A Successful Transition
There are many things to consider and address when you’re preparing to bring home your FOHA dog. Our role is to help match you with your new best friend and to help make the transition as smooth as possible. With that in mind, here are some steps you should take before your new family member comes home.
Where will your FOHA dog stay during the day, during work time, and at night? A structured environment is helpful for new dogs. Unlimited freedom is not advisable at first. Implementing a structured environment will go a long way in the prevention and maintenance of behavioral problems.
Select the Space: Designate an area — a small room off the main living area with a baby gate, a corner of the family room, or similar area where it will be undisturbed — where your FOHA dog can go to be quiet and safe. This will be your FOHA dog’s space! Provide a dog bed or blanket, toys and water in this place to define it. Get your FOHA dog used to spending time alone there, away from the family.
Daytime Activities: While you’re at home, allow your FOHA dog to interact with your family while you are at home. However, allow your FOHA dog to retreat freely to and from the designated area. When your FOHA dog retreats there, give them space to adjust properly to their new home.
Work/School Hours: When you’re away from home, a structured environment is especially important when your FOHA dog will be left alone for the first few weeks/months. Confinement to his designated area is suggested during this initial time period. A baby gate is a good option to confine your FOHA dog to one area of the house (the same area to include his “space”). This should be considered temporary as a training tool, not a way of life. Gradually expand the area your FOHA dog has access to until you can rely on good behavior, with the final objective being to allow your FOHA dog free roam of the house.
Pet Walking Service: Consider a pet-walking service to come in during the day to walk your FOHA dog if you are gone longer than 5–6 hours at a time.
Nighttime: Choose a place for your FOHA dog to sleep; preferably in the bedroom of a family member. Use a dog bed or blanket. Close the door at night at first or tether on a long leash until you can rely on good behavior.
Outside Play: Dogs should never be left outside unattended because of the risks of escape, the possibility of being stolen or let out of the yard, heat and cold, and the risk of suffering other harm. Also, outdoor dogs become a magnet for potential behavior problems.
Fenced-in Yard: If your yard is fenced, check it carefully for any gaps or weak spots. Also, make sure it's high enough for your FOHA dog. Some dogs are expert fence climbers, so watch carefully at first. Also, watch for signs of digging. Check the security of the gate, and if possible, install a lock.
Invisible fences: For the same reasons we do not recommend leaving dogs outside unattended, we do not advise leaving a dog outside unattended with an invisible fence. While your dog may learn not to run through the “wire,” an invisible fence will not keep other animals out. An invisible fence will not protect your dog from being stolen or removed against his will. Also, some dogs will run through a live “wire” if spooked or scared by a thunderstorm, fireworks, or other loud noises.
Dog Parks: Make sure you have voice control over your dog (i.e., the dog comes when called), and that your FOHA dog interacts well with other dogs before letting it off-leash. Dog Parks are not for every dog. While in a dog park, keep a watchful eye on the dog at all times as the dynamics between several dogs can change in an instant.
Other considerations: If a door is open, a dog will generally like to get to the other side. Monitor children’s play (especially younger children) and make sure they don’t leave doors open that lead to unsecured areas outside. Instruct friends to do the same thing.
Off Leash: Never let your FOHA dog off-leash outside — dogs may pick up an interesting scent or be in pursuit of a wild animal, or even a moving car which means they could potentially be hurt or even killed. Be especially diligent at first to ensure that your FOHA dog does not try to escape to find his way back to a previous “home.”
Dogs in Hot Cars: Dogs should never be left in a parked car in the summer when outside temps are 70 degrees or higher. Please avoid the temptation to take your FOHA dog on errands with you in the summer where it will need to stay in the car. A closed car can escalate in temperature quite rapidly. Also, dogs left in a car with open windows are prime targets for theft.
Feed: Most FOHA dogs are fed dry food, topped with some wet food. At the time you finalize the adoption, the exact food and amount will be provided to you by the adoption office leads. We will provide you a list of high-quality dog food recommendations that you can consider for your dog. Please check with your vet to select the best food for your dog. In changing your dog’s food, make a gradual transition. FOHA will provide a small bag of food at time of adoption.
