It’s that time again, holiday get a puppy time! Also, go to the rescue and adopt a dog for the holidays! I think it’s wonderful…or it can be. I never want to discourage anyone from doing that. However, as a trainer and someone who worked in rescues for several years, serious caution and advice is necessary.
First off, never do this on a whim. Research the breed or breed mix you are adopting. Know that when you go back to work after the holiday break, the dog is properly covered for exercise, breaks, etc. I could go and talk about SO many avenues of what can go wrong getting a new dog or puppy this time of year, but I will focus on one for the sake of this article and your attention span. Don’t set your dog or puppy up to fail.
Thousands of new dog and puppy owners this holiday will be doing one thing that will cripple their new dogs ability to cope in our world…giving your dog too much access to you. Now what do I mean by that? It could be several things. The main thing is you and your family has a lot of free time. You have your puppy in a pen around everybody most of the day or free to roam around with little, if any, crate time. You could be giving your puppy lots of naps, but when they are out you do a lot of holding, snuggling and pets every time you let your puppy out. With your new dog that you got from the rescue or shelter, you show him/her around the house. Get on the floor with the dog or have the dog on the couch. You go for long walks everyday for that week you are off and inside you let the dog be where you are most of the day with the freedom to roam mostly where he/she wants. That cripples your new dog or pup’s ability to be able to function in our world. Even if you work from home, you need to work, you need to take kids to soccer practice, go to the store, etc. Life comes in full swing January 2nd and you have conditioned your dog or puppy to be very spoiled in several ways. Too much attention given to a new dog or puppy in the house makes it 100x more likely they will develop anxiety when you start having to leave or more serious behavioral issues that you won’t be able to influence because of all the freedom, access to you and love you and the family shared while you had that free time.
Dogs are highly social animals and even though they often learn thing from their own species faster than from humans, they bond with humans quickly (usually) and need to be taught how to live in the world we currently have. It goes against their very nature in fact, making it sometimes difficult to own a dog or puppy that lives in the house, especially in a city or busy suburban environment. Imagine that poor dog or pup’s confusion when things go back to normal. They experience high levels of stress and that manifests immediately or slowly over time depending on the dogs temperament. Sometimes that early damage that is done, you can’t even come back from, or it’s months of hard work with an expert trainer and lots of money in order to be able to.
Well, what do you do then? Now that I have brought you all down, my apologies, let’s talk about what to do. How do you prevent some of those things from happening that you may not be able to come back from? You have to start by making some tough emotional choices. You can’t just have your new puppy out with the family cuddling and being out most of the day. Puppies need a lot of sleep anyway, so giving the puppy a quiet place to rest, away from the family the majority of the day (15-20 hours) is important the first month. LOTS of potty breaks mixed with working on training for the pups food should be the majority of the out time. Add in a few minutes of play and pets and your puppy will be better prepared to be alone and have a dog walker or neighbor help with breaks during the day. It is the same for a new dog. However the dogs schedule will usually be when you go to work, you need to practice that now while you are at home and can see how the dog is doing with it. Whether your dog will be crate trained, in the house or yard or confined to a bedroom, that has to be practiced right away. The worst thing you can do is bring that shelter dog home, have the family pet the new dog on the floor, take it for a family walk, bring the dog back in and more petting on the floor. You are setting your dog up for a high level of potential anxiety, or becoming protective, destructive, all the while you’ll have no control over the dogs emotions because you started the relationship with giving the dog access to the house. That house now becomes the dog’s and you’re been sharing mostly softness where the dog won’t take you seriously as anything but a friend so you can’t influence their emotions easily. Instead take the dog for a walk right away. Keep the dog more focused on you then the neighborhood by keeping the walk fairly structured and not letting the dog sniff the entire time. Have your dog wait at the door before coming in the house and keep the dog on leash for awhile, several days even when supervised. That way when the dog does something you don’t like, you can calmly use the leash for guidance. This shows calm and assertive leadership with the dog rather then yelling, rushing to grab the dog to get a sock out fo the dogs mouth, etc. Show the dog where his water bowl is and his dog bed or crate, then that is where he stays for awhile. Introduce where the dog will be staying while you are at work and go ahead and practice that for 30 minutes to an hour right away so you can monitor how it goes. That may not sound like much fun, but to give your dog all of this love, freedom in the house and access to your family for most of the day only to be taken away when life goes back to normal is down right cruel to your new family member. I know this isn’t a warm and fuzzy holiday blog, but in the dog training and rescue world, many of us dread January-May because of all the bad situations that happen because of what I mentioned above. Good luck to you all and I hope you have a wonderful and responsible Holiday.