Updated: Dec 10, 2022
How exciting! You have made the lifetime commitment to care and provide for a dog. They are part of your family now, except you didn't realize you don't know what to do next! That is ok, we will strive to alleviate your anxiety and give step by step directions to set up everyone in the household for success.
Step 1: Crate Make sure you have read our blog on how to create a Zen Den. This will be an important life skill for your dog or puppy to have. This does not mean we force dogs into crates. This does mean we provide an environmental option for a dog to decompress, familiarize their self with the overwhelming newness, and to have a space to withdraw to in moments of feeling overwhelmed.
Step 2: Decompression Check out our blog on Decompression, we not only discuss why decompression is important but we provide you a plan for post-decompression. We essentially want to give our dogs time during this process. Decompression is a time where we let them acclimate in a way that is least intrusive. We do not have them meet our resident animals, we do not take them out to busy stores or walks just yet, we do not force too much on them too soon. We simply give them a safe space to take in the transition from what they knew to be predictable and "home" to this new environment. We will hopefully set up as a calm, inviting, and secure space to grow comfortable in. They are getting to know you and your family at their own comfort level. Many people follow a 3-3-3 rule as a guideline. This is 3 days, 3 weeks, 3 months.
Typically, the 3-3-3- rule is helping the human learn that in the initial days of your dogs transition he will likely feel overwhelmed, scared and unsure of what is happening to him. In these fear responses please know there is nothing wrong with your dog; not eating, hiding (all the more reason to get that crate set up), not offering much behavior and not feeling safe enough to show their personality are all part of this stress response.
On the flip side, there are other dogs who will be incredibly exuberant with no apparent manners and test any boundaries or human rules you may have. This too is a behavior that has function. This particular dog needs positive reinforcement to learn the structure of your home and expectations. After the first three to X number of days, the next feeling state for most dogs is they start to pick up on the routine, they are settling in and feel a bit more comfortable. As there is an increase in confidence, the dog may start to show their true behavior and as such more or new behavioral issues may appear.
Lastly, the process, typically around 3 months, sometimes longer starts to have the dog feeling like they have homed. The dog gains a complete sense of knowing this is their home and family and begins to build a bond and relationship with the people in the home. Please note this is a general timeline. Every dog is an individual and as such the 3-3-3 rule may rightfully look like 6-6-6 for your particular dog. Or whatever number of days he goes through each emotional state of the process.
THIS IS A PROCESS. Respect your dog's behavior as fluid. Emotion and environment will always impact your dog's behavior, just as it does ours.
Step 3: Meet the other animals After decompression for your individual dog has flowed in a natural way, it is typically time to meet the other animals in the family. A tangent walk, in a neutral place where the dogs can be a safe distance apart while providing guidance on giving each handler eye contact, letting them sniff on the walk, paying attention to each dog's body language, and giving them time to see and smell (not necessarily right on each other's body), dog's can smell scents from far away. It is best practice to keep the tangent walks as a process minded approach. Do you want every first date to end with a kiss? Do you want every person you just meet to come into your home? Do you initially like everyone you meet? Why put expectations on our dogs that are higher than we put on ourselves? Your dog is an animal and the best way to do tangent walks is consider it a walking buddy system and repeat the walks until it is clear through both dog's body language that they are calm, relaxed, redirectable, initiating mutual interest and you are in control of the walk. Then and only then is it safest to get closer and allow but sniffs with head control.
But my dog is too old to walk.
But I have health issues and cannot walk my dog.
But my puppy is not fully vaccinated and cannot go outside our yard.
That is ok! Tangent walks and walking buddy systems are only one of our integration techniques. Other exercises at your disposal are crate and rotate, secure and supervised baby gate separation that allows for a together but separate experiences, place work and group trainings with leashes on.
If you have prey animals in your home like cats, birds or bunnies it is best to control the environment and interaction. That means short, brief, neutral to positive interactions with the dog leashed and using high value treats. All dogs are predators and have the capacity to go into that mode. There is no need to rush integrating a new dog with smaller prey like animals. The initial energy and the way you choose to put your dog and animals together can either make it run smoothly or create a negative reaction that is much more work to recover from. T-a-k-e y-o-u-r t-i-m-e and follow the exercises and steps. A lifetime of getting along is better than a few weeks and then something tragic happening because we were more concerned with what was easier in the beginning. Be sure to check out our blog, "Are Your Meet and Greets Counterproductive?" for more information on this topic.
