10 tips for a successful adoption

by | Pet Planning |

Dogs are exceptional animals, and their ability and desire to form deep and loving bonds with humans is extraordinary. By adopting, you are truly giving your dog an amazing gift – a second chance.

Following an adoption, it may take a few weeks or months for you and your dog to fully adjust to your new life together, and to establish a relationship based on mutual understanding, trust and respect. Be patient. Remember, there is a reason you’ve chosen this dog, or they have chosen you!

The following 10 adoption tips will help you bring out your dog’s superstar qualities.

1. Help your dog relax at home alone

Adopted dogs usually form deep bonds with their new parents, and in the beginning, separation may be emotional for you both. Help give your dog the confidence to be home alone by incorporating the following confidence-building tips into their day. Begin using these tips as soon as you bring your new friend home.

  • Leave the house frequently for short periods by walking out the door, closing it, and then returning. Once your dog is comfortable with short departures, randomly include some longer departures.
  • Ignore your dog during departures and arrivals (be very casual – don’t look back!).
  • Practice mini departures inside by closing doors when you take a shower, use the bathroom, etc.
  • Studies have shown that dogs are calmed by classical music so consider changing your radio station.
  • Try to stay relaxed (if you’re anxious your dog’s anxiety will increase).
  • Give your dog a safe chew toy stuffed with treats before you leave the house.

A dog with severe separation anxiety may destroy property, bark incessantly, scratch around doors or windows, or injure themselves in a frenzied panic. Speak to a dog trainer, animal behaviourist or veterinarian for ways to increase your dog’s comfort when they are home alone. To learn more about separation anxiety, read I’ll Be Home Soon! by Patricia McConnell.

2. Establish household rules and routines

If your dog is living with more than one person, it is especially important that rules and routines are followed by every member of the household
to encourage consistency, and to give your dog stability and leadership. The more consistent your family is, the quicker your dog can figure things out. Lack of routine, yelling at your dog for doing things wrong, or letting them make up their own rules will only make your dog anxious and unsettled. Consider incorporating some of the following rules and routines into your household.

  • Feed your dog high-quality meals on a regular schedule in a quiet place.
  • Walk your dog a minimum of twice a day – once before you leave for work. Active dogs may also require vigorous off-leash exercise in a secure area.
  • Until your dog is housetrained, sleeping in a crate in someone’s bedroom is recommended. Once they can hold it all night, they can graduate to sleeping on their own.
  • Use treats as rewards for good behaviour (such as lying down quietly), or as training aids. Do not feed your dog from the table or when they are whining, barking or pawing you (unless you enjoy your dog begging!).
  • Teach your dog that they must ask for things they like by sitting politely, rather than by making demands (e.g. barking/pawing). Before giving them the things they value, such as meals, wait for them (patiently!) to sit. Turn away if they start barking and/or jumping.
  • Once your dog knows a few verbal cues, you can begin to practice “Nothing in Life is Free.” Before you give your dog anything they like (food, a treat, a walk etc.), ask them to perform one of the verbal cues they have learned. For example, they must sit until you put the leash on. This exercise is an excellent way to incorporate training into your daily life, establishing a relationship and to give your dog a sense of security.

3. Reward behaviours you want

Consider what your dog finds rewarding and use it to motivate your dog to repeat behaviours you like! A reward can be treats, walks, dinner, praise, a game with a favourite toy, saying hello to another dog, sniffing grass, belly rubs, a throw of the ball, etc. Most of us are so used to noticing “mistakes” our dogs make that it seems odd to notice and reward “good” behaviours. But, if the only behaviours you reward with your attention are unwanted behaviours (even yelling is attention), then these are the very behaviours your dog will repeat. Instead, make a habit of noticing and rewarding your dog for wonderful behaviours that you may typically take for granted, such as lying down, playing quietly, chewing appropriate toys, acting friendly to other animals or people, or walking on leash without pulling. To be meaningful to your dog, the reward must closely follow the good behaviour. Having been rewarded, they will be motivated to keep doing those things you like!