Table Scraps: Please do not feed table scraps. This can only lead to health problems in your FOHA dog’s older years. Also, FOHA dogs have not dined on human food and a rapid introduction of human food can lead to diarrhea.
Feeding Schedule: Feed at a regular time; we recommend twice a day and will provide you their feeding schedule when you pick up your dog. Keep water available at all times. Feed separately from other pets AND children until you know how they will react. Do not be alarmed if your FOHA dog does not have an appetite initially; many dogs who are stressed will not eat. If this is the case, keep providing the food at the regular times, and by the 2nd or 3rd day,they will have become hungry enough to eat. Resist the temptation to introduce “people food” to get them to eat as they will quickly grow accustomed to this and might become “picky eaters”.
Exercise: Plan enough time for exercise. At least 30–45 minutes of active exercise in the morning is advisable, especially if the family will be away from home during the day. A period of exercise later in the day will also be necessary. A fenced-in yard for ball-playing is a plus; but should not be considered a substitute for daily exercise and human interaction.
Your FOHA dog will need to go to the vet to get his heartworm preventative prescription and a baseline checkup. However, we do recommend that you wait a couple weeks before scheduling the first vet appointment. This will give you time to get to know your new dog and see if there is anything you want to have checked out; and it will also give your new dog time to settle in and get to know you. We will give you a copy of all the medical records we have; which you should take with you to the vet. Ask the vet to take a fecal sample for parasites. Even though our dogs have been tested for heartworms and receive the monthly preventative, we recommend a new test before putting your FOHA dog on preventative medication. We also test most of our dogs for Lyme disease.
- Heartworm medication is essential
- Flea and tick control (strongly recommended, contact your vet for recommendations)
- Shots (FOHA dogs are up to date on their shots. A dog requires either a yearly or a 3-year rabies shot, and it’s recommended to get 6 months or yearly Bordetella and yearly Distemper shots). Discuss your options with your vet.
- Fecal sample
- Lyme disease test (if not previously done by FOHA)
If you are not sure of the vet you will use, please ask your home visitor for recommendations.
Training and behavior go hand-in-hand. Training will instill obedience, confidence and socialization outlets for your FOHA dog. It will also go a long way in the prevention of behavior problems. Studies have shown that adopted shelter dogs that go through formal obedience training have a much lower return-rate than dogs that do not.
There is no such thing as “the perfect dog.” Behavior quirks may appear after your FOHA dog gets settled in and confident in his new surroundings. Knowing basic obedience commands and being socialized will help dramatically when working to resolve any of your FOHA dog’s behavior issues. We will be glad to offer ongoing support and referrals in such cases. We have a list of recommended trainers the home visitor will share upon request.
Obedience Training: All dogs benefit from obedience training. It helps establish communication as well as good behavior and socialization. Involve all family members if possible. Most dogs love to go to class, and you will probably find it’s the best money you ever spent. We generally recommend group classes, since the true test of a well-mannered dog is whether it obeys you when it would rather be playing with other dogs. We recommend “positive reinforcement” methods. We can recommend other good classes in your area.
Positive-reinforcement Training: Give your dog opportunities for success and reward desired behavior.
- Avoid punishment, especially late punishment for behavior that happened earlier. Dogs cannot make the association between the prior act and the punishment.
- Rather, the dog will learn to associate the owner’s presence with punishment that will instill fear of the owner or cause the dog to quit performing ANY behaviors for the owner.
- Instead, look for a positive way to instill the behavior you want. For example, one way of teaching your FOHA dog not to jump is to train a reliable “sit” command and then ask your FOHA dog to sit when you see the potential for jumping. Reward the “sit”.
