Adoption/Foster advice & tips

You have been following your adopted dog for some time and are looking forward to giving them a big hug! Getting the preparation right for your new family member will help everything go smoothly and without a hitch.

Decide as a family where you would like your dog to sleep, downstairs or upstairs? To crate or not to crate? The choice is yours. Stair gates are an excellent investment to enable your dog to have time alone if required and to prevent access to all areas.

Get name tags sorted – we recommend you fasten a new collar with tags as soon as the dog arrives. This is really important as they don’t know you yet and may well run when scared. Be extra cautious with the security of a new dog. A harness offers more security if your dog is comfortable being handled while you fit it.

When dogs arrive after travel we see a varying array of reactions. Many are full of life and energy, relishing their new environment and desperate to explore the new home and surroundings. Unfortunately, it is hard to predict how your dog will cope with the transport and arrival, and some dogs take longer to adjust as they may have been through a traumatic journey and been previously exposed to many stressful experiences.

Frequently, when they first arrive in a new home, their true nature and unique set of behaviours are muted or suppressed, while they evaluate their new environment and the humans that live there. For many street dogs, simply being in an enclosed space with people can induce fear. It is important that you help the new arrival to have time and space to gain confidence. As a result of the anxiety, they may be reluctant to eat or drink and may not engage in any social behaviours. In some cases, they may actually try to repel interactions with cut off behaviours such as; turning away the head or body, walking away and or hiding.

It is absolutely crucial not to crowd the dog during this time and allow them the opportunity to get away from everything when they want to. This is NOT a time to invite the family / friends / neighbours around to meet the new arrival or take them all over the neighbourhood to show them off. It is essential to try to keep the next 24-48 hours quiet and calm! One of the most important factors when recovering from a stressful event is rest, so we advise minimal exercise in the first few days as during this period they may also be more susceptible to infections, from coughs and sneezes to tummy upsets.

It is only after a couple of days that you start to see your dog’s personality emerge. Many sources say that it may take up to 72 hours for cortisol [stress hormone] to dissipate from the body after a stressful event and allow the true nature of the dog to emerge. It is important to focus on establishing a routine as this helps dogs to feel secure. Knowing they can predict what happens next creates security. They will quickly start to feel safe if you can help them to predict their environment. Help your anxious dog by establishing clear routines and by directing their behaviour through training, using rewards to reinforce. Never begin to use force as this will damage your relationship with your dog.

You can let sociable, relaxed dogs meet visitors without any concern but this may not be the case with an anxious dog. They might feel more at ease if you carefully teach them that the doorbell is a cue to lie on their bed or go to their crate and stay there, instead of trying to make doggy small talk with people he may be fearful of.

Dogs with anxious dispositions like to know how to do it right and don’t like anomalies, so always provide consistent clear boundaries expressed in a calm way to help confidence develop.

When your new dog is eating, don’t disturb them or approach them. Leave them in peace to enjoy their food and learn that, in this new environment, there is no need to be anxious, no need to worry about losing their meal. With rescue dogs, most of the time their background is unknown and it may be possible that they have had to learn to protect their food at all costs. Teach them that you are no threat by simply leaving them in peace when they are eating, in the early days. Once they have started to relax, you can approach your feeding dog during his meal, but only to deliver more dinner, or yummy sausages etc. This will ensure he looks forward to your visits during dinner and will hopefully prevent him guarding his food.

If there are existing dogs in the home, the first 48 hours is not the time to insist that they are all settled and sleeping together like lifetime buddies. Depending on the mix of dogs, it may take months before everything is settled. Creating a balanced dog group can be a complex process that may need the assistance of people experienced in the job, who will be able to spot potential problems early on. We advise inviting in a trainer/behaviourist if you are having problems with integration.

Joining up with your resident dog

This is always best done on neutral ground for a first meeting. It’s best to have a good long lead and a harness if possible, and some calm, dog-friendly people around who can assist you. Allow enough time, at least a 30-40 minute walk, at a calm, low energy pace.

