Border Collie Home
Guidelines for bringing
a new dog into
your home and your life.
By Eileen Gillette
Ravensgate Border Collie Rescue
The first and most important thing I can say is to TAKE IT SLOW!!
Your new dog undoubtedly has acquired stress, baggage, fear, uncertainty, confusion, and/or trauma. Even if he/she has had a wonderful life up until this point, the mere fact that he is in a totally new environment traumatic and stressful for him. If the dog has come from a shelter, there are just that many more issues he has to deal with. Remember that dogs only know what they've had an opportunity to learn with regards to interaction with humans. Don't expect him to know ANYTHING you haven't had the patience and forethought to teach him.
A dog craves consistency and security. Remove these things, and he naturally is not going to act himself. Even if the new dog acts like everything is fine, he has really shut off part of himself until he's surer of his environment. The WORST thing you can do is confuse him even more, resulting in behavior which ends up causing him to return to rescue or the shelter, and compounding his problems even more for someone else to (successfully or not) deal with. Be fair to your new dog. Increase his chances for a successful adoption, rather than decrease them.
You will want to immediately show your new dog off to all your friends and family. You will want to take him to the park, to classes, or on outings. You will want to let your children and/or other dog(s) play with him. You will want to play off leash Frisbee or fetch. PLEASE DON'T!!
All these things require the dog to take in and deal with more than he is capable of at this early stage. It is not fair to expect him to be able to do this. Let your new dog have some down time and acclimate to his new environment at his own pace. In other words, let him clean his mind out of the old stag as his body cleanses itself of the old food. As he clears his mind, gets used to things in his new environment, and his body acclimates to a new nutrition level, he will be able to think more clearly, and be ready for all that he needs to learn in his new home.
Let him learn the daily routines you follow. Let him shed his fears and confusion before asking anything new of him, or expecting him to make decisions. New things include: getting to know your children and any other dogs or cats you have, tricks you want to teach him, invisible fence, where in the house he's not allowed, what not to chew, who not to bite, etc. Allow the new dog at least a couple of weeks to just get used to you, and the way you communicate. DON'T ASK ANYTHING OF HIM. Do him the courtesy of not allowing (forcing) him make any decisions by himself. He doesn't have the knowledge at this point to make decisions, because everything is new to him.
What you should do during this initial period is simple. Say his name lovingly and pet him when he asks for it. This will get him used to the way you say his name, and associate it with only good stuff. During this time, a simple "ah, ah" (followed by a high pitched "good-boy!", when he quits) is all you should use to discourage unwanted behavior (remember, he will not have the opportunity to do much wrong, because you are preventing it by not allowing him to be unsupervised or make decisions for himself. In other words, don't give him the opportunity to do anything wrong. This way, right from the beginning, you are establishing good behavior.
The idea of this is to put no new stress on the dog. Let him get rid of what stress he most certainly already has, before adding any. Every learning situation introduces a certain amount of stress to the dog as he tries to figure out what you want of him. I don't think a new dog should leave the house and fenced yard, except perhaps for a walk (keep it short, on leash, and follow the same route) for the first 2 weeks at least.
What do I mean by the dog making decisions for himself ?
• The decision whether or not to bite the kid that pokes him, or wakes him up.
• The decision of whether or not he should chew this or that.
• Whether or not the cat is for chasing.
• Whether or not your favorite heirloom is his.
• Whether or not your in-laws are all just wonderful.
• Whether or not other dogs are friendly, or will attack him.
• Whether or not to run off and not come back.
• Whether or not nail trimming is fatal.
• Whether or not the blue food bowl is his.
• Whether or not the car upholstery tastes good.
Get to know your dog by petting gently, talking softly, and saying "good boy," and his name, over and over. The only things he should learn (passively) in the first few weeks is his name, whatever word you will use to let him know he's done something right, and "ah, ah," or "don't," for something wrong. He can't learn anything else until he knows what his name is, and what means "right" and "wrong." Don't use a harsh voice if you can help it. Save the loud voice for when you really need it. Gradually phase in touching the dog all over, and gentle brushing. Gently handle his mouth and paws. Take it slow and easy, and gradually your dog will learn that you will never hurt him. Increase the pressure of your touches until you can thump his shoulders gently, roll him over, open his mouth, play with his feet, etc. Then if you ever do need to grab him to remove him from a situation, he will not react with a panic bite.
It sometimes helps during this initial period to leave a string tied to the dog's collar (with supervision), so that you do not have to reach towards him and pull his collar when you want him to come. When you do start to teach the dog new things, start simple. Start with "sit," even if the dog already knows it. It will help him to understand how you communicate to him, and make it easier for him to learn everything else you will teach him. A solid "sit" is helpful in any situation, from helping the dog to regroup when he's confused over other things, to helping to stop unwanted behavior — like jumping up or running off. Teach the dog in small puppy steps even if he's in a big dog body.
Finally — remember that dogs are a different species than humans. It's not fair to expect them to understand everything we do. And remember that your new dog doesn't know that yours is a better home than where he came from, he only knows that it's completely different and that can be very confusing for him.
I believe that not following this common sense approach can, and has, resulted in good dogs being practically forced into reacting badly to situations that A) they had no experience with, and had no chance to react properly to, and B) they should never have been forced to deal with until they had been shown the courtesy of being given adequate training.
And let me stress this again — NO UNSUPERVISED INTERACTION BETWEEN THE NEW DOG AND ANY CHILDREN OR PETS. Using baby gates is a good way for initial meetings — and again - TAKE IT SLOW!
"Remember that your new dog is a lifelong partner, and like anything worthwhile, laying down a good foundation will make EVERYTHING better for years to come."