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Subject: rec.pets.dogs: Your New Dog FAQ
This article was archived around: 21 May 2006 04:22:02 GMT
Last-modified: 20 Nov 1997
There are many FAQ's available for this group. For a complete
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This article is Copyright 1997 by the Author(s) listed below.
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Your New Dog
Cindy Tittle Moore, firstname.lastname@example.org
Table of Contents
* Why An Older Dog? What About Bonding?
* Where Do I Find One?
+ Breed rescue
+ Other places
* How Do I Select A Suitable One?
* What If I Already Have Other Dogs? Cats?
* Acclimatizing Your Dog To A New Home
* Crate Training A Grown Dog
* Training Your Dog
* Neutering A Grown Dog
* Introducing New Things or Overcoming Dislikes
There is very little material out there to help people who have
adopted older, grown, "second-hand" dogs. Some shelters may have
handouts for their clients. Carol Lea Benjamin has written _Second
Hand Dogs_, which is the only book published to treat the topic
extensively (and even then it is a relatively small book). Other books
that are of use are: Job Michael Evans' _People, Pooches, and
Problems_, which will help you if you have some behavorial problems
with your new dog. Another of his books, _Evans' Guide to
Housetraining Dogs_ contains some sections on how to housetrain grown
dogs. There are undoubtedly bits and pieces elsewhere in other books.
Why A Grown Dog? What About Bonding?
Many people feel that an older, grown dog is better for them. Older
dogs don't require as much attention as a growing puppy does. They are
often easier to housetrain, if not already so trained. They are past
their chewing stage, and have settled down from the usual adolescent
boisterous behavior. Such a dog presents no surprises in its final
size and appearance. It may already have the traits they want in a
With an adult dog you have a much better idea of what you're going to
end up with. A puppy can have the genetic heritage to be aggressive, a
fear-biter etc. and you will not know until the dog is older. It's
also very easy to make mistakes raising a puppy. With an older dog,
the mistakes have already been made and it's generally not too hard to
tell which problems will be easily correctable.
So an older dog's previous history is actually an asset, not a
detriment. Quite often when a dog is put into a new situation, they
are looking for leadership and will attach to you almost immediately.
Even breeds known as "one-person" dogs will accept a new master rather
easily. For example, observe the relationship between a blind person
and a German Shepherd guide dog. These dogs have been through at least
3 homes before they're matched with their blind people.
The research on bonding that is most often quoted (Clarence
Pfaffenberger's _New Knowledge of Dog Behavior_) is almost always
misrepresented: i.e. the puppies in those studies were deprived of
_all_ human contact until they were older; the research had nothing to
do with how well dogs that have bonded with some human or humans
transferred those bonds later on.
An additional benifit to adopting an older dog is the truely wonderful
feeling one gets when the dog comes out of its shell and bonds with
you. The bond feels special, particularly when it is an older dog that
no one wanted. The rescue and subsequent bond with that dog is strong,
lasting, and special.
Older dogs are often not adopted from shelters because many people
want puppies. It is wonderful when one can come in and offer a good
life to the older dogs.
Where Do I Find One?
There are a good many places you can find a grown dog. Besides the
obvious, like shelters, there are other sources. For example, breed
rescue organizations have many suitable adult dogs. Breeders often
have dogs that they have retired from the show circuit and are not
breeding; they also have younger dogs that simply never fulfilled the
potential that they showed as a puppy and thus cannot be shown or
bred. Both are otherwise perfectly good dogs.
Sometimes people give up their dogs because of death or divorce or
other personal upheaval. Perhaps the dog was intended for work, but
was injured and rendered unfit. An adult dog in need of a home is not
necessarily an abused dog with an unknown background.
Ask local veterinarians. They often know of dogs that need adoption.