Begin the walk with ’follow my leader’. Alternate which dog is leading the walk and allow the lead dog to stop and sniff and mark. Allow the following dog to sniff and smell where they like, as this is also part of the communication. Contact should be avoided at this stage as it is important that the dogs focus on ‘the walk’ rather than each other. As the dogs start to sniff the ground and air, this is a sign they are beginning to fall into a hunt mode which is a good marker, and means they are not obsessing about each other’s presence. The sniffing of poop and urine is an important exchange of information and energy between the two dogs.  Think of it as a non-verbal way of communicating. Once the two dogs are eliminating in each other’s presence, that’s a good sign that the dogs are getting used to each other.

After you’ve been walking for a while and the dogs have had a chance to sniff each other repeatedly (nose to tail) you can move so that you’re walking next to each other.  It’s not that important for the dogs to be close to each other at this stage. Walk in parallel with both dogs at a wide distance. Allow them the opportunity to watch each other, smell and signal from a safe place. Always keep the movement going forward, this helps to prevent confrontation and tension building up. Look for relaxed bodies, low level tail wagging and play bows to each other, tail sniffing. These are all great signs that they are relaxed in each other’s presence.

If signs are good, loose play can follow but as you may not have a fully bonded recall yet, it may be safer if this is somewhere enclosed (tennis courts or fenced in school fields for example). If no secure loose play is available then return to your garden. NB Prior to going into the home or garden, move toys, food bowls and bones – anything which could be a guarded by your resident dog or newbie.

Establish a feeding routine quickly at set times to help your new dog. Put the dogs in separate rooms prior to food arriving or, if you have one, use a crate to put your newbie in for his dinner. A crate would be a good place in the early stages for him to learn to go at mealtimes; this will prevent food begging (or potential conflict at the table) or a stair gate may be used to separate the rooms. Be prepared for some setbacks with the dogs’ new relationship, it will evolve over time.

However, if the situation seems to be getting worse, the dogs seem more irritable or there is more guarding behaviour, get help immediately. Don’t hope that it will just get better by itself; some timely intervention can help to get everything back on track.

Until your new arrival has developed confidence in greeting visitors to the home, it is worth helping him or her by coaching your visitors, as people are frequently harder to manage than your dog! People who like dogs have a terrible time with the idea that a dog might be afraid of them; they might say “Dogs love me” or “I’ve got a way with dogs,” and then bend over him and try to stoke him, reaching over him and putting their hand over his eyes which can be very intimidating!

If your shy dog has stepped outside of his comfort zone, then human behaviour like this will, at best, scare him. At worst, it could prompt a bite. Ask your guests to ignore the presence of your dog, enter the home quietly and get them seated with a cup of tea as quickly as you can.

  • Always allow your dog to approach the person, never the person to approach your dog.
  • Let your dog smell the new person, for as long as he/she wants!! You will need to ask them to stand still and quiet while she does this.
  • If she leaves the person, then do not follow her or put her under pressure to make further contact for now.
  • If she seems relaxed and interested in knowing more about this new visitor, ask them to bend down and scratch her under the chin NEVER over the head and eyes.
  • Encourage your guest not to stare at her.
  • If she wants to move away at any stage, allow her to go.
  • If she barks or growls remove her to another room and allow her back after 20-30 seconds, your part of the deal is that she is never forced or pressured into contact when she isn’t ready. Repeat this as often as necessary.

Giving your guests some treats to gently throw on the floor near her may help her to make a positive association with the event.

If you are using a clicker with her, you can mark her smelling and calmness, and give her rewards for positive progressions.

Good website/books

‘Bones would rain from the sky’ Suzanne Clothier

Although we advise that you spend lots of time in the home with your new arrival, it is also good to leave them alone, with you out of sight, for short periods (5-10 mins progressing up to 20 mins), so that they become relaxed not having you around all the time. This builds their confidence that your leaving and then returning is normal, and they are not at risk of being abandoned. Close doors behind when you leave to make a cup of tea, breaking the very real potential that your new dog could become your stalker! This is best done following breakfast and exercise which is a normal time for him / her to have a rest.