Even previously housetrained dogs adopted from a shelter will often lapse in their housetraining. When dogs learn to eliminate, they are not learning an indoor vs. outdoor concept but something much more specific, such as “never eliminate in these rooms" (the particular rooms in their old house). The dog is unsure whether these rules apply in the new home. Humans, on the other hand, can distinguish where to go to the bathroom regardless of the home we are in. For example, if we visit a friend or hotel room, we know that bathrooms in general are the place to “go.” Since we are good generalizers, we fail to empathize with dogs and therefore don’t take precautionary measures.
Start your training program when you first bring your FOHA dog home. Before bringing your FOHA dog in the house, stay outside (treats in hand) and leash-walk your dog until it relieves itself. Praise jubilantly and treat! Encourage use of a particular spot, and let the dog sniff and get acquainted with his new territory. If your FOHA dog sniffs the floor or circles inside, take it out immediately. When it eliminates, treat it immediately!
To begin the housetraining program, you will need the following:
- Ability to confine the dog
- A schedule for going outside
- Treats for EVERY time you go outside with dog
- Good observation skills
Confinement: The quickest way to train or retrain a dog is to confine it. That’s because dogs don’t like to mess in their “den” or space. It is for this reason that we recommend initial confinement (use a baby gate to block off the kitchen area) for ALL recently adopted dogs. We do not encourage the use of crates. By confining the newly adopted dog, it will learn to hold it and then you can have success outside later. If you find that your FOHA dog is soiling in his confined area, the likelihood is that it is too large; your FOHA dog can use part of it as his toilet.
Schedule: You must set up a schedule for eating and going outside and keep to it. Try not to vary the times you set up for daily feeding and outdoor trips. During house training, if you are away for longer than 4 hours have someone come to the house to take the dog out. Optimally, there will always be someone at home during the housetraining period. A typical schedule for trips outside looks like this. (Take treats with you so you can reward each and every time the dog eliminates. You can fade the treats out after the dog is reliably eliminating outside and not inside).
- Outdoor trip first thing in the morning.
- Outdoor trip a few minutes after each meal. This is when most dogs will have a bowel movement. You will begin to learn your dog’s rhythm.
- Outside when you return from work.
- Outside at bedtime.
- If your dog is under 1 year of age, the trips outside will need to be more frequent, as a puppy has not developed the physical ability to hold it. The same holds true for senior dogs.
Treats: Every time your FOHA dog eliminates outside, lavish it with praise during the act and follow with an extra special treat. If you find that the praise makes it stop in the middle of eliminating, save it until just after it finishes. Also, it is imperative that the treat is given IMMEDIATELY after the behavior is completed; or you may inadvertently be rewarding another behavior (licking, sniffing, etc.). Have treats ready at the back door so you can grab them on your way out the door.
Good Observation Skills: Your FOHA dog will give off signals that it needs to eliminate. It’s essential that you learn what these are so you can prevent mistakes inside. Common behaviors include circling, restlessness and sniffing. Whenever you see these, take your FOHA dog out.
Patience: Don’t lose your cool. Many dogs have accidents, especially in the beginning of training. Since your FOHA dog should be supervised at all times when loose in the house, you will be able to provide the proper feedback as the dog begins to eliminate or, even better, take him out before he even starts. If you catch him starting to eliminate inside, interrupt him with a sharp sound “ah… ah… ah!” This may even prevent him from finishing. Urgently say “outside” and then get your FOHA dog there as quickly as possible (have a treat ready). Stay outside for a 5-minute period and praise and treat him when he finishes eliminating. If not, bring him back inside and either supervise or confine him and try again later.
Unobserved Accidents: If your FOHA dog has an accident in the house and you did not see it happen, it is futile and even detrimental to punish the dog after that fact. Simply clean up the spot and then apply a commercial odor neutralizer. An enzyme based product like Nature’s Miracle is the most effective. This will help prevent a certain location from smelling like an “indoor toilet.” Most importantly, after the accident, vow to supervise more closely in the future and add another outing to your schedule.
Eliminate Opportunities for Unseen Accidents: Dogs have very powerful noses and in their natural environment in the wild, seek out urine smells and “mark” it with their own. In order to prevent this possibility in your house, remove all traces of odors left from previous dogs or you WILL have a problem.