Shelters, of course, are a very obvious place to get adult dogs, but
it can be hard to get an idea of the dog's true behavior and
potential. Some breeds, like Shelties, may absolutely shut down in a
shelter and will appear to have behavior problems when they really
don't. Find out how much time and about the physical space your local
shelter is prepared to give you for evaluating dogs--beware of
shelters that won't even let you take the dog out of the kennel run to
see it! If the shelter will let you take the dog out on a lead and
spend some time playing with it you can generally get a good idea of
the dog's potential. Count on spending some time working with the
shelter staff to find the right dog for you.
Keep in mind that many dogs are at the shelter because their owners
couldn't or wouldn't keep the committment they had made by getting the
dog in the first place, not that the dog was at fault. Reasons include
"not enough time for the dog," "moving to another place," "dogs not
allowed where living," "divorce," and "not enough space." Frequently
dogs with behavior that the previous owners could not handle are fine
in new homes. As long as you scrutinize your potential dog carefully
_and_ you are prepared for the work of owning a dog, you are not
likely to wind up with a problem dog or a problem situation.
About 25% of the dogs at shelters are purebred! If you have a specific
breed in mind, you can check your shelters regularly in case one comes
in. Keep in mind that even if the dog arrives at the shelter with its
papers, many shelters will withhold the papers since they don't want
to see people take such a dog and then breed it. You might get its
pedigree without the registration, but even that's uncertain. Many
shelters will take down your name and the breed you are interested in
and call you when one comes in.
If you don't care about the breed, you can check your local shelters
for a dog that you want. You _should_ have some idea of what size and
coat type you prefer before going in.
You can contact a local breed rescue organization. These organizations
will scout shelters for dogs of their breed, take them in, evaluate
them, and put the adoptable ones up for placement. They can give you a
good idea of the dog's temperament and known background.
Most major breeds are represented in most major cities. You can always
contact AKC for the address of the national breed club which you can
in turn ask about local addresses.
Or, you can contact local breeders and see if they have older dogs
that they are trying to place. Sometimes a puppy that is kept as a
show prospect does not fulfill it's earlier promise and is
subsequently placed. Sometimes a brood bitch or a stud dog is retired
and the breeder looks for a suitable home for it. Some breeders do
keep their older pets, but in many cases find that a loving home for
it is in the dog's best interests. Breeders too have dogs that are
returned to them for any number of reasons: dog turns out to not be
show-quality, people are moving and can't keep the dog
Go to dog shows and ask around, or contact a breed club (note: for
some clubs, referrals to "rescue" dogs are handled by one volunteer,
whereas the puppy referral service also handles dogs that were
returned to their breeder--so when contacting a breed club, make sure
you've made contact with all the appropriate people).
Vets and kennels sometimes have abandoned dogs they are happy to place
into good homes; call around.
People sometimes give away or sell dogs through the newspaper: ask
carefully about why the dog is being given up. Many people are not
very knowledgable about dog behavior and will not be aware of if
problems are the result of heredity or the result of their own
mishandling. There is an advantage here of being able to see how the
dog was kept and get an idea of relationship between previous owner
and the dog. Sometimes the family is moving, or has lost some income,
or there have been deaths or other upheavals where the dog's behavior
is not an issue. Do make sure you don't feel pressured into taking the
dog just because the person wants you to take it.
How Do I Select A Suitable One?
Regardless of where you get your dog, you should make some effort to
evaluate it before making your decision. Does it follow you? Watch you
warily? What happens if you sit down next to it? How does it respond
to a leash? A sudden noise or movement? What is known about its
background? How does its health seem? Is it lame? Offer it a tidbit
and see what its reaction is.
If this is a dog through a rescue organization, chances are that a
foster family has been taking care of it in the interim. Ask them to
tell you what they've learned about the dog. If you have children or
other pets, ask them how it would react to them.
If you're looking at an animal shelter, you should have the
opportunity to interact with the dog in a fenced-in enclosure rather
than simply staring at it through the bars of it's kennel. Many dogs
are extremely shy or upset in the kennel and it's difficult to tell
what they are like. Bring some tidbits and see how it does outside the
kennel. Walk it around on a leash if you can.