Leave the room frequently, closing the door, and return quickly without any acknowledgment to your dog when you return. Plan to build time for your dog to be alone frequently during the day, small frequent absences are better than long ones in the early stages, building up their ability to trust in your return.

When leaving them, offering a favourite toy on their bed may help them to build a positive association with your absence. Each time you return, do not interact immediately with your dog, each event needs to remain calm and unremarkable. This will help your dog to immediately assimilate it as normal, and hopefully go someway to prevent the onset of separation anxiety. If you believe your dog is becoming anxious while you are away [salivating, defecating in the home, destructive behaviour], then you will need to consult a certified behaviourist, as early intervention can help in what is a treatable problem.

Humans are a very tactile species, and we have a natural desire to hug and touch. For dogs, this is something they learn to grow fond of (some more than others). A dog who has not developed a tolerance or liking for such contact, may quickly feel overwhelmed. Some of the dogs may already have made a fearful association between contact with a human and something bad happening, so sensitivity and caution are advised in the early stages.

Be aware of your body language; it is always better to be side-on to the dog; this is less confrontational and intimidating for them. Turn your head to the side and try to avoid holding eye contact for long periods. This is a peaceful approach. Some people find yawning and licking lips a reassuring signal to the dog. Be quiet or softly spoken.

First contact should be to chest or shoulders, progressing to the head if the dog appears comfortable. NEVER reach over the dog’s head until you have taught him to be comfortable with this.

A good technique to try with a new dog is the five second rule – gently stroke the dog for five seconds then move away, if the dog seeks proximity with your hand again, he was obviously enjoying it … If he moves away, he was merely tolerating it!

Don’t be offended in the early days; he is deciding if you are trust worthy. Each time he has a positive experience, it’s a tick in your box. Giving him the power to choose is an option he will be grateful for, and ultimately enhance your relationship.

Some need a little more help, and a little more time.

Do you have a friend who has a confident, well balanced dog? This can help your dog to mix with the other dog and express himself naturally. There’s evidence that an anxious animal’s fears can be eased by the presence of non-fearful companions.

These effects may not hold up when relaxed friends aren’t there, and it’s not likely that they’ll spontaneously spread to other contexts. However, every good experience will improve your dog’s quality of life, even a tiny confidence-building effect at least points in the right direction. You can extend this to trying not to socialise with other shy dogs, as they can compound each other’s reactions.

If your dog starts to be brave, talk calmly to him, praising him for his confident response. Remember, every new stimulus could be a fear-inducing event if he reacts to new noises, movement, and people in a fearful way. Stand still, be calm, allow him to see the fearful object, then call him away, praise him and give him a treat for his bravery.

You may want to try “dog-appeasing pheromone”. This manufactured version of a pheromone, secreted by nursing mother dogs, is supposed to help with stress and anxiety. There are different brands and recipes available – Adaptil is one which seems to get good reviews and you can get it as a plug-in diffuser and also as a spray that you can put on a collar or bandanna. It’s no miracle cure, but it’s not expensive and there is fairly good experimental evidence that it helps some dogs. Owners have also reported good results from dog rescue remedy.

Playing is a great way of building confidence and trust with your dog. In a puppy or timid dog, this needs to be gentle, low-level play and praise should follow any interaction, no matter how small. You are big, they are small – taking something in their mouth that they are being offered can take a lot of bravery, so even a gentle mouth touch on a rag toy should be praised and built on. Ask for release then recommence once they have let go to teach that letting go is not the end of the game, merely part of it.

Scent/nose exercises are great confidence builders and Serotonin releasers. They will help your dog to become more relaxed in the environment. This may be an exercise more suitable after a few days of settling in – dried fish is a good food for this, or slices of warm sausage. Hide a few pieces on steps, ledges, skirting boards etc [avoid soft furnishings!]. Ask your dog to find it and let his nose do the rest. There are good games for nose work online which you could move on to.  Remember, 10 minutes scent work is the equivalent to 40 minutes lead walking!