So you've taken the plunge and adopted a dog from the Delco SPCA. Congratulations and thank you for saving a life! But what do you do now? No doubt you're excited and looking forward to forging a lifelong friendship with your new buddy. Remember the saying: "You never get a second chance to make a first impression"? The idea works with dogs, too. No matter how happy you are to bring him home, no matter how much you want to make up for the shabby way he was treated before you got him, start him off right from the beginning. And try to keep in mind the confusion he is feeling right now. Whatever his past history, coming home with you is a new experience. He is likely to be a little disoriented, wondering where he is and who all these new people are. The key to helping your new dog make a successful adjustment to your home is being prepared and being patient. It can take anywhere from two days to two months for you and your pet to adjust to each other.
The following tips can help ensure a smooth transition:
Supplies: You'll need a collar and leash, food and water bowls, food (the Delco SPCA feeds Avoderm brand), and of course, some safe dog toys, such as Kong or Nylabone toys. Visit www.dog.com for great prices. And don't forget to order an identification tag right away.
Welcome Home: Try to arrange the arrival of your new dog for a weekend or when you can be home for a few days. Get to know each other, spend some quality time together and get your new dog out for plenty of exercise. Remember to establish house rules right away, such as no getting on the furniture or bed. We recommend keeping a leash on the dog to help maintain control during this introduction stage.
Health Care: The Delco SPCA takes in dogs with widely varying backgrounds, some of whom have not been previously vaccinated before coming to the shelter. Inevitably, despite the best efforts of shelter workers, viruses can be spread and may occasionally go home with adopted animals. All adopters receive 10 days of free veterinary services through the Delco SPCA after adoption, so if you have any initial medical concerns, simply call 610.566.1370 x0 for an appointment. Additionally, all adopters receive a certificate for a free wellness exam at a local participating veterinary office. This information will be available in your adoption folder. Should your newly adopted dog need any medications, call the Delco SPCA at 610.566.1370 x0 to inquire if we can provide them. All adopters also receive a certificate for a free bath or nail trim at the Doggy Spa, in Drexel Hill. The information will be in your adoption folder.
Training & Discipline/House Rules: Dogs need order. Remember, they are pack animals, so make yourself the "pack leader." Visit our Preferred Vendors page or www.apdt.com for a qualified trainer in your area. Let your dog know from the start who is the boss. Decide what the house rules are and stick to them, at least for the first couple of months. Let him know that even though you're the nicest person on Earth and the best human he could ever hope to find, your house does have rules, and he must follow them. Be what dog trainer Carol Lea Benjamin calls a benevolent alpha — a nice boss, but still a boss. Your dog will understand, respect, and love you for being his leader — it's the way dogs are. If you're not in charge, your dog will be. No democracies here. When you catch him doing something he shouldn't, don't lose your cool. Stay calm, and let him know immediately, in a loud and disapproving voice, that he has misbehaved. Reward him with praise when he does well, too! Sign up for a local dog obedience class immediately, and you'll learn what a joy it is to have a well-trained dog. Visit www.apdt.com and click “trainer search” for trainers in your area, or call the Delco SPCA for a referral.
Most dogs start feeling comfortable in their new homes in about a month. You can do a few things to help him understand that yours is his new home and he is a loved member of his new family, but model your leadership in front of him. Here are a few exercises to try:
"Oh, c'mon!" you're saying, "who died and made you a drill sergeant? I want to spoil my dog!" Sure. Later, ( when your dog has impeccable house manners and you have nothing to complain about. Can your dog sleep on the bed? You bet! But they shouldn't come up without permission and they should know it's a privilege, not a right. Can you share your carrots sticks with them? Of course! But they should sit for them, every one. And when you tell them you're done sharing and to go to their beds, they should. Set the ground rules early and stick to them fairly and consistently. You can always loosen up, but tightening up is awfully hard after your dog's out of control.
Housetraining: Assume your new dog is not housetrained, and work from there. Be consistent, and maintain a routine. A little extra effort on your part to come home straight from work each day will pay off in easier, faster housetraining. Use the leash-bonding method as a tool, in addition to a crate.
Crating: A crate may look to you like the canine equivalent of a jail cell, but to your dog, who instinctively likes to den, it's a room of his own. It makes housetraining and obedience-training easier and saves your dog from the headache of being yelled at unnecessarily for problem behavior. Of course, you won't want to crate your dog all day or all night, or he will consider it a jail cell. Just a few, regular hours a day should be sufficient. The crate should be roomy enough to allow your dog to stand up, turn around, and sit comfortably in normal posture. If you still can't face the idea of a crate, at the very least consider some sort of confinement to a dog-proofed part of your home. A portion of the kitchen or family room can serve the purpose very well. (A baby gate works perfectly.)
Let the Games Begin: Dogs need an active life. That means you should plan plenty of exercise and game time for your pet. Enjoy jogging or Frisbee? You can bet your dog will, too. If running around the park is too energetic for your taste, try throwing a ball or a stick (use a long line if you don’t have a securely fenced-in area) or just going for a long walk together. If you don’t have enough time to give your dog the exercise he needs, ask the Delco SPCA about recommended dog walking services. A tired dog is a good dog!
A Friend for Life: Finally, be reasonable in your expectations. Life with you is a different experience for your new companion, so give him time to adjust. You'll soon find out that you've made a friend for life. No one will ever greet you with as much enthusiasm or provide you with as much unqualified love and loyalty as your dog will. Be patient, and you will be amply rewarded.
Don’t ignore the warning signs. If you see any behaviors in your dog that concern you please call a professional trainer right away or speak to your veterinarian. The SPCA can recommend experienced trainers, some may offer discounted rates. It’s much easier to prevent behavior problems than to fix them!
Call or e-mail for help. The Delco SPCA’s staff and volunteers are here to help with any questions or concerns you may have. You have done such a wonderful thing by adopting a dog and saving a life, and we will do everything we can to help you and your dog be a successful match!