There was absolutely no doubt that we were going to add another Golden Retriever to our family sometime soon. Spring 2021 seemed like the optimal time and what we were planning for. My husband nor myself were wanting to spend the money on a pup from a breeder this time around but knew it would give us the optimal chance in finding the right match for our multi pet household with 3 school aged children. We’ve adopted dogs, as well as purchased from reputable breeders, numerous times over the past 20+ years. I’m also in continuous communication with rescues in case that perfect pup happens to pop up in their care. We knew exactly what we wanted and needed in our next fuzzy addition.
When a friend shared a post from a local rescue with an 8month old Golden Retriever who had been owner surrendered, I quickly inquired! Me, and dozens of other people. I was told the rescue had received over a hundred applications in just a 48-hour period for Roy – the one eyed Golden. I fully did not expect to be considered for his adoption for a few reasons. However, when I got the phone call from the rescue about meeting him, I was completely transparent. To my surprise, they still wanted to give us a try! The adoption coordinator told us that she knew the best bet at finding Roy a forever family was to place him with an experienced handler with a love for the breed.
Upon meeting Roy, I quickly knew exactly why that criteria was important. Other than being an adolescent, which is the age most dogs are owner surrendered to shelters for common preventable behavior problems, he was a stressed out, 65lb, overexcited, jumping bean, with no prior training. He had lived outdoors covered in ticks not knowing that houses aren’t bathrooms and walls and furniture aren’t chew toys. His mouthing and energy are boundless! Oi, his mouthing! It’s our greatest challenge. Any bit of excitement, frustration, movement or desire for something is communicated with exuberant bitey, snapping alligator teeth. It’s not the gentle mouthing Goldens are known for either. Sure! Many families wanted to bring him home with great expectations because he’s an adorable, people loving Golden Retriever. Yet, it likely wouldn’t take long for them to be surprised and overwhelmed by the challenges he brings. I know we were, and this isn’t new territory for us.
We didn’t take the decision to keep Roy as a part of our family lightly. We knew it would take a tremendous amount of work and time to integrate him into our household. We weren’t looking for a time-consuming responsibility, but we were looking for certain personality traits he seemed to possess. It took 5 taxing days while consulting continuously with trusted colleagues and mentors before fully committing to adopting him. Once that decision was final, we flipped our house upside down to create the optimal low stress environment for him to recover from his past and take on the future.
Here is what we are doing this first few weeks – and possibly months - to facilitate his comfort and success while adjusting to a new home:
- Erecting exercise pens and gates: We were down to just two gates in our house with our 18-month old dog. He is reliable and no longer needs constant supervision to stay out of trouble. However, for Roy, we had to pull all the gates back out, and even a few more! The big behemoth exercise pens that we use as gates were needed since Roy could jump the regular 3-4ft baby gates and absolutely CANNOT be left unattended for even a second.
- Kennels: We got the kennels set up again so Roy could have safe places to be when we were unable to watch and direct him appropriately. One kennel is in the bedroom for nighttime and one covered kennel is in the quiet, front dining room for daytime naps. Our kennels are wire and he wasn’t able to settle initially. So, we needed a covering. He pulled the first blanket we used as a cover into the kennel and shredded it. A colleague suggested cardboard boxes around the outside instead. That has worked well. We also give him a stuffed marrow bone, bully stick, or Starmark Everlasting Chew toy when kenneled and play Relax My Dog calming music or Reggae.
- Routine: The first 3 days we were going crazy with Roy being tethered to us throughout the majority of the day. We tried to just gate him in the same room we were in, but he was constantly eating and biting everything from us to the walls and molding. Despite a plethora of appropriate chew items continually being offered to him and freely available, he was just antsy and unsettled trying to chew anything. He was mostly unresponsive to any interruptions, so we were constantly having to squat down and entice him away from things. He couldn’t resist bull dozing into a human near the ground, so we used that to our advantage. The first few days, he wasn’t interested in chicken, ham, stinky cheese, hot dogs or any other treat. That meant we couldn’t even lure him away from stuff. He just didn’t know how to be calm or live in a house, and he was needing to recover from the stress of two and a half weeks in the shelter. That’s when we decided to employ the use of some natural calming aids and begin a routine that included a consistent naptime in the kennel to benefit us all. Roy, who we now had decided would be called Captain Jack, would have a regular kennel naptime from 10am-1pm and 5pm to 6pm daily. Of course, these times will vary based on each individual dog’s exercises needs and the family’s schedule. Once we implemented these predictable rest times, we began to see some positive changes in Jack. He started heading to his kennel without persuasion, sleeping soundly rather than consistently barking in the covered crate, and becoming more responsive to us. I knew this was a good thing because deeper, restorative sleep leads to lower stress and a greater ability to learn and adapt.
