Don't miss the new Academy of Dog Behavior Classes at Lily's Legacy, starting this fall! These classes aren't just for professionals - they're for those of us who are endlessly curious about our most beloved companions. Information about Academy Courses below.
It's very common these days for people to adopt adolescent and adult dogs. Perhaps they didn't want to put in all the work necessary to raise a puppy. Or perhaps they just like adult dogs. In any case, there are certainly more adults available than pups! And some of these adults have gone through two, three or more homes in their journey to find their One True Home.
For most people, the transition from one domicile to another is pretty smooth. Dogs are very adaptable, which is pretty amazing when you think about it.
They seem to be able to adjust to any number of living conditions, and they can learn to love new people fairly easily.
Of course, it doesn’t always happen as smoothly as we would like. And, sometimes, the older the dog, the more difficult it is.
Though many people think of socialization as having to do with strange dogs, really it’s acclimating your new dog to his new environment – all of it. Dogs, people, noises, sights and experiences.
Adult dogs can tend to take a much longer time to adapt to a household than younger dogs. They have developed habits over time, and it will take time to form new ones. Some adult dogs were pushy and obnoxious in their previous homes, and they expect to play the same role in their new one. Others were overly disciplined and are fearful of making a mistake. Most all of them can adapt eventually.
If you’ve acquired your dog from a rescue group or shelter, try not to fall into the trap of feeling sorry for him, even if you think he’s been abused. If a dog ducks his head when he’s being petted, it doesn’t necessarily indicate that he was struck or beaten. It may just mean that he is wary of a hand over his head, where he cannot see it. Many, if not most dogs, are. On the other hand, if he cringes or runs away when you pick up a stick or broom, you might be justified in thinking something bad happened to him. And if he’s fearful of certain people, then he either hasn’t had any exposure to them (which, as we’ve discussed, is so important) or he may have had poor experiences with them.
At any rate, spoiling your new dog to make up for her beastly previous owners doesn’t do a dog any good whatsoever, and it may make her feel as though you’re her servant—which you definitely do not want. It could also make her feel like you don’t know what you’re doing. Again, not a good thing!
It’s much better to be loving, caring, and matter-of-fact—this is her new home, and she’ll get no abuse here! Do keep in mind that she needs a leader, and that leader has to be you. To that end, establishing a pretty strong daily routine can be an excellent idea. You might hand-feed her a portion of her meals to encourage bonding, have her sleep in a place of your choice, and institute a regular exercise regimen.
Remember that dogs are naturally active in the morning and evening hours, and use that to your advantage, especially if you work. An adult dog can sleep up to 16 hours a day, and you can encourage that to take place while you’re at work or at night.
It’s also a great idea to start teaching your new dog that he’ll have to be alone sometimes. People often adopt their new dog when they are on vacation and will have time to devote to their new friend. This is a good idea, but you must prepare your dog for the realization that it won’t be this way forever. From the day you get him home, teach him that he can be alone and he won't die, and show that you will come back by separating him from you several times daily for fairly short periods. Some dogs have been known to “act out” on Mondays only—chewing, digging, or trying to escape the house or yard. As you might guess, these behaviors occurred because the owners had their dogs with them constantly on the weekend, and the dogs became anxious when the workweek started.
When setting household rules, make sure that all of your family members agree on what they will be, or they won’t work properly. Either your dog will try to take advantage of one person, or she will become confused and insecure. Sometimes inconsistency within families can actually cause major problems.
Now…about those other dogs
Need we say it…dogs are not children. Unlike a kid, a dog over the age of three is a full adult. She is not likely to welcome strange dogs the way a pup would. Many adult dogs would prefer to keep their social circles small and intimate, consisting of either known dogs, or dogs they meet slowly. We call this type of dog “selective.” Often, an owner will think his dog is aggressive, when really, he or she is just, well, picky!
So there’s a good chance your newly adopted adult dog will not want to meet a bunch of new dogs, particularly at the same time. Instead, she will likely prefer a fairly calm meeting, and a polite one. Adult dog greeting rituals generally consist of a sniff to the front, a half circle, and another sniff to the behind. Then they decide whether this is a dog they will to further their acquaintance with.
Many selective dogs do well when walked behind another dog until they’re comfortable, to be brought up closer when fairly calm. Once the two dogs can be walked parallel, it’s likely they’ll do much better.
If your new dog appears to be selective about his friends, it might be a good idea just to accept him for who he is. Some people are more outgoing than others, and it’s the same with dogs. In fact, the parallels with human introversion and extroversion are pretty strong. Introverted dogs are nervous about meeting new dogs (and often new people), and require more down time to regroup, whereas extroverted dogs are always up for a party, and seem to become energized by groups of dogs.
My what a cute dog!
One of the hardest parts of socialization for a new dog is interacting with strange human beings. People are generally pretty clueless about how to greet dogs, and they’re at a huge natural disadvantage to boot. Since adult humans are taller than dogs (sometimes much taller), we have a tendency to lean over to pet a dog. Even people who know better find themselves doing that. After all, it feels almost rude to just stand calmly with eyes averted, and allow a dog to investigate you …which is quite probably the best way to meet most dogs. If you don’t know a dog, leaning over is problematic, as is petting, especially on the dog’s head. And having a stranger give a treat can make the dog conflicted about getting too close. Early stages of socialization should probably include a lot of cheerful pass-bys of strangers, and greetings you set up with knowledgeable (or at least amenable) friends.
The most important thing about adopting any new dog is discovering who he or she is, what they need, so that both or all of you can get the most out of your years together. What you do in the first few months will have a lasting effect, so it's a good idea to make most of their experiences good ones.