MANAGING EXPECTATIONS when bringing a new dog home
Updated: Nov 23, 2019
Getting a new dog is exciting, but its important to remember that they might not have the same background or training that other dogs you know do! Some rescue dogs have never had any expectations from them, or very little training. It's important to manage your own expectations and attitude towards them, and set them up for success. It's easy to get frustrated during the transition period (think transition as months, not days), but when you're frustrated it often doesn't lead to clear communication with your foster dog, they get more confused, and we get nowhere with training.
Repeating commands over and over without any result is not effective communication, and often leads to dogs to tune you out. We want to give a command once, and then follow up with marker words and changes in body language to encourage the command to be followed. Remember, never ask for a command if you know your dog won't follow through, and have realistic expectations. Asking a dog to sit on a walk while there are cars and dogs and squirrels and other distractions walking by isn't a good time to ask for that command. Start with no distractions, and work up to more distracting environments. Similarly, in public settings I don't have high expectations for newer foster dogs. If a stranger wants your dog to sit, tell them now isn't a good time. This is a great opportunity to ADVOCATE for your new dog. **These examples are for when your dog already understands the command, and practicing it without treats**
During the transition period, we always limit freedom to prevent dogs from getting into mischief. Some new rescue dogs do not come housetrained, leash trained, or crate trained, or will need to re-learn these concepts in a new environment (i.e. your home), but by crating every time we aren't watching them, and keeping them on leash in the house for the first few weeks, we don't give them the opportunity to get into mischief, and create good habits. Similarly, don't let new dogs play or interact with other dogs right away. Teach them to calmly co-exist in the same room first, which takes away the pressure of them figuring out how to interact. Never EXPECT them to be well behaved with new dogs, even if they "are good with dogs".
Crate training can be another source of frustration, but remember, your pup may never have been in a crate before and they need to adjust to the new rules. We employ "uh-uh"s and crate bops to tell a new dog that whining isn't an appropriate behaviour. Feeding them in their crate, and walking them into their crate following food are good methods to get them used to it, but it takes clear communication and patience. And be realistic, if your dog whines or barks when someone rings the doorbell or comes in the house loudly, don't get frustrated, that's a normal behaviour to expect.
Leash manners is another source of frustration that is tough during the transition period. Remember, on walks its not about how far you can go, mental exercise is 2x more tiring for dogs than physical exercise. Loose leash walking can be trained by abruptly stopping and letting them feel leash pressure when then hit the end, then give a sudden release of pressure when they move towards you or break tension. Remember, never let your dog walk in front of you, only beside or behind. You have more control with less leash, so make sure the slip lead is high on their neck (jawline/right behind their ears), and only give 12 inches of leash to start. You don't have to be physically strong to be a strong handler. Teaching the transitional is good, but also takes patience. Start training transitional inside, with treats for keeping it on for a longer duration. When they go to paw it off, pull straight up to apply pressure as a correction, but release immediately when they stop to let them know they are causing the pressure. Never let them get the transitional off, or take it off for them when they are reacting, because it teaches them that reacting works.
Remember, your emotions "travel down the leash". It's important to be cam when working with your dogs to ensure a positive experience for them. If you can't control your emotions and are frustrated, better to crate them and try again later. Always try to finish a training session on a positive note, then stop.
Elvis: 1 year old northern mutt & my 32nd foster dog.