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Dog Behaviour >> ADOPTING A DOG

Did you just adopt a dog?  If you did, congratulations!  If you are thinking about it, then I hope this information is useful to you.

All of my dogs and cats are adopted and I take great pride and pleasure in helping these pets who needed homes.  I know I can’t save them all but I can do my part.  I must say though, my adopted dogs were a lot of work.  As with many adopted dogs, they came with issues and I adopted them fully knowing and expecting to spend a lot of time retraining them and helping them through their problems.  I personally have found a lot of satisfaction in this but it would be untruthful if I claimed it was easy.

This article will deal with

  • choosing the right pet
  • your first day at home with your pet

Choosing your Pet:

 So the first thing to consider when you adopt a dog is what do you want?  Consider the following:

Your time commitment:

    • If you don’t have a ton of time, look for a low energy, well trained, middle aged to older dog with no behavioural issues.
    • No matter what, you need to have at least 40 minutes/day for walking and/or playing with your pet and you need to be able to let the pet out several times/day.  If you don’t have this much time, you might want to delay adopting until your schedule allows you more time.

Your knowledge and experience:

    • If this is your first pet, again, you may want to stick with a middle aged to older already trained dog that doesn’t have any behaviour problems.

Your family structure and home:

    • If you have young children you want to be sure to have a dog that is well trained, and proven to be OK with children.  You will also need to have the time to fully supervise pets and children!
    • If you have a grandparent or persons with physical disabilities you will want a dog that doesn’t jump (note, you can train them or be committed to classes).
    • If you are in an apartment or have a small yard, a low energy less active breed might be best.
    • If you have a large yard, farm or acreage a higher energy dog might be OK for you if you are willing to train and harness the pet’s energy for good!

Your hobbies:

    • If you jog, hike, ski, swim or bike an active breed might enjoy going on outings with you.
    • If you spend a lot of time at the lake, you might enjoy a breed that likes water and a breed that doesn’t have skin allergies!
    • If you enjoy dog sports like agility, flyball, disk, or herding you might want to get a dog that is high energy and suited for those tasks.
    • If you are a low energy person and like to watch tv or read books a low energy dog will suit you best.
    • If you are on a farm a high energy medium to large breed dog might work well.  Also, if you have livestock and plan to use the dog to work livestock you might want to choose breeds that are suited for that.  You will also need to consider warm housing and training for the dog so it doesn’t roam, chase cattle/horses/cats while you aren’t present, or dig up things.

Your finances:

    • Puppies that aren’t fixed and fully vaccinated will come with several expenses so you should budget for that and also preventive care that will decrease the likelihood of unnecessary costs/treatments.
    • A young adult, vet checked dog that is known to be healthy might be good if you know your budget is a little tight.
    • Remember to budget for fences, gates, leashes and collars, vet visits, obedience classes and some unexpected expenses.
    • If money is not a concern then you might want to consider adopting an older dog.  These dogs may need some extra medical care but are often wonderful pets who are calm and quiet and thrilled to hang out at the feet of a loving owner.  Great joy can come in knowing that you will provide a wonderful forever home for a pet that may have not had much love and TLC in the past so don’t overlook this age group!
    • If you are unsure if you can afford a pet then look at the ‘Money & Your Pet’ article.  If you cannot afford a pet consider fostering pets or volunteering at a humane society.  These are win-win situations as you can do something wonderful for your community and the animals while getting your pet fix.  I volunteered at the humane society in Calgary and it was rewarding although at times it can be sad.

Breed considerations:

    • Some breeds are prone to orthopedic problems, ear problems, dental issues, breathing problems, heart problems and/or eye problems etc.  Consider discussing choices with your veterinarian. 
    • Cross bred dogs may have some hybrid vigor advantages and be healthier but there are no guarantees.  

Your other pets:

    • If you have a cat then ask the humane society if they know if the dog tolerates and likes cats.   You may also need to do some work at home even if the dog likes cats to make sure the cat isn’t stressed about the dog.  The method in the “Introducing a New Cat..”  article can be used for introducing a new dog.
    • There is some controversy but I think pets of different sexes get along better.
    • All pets should be neutered if they are older than 6 months of age to decrease the likelihood of aggression and, of course, unwanted babies.  Don’t assume separating them is enough.  Those raging hormones can make them pretty sneaky about getting some love.
    • Ensure all pets have areas that they can seek refuge in.  Consider setting the new pet up in a separate room for a while and supervise all meetings.

Choosing the right dog:

    • The staff at humane societies are very experienced at matching pets and people. Be honest and open with them and listen carefully to their advice.
    • Note that the behaviour you see in dogs in a kennel situation may not represent the dog’s behaviour in a home so it is best to spend some time with the pet. Take them for a walk, visit with them, sit with them, play with them.  Again, some of these pets may have been in foster homes so the staff might have information for you on this.
    • Consider the following behaviours:
      • Dogs that come to the front of the kennel and are very excited and jumping up and barking constantly may be suffering from separation anxiety or they may simply have been rewarded for this behaviour.  This type of dog might not be a good choice in a low energy household or a household with small children or older people UNLESS you are very committed to training and exercising them!
      • Dogs that hide in the back of the kennel and don’t approach are obviously shy dogs that in this situation are somewhat shut down.  These dogs may make wonderful dogs in quiet homes but they may need significant socialization.   Again, asking the staff how they interact with other people and spending time with this pet may help you decide. 
      • Dogs that bark, growl and act aggressive at the kennel front may be displaying lack of kennel training, aggressive or fearful tendencies, guarding behaviour etc.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that the dog would act this way in a home but it is certainly a red flag.   Again, kennel staff and spending time with this pet might help you decide.  Overall though, this pet would be best suited to an experienced dog owner who is willing and committed to positive obedience training methods.  I’d also avoid this dog if you have children, elderly, or disabled persons in the house unless kennel staff feels that this behaviour is unlikely to occur in a home.
      • In general, the best choice for a new pet owner would be the dog that is lying quietly in the kennel but wags his/her tail and will come to the front of the kennel when called.  This dog would be happy to see and get attention but without getting overly excited.