Step 4: I have human kids, where do they fit in with this? Kids and dogs, this is an incredibly important topic. And as a mom to both, I personally root everything in safety. If you do not know how the dog is going to do, and as an amazing trainer once said, "No one can predict how a dog is going to do in an environment they have never been in." Your kids are not the same kids that were in the foster's home. Your husband is not the man that he did well with at the shelter. Environment doesn't necessarily mean completely foreign but rather the particular nuances of change. So with safety in mind it is best to *always supervise* and create interactions that involve slow acclimation with the child and dog. For example, the kids joining a walk with you and your new dog. Or the baby in a high chair and the dog in place. Or having the kid make the dog's enrichments. Creating safe spaces for the dog to withdraw from the kids and teaching kids the way dog's communicate with their body language are great ways to be proactive. We never want to be reactive when it comes to kids and dogs. Active supervision versus passive supervision is critical too. Active supervision means you are not in the kitchen when the dog and kids are in the backyard. You are not working while the kiddos lay on the dog's body. Even if the dog is incredibly playful and you think it is ok for the dog to be in the backyard having an animal practice chasing children can lead to over-excitement and lack of impulse control. This is not the mind state we should be creating. And we are the ones setting up the situation for our dogs to have too much freedom with the skill sets they have. A great way for kids to be seen as a person to be respected is to start basic training with the chidlren as part of this history of learning; where your dog learns to work for the kids too! Supervision and knowing and understanding your particular dog's body language is key. And while it is our responsibility to teach our dogs human rules, it is also our responsibility to teach our children how to be around dogs and respectful of their space and body. Another great tip, is teach your kids about consent. Consent is about educating our kids that dog's should approach us with a wiggly, happy body. Again, this can be hard for kids to decipher, but why it is important to look at graphics with your kids on dog body language and at the very least teach them touches on the side are felt as nicer than pets on the top of the head. As well as 1-2-3 and stop petting. If the dog walks away the dog is saying no thank you to any more touch. If the dog is showing more interest the child can typically pet again, counting 1-2-3 and then stopping. Talk to your kids about hugs being a human behavior. For example tight arms and squeezes, where your child puts their face onto the dog's, doesn't feel loving to most dogs. All of this is about education. Always ask yourself, am I setting up my child and my dog for the behaviors I want to see? If the answer is no, you are in control of what those interactions look like! That is empowering!
We are currently getting our certification through https://www.familypaws.com/ to further specialize in family and dog dynamics. Check out their website for great content on how to set up everyone for safe inclusion!
Step 5: Socialization
It is an incredibly common issue for people to reach out to us regarding their newly adopted dog or foster dog who settled in and then started to develop some fear, possessiveness, reactivity or negative reactions to guests in the home. Often times these issues may even appear immediately. And there are cases where the dog has a behavior change to immediate family members as well. It is important to note puppies who are going through developmental periods may *developmentally* have sensitive periods where previously neutral reactions become negatively felt and expressed. So it is natural for your puppy to develop fear responses or new reactivity, but natural doesn't mean we do no intervene. Make sure to read our puppy blog for more on this topic with puppies.
Dogs who are fearful in the beginning should definitely be on a behavioral plan and have special considerations made. We address fearful dogs in our blog, "The Science of Fear and What That Means for You and Your Dog."
This topic on socialization is specifically for dogs that have just been brought into a new environment or have developed a changed emotional response to experiences or people. We have to go slow. When you think you are going slow, go slower. We have to let our dogs comfort level guide the process. Socialization is crucial for bringing a dog home because you have to help a dog develop predictable positive experiences in their world and in the situations you put them in. For example, if a dog is barking and charging guests, we should set up "greeting" guests in their kennel and pair guests coming over with a pre-made Kong stuffed and frozen with peanut butter or canned dog food. This can create a safe boundary for your dog, minimize people feeling threatening, associate their appearance with something pleasant, the enrichment can give your dog's nervous energy a healthy release and when done consistently give your dog a pattern to expect when guests came over. Knowing what to expect is felt as inherently positive! Another example of socialization for your dog is to take them out of your home, but again, we need to be aware not to overwhelm them. Maybe your idea is to take them to a pet friendly store, but the cars in the parking lot are scary, the electronic doors are terrifying, there are several other dogs in the store that your dog has a reaction to and people start trying to approach and pet your already on edge dog. Does that sound like your dog is feeling safe? Does that sound like your dog feels like he can trust you to put him in situations that are pleasant?