If you are getting a dog from a breeder, then you should be able to
find out about all its background. Do ask all the questions you have.
You can evaluate it's temperament _to some extent_. Remember that the
dog may be anxious or disoriented and thus not behave as it would
In evaluating temperament,
* Talk to it. What is it's reaction? Does it look up at you? Ignore
you? Cringe and move as far away from you as it can?
* Stand up and move near it. How does it react to you? Does it come
up and lick your hand? Crouch down with ears down, perhaps
urinating? Back away? Back away with ears down and snarling?
* Squat down, extend a hand and let it approach you (do not approach
it). Does it come up (perhaps after some hesitation) and lick or
sniff your hand? Does it move away?
* If you have children, bring them along. How does the dog react to
the sight of them? To them walking up to it? To them sitting down
and waiting for the dog to approach?
* If you want to know how it reacts to cats, ask for permission to
walk the dog past the cat part of the shelter. You might be able
to improvise something else if you're not at a shelter: walking it
around the neighborhood past some cats, for example.
* Bring along a friend of the opposite sex with you to determine if
the dog is averse to the other sex or not. Some dogs have specific
fears of men, for example, so it's best to check this out
especially if this will be a family dog.
* If you walk away from it, does it follow you? How does it react to
various things when you take it on a walk?
Dogs that are obviously uncertain in their temperament (snarling and
biting, etc.) are not generally up for adoption at shelters. Dogs that
tend to whine or urinate or crouch down are generally submissive dogs
(not a problem unless it's severe or not what you want). Dogs that
approach you, even cautiously, tend to be friendly. This is obviously
just a rough indication of the dog's temperament. Stay away from dogs
that seem to be _too_ fearful unless you feel you know enough about
dealing with these dogs to help it overcome it's fear. These dogs can
turn into fear-biters.
Indications of friendliness: Ears relaxed or down. Tail _level_ with
body, moderate to fast rate of waving. Approaches and sniffs. Watches
you but averts eyes if you look at it too long. Play bows (front legs
lay down but back legs are still standing).
Indications of submissiveness: Ears down. Eyes constantly averted.
Dribbles a little urine. Rolls over on back. Licks your chin or
anything near. Tail tucked between legs.
Indications of fearfulness: Ears down, eyes averted, tail tucked, runs
away from you. Shivers in corner [some breeds shiver anyway]. Cringes
or yelps at sudden movements.
Indications of dominance/assertiveness: Ears erect or forward, tail up
high and wagging stiffly [spitz type breeds can be difficult to
ascertain between friendly wagging & assertive wagging]. Holds ground,
stares at you. These are not _necessarily_ bad things. If the dog
eventually approaches you and is friendly, then it's likely a
reasonably self-confident, friendly dog. If it growls, then it's
probably more aggressive.
Indications of aggression: Growls at you with ears forward and a
stiff-legged stance, tail still. Watchful and alert.
Indications of a fear-biter: Growls or snaps at you, ears are folded
flat back, posture is crouching or submissive even though it is
growling or snapping.
Some dogs appear totally disinterested. They don't respond one way or
another to you. These dogs may be sick. They might be overstimulated
or exhausted. Or they might just be very independent dogs. Some dogs
are more independent and less overtly affectionate than others.
Plan on making _repeated_ trips to whatever agency/person has the dog
for repeated evaluations. Let the dog dictate the speed at which you
progress through these steps. For very shy dogs, it may take a full
week of visits to progress to step three. If the agency/person that
has the dog will not allow you to remove the dog from its current
environment for an evaluation, look elsewhere for a potential dog. It
is important to get the dog away from its current environment as it
may be very shy and timid there, by association, but carefree and
wonderful when alone with you, like on a walk. The only way to tell is
to remove the dog from the environment. Stated another way, you should
eliminate the current environment the dog is in from any potential
problems you may see with the dog. You will be able to tell by
comparing its reactions in the original environment and when it it
outside of it.
The questions you ask during these steps are often a function of the
environment in which the dog will be placed should you decide to adopt
it. For example, if you have other dogs at home and the potential
adoptee is housed with other dogs and seems to get along well with
them, chances are better that you will be able to integrate the dog
into your home, as opposed to a dog that is agressive towards other
Implicit in these steps is asking the agency/person that has the dog
for all information they have about the dogs background. Just a stray
they picked up? Was it an abused dog? How did it come to be where it
is? All of these things give you more information that can be used to
evaluate the dog's personallity and suitability for adoption.
When you evaluate the dog during these steps, look for any physicaly
ailments as well. Lameness, shortness of breath, lethargy, and so on.
Above all during these steps, evaluate the dog and how the dog reacts
to you. It is important for you to feel confident that this is a dog
that you can nurture and spend time with and enjoy, and that it will
enrich your life. Do not feel bad if you must reject a potential
adoptee. This is part of the adoption process, and it is important for
you both to get off on the right foot.
If you decide to adopt the dog, you should always take it directly to
the vet before you even take it home. If there is something seriously
wrong with the dog, you want to find out before you've had the dog
long enough to form an attachment to it.
What If I Already Have Pets?
Select a dog that is, to the best of your knowledge, accustomed to
other dogs (i.e., one that is socialized with other dogs). Also, pick
the opposite sex dog than the one you currently have, if possible.
Hopefully, you know your current dog well enough to know how well it
gets along with other dogs. If it is a naturally submissive dog when
around other dogs, it probably does not matter too much whether the
adoptee tends toward submissive or dominant (but not _too_ dominant).
However, if your current dog is a dominant dog, a dog that has been
around you for a long time, or a male dog (generally speaking), your
best bet is a dog that tends towards the submissive and is _smaller_
than your current dog (like a small, quiet, female). Size is can be
important as your established dog may feel threatened by a newcomer
that is larger than he or she.
Introduce your established dog and the new addition in a neutral
place, like a park or a home that is new to both animals. Both dogs
should be on a leash. If your current dog is obediance trained, a
down/stay is in order. Allow them to sniff one another and encourage
play, discourage agression. Should your adoptee show agression,
forcibly place the dog in a submissive posture and hold it there (as
in an alpha roll). Then allow your established dog to come and sniff
the new dog. What this does is diffuse a potentially violent situation
by forcing the new dog to be submissive to your established dog. The
new dog learns to trust the established dog by realizing that the
established dog is not going to eat him, and your established dog
learns that the new dog is submissive to him. This fosters trust
amongst the two animals. This may not be necessary, but sometimes it
is. By all means, if the dogs want to play, _let them_. In fact,
encourage them, and don't interfere unless you feel you must.
At home, the first thing you must do is establish a spot for each dog
that is physically separated from each other. Kennels, crates, or even
different rooms. Never, never, never feed the dogs together. _always_
feed the dogs simultaneously in these physically seperated areas (if
in different rooms, close the doors while the dogs eat). If you must
free-feed, the dogs should be placed in their respective areas for the
entire time each one's food is down. Also use these areas for
"time-outs" when the dogs are misbehaving.
The second thing that is required is that you must be sure to spend
quality time with your established dog, and just with him. You may
even need to increase the frequency of normal activities you would do
with your established dog. This helps keep your established dog from
feeling misplaced by the newcomer.
Finally, be sure and do activities with both dogs. This encourages the
dogs to do fun things together, as well as fostering pack cohesion and
Remember, the general rule of thumb is to make sure that both dogs
realize you are alpha. They will need to work out their own hierarchy
among themselves, but they must understand that you are on top and you
are in charge.
With cats, you should make one room be cat accessible only. The
easiest way to do this is to put up a barrier in the doorway. As long
as your dog does not want to kill the cat(s), they will eventually
adjust. Make it very clear to your dog that it is not to chase cats --
correct it for even looking at the cat -- and things should work out.
Keep in mind that cats can take up to six months to adjust to a new
dog, even a friendly one. Patience.
Acclimatizing Your Dog To A New Home
The first thing you should do is take your dog out to the yard where
you expect it to eliminate. If possible, get the dog to eliminate
there. If not, take it inside and give it some water. Tour your house
and go back outside again. It should eliminate this time.
Take care to enter through doors before the dog does. When you feed
it, be sure you've already had your food, or eat some tidbit first.
You want to tell your dog, without fanfare or histrionics, that you're
in charge here. This puts many dogs at ease since they won't have to
wonder who the alpha is.
The dog should sleep in the same room with you, but not on the bed.
You should either use a crate, or a sleeping pad/towel, or tie it to a
bed post, although the crate is best.
Try and get into a predictable routine as soon as possible. Dogs
prefer a routine, and you will help your new dog settle in more
quickly by adhering to some routine. Examples: feeding at the same
times, walking at the same time, going to work and returning at the
Start right away with expected behaviors. If you don't want the dog on
the furniture, then don't let it on them from day one. Don't fall into
the common trap of thinking that the dog is moping and should be given
more leeway initially. If you expect good behavior matter-of-factly
from the beginning, you'll have less trouble in the long run.
If the dog appears to be moping, leave it be but stay nearby. Don't
let it mope too long -- distract it with a walk or a bit of playing.
Crate Training An Older Dog
You should take some effort to crate train your new dog, if it is not
already so trained. There are several benefits: if you have to
housetrain it, a crate is most helpful; a crate gives your dog a place
of its own which helps the adjustment period; and it gives you a means
to train it toward being left in your house all day.
Before a dog is locked into a crate, the dog must be as comfortable
with it as possible. If a dog is put into a crate while it is afraid
of the crate, the dog's fear may build while inside and the resulting
trauma may be impossible to overcome.
To make a dog comfortable, the dog must first learn not to fear it,
and then to like it. To alleviate fear, the following things can be
* Put treats or food into the crate for the dog. Start near the
mouth of the crate, and then move the treats farther inside each
* Leave the door off the crate or tie it back at first. The door can
swing shut on the dog while the dog's head is in the crate,
startling the dog with the contact and the strange sound.
* Possibly get the dog used to part of the crate. For instance, take
the top half of the crate off and use all these tricks to get the
dog used to that alone, then repeat the process with the whole
* If the crate is big enough, get in yourself. (seriously!)
* Get the dog excited about a toy and throw it in the crate for the
dog to chase.
* Think of the crate as a good thing yourself. Dogs are good at
reading their master's attitudes. Never (ever) use the crate as a
* Once the dog will go into the crate, feed the dog its meals in the
* If the dog seems particularly averse to the crate, try a different
type of crate (eg, instead of a wire mesh, try the plastic kind or
Once the dog is unafraid of the crate, put the dog inside and close
the door. Immediately lavish the dog with praise and food for a short
time, then let the dog out. Do not, at this time, leave the dog alone
in the crate, or the dog will associate the crate with your leaving.
Also, before the dog is fully acclimated, it may grow panicky if left
in the crate long.
Finally, put the dog inside for progressively longer periods of time,
always praising the dog as it goes in, and perhaps giving treats.
Training Your Dog
The old adage that you "can't teach an old dog new tricks" is patently
false. Your dog may in fact be easier to teach than a young puppy
since the attention span will be better.
You should definitely look up obedience training in your area and
enroll yourselves. You will probably both enjoy yourselves quite a
bit, and it's a good way to build a strong relationship with your new
In addition, it is important to get the dog into obedience not just to
teach the dog good maners, but to get the dog socialized for other dog
and people. Plus, it will give the dog something to do, which is often
very benificial with older adopted dogs.
Sometimes dogs have trouble with housetraining when they are first
placed. There are a number of reasons: they may never have been
properly taught. Many dogs wind up in the shelter because their owners
didn't know how to teach dogs correct elimination habits. Perhaps they
have spent much of their lives outside or in kennels. Such dogs may
not understand that elimination is reserved for outside.
