By Kang Nee, Cheerful Dogs
PhD, CPDT-KA, Low Stress Handling Certified Silver, Pet First Aid Certified, Puppy Start Right Instructor
It’s the holiday season, and your brain is working overtime to think of a special gift. Ah-ha! How about adopting a puppy or dog from a shelter? To save a dog, as a present for Mum, or keep dear Rover company when he’s home alone…..
STOP! Your intentions are certainly good, but they can go awry when the recipient of your well-meaning gift is unprepared. Giving a dog a home, especially one that has never been in one, is a kind act. But it would be kinder if Mum or Rover are just as enthusiastic about it as you, and are part of the decision-making process.
If everyone is on board – congratulations! How do you settle your new dog? How do you help Rover get along with the new dog and vice versa? And…..what do you do to make the upcoming holiday get-together enjoyable for your dog(s) and friends?
Here are some tips to get you started:
-> You don’t have a dog and have just adopted Sally.
Even before Sally comes home, dog-proof your house to prevent the honeymoon from turning sour.
Sally is a dog and will do doggy things like chew on your shoes, disembowel the floor mat, scavenge in rubbish bins, make confetti out of toilet rolls etc. Keep forbidden items out of reach, block access securely if you need to. Prevention is better than cure, so be pre-emptive rather than reactive.
Get ready good quality chew toys. Make them interesting by stuffing them with small pieces of delicious food. Play with Sally with these toys, encouraging her to chew on them. Everyone needs to be on board with this game. * Your hands are not chew toys. Avoid using your hands to bat Sally away or grab her mouth.
Agree on house rules beforehand and implement them as soon as Sally comes home.
Dogs do better when their world is predictable. It doesn’t work if Dad doesn’t allow jumping and you like Sally to jump but not when her paws are muddy or when you’re wearing new clothes. Such inconsistency causes stress to Sally and stress can lead to other behaviour problems.
Decide beforehand rules such as:
- who will feed Sally (when, where and what)
- who will walk her (when and where)
- who will be in charge of Sally’s potty training (how and where)
- where will she sleep
- what are considered toys and what are not (e.g. hands, feet)
Canine social etiquette is very different from ours.
A person would find it very odd if you avoid eye contact, shun a hand-shake and stand a good distance away while conversing with your body and head turned away.
To a dog, direct eye contact, approaching head-on to invade her personal space, petting on the head, hugging and reaching out, can be threatening.
So take your cue from your new canine family member. Let Sally approach when she’s ready, speak in a calm and cheerful (not too loud) voice. Whenever she responds positively to your voice, reward her with a small food treat. This is the start of building trust in your budding relationship.
Doing less is more.
Take it easy on family introductions. Sally will be tired, perhaps stressed from the journey home. Save the meetings with your extended family and excited friends for another time, and spread them out over several occasions. Follow Tip #3!
FOR THE LONG HAUL
Give Sally an education. Every interaction you have with Sally is a training moment and it’s probably better that you train her, rather than she trains you.
While there are many training approaches, dogs do best when taught in a kind, humane manner, using force-free, reward-based training methods.
Focus on encouraging Sally’s good behaviours, rather than correcting her for unwanted behaviours. Leave that choke chain, prong collar, shock collar, pack leader mambo-jumbo where they belong – out of your home! These punitive training methods are outdated and have no place in modern dog training which is solidly based on the science of how dogs learn.
Join a puppy kindergarten or socialisation class, a dog socialisation, obedience or tricks class, conducted by good force-free dog trainers. Have fun! Then take what you’ve learnt on the road, but remember, what Sally finds easy to do at home (with little or no distractions) can be more difficult in a novel place (with more distractions) so don’t expect full marks from her straight-away.
Instead, work in a quieter place. Revise Sally’s skills with lots of praise and rewards. Then gradually increase the level of distraction. When you do this wherever you go, Sally learns to apply her life and social skills with you, her family.
-> You already have a resident dog, Rover, and would like to bring home a second dog, Buddy. How do you help the two dogs get along?
Not every dog is comfortable being with another dog.
Even a dog that’s sociable and has a circle of canine friends, may not enjoy being with another dog 24/7. Before you decide to bring Buddy home for Rover, assess if Rover and Buddy are suitable as potential house-mates.
Here are a few pointers to consider:
(a) Make sure your resident dog, Rover, is dog-friendly.
By dog-friendly, I mean that when he meets another dog, he’s neither too excited nor too intimidated by the other dog. He’s willing to engage in play or just chill out. Stress signals are minimal.
(b) Make sure your potential second dog is also dog-friendly, and compatible in terms of age, size and energy levels with Rover.
(c) Introduce Rover and Buddy in a large fenced area, at a neutral location.
