In honor of October being “Adopt-A-Dog Month” I thought it appropriate to discuss a few ways you can ease your new buddy’s transition from shelter or foster to your home.
First, think back to your scouting days, or your friends’ if you weren’t one, and “Be Prepared.” You are preparing to bring home a new baby, no matter her age, into your home. Dog ownership, as with any pet, should NEVER be a split second decision. Make plan on how you are going to best take care of your new dog before he ever steps across the threshold. Where will he eat, sleep and go to the bathroom? Knowing the answers to these questions will make for a more welcoming experience. Puppy proof well in advance of your new pet’s arrival and provide ready and obvious access to a bed or crate, ensuring to position these items where you intend for your dog to use them to eliminate unnecessary stress from frequent rearrangements. She’s already made one big change, make it easy for her when she joins your family. An added tip is that it is a great idea to already have a dedicated leash, collar, and dog tag engraved with your contact information on hand when you pick your friend up from her current living arrangement. Don’t worry about settling on a name just yet as putting your pet’s name on her collar is not always the best idea, especially if she’s found by a less than honest person. Going forward, don’t forget to check collars and tags every so many months for signs of wear and tear so that data critical for a speedy reunion is legible, current and not in danger of being lost.
The second critical basic need for life must be addressed next. What to feed your dog? Contrary to popular belief, food marketing specialists and internet gurus, this is not a difficult decision. Feed your dog, dog food. It is that simple. In the beginning, even if not the most premium of rations, organic or current with the latest feeding craze, the best thing to feed your new dog is the same diet he’s been receiving at the shelter, rescue or in his foster home. Why? Because that is what his digestive tract is used to consuming. Just changing your dog’s environment, even for the better, is stressful. Some dogs, just like people, react to change with gastrointestinal upset and often diarrhea. Prior to picking your buddy up make sure to stock up on a few weeks’ worth of the food he’s been eating and once he has settled into the routine of his new home, slowly, over a two to three week period transition him from his old food to one you feel is appropriate for his age, level of exercise, body condition and training. Quick changes in food often result in uncomfortable gas production and loose stools. Just think of how your body would react if you personally were to go from a vegan diet to an all meat ration, or vice versa, overnight!
Third, your carefully deliberated decision helped you and your family select the type of dog who would best fit into your home. You have already decided what you will expect from and want your new dog to be able to do and refrain from doing. Your new friend is unaware of her predestination, not being party to those so important pre-adoption deliberations, so give her time to settle into her new surroundings. The out-going cuddle bug you met at the most recent “empty the shelter” event still loves you but may be shy in her entirely new environment. Give her time to adjust. It can days to weeks to months for your new friend to finally become the great dog she is destined to be. One way to speed this period of adjustment is to provide a regular schedule of attention, feeding and watering, grooming and training. Why? Because dogs instinctually crave structure, want to please and need a job to keep boredom at bay. (Boredom can lead to self-entertaining behaviors which are not only undesirable but can be downright destructive!) Basic commands should be practiced for short periods of no more than 5 minutes per training session 1 to 3 times per day. DO NOT expect your dog to pick up everything overnight and be sure to use only positive reinforcement when you get the behavior desired be it a “sit,” “stay,” “come,” or “leave it.” Progress is built into the system. Remember, a happy, well behaved dog requires love, affection and dedicated attention from its new family, and this is why you brought her home in the first place.
For those who already have one or several canine companions at home you can still do something special to celebrate Adopt-A-Dog Month. Here are a few suggestions:
- Your local shelter or favorite rescue group can always use volunteers willing to donate their expertise, time and supplies such as pet food, leashes, beds and toys. Most organizations will list their most needed items on their social media pages.
- If your pet has yet to have been spayed or neutered, get it scheduled and prevent the possibility of bringing more unexpected and often unwanted puppies into the world while increasing your dog’s likelihood of living a longer, healthier life.
- Don’t add to the “homeless” dog population. Outfit your dog with wearable identification in the form of a collar AND get him or her microchipped being sure to keep all contact information current so that you drastically increase the chances of reunion in case of accidental separation. Roughly 10 to 15% of animals are reunited with their loved ones because they lack identification or their owners’ have failed to ensure microchip contact information is kept up to date.