loose in our home, we have given them the right to go about doing all of this without restraint. By making your dog wait before entering, making them follow your entrance into the house and by using a simple on leash tactic for the first few hours or days, depending on your new dog’s behavior, could save months and years of misbehavior and training down the road. If we can show them from the first moment that this place is ours and it is a place for them to watch us, follow us and learn to respect the environment - their mindset will be in the perfect place to learn basic house rules very quickly.
5. YOUR NEW DOG DOES NOT RESPECT YOUR VISITORS
When you bring a new dog into your home and allow them to own the environment from the beginning, you cannot expect to be able to bring in other people without a reaction from your dog. Even if your new dog is very social with people, they will not control their excitement and their invasive behavior if they believe that this new home is theirs to own. Even if the person visiting doesn’t mind paws on their chest or a mouth on their face - think about the introduction of an elderly person, a small child, or someone who is afraid of dogs. It will not be fair to your dog when you decide one day in the future that they are not allowed to greet everyone with unrestrained activity. It will be too late if you simply decide sometime later when someone comes in that does not approve that it is then the time for obedience. But, if you set this boundary from the beginning you have given them the knowledge that they will be able to use each and every time someone new comes into your home. Likewise - if you have already followed rules #1-4 then this task of asking for a polite greeting will be little more than an expression, a hand signal or a brief use of the leash. We make it harder for ourselves and for the dog when we do not set the rules from the beginning.
6. YOUR NEW DOG MAY NOT LIKE YOUR VISITORS
It is possible that your new dog has fear or dominance issues that can lead them into an initial protection mode with new people. If this is the case - don’t panic! If you have followed rules #1-4 then you have already claimed your home and now you must simply control your guests and your dog through initial introductions to ensure that you continue to provide the correct information to your dog. Your fear or anxiety will not benefit your dog and will in fact, make matters worse. If you do have these emotions - you should consider the possibility of help from a professional. This is especially true with large and powerful breed dogs. Instruct your guests not to look at the dog, talk to the dog or approach the dog. Likewise, you need to handle your dog’s behavior on leash in a calm fashion. Let your dog know that their reaction is undesirable. Redirect your dog’s behavior with a distraction - noise or physical movement or command - anything to get their focus off of the new people. Sit with your dog at a distance and remain calm - focusing on your guests - telling them how everything is under control and they need not fear this behavior. This is a new dog with new challenges and this is what you signed up for. The more comfortable you can make the visitors - the better for everyone. Allow your dog to calm down by putting them in a sit or a lay and having them ignore the new people. Continue the conversation. If you are able to release the leash and allow the dog to approach the visitors or the gate - remain calm and do not anticipate a reaction. Your fear or anxiety will not benefit your dog and will in fact, make matters worse. Keep everything at the same level of energy that it was at before. Instruct your guests not to look at, talk to, approach or touch the dog. The goal here is to have the dog investigate (smell) and ignore the new people. If you find that your dog responds well to this and very soon after quiets down and does not even look at the guests, you can eventually release them. Again - if the behavior is extremely aggressive and/or this is a very large or powerful dog, do this exercise with the safety of a gate between two rooms - so that the dog can still smell, see and hear the guests but cannot physically get to them. Ideally, the new dog will sniff them and retreat or even sit or lay down near the new people. Every session’s goal should be to ignore, until the dog is non reactive when the people enter the room. Only when they are entirely comfortable with new people entering the house can you think about allowing guests to make contact. When this stage has arrived, using food to engage the new dog’s nose first is always an excellent choice for earning further trust. This form of affection is much more appealing to a nervous dog than physical touch. Touch is for our own enjoyment and the new dog should not have this forced on them for our own emotional benefit.