Regression: If your dog starts experiencing housetraining regression, it could be due to increased stress/anxiety or it could be due to a medical condition (i.e., infection), and it’s advisable to see a vet.
Studies have shown that puppies and shelter dogs are at a higher risk of separation anxiety than other dogs. Separation anxiety is often triggered by either a high-contrast situation — months of the owner staying home all day followed by sudden eight-hour absences — or some sort of life change, such as re-homing, a stay at a boarding kennel, a death of a key family member, or any change in routine. Furthermore, if a dog is abandoned or has lost its owner, he may develop overly intense and insecure attachments to subsequent owners. Separation anxiety is both preventable and responds well to treatment. The first step is to recognize that dogs are not misbehaving out of boredom, spite, or fun. Some dogs with separation anxiety are fine when the owner leaves with slippers on to take out the garbage — they have learned the difference between “long absence” pictures and “short absence” pictures.
Prevention: Newly adopted dogs are at a higher risk to develop separation anxiety if they are smothered with constant attention their first few days at home. Small toy breeds are especially susceptible as they are easier to carry around all the time.
- It is much better to leave for brief periods extremely often (and to get the dog used to spending time in another room away from family members) so what the dog is learning about departures is that they are no big deal and learns from easy, tolerable lengths of absence: “whenever my owner leaves, my owner comes back.”
- Avoid dramatic or lengthy departures and arrivals.
- Give your FOHA dog both physical exercise and mental work to do. Not only does problem solving increase confidence and independence, it is mentally fatiguing and so increases the likelihood that your FOHA dog will rest quietly when it is left alone. Teach the dog to play hide and seek with its toys; teach tricks; get your dog involved in a sport like obedience, flyball or agility; let it free-play with other dogs; stuff all or part of his food ration into Kong toys; and teach it how to play fetch and tug. The more activities and toys are incorporated into his life, the less he will depend on human social contact as sole stimulation.
Set the routine at once: Establish the routine at once. We recommend picking your FOHA dog up on Friday — and use the week-end to get acclimated before leaving for your normal routine on Monday. Spend Saturday night practicing semi-absences (alone time for dog in another room) and short absences (leaving for SHORT periods of time). Start with small increments (5 minutes) and progress from there. Do not make plans that will cause you to immediately leave your FOHA dog for a long period (i.e., cancel or refrain from any dinner, shopping, and movie plans).
FOHA Emergency I.D. tag: Your FOHA dog will be fitted with a special FOHA tag when it leaves the kennel. Where possible, the collar you bring will be fitted with a plate that will have FOHA’s emergency telephone number on it. This plate, in some cases a hang tag, will provide a FOHA I.D. number that is unique to each dog that is adopted from us. The unique number can help us match FOHA dogs to owners if they are ever lost.
Dog I.D. Tag: We also require that you purchase and bring with you when you pick up your new dog an I.D. tag which has at a minimum your contact number (cell phone or other best number on which to reach you). PetSmart or Petco have machines that can make a tag while you wait. Please bring this new tag with you when you pick your FOHA dog up (it will be placed on the collar in addition to the I.D. tag). This way, it will leave the shelter with two sets of identification. If you do not bring a tag, it will be fitted with a temporary tag with your name and number.
Microchipping: All adult FOHA dogs are microchipped. At the time of adoption, you will need to fill out a microchip form to register your dog. FOHA will be listed as the alternate. After adoption, you will need to contact Home Again to change ownership information of the microchip into your name (this process may take 2-3 weeks after adoption). Your dog will be microchipped for its life and you will need to only update the registration information whenever you change addresses. HomeAgain provides additional services that you can read about in your adoption folder. These services are free for 1 year and after that time, you can choose to continue them or not. If you choose not to continue these services, this will not affect your microchip registration.
