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Animals In Print
The On-Line Newsletter

From 18 March 2003 Issue

Living with a Kill Shelter Rescue - The First Two Weeks

You’ve done your homework. You know what to expect (more or less) from the purebred or breed mix you’ve adopted. You’re prepared to do housebreaking police work, although you might find you don’t have to do it! (Many kill shelter adopted dogs are already housebroken.)

You’ve successfully collected the dog and transported it to your home. TIPS:

The FIRST THING you must do is take the dog into your backyard or any other area you have selected for it to eliminate (pee and poop) optimally without going through the house. (DO NOT TAKE THE DOG DIRECTLY INTO YOUR HOUSE!!!) You will PATIENTLY WAIT (no matter HOW long it takes, the dog is terrified!) for the dog to pee and possibly poop, also. Remember, dogs MARK by peeing AND pooping. You will have in your pocket small pieces of dog cookies and you will REWARD every pee (and wait for poop). After your new dog friend seems to be finished, you will bring it INSIDE. If your backyard adjoins a door that you will routinely use to allow the dog in and out, USE that door.

Once inside, you will remove the martingale collar and “outdoor” leash. Replace them with a comfortable collar (buckle around nylon is fine, just make sure it can’t easily slip off, and it must have ID attached) and “house lead”, which is a thin, light nylon leash at least four feet long.

You will NOT allow the dog full access to your home, but rather have an area set up where the dog can be comfortable and still have the companionship of the humans in the home.

You will LEAVE THE DOG ALONE. This does NOT MEAN that you all leave the room or put the dog into a place where no one can see it. It DOES mean that NO ONE approaches the dog with huge displays of affection and attention. This dog is SCARED. This dog needs to adjust to its new environment. This dog does NOT need multiple cookies and treats, overwhelming toys, a lot of noise and chaos. The dog needs to feel SECURE and this might take several hours (and maybe even days.) If you are SMART about this, you will let the dog tell YOU when it’s ready to interact.

Have treats ready (small bits) in your pocket. When the dog finally approaches you, ask it for a simple behavior (such as “sit”). If the dog is “clueless” (does not know what “sit” means), hold the small bit over its head and, when its butt hits the ground, pop the treat into its mouth while saying, “Sit!” in a hushed tone.

If you have very young children in your home, you SHOULDN’T BE READING THIS!

For your older children, explain to them that this dog is frightened and needs to adjust to his new family, and that they will have many years to hug and play with their new dog friend. Be certain that the dog is NOT interacted with UNLESS the dog solicits the interaction. All interactions between any human and the dog must first require that the dog “sit”. I expect that the adults will demonstrate to the children how this is achieved in case the dog is clueless.

Observe this dog very carefully within the first few hours. What you will be looking for are the signs that the dog needs to eliminate. Under stress, most living things need to pee more often. Use the same door each time while letting the dog out (TAKING the dog out with its “house” leash is the best option.) REWARD with a bit of treats each PEE and poop. This reward must continue for at least 7 days in order to “set” the behavior in the dog of eliminating bodily waste OUTSIDE.

Your newly acquired dog must have a space to sleep in. DO NOT allow the dog in anyone’s bedroom or bed! The first rule of “rank” in domestic dogs is that the highest-ranking member of any pack sleeps where s/he wants, or as close to the “heart” of the home as possible. It is NOT inhumane to require of the dog that s/he sleep in an area especially designated for him/her.

Your new dog might very well need to go out while you are sleeping! If you have a used baby monitor lying in the attic, you might want to hook it up so you can hear if the dog is crying or restless. You will NOT have to get up in the middle of the night forever, but this dog is ALONE in a STRANGE PLACE and its nervousness (plus change of diet) might make elimination a necessity for a few days!

If you are unwilling to rise in the middle of the night, do NOT YELL AT THE DOG FOR ANY ACCIDENT! When ya gotta go, ya GOTTA GO! Because a dog has “accidents” when left alone does NOT mean it is not housebroken. It might be nerves or separation anxiety. REINFORCE peeing and pooping EVERY DAY for TWO WEEKS outside. IGNORE “accidents”. Dogs always choose behavior that is rewarding. Your new dog will soon be “accident” free. Anyway, DID YOU REALLY WANT A STUFFED ANIMAL? If so, visit Toys R Us!

For the first few days, make the dog wear its “indoor leash” (ONLY when you are home!) You can easily dissuade it from meddling where it should not tread or wandering where you wish it wouldn’t go! Simply step on the end of the indoor leash, pick the handle up, and gently call the dog somewhere else, praising the dog when it follows you.

Within a few days, your new dog companion should have begun to be comfortable in its new space. DO NOT BEGIN any obedience training until your dog has been in your home for AT LEAST two weeks! This is very important!

It is now time to begin the “Nothing In Life Is Free” regimen. Every family member must ask the dog to perform a simple behavior (sit) before giving it attention, letting it in or out, etc. This will firmly ensconce your new dog companion at the bottom of your pack, where s/he is most comfortable.

You are probably not a seasoned kill shelter rescuer, so I suggest you and other family members make a list of things about the dog’s behavior that you LIKE and do NOT like. This list will serve a purpose in a few weeks.

At the two-week mark of your new dog companion’s presence in your home, observe behavior changes. The “honeymoon” is over now, and if there are problem behaviors you will see them begin to emerge. NOTE: many dogs are dumped onto the street or turned into kill shelters for NO FAULT of their own. You may never see a behavior that you don’t like. However, if you DO, make note of it for future reference in your training regimen which will soon begin.

This will most probably NOT happen, since the LARGE MAJORITY of dogs in kill shelters are NOT aggressive. BUT…..if your new dog companion snarls, snaps, growls or otherwise intimidates ANY member of your human family, RETURN it to the shelter. You are not equipped to deal with this problem.

At the two-week mark, you might want to call a housecall Veterinarian to come to do a check of your dog’s health, providing a stool sample for him/her. If you must take the dog into the Veterinary hospital, be PREPARED for a highly stressed and anxious dog at the end of the leash, and do NOT allow anyone to muzzle your dog! After all, the last time your dog was in an environment with other barking dogs, it was in a KILL SHELTER!

Our next installment will give detailed information on how to “train” (teach) your dog to “work” for you and dissuade him/her from nasty habits (like eating the remote control!)

staff: [email protected]  


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