4. Manage the situation so your dog makes “good” choices

Dogs develop habits (good and bad) quickly. As a result, extra management early on is invaluable. Every time your dog has the opportunity to repeat an unwanted behaviour, such as jumping on guests, you’re making it more likely they will do it again. Your job is to figure out what triggers the behaviour, to anticipate it, and to prevent it from reoccurring. For example, before opening the door, make it impossible for your dog to jump on guests by putting him or her in a crate, blocking the front entrance with baby gates or putting the dog in another room. When your guests have a chance to sit down, and your dog is calm, take him or her on a leash to meet each guest. Reward your dog with treats and pets only when they are greeting the guests without jumping. Other examples of management include:

  • Dog proof your house. Pick up anything that might be chewed and cover electrical cords and furniture legs with Bitter Apple (a bad-tasting substance available from most pet stores).
  • Watch your dog closely. Use doors, baby gates or a tether to keep them in the same room you are in.
  • When you’re not available to watch your dog, either crate them or put them in a completely dog-proofed room. Set them up to succeed!
  • Place at least three enticing, safe chew toys in every room your dog frequents to help keep them entertained and out of trouble.
  • Purchase a dog seat belt, which is fitted to your dog and attaches to a car seatbelt. This will keep your dog from wandering around the car while you are driving and to protect them in the event of a sudden stop or collision.
  • Prevent your dog from pulling on the leash on walks by using a head halter (e.g. Halti, Gentle Leader), pressure harness (e.g. Sporn) or front-clip harness (e.g. SENSE-ation harness). Avoid choke chains, which literally choke the dog and can cause tracheal and esophageal damage.

5. Turn “mistakes” into learning opportunities

If your dog is well supervised, they shouldn’t have the opportunity to make many mistakes, but on occasion they will happen. When they do, make a mental note to boost your management next time. In the meantime, use their unwanted behaviours as an opportunity to teach them preferred behaviours. Consider:

Finding an alternative behaviour. When you want your dog to stop doing something, give them something to do that is incompatible with the behaviour you don’t want. For example, if your dog jumps on you, ask them to sit instead. Next time, catch them before they have jumped and ask them to sit. If they bark to greet visitors, teach them to grab a toy to say hello (makes it much harder to bark!). If they get distracted on walks, teach them “watch me” to get their attention. If your dog is heading for the table (or already chewing it) offer them a chew toy instead and praise them for chewing it. It’s not enough for you to say you want the behaviour to stop. Define what you want your dog to do in the situation and help teach them how to behave instead. Reward good choices!

Ignoring the behaviour. If a behaviour is ignored, it will eventually end on its own. If you ignore your dog’s unwanted attention-seeking behaviours, such as barking, whining or jumping (by not looking, speaking or touching your dog in any way until the behaviour stops), the behaviour will stop. But before your dog gives up, the behaviour will appear to worsen. Recognize the escalated behaviour for what it is and wait it out. The behaviour will eventually stop, and it will stop even sooner the next time. If you need to, walk out of the room and close the door behind you to prevent yourself from giving your dog attention. Be aware that ignoring behaviours that are inherently self-rewarding to your dog, such as digging, won’t be effective.

NOTE: If you use punishment techniques that cause pain or frighten the dog to deter unwanted behaviours, such as yelling, choking, popping the leash, smacking, shaking the scruff, alpha rolling (forcing the dog onto his back) or choke chains – you risk damaging the relationship between you and your dog – sometimes beyond repair. Moreover, it does nothing to address the cause of the behaviour so it is likely to be repeated. Remove the cause of the unwanted dog behaviour – not the symptoms!

6. Take a dog training class

Taking your dog – and your family – to dog training classes is a wonderful and fun way to help you understand how your dog thinks and learns, and how to motivate him or her to repeat behaviours you like! You can also have a trainer visit your home for private sessions to boost your dog IQ. While costs vary, the investment will repay itself many times over throughout the life of your dog. A good class can put you in a room full of other new dog parents just like yourself, answer all your day-to-day questions, and help address the minor issues that arise.

Look for a trainer that uses “positive-reinforcement” techniques that are humane and fun, including “lure-rewarding” (using treats to lure dogs into position), and “clicker training” (marking the exact moment the dog is doing the desired behaviour using a small device that makes a “click” – followed by feeding a treat). In class, trainers should give clear instructions and explanations, provide demonstrations for each exercise, and give individual feedback while everyone in the class is given an opportunity to try the lesson with their own dog. Most basic puppy (12 to 18 weeks) and adult (18 weeks and older) classes typically cover the following verbal cues in class: sit, down, stand, stay, off, come, walking on leash without pulling and a few fun tricks. Generally, a number of behaviour topics are included as well.

All trainers have slightly different styles – from enthusiastic, fun and fast-paced to more serious or relaxed. Ask to view a class beforehand and find one that interests you. Many schools welcome school-age children so ask what their policy is if you’re interested in having your kids participate. If the dogs and people in the class enjoy the trainer – it’s a good sign you and your dog will, too! Read How to Choose a Dog Trainer to learn more about dog training classes and how to find a group or private trainer in your community.

