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Give it Time

Posted on 03/12/2013
Filed under: The Dog's View Rescue Dogs It's a Dog!

Bulldog with wristwatchHave you ever made a change in your home such as the location of a well used item and found yourself going to the 'old' place over and over again? A classic example of my own experience here was when I decided to change where the kettle “lived”. After four days I was so fed up with reaching for it in the wrong place I almost gave up and put it back where it came from. It does take time to adapt to something unfamiliar and we should remember and allow for this when making fundamental changes to the lives of our dogs.

My reason for mentioning this is that every week we receive messages from owners who list the many problems that they have with a puppy or dog that has been with them for just a few days! Of course, the first thing that we tell them is to give it time and be calm. In our world of instant coffee and the interwebthingy there is little wonder that we sometimes think that everything is immediate, however, once we actually think about it, expecting any living creature to feel safe within  just a couple of days of being removed from its original home or pack is just ridiculous. A dog that is under that kind of stress, it isn’t going to act or necessarily react in a normal manner. Stressful environments have an adverse effect on any animal’s behaviour and that is why, when a dog is isolated and in a strange environment, any form of testing either for its temperament, or for it’s suitability to be with a family group, is a complete waste of time. If a dog is in a new environment whether rescue kennels or your home, it will always be the responsibility of the carer to manage each and every situation that dog encounters, reducing the trauma to the dog until it has had a chance to become familiar with its new environment. Sometimes that means asking visitors to not approach your newcomer (which of course they will all be impatient to do) and give it the space and time it needs to work out that there is nothing to fear from this new home, or the beings in it.

This requires patience of the type displayed by a friend of mine not too long ago. He found a unwell fox in his garden late one evening and over the course of a week or so, he did nothing more than sit in the garden and let the fox move around without concern. After just a week the fox became used to my friend’s presence, realised he posed no threat, and was happily eating the small feeds offered to him containing necessary anti-biotics. Slowly but very surely, the fox recovered and come the springtime, went off to its natural life. There is no doubt that if my friend had forced the issue, the fox would have probably crawled off somewhere, beyond anyone’s help.

Recently, chatting to friends who have taken on an older dog from a rescue organisation, I was delighted to hear that this organisation encourages young children as visitors and have put in a child’s gate, creating a 'get to know you' divide. This allows both the child/children and the dog see the other and in the case of the dog, become familiar with the squeals, speed and reactions of the youngsters. This process allows all present to remain calm and confident that both dog and child are protected from making an unnecessary mistake, a mistake that could result in an inaccurate assessment of their potential relationship. Also this time spent allowing the dog to become familiar with family members, before taking him home, has really paid off. The dog had a few less things to worry about in his new home, adapted quicker and the result is that he is fitting in with the family really well and much quicker than expected.

Take the pressure of immediate expectations off of both you and the dog; after all you are planning on spending many years together so why rush? Expecting too much too soon often leads to the very sad 'yoyo' dog, the dog that is repeatedly returned to the rescue centre because the new family cannot cope with its initial behaviour and it hasn’t been given time to acclimatise to its new surroundings-it hasn’t been given a fair chance.

This need to become familiar with new things isn’t the exclusive domain of the canine and we need to be aware of the adaptation period when adopting AB for the first time. If you have been in the habit of shouting at your dog whenever it barked at a stranger, I promise you it will take about two weeks for you to begin to get used to 'thanking' your dog for helping to protect the family (pack).

Just as we eventually get used to new locations for familiar items (even though it may feel awkward at first), the same is true when we change the way we think about, and work with, our dogs. If you have decided to change how you communicate with your dog, stick with AB until it soon becomes familiar routine and you will quickly notice how much calmer and settled your dog has become.

Being consistent and persistent when applying AB will pay dividends because it will allow a dog the time it needs to process all the information it is being given, without any misunderstanding, meaning it’s far less likely to get it wrong, that’s going to mean a happier and less stressed life for both the dog and you (of course, if you give the wrong information to the dog, the resulting behaviour may be less than desirable!).

So whether you are introducing AB for the first time, bringing a new dog into your home or radically changing your dog’s routine/environment, remember that the dog will not immediately catch on to what’s happening and needs to be given time to assimilate the new information, before being able to adapt correctly.

I have had people tell me they are about to give up completely on a new dog because they have finally lost all patience and are at their wits end, after 24 hours! I have also been told that, after that same time period, although AB was applied, the dog’s character hadn’t completely changed by the following day.

Let’s give these dogs a chance and realise that although we know what’s going on immediately (it’s usually us that has engineered ithe situation), they don’t so we have to make allowance for that. That way we’ll get a happier, less stressed, less confused and more trusting dog- together with the improved relationship that inevitably goes along with those feelings. 

Jan Fennell

2nd December 2013