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Archive for March 2009

Bringing Home a New Dog

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People often call us in after their new dog has been with them for a few weeks, and they are at their wits’ end.  They did not expect it to be this difficult.  Frequently heard words include “He’s a wonderful dog but…” or “Are all puppies like this?”.  Most of these problems stem from a lack of preparedness by the people, and a lack of understanding by the dog.  This post is about how to prepare for a new dog, and how to explain the rules to him/her.  If there is already another dog in the house, there is more to consider – I’ll cover that in a later blog post.

New puppies, whether from breeders or shelters, don’t know your house rules.  They explore the world with their mouths, and you need to puppy-proof everything.  They have needle-sharp teeth, and have not yet learned when not to use them.  They will miss their mother and litter mates, and will cry at night because they are used to being surrounded by warm bodies and familiar smells.  They need to be potty trained.

New adult dogs also don’t know your house rules.  They may also have some very definite ideas on what is acceptable behavior, based on their earlier lives.  They may be scared of everyday objects or people.  It’s common for dogs who have not been properly socialized or who have been abused to growl or bark at certain objects or people.  They may be emotionally distant at first (see the posts on the case study of the puppy mill dog).

Before you bring home your new dog, make sure you have the house ready, and all the equipment you need.

Dogs (especially puppies) chew on things, so look hard at the areas of your house where your new dog will be spending time.  There should be no clothes, shoes or laundry where the dog can get to it, until you know whether those things will tempt him.  Cables should be hidden away.

Your new pet may not be housetrained (a new home is a scary thing for a dog, and any previous housetraining may be temporarily forgotten), so either you must be able to keep an eye on the dog all the time, or the floors need to be easily cleaned.  It is a good idea to have an area like a bathroom, laundry, etc. where the dog can run around and any messes are easily cleaned, and put baby gates at the exit points – you can see and talk to the dog, but he can’t get into too much trouble.

Please make sure you have a crate (or two).  The dog should sleep in a crate, and ideally that crate will be in or close to a bedroom, so doesn’t feel alone, and you will be aware if he needs to go outside.  During the day, until the dog has settled in and follows all the rules, you need to be able to crate the dog for periods when you are going out, or when you are not able to watch him.  That can be in his sleeping crate, but it is good to have a safe place for him where the people are, so he feels a part of what is going on.  Crates should always be big enough for the dog to stand up and turn around comfortably, and stretch out.  The crate should never be a punishment – it needs to be a place where he feels secure and happy.  Puppies should not be left in a crate for more hours than their age in months (e.g. 2 hours for a 2 month old pup, 4 hours for a 4 month old), and no dog should stay in a crate for more than 8 hours.

Decide what your house rules are, and be prepared to start teaching them from day 1.

If you want your dog to sit quietly when people come to the house, don’t encourage him to jump up at people when he is a puppy, instead make a habit of praising and petting him when he is being calm.

Make sure everyone in the house knows the rules.  The dog needs to get consistent information from all members of the household.

No teeth on people.  Most puppies will nip in play, and it is never cute.  With any dog, regardless of age, as soon his teeth touch human skin, the person should say a loud, sharp “Ow!” and immediately stop playing with the dog, and ignore him.  If necessary, they should leave the room for a minute or two.  That way, the dog will learn that using teeth always stops the fun.  For an adult dog, when you return to him, start by asking him to sit, then praise him for doing that.  Any praise or play needs to be associated with something he did right.

Dogs should not be allowed up on furniture (chairs, sofas, beds, etc.).  Once your dog is fully trained, you can choose to invite your dog up on furniture when you want.  Until he is fully trained, he needs to stay on he floor – the high places belong to the leaders of his pack – the humans.  This is especially important if you have young children.

As soon as your new dog comes home, take him around the house so he gets to explore everywhere.  If there are places he is not to go, this is the time to tell him that – let him approach, then correct him (“Uh-uh” or “No” followed by moving him back to the right place).  If he starts to go potty, it is an excellent time to start that training.  There are two parts to potty training – praise when he goes in the right place, and correction (“Uh-uh” or “No” followed by taking him to the right place) when he tries to go in the wrong place.  No matter what you think you see, correcting him for something he did hours ago or even minutes ago does not teach him anything.