7. Gain helpful insights from dog behaviour and training experts

Reading writings from dog behaviour and training experts can give you fascinating insights into your dog and how to handle a variety of behaviour issues. It can also help you appreciate how well dogs relate to us, considering how confusing our efforts at communication generally are!

Indeed, good professional dog trainers are effective because they understand how dogs learn and they are aware of their own behaviour. They’ve learned to stop doing things that may be natural to humans but are misinterpreted by dogs. They know that the smallest of movements can result in huge changes in a dog’s behaviour. For example, just turning around and moving away from your dog can greatly increase the chance your dog will come to you when called and leaning slightly backward or forward can encourage a scared dog toward you or chase them away. Additionally, good dog communicators consciously make sounds that reflect what they want the dog to do, rather than how they’re feeling inside. For example:

  • If you want to increase your dog’s level of activity, such as encouraging your dog to come or speed up, use short, repeated notes like claps, smooches or short, repeated words.
  • If you want your dog to do an action that inherently inhibits activity – like sit, down or stay – try to say it only once (one single, continuous note). E.g. Staaaaaaay.
  • One long continuous note, paired with long, slow strokes (and slowing your own breathing) can help calm an anxious dog. E.g. Gooooood dog.
  • Saying a signal in a lower voice than before can increase the chance your dog will comply.
  • Sounds that change a lot in pitch get a dog’s attention better than a continuous flat sound.

Helpful books and websites to better understand and train your dog:

  • The Other End of the Leash by Patricia McConnell
  • Power of Positive Dog Training by Pat Miller
  • Click for Joy! by Melissa Alexander
  • Don’t Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor
  • Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson
  • Dogs are from Neptune by Jean Donaldson
  • Excel-erated Learning by Pamela Reid
  • www.dogwise.com (Dogwise offers an extensive collection of books and videos for dog lovers and trainers through their website)

8. Introducing new dogs to children and other pets

When introducing your new dog to your other furry friends, supervise their interactions at all times and allow them time to accept each other – friendships may take weeks or months to develop. In the beginning, you may need to baby gate certain rooms, or shut doors to keep animals separated when they can’t be supervised. You may also want to reward your current furry friend with a treat when you pay attention to your new dog to help them accept the new addition. Once you’re comfortable your dog and other animals will behave, they can have access to each other without supervision.

It’s also important to teach your children – and dog – to behave appropriately together. Babies and small children require adult supervision around any dog, even your family’s dog. Teaching your dog basic obedience, such as off, sit, stay or come are invaluable. Be aware that older dogs, and those with disabilities, may be easily irritated or frightened. Educate children to be considerate of their limitations and to treat them with respect. As well, teach your children not to:

  • Disturb a dog that is eating, sleeping or caring for puppies.
  • Approach a dog’s food, toys or bowl.
  • Tease, chase or yell at a dog.
  • Play roughly with dogs or grab their ears and tails.
  • Take food away from a dog or pick up dropped food in a dog’s presence.
  • Run or ride a bicycle past a dog. Some dogs like to chase fast-moving objects.
  • Corner, crowd or stand over a dog, as this may make the dog feel defensive.
  • Approach unattended dogs – in yards, in cars, outside stores etc.
  • Additional resources: www.dogsandkids.ca
  • Feeling Outnumbered? How to Manage & Enjoy a Multi-Dog Household by Karen London & Patricia McConnell

9. Housetrain your dog to prevent indoor accidents

Even if the dog you’ve adopted was previously housetrained, err on the side of caution and assume for the first couple weeks that they haven’t been housetrained to help prevent any accidents. Spend time teaching and rewarding your new furry friend for eliminating in the right spot. Most dogs can learn what is expected in a few weeks. Helpful housetraining tips include:

For the first few weeks, take your dog outside on leash directly to the appropriate area and give them a treat as soon as they do their business.

Once he or she eliminates, do not immediately ask them to come back indoors. Some dogs will “hold it” for as long as possible to avoid returning inside. Instead, play a game of ball or take your dog for a walk. Keep your dog under close supervision until they are trustworthy. If you allow the dog to wander around your home unsupervised, at least limit their access to the entire house by closing all doors to bedrooms, bathrooms and the basement, and/or using baby gates to block off rooms.