Even considering all the above, the pet might behave very differently than expected in unknown situations and with different people/personalities.  I find that it sometimes takes weeks/months with a new dog to determine what they are really going to be like.  For example, when I first got Cody he did not display nearly the play drive that he has now.  He was very nervous and shy and frightened of strangers.  Now he lives to play and after a bit of noise at the door he wants to meet strangers and he especially hopes they might play with him.  So, you have to do your best to make the right choice but then be committed to working with the dog that shows up in your home.

Pitfalls to avoid:

  • Don’t choose a dog based on looks! 
  • Don’t choose a dog because you feel sorry for them unless you are committed to and knowledgeable enough to help them and/or have finances to get help.
  • Don’t adopt a pet as a gift for someone else unless they are fully informed and part of the decision making process.  Many pets adopted at Christmas come back to shelters and this can be a heartbreaking process for the adopters, the shelter staff and especially the pet.
  • Don’t adopt multiple pets unless you went in looking for a group.  Although it can be wonderful to adopt a set of pets that plays, gets a long well and maybe grew up together it is double the commitment!

Your First Day At Home:

What happens on the first day at home can set the stage for the relationship with your pet.  If you open the door and just let the dog run through and sniff the house and jump on people that is what you’ll get for life!  As above, your expectations of what this dog might be like and the reality can be very different.  So here are some things that I think go a long way to having a wonderful fulfilling relationship with your pet:

  • Click on and read through the following articles… “What Every Owner Should Know about Pet Behaviour”, “Preventing Behaviour Problems”, and “Leadership Training”.  If you know your pet doesn’t lead well or has other issues, read through the related article so you get some ideas on how to deal with this.
  • I highly recommend starting the Leadership Training as soon as you get your dog home. So this means having the dog on leash, attached first to the primary caregiver, and only getting attention when he/she is sitting or lying down or calmly waiting.  The dog works to earn all attention, affection, toys or play.
  • Discuss as a family what the rules will be and make sure everyone commits to them.  Lack of consistent rules can make a dog anxious and unsure in his/her environment.  So decide whether the pet will be allowed on some or all furniture, does the dog need to perform a certain behaviour to be allowed on to the furniture (sit), who will walk the dog and when, who will feed the dog etc. Make sure everyone is performing their roles!
  • If you have another dog, they need to be introduced slowly and carefully.  I hope in the future to write a detailed article on this.  If you have another dog and need help with the introduction please contact me.  Here are some quick tips:
    • The resident dog should be trained to walk on a leash, sit and stay on command. If he/she isn’t trained, work on that before bringing home the new dog.
    • The adopted dog should be controllable as well.  If not, then keep them separate until you can control both dogs.
    • Toys and bones should not be left out as they could cause disputes.
    • Dogs should be kept on leash and you should watch them closely and reward good behaviours with praise and treats in such a manner that you don’t create competition for the treats.
    • Don’t forget the resident dog and just lavish attention on the new dog.  The resident dog should be given lots of attention in the new dog’s presence so he/she will see that having this new dog is a good thing. 
    • Separate and supervise dogs at feedings.
  • Introduce your pets to your children carefully. Don’t let the dog jump on the children and don’t let the children encourage bad behaviours.  If you have babies or young children see the article on “Preparing for Baby” for some tips.  Teach the children not to hit, pull the ears or pester the pet when he/she is sleeping.  Make sure the pet has a quiet area where he/she can get away if needed.  Children and pets should always be supervised.
  • Read the article and start working on Kennel Training right away.
  • Do not let the dog pull on the leash. 
  • If you do not have dog training experience sign the dog up for positive obedience training classes as soon as possible.  Consider private classes or contact me if there are none available in the near future.
  • Even if you are told that the dog is fully house trained, do not assume this is true. In a new environment and new situation, sometimes dogs will forget their training.  It is easier to assume they aren’t trained and reward good bathroom behaviours until you know that you can trust them.  It will also help with your bonding and set up a good relationship with your pet.  Read the “Housetraining” article.  It can easily be incorporated into the leadership exercises.
  • If your dog is nervous or fearful give it a few days to settle in and be sure not to pet or talk to the dog when it is shaking, shivering or cowering (as this will encourage these behaviours).  If the behaviour is not improving within the first week then consider the “Tranquility Training” exercises as well as lots of exercise.  If you contact me I can give you a lot of information on dealing with this type of dog. Gradual desensitization and positive rewards are crucial for these dogs.  Punishment and/or forcing them to accept scary positions won’t cure the underlying fear and may even make the dog more frightened or aggressive.

So, I hope I haven’t overwhelmed you and that you find this information useful.  It is a big decision to add a new pet to your home and I think that doing your homework and preparing rather than reacting will help this be a smooth transition for you and the pet.

Link to local human society: