Originally posted in July 2013

In the past month, I have been inundated with images through my email box and Facebook pleading for help to find a recently lost dog.  If I think that it will help, I share the image on my personal page and on my business page.  Overwhelmingly, the lost dogs are recent additions to the person’s home, or the family has just moved.  I also get a lot of calls after an adult dog has been placed in a home and he isn’t doing well for one reason or another; maybe he is toileting in the house, or perhaps he is climbing on the counters to help himself to whatever is on the counter.  Often these problems of straying, toileting and counter surfing could have been avoided.  The saying in medicine is that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and nothing could be more true than this when bringing home an adult dog.

I often get called in after this sort of an incident with a new dog.  This is an entirely preventable situation, but you must supervise.  Six weeks of active supervision and gradual exposure to your home will result in a seamless introduction of your new adult dog to your home without damage to your possessions or the risk of your new dog escaping.  Image credit: dansamy / 123RF Stock Photo

Regardless of where this dog came from, he won’t know you, your family, the rules, the layout of the house, the location of home within the neighbourhood, the car or anything else that makes up your day to day life.  Bringing home an adult dog and turning him loose in your home is about like taking a 6 year old to the toy section of the store and leaving him there unattended while you shop; you are pretty well guaranteed that he will make a mistake and end up in some sort of avoidable trouble.

It has been many years since I brought an adult dog into my home, but I have dogs at my home for training on a very regular basis.  When a dog comes to my house, the first week, the only thing I work on is settling into the routine of the home.  This means that dogs who come for training have a crate of their own (two dogs in one crate can be very risky!), two meals a day, play time with other dogs if appropriate, and a structured approach to integrating into our lives.  We know what the rules are, but the dog doesn’t, so it is our job to show the dog what he should do.  The first rule concerns how to get out of a crate.  Dogs who burst out of their crates are a danger to themselves and a danger to anyone in the kennel room.  To get out of a crate in my house, the dog must be under his own control as I approach his crate.  If he is barking or throwing himself around the inside of his crate, then another dog can have a turn first and I will come back to him.

Once a dog is showing self control in his crate, I open the door but I am ready to close it if he throws himself at the door.  I don’t teach him to make eye contact or sit in the first stages; that is too much all at once.  I just want him to not throw himself at the door.  When the dog is showing self control with the door partway open, I open it the rest of the way while telling him “outside” and I let him out of the crate.  With an adult dog, I don’t worry about bladder control as much as I do with a puppy, so I can often work the same behaviour a second time at the door to the dog yard.  When the dog is showing self control at the door, it magically opens.  If the dog is bouncing around, jumping on me or mouthing me, I wait till he shows self control.  I only take the dog by the collar if he is a danger to himself or to me.

When I open the door to the yard and let the dog out, I don’t just go in the house and let him have yard time.  I go out with him.  There are rules in my yard too; and I expect the dog to learn them, but he won’t learn them if I am not out there with him.  Once he has toileted, I will sometimes bring out another dog for the new dog to play with, and I stay outside to supervise their play.  While I am out in the yard I will alternate between engaging with the dogs and doing chores such as scooping the yard or refilling the water, or keeping the fence in good order.  Then I bring the dog back in for some crate time, often with a stuffed kong or chew toy.

The point of how I introduce my dogs to my home is to teach them what I want them to do.  I don’t let the dog off leash as soon as I arrive home and just hope for the best.  Training is not about hope or wishing or luck, it is about structuring the environment so that the dog can get the right answer often enough that he can learn what I want him to do.

I will work only on getting out of the crate and into the yard for the first week or so until I have added in eye contact and sitting at the door to get out of both the crate and the kennel room.  I don’t start introducing dogs to my very messy house until they understand the rules that they need to know to be successful in the kennel room.  Once they understand that barking and screaming and throwing yourself around doesn’t open doors, but that sitting and looking at me will, they can start to spend time in my kitchen with me.

My kitchen is a farm kitchen in a 160 year old house and it is nicely blocked off with baby gates.  In the kitchen are shoes, horse tack, dog toys, papers, boxes of business equipment and the detritus of a busy farm existence.  I don’t clean this stuff up; I want to teach the dog that there are things that he can have and things that he cannot have.  I bring the dog into the kitchen and then sit down with a cup of coffee.  If the dog wants attention, I give it to him.  My objective is not to socially isolate the dog; my objective is to teach him what I want in a kind manner.  If he touches a dog toy I will give him some attention.  If however he touches something that he ought not to, or if he climbs me, or if he jumps on the table, the woodstove or the counters, then I simply say “that’s enough”.  If he stops touching the item, then he can continue to spend time in the kitchen.  If he persists in touching the item, then I say “too bad” and take him back to his crate.  I institute a zero tolerance policy for touching things that are not yours, and the consequence of touching things that you are not allowed to touch is that you lose your turn in the kitchen.

Notice that there is a lot for a dog to get into in my very messy farm kitchen.  If this young dog makes a mistake and gets into something she ought not get into, then she will go right down into her crate for a rest.  The way for a dog to keep access to the kitchen is to mind her manners, but I don’t expect that she will just know this.  She will indeed have to learn by trial and error what she is permitted to do.  Until she is really clear on the rules, she doesn’t get any access to the house where I am not awake and aware and supervising.  This is how we teach dogs the rules in our house and the result is a dog who understand what is permitted and what is not.  Photo Credit:  Sue Alexander

After repeating this several times a day for a week, the dog can usually graduate to the rest of the house.  I still don’t allow the dog unsupervised access to the house and if he goofs, he goes right back to his crate.  By spending time with the dog in the yard, I can start to teach him to check in with me, and I can determine if it is safe to take him for off leash walks.  It is much easier to start taking a dog for off leash walks if he is already social with another dog, because I can then call that second dog back and my new dog will come back with the first dog.  Exercise is important to good health for dogs, but it is definitely secondary to safety, and if the new dog doesn’t know me, doesn’t know any rules at all and hasn’t taken treats from me, then why would I expect him to stay with me on an off leash walk.

As soon as practical, I take the new dog to a place I know well and get him off leash.  If I suspect he will bolt, I use a 100 foot drag line, so that he cannot get away.  I will also in that case bell him so that I can hear him if I cannot see him.  I put a piece of tape about 25 feet from the end of the drag line so that I have a visual warning that he is approaching the end of the distance that I want him to get from me.  When that end passes me, I call out “far enough” and then gently step on the line to slow it down and eventually stop the dog.  When the dog is stopped, I call him back to me.  I don’t pull him or drag him or walk towards him.  If I have done my job right in the yard, he will come back and check in.

As time goes on, I give new dogs more and more and more freedom in the house and on walks.  As time goes on, the dog learns the finer details of the rules in my house, he learns who I am, where he is, and that he can come back to me when he gets disoriented.  That is how I introduce a dog to my home, and it prevents a lot of problems that I don’t have to address after the fact.


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