We can instead take our dog for a car ride to that same store, find a patch of grass outside of that store, do some nose work, some sits and looks, a short walk to the front of the store, doors move to open but instead of going in you cue your dog to recall to you go back to the patch of grass for more nose work, stop for a puppuccino and then back home. The latter is socializing in a way that is least intrusive and respectful of your dog's fear level. Repeat, repeat, repeat adding gradual steps to inside the store. Planting seeds for your dog to develop resilience, a bounce back from events that are novel are great ways to develop socialization in a healthy way. Do not forget that a well socialized dog has consistently shown up in scientific research as less likely to have behavioral problems. It is an often unforgotten part of helping a dog merge into human life with less stress. Check out our blog on Socialization:
Step 6: Basics I will say this a million times, "There is nothing basics about basics." Basic foundation skills are in my opinion a no brainer for a dog parent. Not teaching your dog basics would be like not teaching a child their ABC's and how to read. A lot of people fall in love with a dog for the way they look, because they are an adorable puppy, because a dog reminds them of one they have lost, a decision made for their children, for their dog to have a "friend", gosh I could go on and on about the reasons people add a dog to their family and do not realize the enormous commitment they have just made- a 10-15 year life commitment!
Basic cues like come, sit, down, look, leave it, place, off, release, take, touch, stay, wait, loose leash walking and release words are all ways to help a dog live successfully in our human world and more specifically with all our human rules of no digging, no jumping, no barking too much, no pottying in the house, no pulling on the leash, no feeling of fear (which often can look like reactivity and aggression), no growling, no biting, no scratching, no chasing the cat/bunnies/squirrels, no knocking the kids over, no begging at the table, no chewing up any people stuff, no, no, no! We sure love dogs but we don't seem to love all their dog behaviors. Not only does a basic training session help your dog learn what behaviors to offer and repeat, it does wonders for the bond between you and your dog. Many people have a complete newfound respect and higher connection once they invest in teaching their dog. Positive reinforcement works with people too! So it only makes sense that the trust, fun, shared time working towards the same goals and the whole family committed to the process is mutually beneficial for both ends of the leash!
Basics will always make you a more effective communicator and by doing positive reinforcement basics your dog will want to do the behaviors you have conditioned in him. A side note on basics, always remember that basics are the beginner level of communicating with your dog, you still have to teach the cues through duration, distractions and distance; as well as consider environmental changes that can effect behavior, individual learning histories, unique hierarchy of reinforcers, past traumas, a dog's unique threshold and triggers, your behavioral consistency and if you have proofed his behavior for competing motivators. Essentially basics are getting us and our dogs on the same level of language. Consider some points here in our blog on how humans can use basics to communicate with their dogs:
Step 7: Why YOUR behavior matters so much At the end of the day, having successful placement with a new dog has a lot to do with our expectations, preconceived notions of dogs, the method of dog training we choose, what we are willing to sacrifice to bring out the best version in our dog and if we understand that fostering or adopting a dog may come with obstacles and situations we did not expect to find ourselves in. When things go South dogs often become the scapegoats, get labeled, blamed, surrendered back to the shelter or rescue or even rehomed. However, plenty of people have had a complete smooth sailing with minimal issues when they brought a new dog into their home. Honestly, it just all depends. We do hope that this outline can at the very least serve to give people direction when they feel confused, overwhelmed or need help.
Don't ever underestimate the importance of your role in making this experience a safe and positive one. All too often giving a dog too much freedom when they need stability can backfire, expecting less of yourself and more of the dog can set up a lot of mental and even physical damage for everyone involved and giving up without consulting a behaviorist can cause an already over stressed sheltering system to be euthanizing more dogs than really necessary. We are simply all a dog has. We are simply their bridge between being labeled a "good" dog or a "bad" dog. I truly believe there are no bad dogs. There is behavior. There is science. There is our perception of an animal's behavior. Ultimately, there is our choice of what we are going to do about it.
Meet the Behaviorist, Jennifer Caves, M.Psy, CGC:
Welcome dog lovers and all dogs! I am the founder and Canine-Human Educator for REAL Animal Behavioral Solutions. We consider our work to be rooted in science and driven by ethics. Our passion meets purpose mission is unique in that we empower and educate people with a lifelong skill set to help any dog they share their life with currently or in the future. Dogs are incredibly resilient and intelligent and when the humans in their life know the how, why and successful implementation of behavioral principles- our dogs become happy, healthy and healed.
I have my Masters in Psychology and Canine Good Citizen Certification through the AKC. I have literally been rescuing animals since I was 16 years old with 15 years of behavioral experience. I consider it a privilege to work with you and your dog!
Real Animal Behavioral Solutions provides a holistic whole body-whole brain scientific approach to training using positive reinforcement and relationship building principles. Our one of a kind dog-psychology encompasses the mind and body connections that are inherently at work in dog behavior.