You should train these dogs exactly like you would a puppy, with the
big difference that they will catch on much more quickly, being adult
and having a full set of bladder muscles. Confine them to a crate or
otherwise watch them; take them outside regularly to eliminate. You
might try using a phrase such as "Do it" or "Go potty" -- especially
if your dog is a retired show dog, it may already understand this.
Patience is your best ally -- keep your dog's schedule consistent
until you're sure it understands where you expect it to go.
_Don't_ punish a dog for going inside. You will get much better
results much more quickly if you anticipate its needs and have it go
outside, to your praise, each time. In fact, it is generally your
fault if the dog eliminated inside rather than the dog's.
You should note that some aggressive male dogs may mark your entire
house in an attempt to claim the house as his territory. You should
first get him neutered, and then, since such aggression is likely to
be a problem in other areas (such as growling when you approach his
food), you should consult a book such as Evans' _People, Pooches, and
Some dogs urinate submissively. If it is lying down, even on its back,
when it urinates, this is _not_ a housetraining problem. This dog
needs work to raise its self-esteem. For now, avoid the problem by
toning down your approach to the dog. If it is urinating submissively
when you come home, make your arrival much less exciting. Don't look
at it for a few minutes, then just talk to it. Finally, scratch it a
bit on its chest (petting it on the head is very dominant). Avoid
bending at the waist over your dog. Squat instead.
In the long term, to deal with the problem of a too submissive dog,
you will have to teach it confidence and help it build up self esteem.
A good way to to do this is to some obedience training, though take
care to use motivational methods with little or no corrections (try
_Communicating with your Dog_ by Ted Baer for some good hints). Be
unstinting in your approval when the dog does something right.
Neutering An Older Dog
Many people wonder if getting an older dog (of either sex) neutered
poses a problem for the dog. The answer is that it doesn't. Your male
dog will adjust easily to being neutered -- in fact he may well behave
as if he had never been neutered. The most likely change in behavior
is reduced aggression toward other male dogs. Your bitch will not have
any problems with being neutered either. Unfortunately, she may not
derive the health benefits of early neutering if she has already had
more than two estrus periods or is over two years of age before being
spayed. This means that you should be sure your vet checks her for
mammary cancers at each checkup even though she is spayed.
As a general rule, _all_ rescued dogs should be neutered. There are
some special circumstances, such as rescuing a dog of a known breeding
and returning it to its breeder, but these are extremely rare
ocassions and not likely to happen to the average dog-adopter.
Neutering an older dog of either sex will not hurt it at all.
Introducing New Things or Overcoming Dislikes
Your new dog may never have been, or actively dislike being, bathed,
groomed, nail-clipped. You will have to proceed slowly and with
patience. Take baby steps. Your dog hates being brushed? Start out
with a warm wet washcloth and rub in short lick-like strokes until the
dog relaxes, then stop. Repeat this and eventually introduce a short
bit of brushing, until the dog relaxes (always end on a positive
note). Eventually the dog will accept being brushed. You can do the
same technique with almost anything else. With clipping nails, first
start with the goal of getting the dog to accept your handling of it's
paws. Then accustom it to having its toes massaged & handled. Then to
having its nails flexed and handled. In the meantime, carry around the
clippers so that the dog learns to ignore them. When you actually
start to clip the nails, clip off a teeny piece off of _one nail_ and
put the clippers away. Later on, do another nail. When the dog accepts
this quietly, do _two_ nails, and so on.
If you find out that your dog is afraid of something, remove it from
its environment, intially. Plan out how you want to deal with it, what
steps and increments you want to take. Then slowly work on it. Work on
one thing at a time to reduce stress on your dog. By doing it this
way, you will build up the dog's self confidence and trust in you.
Your New Dog FAQ
Cindy Tittle Moore, email@example.com