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by Justin Hadel | May 23, 2017

Adopting a dog from your local animal shelter can be a very rewarding experience, especially if it goes well. But, if it is not working out, it can be stressful and even scary. When we bring a new dog into our homes, it will spend roughly the first 48 hours figuring out its new environment and another two weeks assessing its place in the pecking order. By starting off with a few simple rules you can establish yourself as the leader and minimize common problem behaviors. So what can we do to maximize the chances that our new pet will fit into our lives and homes? Three things will send a big message to your dog and make the transition easier for everyone.

The first is leash training and you could likely begin before the dog leaves the shelter.

Leash training will stop excessive pulling, teach your new dog to listen to you, and help prevent barking at other dogs or people while on a walk. It will also send the message that you are in control and the pup needs to follow the leader and have a good time. There are many tools and techniques available to help you train your new pet and the adoptions counselors can help you find one that works for you and your dog.

The second skill to work on is threshold respect.

Letting a dog go through a door first tells him/her they are in charge and need to be on the look-out for danger. By teaching the dog to wait to go through only when invited, you’re reinforcing that you are in charge. The dog will be much more relaxed on the walk and less likely to be reactive while out on the town. This also will help prevent the pup from rushing out the door when your hands are full of groceries.

The last, and, in my opinion, most important task, is crate training

not just putting the dog into the crate, but training them to go in on command and to come out when invited. Crate training is a great way to protect your furniture from chewing and to show your dog what you expect of him/her while in your house. If the dog only exits the crate when it is calm, he or she learns that calm energy is what is expected. It also solves one of the most frequent complaints of adopters: dogs jumping up excitedly when they get home or when friends visit. This doesn’t mean the dog is doomed to spend every day of its life in a crate when it can’t be watched. Most dogs will catch on very fast and become trustworthy enough to be left out and about; it is also a great safety measure to deploy in the first few weeks or months. Be prepared to go back to crating your dog if he or she starts to back slide or test you later on.

These three things jump start the process of bonding with your new dog and, when combined, do so much more. You will demonstrate to the dog that you are the leader and that following you leads to good things. You will drastically reduce if not eliminate anxiety and hyperactive destructive behaviors, resulting in a calmer, balanced dog that fits in and listens well. This training is also a great way to teach impulse control to your new dog, which can make him/her less likely to steal food off your plate when you’re not looking.

I have tested these things on many foster dogs in the past few years and have had major success. The most recent one, Cooper, was a very active dog that had been returned many times because he destroyed multiple crates and pieces of furniture. He had likely had a bad experience with a crate and was very frightened to go in. Because he had been at the shelter for so long, he already had leash training, but now we had to teach him to love the crate. I gave him 30 minutes to sniff around and get used to the crate. It took a good 45 minutes before he was going in and out well and he put up a good fight, but consistency and patience paid off. Today he goes in without a problem and will stay calm and quiet inside. He has even become a bit of a lazy dog when he’s inside but is very ready to let loose when he emerges.

I urge you to try these things with your own dogs and see what a difference they can make. Even well- behaved dogs can benefit from this training. Patience and consistency are required. Please stop by the adoption lobby if you have any questions or email me at jhadel@greenvillecounty.org.