The re-homing experience, for an adult dog coming out of the average pet home, is about as traumatic an experience as she can have in her life – even if she’s going from one good home to another and hasn’t had to endure abuse and neglect in her current home, or a stay in a shelter environment.
Up until the moment your new dog climbs into your car, she’s had a nice normal existence: if she’s lucky, she’s grown up in the same house, in the same community, and knows her neighbourhood by smell and sight. Then suddenly…
She finds herself in a strange house. Everything smells wrong. The food tastes weird and (possibly) there are strange dogs (and maybe cats) around that clearly have some kind of relationship that she has no part of. Everyone speaks some weird foreign dialect and the humans expect her to understand what they are saying. The strange humans keep taking her to strange rooms, strange yards, and strange sidewalks. Everything looks and smells weird and wrong – the neighbourhood smells are gone and are replaced by strange scary smells. The pee spot has moved. The food and water bowls are in a different spot. The ownership of the toys is concerning, and the other dogs keep eyeballing her every time she moves and growl every time she gets near their bowls or beds. Strange people keep arriving and departing, speaking too fast and moving in to pet her. She feels sick to her stomach because it’s all so damned scary and all she wants to do is sleep and sleep and then go back home where everything is normal again.
And for those really unlucky dogs that get surrendered into a shelter first…they go from home ……to incarceration. Suddenly, she’s surrounded by the smell of diarrhea, illness, disease, fear and bleach. She’s overwhelmed by other dogs’ terrified and endless barking and the blazing lights. She cannot go anywhere; she’s locked in a small barren space for 22-23 hours a day and only let out into the outdoors for an hour or two a day – much like an inmate in solitary confinement. There’s nothing familiar to see or smell, and she has no idea if, or when, her terrifying experience will ever end. She’s petrified all the time and eventually she shuts down, trying to make herself as small as possible to avoid any potential confrontation with the wardens or crazy dogs. Until suddenly……she finds herself in a house, but it’s the wrong house…..
And sometimes the sequence of home – shelter – home happens multiple times! Can you imagine that poor dog’s state of mind?
Your new dog, no matter how well adjusted or how smooth the transition, will be suffering traumatic stress and will be nowhere near ready for introduction to lots of new friends (human or dog), dog parks, or training classes but all too often, that’s exactly what the new owners have been advised to do – take the dog out and socialize it. This doesn’t work for adult dogs! Training for a dog that’s not a puppy requires a different strategy to be successful – flooding with experiences doesn’t work, and the older the dog the harder you are going to have to work to reshape that dog’s established behaviour.
The truth is that most dogs do much better if they are allowed a 3-6 week shut-in period – a nice, calm, extended transition period to settle in and settle down and figure out the new rules, the new routines and expectations. During the settling in time the new dog should get walked alone (rather than with the new sibling dogs) to learn the neighbourhood and spend a lot of time establishing a connection to her new owner.
The shut-in period is the perfect time to work on establishing a bond with your new dog. Start by teaching the foundation skills and impulse control that every dog needs to be a good citizen – all of which you’ll need even if you just want a nice companion dog.
Following the shut-in period you may want to enroll you dog in a 12-14 week program in agility, Rally-O or freestyle. For dogs with human and/or inter-dog aggression and reactivity this would be a good time to enroll in a Reactive Rover class, although, in some cases, after a few weeks of “chill time” any reactivity the dog exhibited in the shelter or former home magically goes away (or subsides to the point that the guardians can reasonably live with it.)
I’ve adopted and fostered many dogs and I’ve tried the “get ‘em out and socializing right away” approach, and I’ve tried the “give ‘em time” approach. Rukkah, the Border Collie I adopted 4 years ago, is the first dog I actually allowed to have the full 6 weeks of settling in (including a lot of one-on-one walks) with no expectations, no forced or arranged socialization, no classes or lessons – and what a difference it’s made. The transitioning to our rules, norms and expectations was virtually seamless – she’s obviously happy and content and she’s bonded well with me and my family, and the other dogs. The little bit of fearfulness and reactivity I observed when she first came has completely faded away: she knows who I am and she trusts that I’ve got her back and will protect her from whatever frightens her. After 6 weeks in our home she was totally ready to learn and her foundation skills were quickly established.
At Joyful Hound we’re happy to help you find the perfect mature dog to fit into your home. Plan on providing 3-6 weeks for your new pet to settle in without expectations and see what a difference it makes to your – and your dog’s- overall satisfaction with the new arrangement. Then call Joyful Hound for help teaching your new dog the foundations.