Bringing a new dog into the home can be an exciting and sometimes trying experience. If you've decided to adopt a mature dog from the shelter, you should expect an adjustment period of several weeks while your new dog acclimates to his surroundings and you get to know his behaviors.
You can expect that your new pet will be slightly off balance or anxious as he starts to explore his new home. Not only is he exploring his new environment, he is also trying to figure out where he belongs in the hierarchy of the pack. It may take awhile for him to want to take direction from you and to see you as his new leader.
Your first step should be to control the space in your home. You will need to teach him the rules of your household, and he will need to know your expectations as well. If you don't know very much about his past, you'll want to observe his habits closely. Selectively allowing him freedom in the house can calm him down and give you time to get to know him.
One way to do this is to set up a crate or kennel. This can provide him with his own "sanctuary" or quiet place to rest. By restricting your new dog to a crate when he is left unattended, you can help him learn proper house manners. Most dogs will not eliminate in their "den" and prefer to be clean in their sleeping area. It will also save your house from destruction when you leave your new dog home alone for the first time.
Some training may be necessary to get your new pet accustomed to his crate, although most dogs take to it quite naturally due to their "denning instincts." One way to make a positive association is to feed him in the crate with the door open at first. After several days, gently close the door while he is eating. Gradually increase the time in the crate, ignoring any whining or forms of protest. A satisfying chew bone or a Kong stuffed with peanut butter can help keep him busy and help ease any separation anxiety.
Now that you have a tool to help control your environment, your next step is to enroll in an obedience class. Obedience training will create a way for you to communicate with your dog. In a basic obedience class, you will learn how to teach your dog to sit, down, stay, come and heel on command. Going to class every week will also help you socialize your dog around other dogs and people.
It is important when selecting a class to look for an instructor with knowledge of canine behavior who is capable of reading your dog's behavior and selecting the best methods for his temperament. Sometimes there are lifestyle changes that must be put in place. It may be important that you instill "manners" that go beyond obedience training.
Maintaining a proper relationship between you and your dog may mean that you teach him how to greet strangers properly, that you always go first out the door and that you don't allow your dog in your bed or on the furniture. Decide early in your relationship what behaviors you want to live with and remain consistent in carrying out your wishes. Your dog will respect you for it. Ask your obedience instructor for guidance if you run into problems.
Finally, find ways to bond with your dog through physical activity. Your dog is a social creature and requires stimulation and exercise on a daily basis. Although some dogs are content spending time watching a movie with you at home and going for walks in the park or around the neighborhood, many dogs need more. A great majority of dog breeds were originally developed to serve man and have a "job." These dogs need to exercise their working drives and to use their intelligence productively. You may need to provide activity for this type of dog to fulfill his needs.
Consider taking obedience classes that go on to off-lead work, higher levels of distraction training and retrieve work. Or perhaps your dog would enjoy an agility class. These types of classes will encourage your dog to learn because it's fun and increase your leadership status.
Whatever activities you may enjoy, remember that your new dog needs your time and commitment to develop into a confident, loving, well-behaved family member. Your extra time will be well worth the years of enjoyment!
Joan Harris is a regular contributor to Angel Tales, the magazine of PAWS Chicago. She serves as Head Trainer at K9 University in Chicago. This article was originally published in the Spring/Summer 2007 issue of Angel Tales.