Leash and harness and collar: If the dog you are adopting walks with a harness at the shelter, you should purchase a harness, in addition to the collar, and bring it with you to pick up so we can size it for you. If the dog is a shy dog, we also recommend you use the slip lead that will be included with your adoption, or a martingale collar for walking — in addition to the harness. Dogs can slip out of most harnesses and a slip lead or martingale will keep them from getting away. They are only for walking, though, and you will need a standard collar for the dog to wear 24x7 with its identification tags. We do not recommend pinch collars OR retractable leashes.
Additional items to consider:
- Bed or special blanket
- Baby gate, if necessary
- Water and food bowls
- Stain cleaner (e.g., Nature’s Miracle)
- Food (see section on food)
- Toys — LOTS of them; and Kongs. We prefer that you do not use rawhides but if you do, use them with supervision, as dogs can choke on them.
- Training treats — lots of them and bring some with you!
Some FOHA dogs may adapt so quickly that they fit in immediately and others may likely be very stressed while making the transition to living in a home. In the latter cases, your FOHA dog may be very confused and anxious….”is this for real?” Your FOHA dog will probably behave differently than what you observed at the shelter. LET YOUR FOHA DOG PROGRESS AT HIS OWN PACE. It is detrimental to “force” a dog to exceed its own “threshold” of fearful stimulus (new people, kids, etc).
Create that quiet environment for the first 2 weeks.
Limit visits from outside family members, neighbors (especially children) and other pets at first.
Don’t invade your FOHA dog’s “space” — let it approach others when in its space.
Resist the urge to give your dog a bath immediately. A stressed dog in the confines of a tub can cause even the most docile dog’s fear level to escalate to the point of growling or snapping.
Introductions with Children: BE ESPECIALLY VIGILANT WITH CHILDREN – don’t leave your FOHA dog and young, unsupervised children together for the first several weeks. Ask children to wait for your FOHA dog to come to them; try to avoid situations where your FOHA dog feels crowded and overwhelmed. It’s also important to teach children the right way to relate to your FOHA dog — kindly and with respect. Simple rules may help; such as: don’t disturb your FOHA dog when sleeping; don’t bother your FOHA dog when it is eating or chilling out in its space; don’t put your face right up to his; don’t sit on it or pull its ears; and remember, your FOHA dog is a family member and not a toy.
Introducing your FOHA dog to other canine family members: A dog’s natural introduction to another dog is not face-to-face but rather butt-sniffing. We humans often inhibit this form of introduction, which can lead to uncharacteristic growls, hackles, and frustration. Arrange for the dogs to meet in a neutral place (park, sidewalk outside house) and allow them to take turns sniffing butts on leash. Then, walk them side-by-side for a while. Then, let them meet and play off-leash in a secure area (fenced backyard or room in house). Have some loud metal pans handy to make noise in the event of a fight.
Introducing your FOHA dog to family cats: Before bringing your FOHA dog home, make sure there is a “safety room” or rooms, places the cat(s) can access but the dog cannot. A baby gate the cat(s) can jump over or a cat door can accomplish this. It is important that the cat can retreat and regroup and relax in a place away from the dog and then venture forward into “dog territory” at its own pace. The cat should have access to food, water and litter in this area so no interactions with your FOHA dog are forced. Never hold the cat into proximity by holding it or otherwise restricting its desire to escape.
- For the first introduction, have the dog on a leash in case it explodes into chase. If it seems to be going well, drop the leash (leave it hanging) and supervise closely. If the dog is behaving in a friendly and/or cautious way, try not to intervene in their interactions, except to praise and reward your FOHA dog for good behavior. Interrupt any chase and try to redirect your FOHA dog’s attention to another activity. (This is sometimes hard to accomplish and therefore “management” between dog and cat may be necessary until things are worked out).
- Don’t leave them together unsupervised until you are confident there is no potential harm to either.
- Give plenty of extra attention to the cat so it does not associate this change with reduced attention and affection!
- Dogs will eat cat food and may eat cat feces — keep both out of reach from your FOHA dog.
We are here to help. Contact Us if you have behavior problems with your FOHA dog; we will gladly assist in providing suggestions to correct such quirks, or recommendations for professional help.