- Name Recognition & Stop cue: These were the first two things we focused on teaching Jack. Basically, we’d say his name and deliver deli meat to his mouth randomly several times throughout the day. Initially, he wasn’t very interested in the food, so we took it slow and didn’t do any repetitions. We did the same thing for the word, “Stop!”. After about 3 days of having those two words mean tasty treats are coming, we began to evolve those behaviors. That means that when we said, “Jack” we would bring the food up to our face for him to look up before delivering it to his mouth because ultimately when we say his name, we want him to look at us. For “STOP”, we’d lure him one or two steps away before giving him the goodie or his favorite scratches. After about 5 days of practicing these two things, we started working on letting the dogs play together. Jack plays rough! It was important to have that, “STOP” cue to help teach him to take a break and move along when the other dog communicated the play was getting overwhelming. The “Stop” cue helped us safely facilitate this reset when necessary.
- Leash & harness: These were especially important in keeping Jack close to us and allowing the dogs to meet. After the initial on leash greeting with the lady that brought Jack from the rescue, we kept our family dog mostly separate from Jack. We even made temporary visual barriers out of clamps and vinyl tablecloths to block the dog’s views of each other. They just couldn’t relax or be calm if they could see each other. Unlike what we usually see done when people bring home a new dog, we did not just let everyone go run wild together. I’ve seen that go south quickly too many times in homes, daycares, playgroups, and dog parks when one pup is too exuberant or unresponsive to reciprocal fair play. I’m not going to get into the specifics here of how we have been directing the growth of the furry friendship, but I hope to blog on those at a later date. The two pups still are not together freely without drag leashes, guidance and supervision. It will likely be a few more weeks, or even months, before they can handle that.
- Building Calmness / Do Nothing Training: For “hyper” dogs, the general thought is that they need more exercise to tire them out. Yet, this is often far from the truth. Dogs that are unbearably excitable and never stop are often the dogs who are experiencing the physiological effects of prolonged stress or anxiety and unable to self soothe or calm down. When you exercise these dogs, you increase their physical stamina while ignoring the underlying issues. Soon, physical exercise will have to be increased for them to tire and you’ll be running yourself ragged trying to keep up with their exercise needs to experience any calmness again. That is where “Do Nothing” training is invaluable. There are several trainers with tutorials on teaching this skill, but the overall concept is that you capture calmness by reinforcing your dog for doing absolutely nothing. You can take a peek at what that has looked like for us here.
- Potty training: Well, it’s no surprise that a dog who has been free to do his business whenever and wherever he needed to would not be housebroken. Even dogs who come from foster homes or shelters that are believed to be potty trained should be expected to have a few accidents during their transitions to new homes and environments. Jack had 5 potty accidents within about a three-hour period the second day he was here. We were diligent to supervise, interrupt gently and take him outside, but I wasn’t at all surprised by this. Rather than being flustered, I took it as a milestone in his time with us. To me, it signified that he was beginning to feel comfortable and relaxed enough to relieve himself fully. Almost a month later and that has not happened again. Yes, we’re still working on potty training with a few accidents here and there, but nothing like that 5 in a row! Remember, potty training is more about providing our dogs ample opportunities to toilet outside and rewarding those successes than reacting to mishaps in the house.
- Variety of Tasty Treats: The first 5 days or so that Jack came home, he was not interested much in food or treats. I have many different kinds and was surprised to see him reject the ones that even the pickiest pups have loved. This is not unusual to see, though when a dog has been rehomed. He was wired, tired, scared, excited, anxious and experiencing many things that affect the function of the digestive system. After a few days, when he became more comfortable with us and his environment, he started paying attention to squeeze cheese, deli meat and hot dogs. I specifically mention those because I find them to be especially enticing to most dogs. There was only one type of dog treat he was remotely interested in. However, he’s grown much less particular over the past three weeks as he’s become more settled. Now, just about any training treat or shoulder scratches will do.
We literally flipped our household upside down to help Jack decompress from the stress of being uprooted from his home and time at the shelter. We weren’t prepared for the extent of upheaval and exhaustion he brought to our household those first few weeks. Even though I hear it all the time from new puppy parents and clients, we had yet to experience it to this extent with any of our past furry fosters or additions. I hope sharing our experience with Captain Jack will help you be more prepared for bringing home your new fur friend. It can be very challenging and take a while to fully integrate a new pup to your family. Patricia McConnel, PhD, a renowned expert in animal behavior, suggests repeating, *“three days, three weeks, three months; to remind yourself that most dogs are in shock the first three days in a new home, need three weeks to begin to show you their true personalities and three months to begin to understand the family rules.” Plan on being flexible to meet your individual dog’s needs but implementing a predictable routine and 100% supervision is great place to start.
Learn smart ways to bond with your new dog here.
*quote from Let’s Talk: Three Things to Remember When Bringing a New dog Into Your Home by Patricia McConnell, PhD retrieved from here.