Dogs are happiest when rules are clear about what’s allowed and what’s not
By Kim Campbell Thornton
A few months ago, I wrote about our foster cavalier, Kibo. Since then, Kibo — now Keeper — has become a permanent part of our family, and I’m happy to say that he’s adjusting nicely. Other than occasionally climbing onto the dining room table to check for food when someone forgets to push in a chair after eating, he hasn’t really broken any rules or caused any damage. He’s a nice dog in general, but I think it helped that we provided him with clear expectations and a structured environment from day one.
It’s all too easy to start off by spoiling a foster dog or one adopted from a shelter or rescue group. Who wouldn’t want to give him a little special treatment after the upset of losing his family?
Think again. Free run of the house, lots of treats and no demands are a good recipe for trouble and can make it difficult for him to fit in as a new family member. The following tips will help you set up your new dog for success:
-Housetraining. Even dogs who are already housetrained may be anxious and forget their manners in a new place. I was concerned about Keeper lifting his leg in the house. Treating him as if he were a puppy ensured that he had only one incident of urinating where he shouldn’t. Here’s what to do:
1. Take him outside to potty on leash on a regular schedule and praise him when he performs.
2. When you can’t pay close attention to him, confine him to a crate, exercise pen or room with an easily cleanable floor.
3. If you take him outside to potty and he doesn’t do anything, put him into his crate and then take him back out later.
– Set rules. Keeper was very comfortable jumping onto the sofa and chairs. Fortunately for him, that’s OK in our house, but a couple of chairs are off-limits to dogs. When he jumped on them, I gave an immediate “Off” command and directed him to the sofa.
If your house rules call for dogs to keep four on the floor, establish that from the beginning. No “just this once” or “just while he’s getting settled in.” Dogs don’t get the concept of “sometimes.” If you find him on the furniture, say “Off” and indicate what you want with a pointed finger or sweeping motion of your arm. If necessary, lure him with a treat to an alternate spot, such as a dog bed or blanket on the floor. Praise and reward him when he’s on it. Repeat as needed, always using a neutral and matter-of-fact tone. There’s no need to sound angry.
– Ban begging. Keeper’s worst habit is begging at the table or hanging out in the kitchen waiting for something to drop onto the floor. A couple of techniques can help to deter this habit, or at least make it less annoying:
Feed your dog before the family eats so he has no reason to beg. At mealtime, send the dog to his crate or dog bed using a neutral, matter-of-fact voice. Repeat as needed, making sure the kids and your spouse aren’t slipping him their Brussels sprouts when you’re not looking.
Use the same technique in the kitchen when you are preparing meals. There’s nothing wrong with the dog being in the kitchen while you cook, but he should be in a corner, out of the way.
To recap: Be firm and consistent, show him what you want instead of scolding him for what you don’t want, and offer praise and rewards when he does things you like. As you come to know him and he becomes familiar with the house routine, you can gradually give him more freedom to make himself at home.