Welcome to your new shelter dog! Some tips to help you along the way

20th Sep, 2022

Written by Scotty Valadao – Canine Behaviourist – www.friendsofthedog.co.za

There are so many beautiful dogs just wanting love and a place to call home, and to my mind, at least, giving a home to a dog in a shelter situation is one of the most amazing things any human being can do. To those of you that have done this or are considering it, all I can say from the bottom of my heart is: THANK YOU!

Honeymoon Period – the critical first three weeks

Unfortunately, not all adoptions are successful. When we bring in a new dog, over the first few weeks, everything may seem to be going hunky-dory, but what we fail to realise is that this great behaviour could be due to something called the Honeymoon Period.

This is often a period of relatively peaceful existence with the dog behaving well, or, if there are any concerns, they’re normally of low intensity. However, once the dog is feeling more settled, the more natural tendencies and behaviour tend to appear. It’s a bit like your kids being well behaved and polite when they meet new people in new places but take them home, and they instantly revert to normal behaviour – so often when my boys were young, and the above occurred, I wished people who congratulated me on such polite and well-behaved children could see them now!

The quicker we attend to any unwanted behaviour, the greater the chance of success. These first three weeks really are a critical time in your relationship with your new dog. If you are consistent about what you do and do not accept, the chances of success are much higher.

Your attitude and perceptions

Something that often happens is that new owners ignore behaviours that should be attended to simply because they feel sorry for the dog; “Shame, he had such a hard life/suffered abuse/was so thin…” is something I hear all too often.

Yes, dogs from shelters have often had a really bad start to life, BUT that is all changed now; you have taken them in and given them a loving home. The past is simply that: the PAST! Your new dog is really one of the lucky ones - a fresh start in a loving home! By holding onto what your new dog may have experienced, if you are feeling sorry for them and ignoring behaviours you would normally not allow, then you are not allowing them the fresh start they should have.

When I was staying in the Cape and hosting Shelter Courses and working with the staff at Fallen Angels Shelter, in addition to working with dogs in the shelter, Fallen Angels and I brought in a behaviour consult for owners taking pups and dogs home. This consisted of giving them the tools they needed to help to shape a well-behaved member of their family, as well as being there for them if any problems did arise. This really was a great success – dogs settled much quicker as the owner knew exactly what to do and why, and the adoption was a success.

Some Tips to Get You Started – Prevention is always better than cure

  • Remember: this is a new start for both of you, so no feelings of pity – your new dog is one of the really lucky ones!

  • Most of us tend to bring a new dog into our lives over the weekend or holidays when we have some time to spend and settle it. Please don’t stay with the dog 24/7 and give loads of attention, as when you go back to your normal life after the weekend or holiday, the dog is likely to stress, and the possibility of separation anxiety occurring is a reality. Rather put in place your normal routine as possible.

  • Don’t overwhelm your new dog – give them a few days to settle down. Avoid walks rather walk them around the garden and let them get to know their surroundings. By the same token, restrict family and friends coming over for at least a week to welcome them – let them get to know their new family.

  • Bear in mind that although this lucky dog has ended up in a loving home, every single thing is strange to them, and there will be an element of stress.

  • Get your dog into their new routines – dogs love routine, and it helps them to feel secure.

  • Put in place immediately what you do and do not allow. Dogs thrive and respond to consistency, so don’t allow something one day and the next day not allow it to happen. All you will do here is to totally confuse your dog, and if there are any existing concerns, they are likely to intensify.

  • There is a tendency for adopted dogs to be very needy, and they will follow their owners around the home. Although we may feel great that the dog is bonding so well, this can become the beginning of separation anxiety – and believe you me, this is the last thing you want! Rather teach your dog that it is not only okay but also really rewarding to spend time alone – just supply a delicious stuffed Busy Buddy or Kong in a separate area. You can gradually build up the time they are alone without it being excessive.

  • I doubt there is even one of us that is not thrilled when we arrive home to a wonderful welcome from our dogs, but this behaviour can become really excessive and is not always welcomed by owners or visitors; it may be great when you arrive home in a pair of jeans, but not so great when you have on white trousers, or when an older person is visiting. When you come in the door, just stop without talking to or interacting with the dog in any way – just stand in the immediate vicinity and ignore them. When they have calmed down, walk calmly to another room, or away from the door, or to another area, ask for a ‘Sit’, praise and give them a treat and give them all the love you want. What we are doing here is using the natural behaviour that dogs themselves use to show what is acceptable and what is not.

  • Once your new dog has settled down, start to teach them all the basic exercises you want to bring in.

Old dog, new dog

If your home has an existing dog, the shelter would have ensured that the dogs were well matched by allowing them to meet and interact, so you should be off to a good start in this aspect. However, there are still several do’s and don’ts that will help to ensure they get along.

  • What you do NOT do is to give the new dog additional attention or more attention than the existing dog. Until the dogs sort out the canine hierarchy between themselves, if you give the new dog extra attention, you will be ‘upsetting the apple cart’ between the dogs, as the saying goes. Rather greet, treat, give attention to, and interact with the existing dog first and foremost. That way, you are immediately helping to keep the status quo in place. As you really are the person in charge and supply all the dogs’ needs, it is important that you can also decide who gets your attention and who doesn’t, so perhaps every second or third time, give the new dog the attention, love, etc. first. This will go a long way towards keeping harmony.

  • Even though the new dog may be the perfect playmate for your existing dog, give them time apart in different areas with a stuffed chew toy. Leaving them alone playing for too long can cause excitement levels to increase, and the playing may get out of hand.

  • During their alone time, do make sure you give your existing dog a lot of separate attention – their life has changed also, and the stress levels could be up.

  • Feed the dogs totally separately. The existing dog will eat where they have always eaten, and the new dog’s meal is placed in an entirely different location, even with a door between them. This allows both dogs to eat in peace and not worry about another dog eyeballing or threatening them. This also ensures you can see how much the dogs are eating and will prevent any resource guarding and also over dependency on one another.

  • Until you are 100% sure there will be no resource guarding of toys and valuable items, only give these to the dogs totally separately.

  • If you do see problems developing, please get help as soon as possible.

Once again, thank you for adopting a shelter dog and giving them a new chance in life!


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