Last week, I met a beautiful mother of two who also has two dogs, a Chihuahua and a 6mo German Shepherd puppy (I’ve changed some of the details in order to keep the family anonymous). She’s a new client and she’s dedicated in learning about the appropriate care of her two dogs. She has good instincts and her daughter is also involved in creating structure for the dogs, but she wasn’t sure how. She also faces extreme opposition from her husband in caring for her dogs. I’m not going into details about the conflict surrounding the dog now. Its a pretty delicate situation, but I will share some thinking I had about adopting a new dog or adopting a dog for the first time.
1. Before actively signing the adoption papers: Make sure all of the people in the household with whom you share a roof with are on board with having a dog join the family, or having a new dog join their already established pack. The adults (parents, spouses, grandparents, roommates ect) in the home MUST be on the same page when it comes to the care and living situation for the dog. The process of open dialogue about the pros and cons in adopting a dog is crucial. It allows for all people directly involved in the day to day activities of the dog to have a say in their potential role in the care of her. If people talk openly and honestly, it will allow for the family in coming to a joint conclusion.
Some questions to help guide your discussion or your individual thinking:
- How will I pay for vet visits (savings plan, pet insurance or other means)?
- What will the roles (feeding, training, walking, picking up after the dog in naming a few roles) of each of the family members be in caring for the dog? Are all on board with the members of the family having these roles?
- What positive reinforcement trainers exist in my community?
- Do I know about transition planning for an adopted dog?
- What is my activity level? What am I willing to do in exercising my dog?
- If adopting a puppy was the option for the family (these same questions can apply for an adult dog adopted from a shelter), do I know the developmental milestones with adopting a puppy? Do I know how to house train? How will I respond if a puppy chewed on my furniture, favorite item ect? How do I keep my puppy safe when I’m away for work or school? How often and what do I feed a puppy? How do I teach the rules of my home and what the puppy can do or not do in the home? How do I safely socialize my puppy?
2. WAIT!: Ok, so you and your family decide on adopting a dog. Now, wait! Let the decision settle in your minds and set a date a week or so away. This time before you actively adopt can be a way for any person to say no. If someone does say no, then come back to the discussion and find out the reason. Then decide if now is the time for adoption, if not, reconsider at a later date. Many things can influence the decision making like a new job which prevents people devoting time for a new dog. For a military member and family, it can be a PCS or a move to another state or country. A new baby can certainly put the brakes on the adoption process. As you can see, this wait period is important because once you adopt a dog, its for the life of the dog. Once you sign the adoption papers and take your new furry friend home, the dog is now apart of your family and ultimately, your responsibility.
3. Consider Training Even Before Adoption and Get Your First Session Scheduled: I mention training again since this piece of the adoption puzzle can help with the transition of a dog or puppy joining your family. The positive reinforcement trainer will set the family and dog up for success by developing a potty schedule, how to teach the rules of the home, best food and diet tips, basic obedience and behavior modification for an adult dog. A positive reinforcement trainer will ensure the best interest of the dog in the training process and will provide guidance on proven science based training methods. I worked with a family who scheduled their first session the day following the adoption of their puppy. This was the family’s first dog and they were looking for guidance on understanding puppy behavior and house training. They have successfully integrated the puppy into their home and their family and are happy with the process. Many families who adopt a puppy, don’t fully understand the commitment it takes in raising a well mannered puppy and often become frustrated and surrender their now adult dog to a shelter or abandon their dog all together. If these families took the time and really considered training off the bat, the family may have come to a different conclusion.
4. Understand the Needs of A Dog: This is just as important as setting up and conducting training for your newly adopted dog. The needs of your dog range from type of nutrition, medical care and exercise to how your dog is motivated and how do you build an emotional connection with her. All of these components will see your new dog in a holistic way which will only make connecting with her a pleasure. If you’re looking for a specific breed, DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Know all of the behavior potential of a specific breed and really explore if you can meet those demands. Working dogs in particular require mental stimulation and physical exercise on a daily basis. They will require a job to do and must learn how to do it. Generally speaking, working dog breeds have a higher level of energy and MUST be in a home which can provide an outlet for this energy and an avenue for learning.
Adopting a dog will change your life and your commitment and love for her will change hers. Be fully on board with adoption for the welfare of the dog. If you or your family decide adoption is not an option at this point in time, there are other avenues for exploration. You can consider volunteering for a shelter or a rescue. This gives you the opportunity in spending time with dogs in shelters while giving them a chance in socializing with different people. Adoption is forever, take it seriously!