One of my favorite books by Suzanne Clothier, "Bones Would Rain from the Sky," has a beautiful description of a woman struggling to find the relationship with her new dog that she once enjoyed with her old, perfect dog:
"... finding a way to such a relationship is not easy. And even if we've been there before, as Wendy had with Mel, we cannot take the same path when we begin the journey with another dog. Each relationship walks its own way ... Wendy's relationship with Mel was a blessing, a gift of grace not the result of knowledge or deliberate choice on Wendy's part.
While such relationships are powerful and take us to a point of connection we may not have dreamed possible, we may be in for a rude awakening when we find ourselves back at the first step, with a new dog at our side, and not sure how to get where we want to go ... While we have been where we want to go again, we realize with humility and gratitude that it was the old soul of a dog like Mel who had carried us safely there. And now we need to find our own way."
With the best of intentions people bring a new dog into their home. The average age of a dog up for adoption from a shelter or a rescue is 1 to 3 years old, the height of adolescence. Along with their good intentions people often have great expectations of their new dog: that he be social and well behaved with people and other dogs; that he be house trained; that he be good with kids and/or cats; that their current dog will love him and they will become best friends; that he will be like their dog who recently passed away. It is important when adopting a dog to consider that your new dog is a unique individual. He may not have had the best socialization and instruction in puppyhood, and it is up to you now to help him adjust to his new life.
The first thing to do is to realize that you need to get to know and accept your new dog for who he is and where he is at with his socialization and training. Examining your assumptions and expectations of your new dog, and honestly asking if those are realistic can help form more achievable goals. Realizing that your dog simply needs more training and possibly more socialization will ease your frustrations that you do not have a "perfect dog".
Here are some tips for bringing a new dog home:
1. Give him at least 2 weeks to 1 month to start to adjust to his new life with you. Some dogs can take up to months or even a year to truly relax, even in the best of homes. How your dog behaved at the shelter or at his foster home may be very different than how he behaves in your home. Dogs react to their environments, so it is reasonable to expect him to react differently in this new environment you have brought him to.
2. Do not assume your new dog knows anything. Let him show you what he knows and take that as a starting point. Train him as you would a puppy with supervision, management and gentle teaching.
3. Let him get used to your new home and form a relationship before putting too much social pressure on him by inviting everyone you know (and their dogs) over. Just like with young puppies, socialization must be set up for success and confidence. A dog that is overwhelmed will not become confident.
4. Introduce your new dog to your resident dog on neutral territory such as a park. Feed apart at first and be mindful of anything such as toys, food, space or even yourself that could be regarded by either dog as a resource. Manage these things wisely to prevent possible fights. Make sure you spend individual time with both current and new dogs. If the dogs are having serious conflicts, call an experienced and certified professional.
5. Closely supervise children with your new dog. If he looks uncomfortable, have the children give him space and teach children how to properly greet and behave around dogs.
House manners, greeting manners, tolerance of the human world and tolerance of other dogs are important. These are skills that can be trained. Most important to your dog is to know that you see him and love him for the unique dog that he is. That you make the commitment to start at the point he is at, and begin a new journey together.
Louisa Morrissey is a dog trainer based in Silverthorne.