If you keep your dog with you, watch them closely. If they start sniffing, circling or go to an area where they have eliminated before, take them out immediately. If you do not watch them and he or she eliminates, it’s not their fault – it’s your mistake for not paying close enough attention to your dog’s needs.

If you catch your dog in the act, make a sharp sound to distract them (e.g. loud clap) and then, if possible, pick them up or race them outdoors. Praise and treat them when they finish doing their business outside.

Never get mad at your dog for having an accident in the house. It is your responsibility to help ensure your dog is successful. If your dog is not caught in the act he or she will not understand why you are angry – even if they are showing signs of appeasement (cowering).

Purchase an enzymatic cleaner to neutralize accident odors to prevent repeat accidents on the same spot.

The general rule for how many hours your dog can hold it is their age in months, plus one. So a four-month-old puppy can hold their bladder for five hours. From seven months through adulthood, they should be able to hold it for nine hours total during the day (for smaller dogs it may be less).

Adult dogs have bigger bladders, but they still need to go outside after feeding, when you come home from work, before going to sleep at night and after waking. Older dogs typically need to be let out more frequently.

Keep a record of when your dog eliminates and the activities (e.g. a meal or walk) that precede it. You will soon notice that your dog tends to eliminate at certain times and after particular activities, provided they eat at approximately the same time daily. Be proactive and anticipate their needs.

Crating, while not necessary for all dogs, is generally considered the easiest and quickest way to housetrain because most dogs will not soil in their crate (never leave a dog in a crate longer than they can hold it). It can also help prevent puppies, adolescents and young active dogs at the peak of their chewing interest from misbehaving if left alone or when you’re preoccupied. Click here for some crate training tips.

Additional resources
Way to Go! How to Housetrain a Dog of Any Age by Karen London and Patricia McConnell

10. Find ways to exercise your dog’s mind and body outdoors and indoors

The simple root cause of many dog behaviour issues is too little exercise and mental stimulation. Excess energy, boredom and the resulting stress can cause dogs to invent their own activities, such as chewing or barking. Keep your dog’s life active and interesting by taking them to explore parks, nature trails and city streets – running, walking and playing fetch or frisbee. Set your alarm 30 to 60 minutes earlier in the mornings to accommodate exercising them before you leave for work. If you are unable to accommodate the exercise needs of your dog, ask a neighbour, friend, family member or paid professional to help.

In addition to outside exercise, help your dog burn some energy indoors with the following games:

Kong toy chew: The hollow center can be filled with food and treats or your dog’s meals. A dab of peanut butter spread around the inside is very effective.

Hide and seek: Hide and encourage your dog to find you by making clapping sounds, bouncing a ball, squeaking a squeaky toy, etc. When they find you, praise them and play with the toy or give them a treat.

Scenting: Hide a toy or a biscuit and encourage your dog to find it. Make the game very easy to start. Later you can make it more challenging by hiding multiple items in hard-to-find places.

Fetch: Toss a ball across the room and let your dog fetch it and bring it back to you. To teach your dog fetch, place them on a leash, toss the toy nearby and praise them when they approach the toy and pick it up. Encourage them towards you, using the leash to reel your dog in, if necessary. If they won’t give you the toy, place a smelly treat near their nose and make an exchange. Quickly throw the toy again. If they are not interested in fetching, make a hole in a tennis ball, stuff some treats in it – then throw!

Come: Make the word “Come” fun and rewarding every time! To teach the word “Come,” show your dog a treat, say the word “Come,” then run away and encourage them to follow by clapping your hands, whistling, talking silly, etc. When they catch up to you, reward them with the treat. Call “Come!” while hiding and encourage them to find you. Gradually call your dog away from further distances (start by running away if you need to)! Long lines (light lines that are 10 to 50 ft) are great for practicing outside while keeping your dog safe. Note: To keep your dog’s “Come” response reliable, use the word sparingly and only when it is followed up by things your dog likes (e.g. meals, games). If you need to do something unpleasant (or even neutral) to your dog, such as ending a play session, simply go up and get your dog; bounce a ball, call his or her name, make fun noises or use a secondary recall word.

Games to avoid include: “Catch me if you can” (your dog will learn he can outrun you and he may think it’s a game of “keep away” when you want him near); play fighting and wrestling (encourages jumping up, chasing and mouthing or biting); and “tug of war” without rules (should only be played if you start and end the game, keep the tug toy in a drawer when not in use, end the game if the dog’s teeth accidentally touch you in any way, and if the dog is required to give you the toy frequently – say “give” or “off” and use a treat if necessary to make an exchange).