7. YOUR NEW DOG MAY NOT LIKE YOUR OTHER DOG
If you are unsure of the social skills of your new dog with other dogs - you cannot assume that introductions will go well. Never simply put two dogs into the house together and wait to see what happens. Likewise, never introduce two new dogs through a crate in the house or a fence in the yard without first introducing them on neutral territory and on a walk. On leash introductions can be tricky, considering the visceral connection that the dog has with their human’s emotion when on a leash. If you are at all nervous, fearful or hesitant about dog to dog introductions, you will transmit this insecurity to your dog through the leash and they may have a negative reaction solely based on your own issues. However, with a good walk, you can gain relaxation and also show your dog that they and other dogs are fully under control of capable pack leaders. Being able to smell, see, hear and feel another dog without forcing contact is the perfect first success for a new dog. If an immediate aggressive reaction is noted - you need to desensitize this by moving forward and continuing the walk until you see the reaction subside. If it does not - then you know that you have a bigger issue to deal with. This is why it is always advisable to know beforehand how a dog is with other dogs. All rescues and many humane societies should require dog to dog introductions to occur prior to the adoption commitment for this reason. All rescues and shelters should assess this level of skill and/or reaction prior to placing a dog. However, if this is not the case, don’t be surprised if issues are evident upon initial introductions. If there are issues - there is a lengthy period of rehabilitation and gradual re-introduction that will have to take place - making sure that both dogs look to your guidance first. It is easier to introduce two obedient dogs to each other then to expect two unbalanced and disobedient dogs to follow the rules of pack socialization. Again – the assistance of a professional is advisable with notable social issues between dogs.
8. YOUR NEW DOG DOES NOT NEED YOUR EMOTION
Of course it can be a very emotional experience to rescue a dog. People who save disadvantaged dogs get a definite feeling of satisfaction knowing that they did a good thing in life. However, your newly adopted dog does not need this emotion to go forward in their life. Quite to the contrary, when you share these emotions of excitement or pity with a new dog, you immediately place yourself in a weak position in their eyes. Emotion is weakness to any animal. That flutter in our heart and stomach is understood in the animal kingdom as a lack of strength. There is no need in a primal animal’s nature for emotion. They do not feel sorrow over the prey that they kill to survive. They do not feel anger at the competition that they have in their territory. These emotions do not exist because there is no use for them in their quest for survival. So, when we as humans have these emotions they can immediately tell that our guard is down and so - we are not the source of strength that they should follow. If we can withhold these emotions when we first introduce ourselves to a new dog - we will be showing them that we are a source of strength and they will automatically follow us. Imagine how much easier it will be for us to show our new dog what we want from them if they are - from the get go - convinced that we are their leader. It could be the difference maker for every decision that they make from then on in our lives. Likewise, if we do not restrain ourselves from showering our new dog with joy or sadness - we may have to spend a lifetime trying to make it up to them and convincing them to do what we desire to make them a safe and balanced pet.
9. TAKE IT SLOW
Our pace of life and expectations may not be natural to our new dog. If you make an effort to follow these rules of introduction, it should take your whole first day of owning a new dog just to get them settled into your home. Many people want to rush their new dog home, get them in the house, shower them with new possessions and affection and then bring over everyone they know to meet them. Although this may be okay for a newborn baby – it is completely the opposite for a new dog. After all, you have the rest of the life of the pet for everything that you plan to show them. However, you only have their first day ONCE and it makes all the difference in the world for how they will behave every day to follow. Do not immediately parade your new dog to new people’s houses or recreational parks and dog parks. This kind of overloaded stimulation can be way too much for a new dog. If you first ask your dog to respect you and your personal environment - this is challenge enough. Only when you are consistently achieving the behavior that you want in your own home can you expect your dog’s behavior to be the same with all new stimulation. Likewise, for your own comfort and confidence building too - by sticking first with your own environment and succeeding - they will be more apt to follow your sense of accomplishment - anywhere you go and never question your control.
10. YOU ONLY GET TO BEGIN ONCE
Dogs do live in the moment, but if we fail to show them certain things in their beginning with us, we will not only have to make up for this initial neglect but we are giving them an opportunity to practice the wrong behaviors first, so we will be working backwards to undo negative behaviors later on. If we withhold privileges and unbridled affection and correct negative behaviors from the get go - we may never have to witness disobedience from our dog ever. Remember - your confidence is built from their positive decisions. If you do not share crucial information from the beginning and you give your dog the chance to make mistakes - your confidence will plummet. If you then have a lack of confidence and a negative image in your head - you will not be a source of strength for your dog. From this weaker position you will then be forced to deal with difficult behavioral issues and the scenario could ultimately be devastating. If we always consider what the dog, as an animal, NEEDS and make these simple choices from day one - we can create a present full of achievement and foresee a future full of blissfully balanced relations between us and our new dog. It is our choice to make this relationship what we want from the very first moment that we bring a new dog into our lives.