From day 1, do not encourage your dog to look for food at the table or in the kitchen.  Any time that someone feeds him scraps while they are eating or preparing food will cause him to beg or try to grab food in those places later.

Set a schedule for when you will feed your dog.  This is especially important for housetraining, because dogs and puppies will need to go potty shortly after eating (as well as after excitement and exercise, sleeping, etc.).  So your feeding time should be set when you have 15 minutes for the dog to eat, then 30 minutes to make sure he has had the chance to go potty.  For this reason, it is not fair to leave food out for the dog, and have him decide when he is hungry.

Set time aside for exercise.  Your dog will not exercise himself, and walking on a leash is an excellent way for your dog to learn that you are his pack leader.  Dogs need to get one or two walks a day for their mental and physical health.  (Puppies should not go on walks in the street, park or other common areas until they have had all their puppy shots – until then, you need to play with them in your house and yard, or at the homes of friends with dogs you know are healthy.)  A tired dog is a well-behaved dog!!!

Start to train your dog as soon as possible.  Even a young pup can learn to sit on cue, and will learn to come to you in the house when called.  Be generous with praise and rewards (rewards can be petting or play or toys or treats).

Watch your dog for anxieties.

Part of getting to know your dog is understanding his emotional baggage and limitations.  Some dogs are scared of men, or children, or sticks, or water, or being alone, or thunderstorms…the list goes on and on.  For most fears, your response should be the same – don’t reinforce the fear by rushing to comfort the dog, just stay calm and cheerful, remove the dog from the thing he was scared of, and engage him in playing or obedience work.  You want to send the message that everything is normal.  Some fears, like fear of people or other dogs that results in aggression, need professional help.

Keep a diary.

Some of the things a new dog or puppy does may seem overwhelming.  Try to keep a diary of the first few days – what happened, what went right and what went wrong, and what changed.  If your dog has housetraining issues, you will be able to see if it is getting better or not, and what changes may have triggered problems.  If the new puppy cries all night the first night, and less the second, and so on, you will be able to see the progress you are making.  This will be a big help if you have to call in a trainer later on for a behavior problem.  The first things the trainer will ask are:-

  • When did this start?
  • Did it start suddenly or was it a gradual change?
  • Did anything change that might have caused it?


You brought this dog home for a reason.  Enjoy the experience of learning about your dog, teaching him about you, and learning to communicate.

Written by eurekapaws

March 27, 2009 at 12:19 pm

Posted in New Adoptions

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Case Study: Puppy Mill Dog Part 4

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Knowing Mary, and knowing Hannah, we went to the shelter and looked around for the right match for them. When adopting a dog, there are obviously some physical criteria (some people can’t afford or manage a dog the size of a St Bernard, some people feel they must have a dog to raise from a puppy, and some people don’t want a dog that is high maintenance in terms of activity level or grooming needs).  But once those have been taken into account, the most important criterion is personality – does this dog have a personality that is compatible with everyone in the family?  I am always distressed when people focus on wanting a pure bred dog, or are concerned about whether the dog looks right for their home.  These things are so minor compared with the need for a good personality match – just as they are when choosing a human friend or partner.

In this case, we were looking for a dog who was less than 20 pounds, young but past puppyhood, upbeat and cheerful, and known to get along with other dogs. We found 3 likely candidates, and then met Mary at the shelter.  Mary had decided that she wanted a female dog, which brought us to one preferred candidate, Jenny.  As advertised, when she was brought out, Jenny immediately started to make friends with Mary.  In normal circumstances, we would introduce the potential new housemate to the incumbent dog before proceeding with the adoption, but these were not normal circumstances.  We already knew from her behavior at the shelter and with her foster family that Jenny was comfortable around other dogs, and we already knew that Hannah would not be comfortable at an introduction in a shelter, surrounded by people.  However, Hannah had met and stayed with many other dogs, and had shown no signs of aggression or intimidation – she was much happier with any dogs than any people!