Have Rover on a long leash at one end and have someone else bring Buddy in, also on a long leash. Watch their body language – if they’re barking, lunging and snapping at each other, stop the interaction and seek professional help. If they’re loose and waggy or slightly alert, you may proceed.
Once each dog notices the other, start feeding small pieces of delicious food treats in a continuous stream until both dogs relax and remain attentive to their handler. Then slow down on the feeding so that Rover and Buddy can glance at each other, then back at their handlers to get their well-deserved treat.
If both dogs are relaxed, drop the leashes, allow a brief greeting (like a 3-second sniff) and then move the dogs away for more treats. When Rover and Buddy are relaxed with brief greetings, you may remove their leashes but still interrupt their interactions now and then to refocus their attention on you.
(d) If all seems well, repeat the same introduction process at home – either in your garden, or a neutral location nearby, before introducing them indoors.
(e) The most important step after introduction is accomplished, is to train and manage for success as an on-going process.
Many dog guardians forget this, assuming that the dogs will be “fine”. Use baby gates to provide separate areas for Rover and Buddy, as each dog will still need their “alone” time with you, or down time by himself. If you’re unable to supervise them, keep them separate when they’re left alone. If you’re not sure whether they would guard food, toys or space from each other, feed them in separate areas. Make sure there are enough toys and space for both dogs.
Besides supervising Rover and Buddy and managing the environment, get started with a good force-free trainer so that both dogs learn good canine manners, both inside and outside their home.
(f) Having more than one dog can be wonderful for you, but it has to be wonderful for your dogs as well.
-> You’ve heard it again and again. You must socialise your dog! It’s the holiday season, and what better way to socialise Sally (or Rover, or Buddy) than to meet your friends and their kids at a party?
With appropriate planning, management and training, it can be a great success. Otherwise, it could be disaster!
(a) Train, train, train.
Sally relies on you for her education, to teach her what to do, e.g. sit instead of jump when your guests arrive; chew on a food-stuffed toy instead of counter-surfing; lie on a mat instead of leaping on the couch; chill out and relax in a safe room alone instead of barking for attention or in anxiety. So make sure you brush up these skills, before you even plan a party that can be challenging for Sally.
(b) Manage and set ground rules for Sally and guests.
Even the best-behaved dog can be overwhelmed by the many distractions that occur at a party, e.g. food scraps left on a plate, unfamiliar people who may actively encourage jumping, kids running around who look like fun toys to chase and nip.
Don’t force Sally on non-dog people, and don’t allow dog people to force themselves on her. Politely but firmly let your guests (even the ardent dog lovers) know what interactions are appropriate and what are not. Active adult supervision is a must when children are present. Watch out for signs that things may be getting too much for Sally to tolerate. Calmly bring her to her safe room and give her a stash of favourite toys, food puzzles, chew bones to work on. Turn on soft, soothing music and let her relax while the party continues.
(c) Remember, while a party may be one way for Sally to practise her social skills, the lesson is only as successful as you have set it up to be.
Simply exposing Sally repeatedly to lots of people (or dogs) is not socialisation, even if that’s what many people tell you to do. Proper socialisation involves making each interaction short, sweet and enjoyable. That means you don’t overwhelm her, you watch for behavioural signs that she’s still enjoying herself, and you pair each interaction with something that Sally loves – a super yummy treat. Food helps Sally form a positive conditioned emotional response to something she may be unsure of. When used properly, it is a powerful training tool for fearful and reactive dogs.
Here’s how Don and Louise Mackay set Elliot and Korn up for success when they have visitors. Both dogs were adopted from SPCA Singapore.
“When we have new visitors, we introduce them to Elliot and Korn outside, one dog at a time. Then we return together to the apartment. I explain the things that the dogs are unsure of with unfamiliar people, e.g. direct eye contact and petting on the head.
While the visitors are staying with us, we work with both dogs by practising games we normally do, like “go to mat”, where they settle down with their food-stuffed toys. Most importantly, we have frequent breaks for both visitors and dogs.”
Set Up For Success
-> No matter how many dogs you’ve had, every dog is different and comes with his/her individual needs that must be addressed to make for a happy integration into your family.
The various tips outlined in this article provide a starting point for nurturing a bond with your dog(s) that goes beyond just expecting and commanding obedience. Your dog isn’t “plug-and-play”, ready to fit into your lifestyle, so take the time to learn together using force-free training methods that set your dog up to succeed and have fun at the same time. Your dog will thank you for your choice!
If your dog is fearful or reactive, or you’re unsure about how to help your dog, seek professional help from a qualified and certified dog trainer, behaviour consultant or animal behaviourist.
Kang Nee is a behavioural ecologist and certified professional dog trainer. Even whilst busy training dogs, she writes articles on dog behaviour modification and training for local and international magazines. Contact Nee at firstname.lastname@example.org