Christine Hibbard, CTC, CPDT
The calls come in through out the year but become especially heavy during the summer and Christmas holiday season:
- “We love our new dog. She’s so sweet but she’s jumping on the children and mouthing them and I’m worried.”
- “Our new dog is dragging us down the street on walks. The kids would like to walk the dog but we’re afraid they’ll get hurt.”
- “We haven’t owned a dog since the family dog when we were children. What should we be doing and not doing?”
- “The dog we adopted from the shelter is sweet and wonderful but we’re seeing behavior that is worrying us and we don’t want to wait for a class to begin in a few weeks. We need help now!”
Instead of over reacting to the dog’s behavior or giving up on the dog, people called me for help. I’m always thrilled to get these calls. Helping these dogs stay in their homes is one of our corporate missions at Companion Animal Solutions. Here is our advice for all new adopters regardless of where you found your new furry best friend.
Realistic Expectations: It can take months for a dog to adjust to their new environment and display a full range of behaviors. Dogs that seem shut down or shy may come out of their shells to be highly social or they may begin to experiment with behavior you don’t like (stealing food, getting into the garbage, jumping on people). Dogs that were restless and hyperactive often relax once they have a consistent routine. Knowing that it will take a while for your dog to settle in, we recommend that you wait for two or three months before you take your new dog to a big event like a party, soccer game or family gathering. Start off slow with introductions to new people, dogs, and places. It’s best to allow your dog to approach at his or her own pace. If you aren’t sure whether what you’re seeing with your new dog is normal or safe, you can set up a phone consultation with us to help you figure out what’s happening.
Help Your Dog Succeed: We recommend that you set up a safe zone for your new dog, an area where the likelihood of him making a mistake is very low. This doesn’t have to be a kennel or crate, although those are good options. Sometimes a laundry room blocked off by a baby gate or closed door works well. For small dogs, an x-pen or doggy playpen can be helpful. Just keep in mind you want easy clean up with minimal temptations for your new dog. If you’d like to receive our handouts on crate training or house training, drop us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’d be happy to send you this information. Use your safe zone when you can’t keep an eye on your new dog, when you’re house training, during dinner time, when guests are arriving, etc.
Give Your Dog Something To Do: Boredom and anxiety are an awful combination, for you and your new dog. We recommend that you don’t feed your dog out of a bowl. You can still feed them on a schedule (important for house training) but feed them out of puzzle toys. You can see our recommendations here. One of the reasons I’m able to crate training dogs so quickly is because I never put a dog in crate without a stuffed Kong (usually stuffed with canned food and then frozen for a longer lasting treat). Stuffed Kongs are a safe alternative when you need to leave your dog at home. Deer antlers are safe, long lasting chews which are also a great option if you have to leave your dog alone. My dogs’ new, favorite chew is the Himalayan Dog Chews which are higher value than a deer antler and last much longer than bully sticks. They come in small, medium and large sizes (monitor your dog so they don’t choke if the chew becomes too small). If you’d like us to send your our handout on ideas for keeping your dog busy and tiring out their brain, send as an email at email@example.com.
Walking Politely On Leash: We recommend using equipment that is highly effective and the least likely to cause behavioral problems down the line which means using front attach harnesses or head harnesses. Now, if your dog is a monster puller a head harness is an excellent option but you can’t just slap one on a dog and expect them to like wearing it. Head harnesses take some training to use effectively. Here’s a video on teaching a dog to wear a head harness and you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like our handout on training a dog to love their head harness. There are many well done videos on YouTube for teaching a dog not to pull on leash. A couple of my favorites are from kikopup and pamelamarxsen.
Jumping Up/Mouthing/Humping: For some dogs, jumping up is an attention seeking behavior. For other dogs, jumping up is self reinforcing (they just do it because they like it) or they’re jumping out of pure arousal. For other dogs, they’re jumping up because they’re anxious and looking for any social cue from the human that everything is OK. What we recommend for stopping the behavior depends on why the dog is jumping up. This is true of similar behaviors that we don’t want the dog to engage in like mouthing or humping. Here are some common recommendations to stop this type of unwanted behavior:
- Take your attention away from the dog immediately. You can say “too bad”, fold your arms across your chest and turn around… be a tree! When they stop jumping and/or mouth, reach down and pet them.
- Say “too bad” and leave the room closing the door behind you. I see clients in their homes every day and when I walk through that door the first time, most dogs are jumping on me. I say “too bad”, step back outside and close the door. After several repetitions of this, the dog figures out that jumping makes me go away.
- Tell the dog what to do instead. If your dog knows how to sit, ask then to sit instead and when they do, lean down and pet them immediately.
So if you’re a new adopter or know someone who is, the message I’d like you to take away from this article is that help is available and it doesn’t have to be expensive. I get calls and emails from all over the country and sometimes we schedule a remote behavior consultation or sometimes a short phone consultation helps. Other times, I’m happy to refer people to a qualified professional in their area or refer them to a book, DVD or web site that can help. Don’t give up. Don’t resort to force, fear or pain to solve a problem. Ask for help. Share your experiences and ideas here by leaving a comment!