Mary adopted Jenny that day, and took her home.  Jenny and Hannah became firm friends almost immediately, and Jenny became the active, outgoing dog that Mary had wanted.  The real question was, would this be enough to bring Hannah out of her shell, and get her to relate actively with people?

After a few weeks, the answer was that Jenny was becoming quite bossy, and Hannah was gaining confidence, but the relationship between Mary and Hannah still had not blossomed.  Hannah was still fearful of being trapped, and would not always come into the house when called – and she still did not show any affection towards Mary.  We separated the two dogs for a couple of weeks, giving Mary a chance to bond with Jenny, while we took Hannah for some intensive physical therapy.

Hannah would run away to avoid being trapped by a person, and would become rigid when picked up or cuddled.  However, on leash, she would tolerate being held, and would start to come when called.  She accepted that she could not control the situation, and tried to make the best of it.  After the first couple of sessions where I picked her up and held her on my lap, once I had put her down on the floor, she stood and trembled.  It was apparent that she was dealing with some powerful emotional conflicts.  Surrounded by our dogs, she relaxed a little, and on occasion she approached me when she wanted to be let out of a room.  (That sounds very minor, but for her it was a big step!)

After the two weeks, Mary and Jenny had made progress, and walking Jenny by herself had improved her responsiveness to Mary, but Mary was really starting to miss Hannah.  We brought her back with some trepidation – would Mary see enough progress in her?  Would Hannah continue to be more outgoing, as she had started to be with us?  When Mary picked her up and sat her on the chair beside her, Hannah started out as rigid as usual.  After several minutes of calm petting, while Mary talked with us, Hannah visibly relaxed.  When Mary went into the kitchen to make coffee, Hannah followed her to see what she was doing.  Those were both key indicators that Hannah had made some steps forward in relating to people.

It is still a journey – Hannah will not change overnight, and she may never be very demonstrative.  But she has had the great good fortune to find a home where she is loved and will be taken care of.  And Mary can look back over the last 9 months and see how she has changed in small ways: she used to run to her crate at every opportunity, now she is comfortable sitting in the living room; she used to avoid eating when anyone was around, now she happily eats in the kitchen; she used to sit rigidly upright on her cushion, now she has started to relax.  And of course, now she can play boisterously with her new friend Jenny.  All of those are because of Mary’s commitment to giving her a better life.

Written by eurekapaws

March 16, 2009 at 10:38 pm

Congratulations, Graduates!

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Last Saturday, the Canine Good Citizen class at McKinney Community Center finished. The CGC is a formal certification process created by the AKC, ending in an evaluation (by another evaluator, not the person who has been involved in training!). Each of the dogs in the class had encountered different challenges. It was a fantastic event for me, because all but one of the students who wanted to take the class passed. I was very proud because I know that everyone put in a lot of work.

The CGC test is a great thing to determine whether your dog is well-mannered enough to be accepted by most people.  It is usually part of the criteria used by therapy dog organizations.  To pass the test, your dog must be able to do the following:-

  • Allow a friendly stranger to approach and speak to his handler.
  • Sit politely by his handler when a friendly stranger pets him.
  • Welcome being groomed and examined (e.g. by a vet or groomer).
  • Be under the handler’s control on a walk on the leash.
  • Walk through a crowd while on a leash.
  • Sit or down and stay in place while his handler walks away a short distance.
  • Come when called by his handler.
  • Behave politely around another dog and his handler when the two handlers approach and meet with the dogs on leash.
  • Behave confidently when faced with a common distraction (e.g. noise of something being dropped nearly, someone running across his path, etc.).
  • Stay calmly with a trusted stranger while his handler goes out of sight for 3 minutes.

These are all reasonable things for your dog to be able to do, so that your family, friends, neighbors, etc. feel confortable and safe around your dog.  Even if you don’t take the test, it’s worthwhile to look at your dog and see if he needs help in learning how to do them all well!

Written by eurekapaws

March 10, 2009 at 10:44 pm