In Luke’s ongoing Wundertraining series, he is walking the new parents of rescue dogs through the first few days. Building on preparing the home and the first 24 hours, read Luke’s advice for the first week with your new pooch
With any rescue dog you won’t have a full picture of their life and experiences, so it is important to take things slow. In this post we are going to look at important steps to take during the first week, so your dog is on the right track to being a confident, friendly companion.
Socialisation and Habituation
You may have been told by the rescue centre or already started to notice noises, objects or people that your dog is not so keen on. It is important to start working on these items to ensure your dog gains confidence.
Socialisation is getting your dog to learn to interact with people and animals, and habituation is about having your dog comfortable around everyday sights and sounds (like hoovers, cars and traffic). Make sure you are far enough away from whatever it is, so it doesn’t cause your dog to react (bark, lunge, run away, freeze), and when your dog is in sight of the item, start feeding them (if they won’t take food you are too close). This way we are slowly changing the way your dog feels about this item. If you keep doing this, over time the sight of the item will have less of an impact on your dog because of the history of you feeding them around it. If your dog suddenly starts reacting just move further away, distance is your friend.
Let’s imagine your dog doesn’t like the hoover (barks at it, runs away): first of all, never use it with them in the room and give them something to get on with, while you are hoovering. Secondly, start by placing the hoover in the middle of the room (switched off) with a few treats scattered around it, and just leave it there. At some point your dog will investigate and discover the treats, you can then sprinkle more. Once you start to see your dog’s body language gain confidence, we can move to the next step.
One of the main reasons we want a dog (or several) in our lives is because it’s so nice to walk around with them. However, walking a dog that pulls your arm off, jumps up at everyone and barks at things is less than ideal. It is best, therefore, to take the walks slow, first ensure the collar/harness is tight enough it won’t slip off, but loose enough so that it’s not hurting or chaffing the dog (you should be able to get two fingers in the collar). Also look for breed-specific collars, for example for greyhounds.
This is the golden rule for pulling: if the lead goes tight do not keep walking. The dog is learning to pull and fight the resistance. Instead, let go of the idea that you need to walk your dog to this place and in that direction. Direction and distance are not something to worry about, I have had many a fantastic walk with dogs up and down half a street – your dog doesn’t care. Your walks are going to be much slower and more about exploration and not racing about. If you’re out for 20 minutes, the dog has still had 20 minutes of stimulation and enrichment.
It is more important that your dog is not overwhelmed and that you work on your dog being comfortable in their new environment. If your dog pulls (for example towards a tree), you must stay still and allow your dog to start realising that pulling won’t get what they want, and the only way they will get there is by walking without pulling. Once the dog has relaxed and starts to come back to you then make eye contact turn the other way and reward. The dog has learnt that pulling doesn’t work and that making eye contact with you and following you is very rewarding.
There is a lot more to go over, but we don’t have space for it here, but remember the golden rule and your dog’s pulling will start to lessen.
As mentioned above, we don’t know what might potentially cause a reaction from your dog so we must take care with new introductions, but they are very important.
For obvious reasons, the vet needs to be a positive place to visit, so as soon as you start venturing out start thinking about walking around where the vet surgery is. You don’t have to go in straight away, just walk past, reward your dog, sit nearby and relax. This way your dog already has a positive association with this area. For your first appointment, try to go at a quiet time, walk around the vets and rewarding your dog, before sitting down and getting your dog to lie down (or maybe on your lap, if they are small and they like that) and reward them every few seconds for staying in that position. If you feel your dog is comfortable, perhaps ask a member of staff to crouch down a metre or two away: if your dog approaches them great, they can fuss them and maybe reward them with some food, however, if your dog doesn’t approach them, no worries, the dog may be saying: “I’m not ready for this.” Try to not hang around too long and then off you go. This can be repeated ensuring the dog has a comfortable and relaxed visit every time.
This process can be repeated for lots of other places you may want to take your dog, such as work, cafés, parks, tube stations, etc. Just take it slow and plan the trips at times when you don’t have to stay, if your dog starts getting anxious.
In the next episode we are going to look what training you can start working on to ensure your communication is great.