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rec.pets.dogs: Your New Dog FAQ

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Archive-name: dogs-faq/new-dog
Last-modified: 20 Nov 1997

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This article is Copyright 1997 by the Author(s) listed below. 
It may be freely distributed on the Internet in its entirety without
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                                 Your New Dog

   Cindy Tittle Moore,
   Copyright 1995.
Table of Contents

     * Prologue
     * Why An Older Dog? What About Bonding?
     * Where Do I Find One?
          + Shelters
          + Breed rescue
          + Breeders
          + Other places
     * How Do I Select A Suitable One?
     * What If I Already Have Other Dogs? Cats?
     * Acclimatizing Your Dog To A New Home
     * Crate Training A Grown Dog
     * Training Your Dog
          + Obedience
          + Housetraining
     * Neutering A Grown Dog
     * Introducing New Things or Overcoming Dislikes

   There is very little material out there to help people who have
   adopted older, grown, "second-hand" dogs. Some shelters may have
   handouts for their clients. Carol Lea Benjamin has written _Second
   Hand Dogs_, which is the only book published to treat the topic
   extensively (and even then it is a relatively small book). Other books
   that are of use are: Job Michael Evans' _People, Pooches, and
   Problems_, which will help you if you have some behavorial problems
   with your new dog. Another of his books, _Evans' Guide to
   Housetraining Dogs_ contains some sections on how to housetrain grown
   dogs. There are undoubtedly bits and pieces elsewhere in other books.
Why A Grown Dog? What About Bonding?

   Many people feel that an older, grown dog is better for them. Older
   dogs don't require as much attention as a growing puppy does. They are
   often easier to housetrain, if not already so trained. They are past
   their chewing stage, and have settled down from the usual adolescent
   boisterous behavior. Such a dog presents no surprises in its final
   size and appearance. It may already have the traits they want in a
   With an adult dog you have a much better idea of what you're going to
   end up with. A puppy can have the genetic heritage to be aggressive, a
   fear-biter etc. and you will not know until the dog is older. It's
   also very easy to make mistakes raising a puppy. With an older dog,
   the mistakes have already been made and it's generally not too hard to
   tell which problems will be easily correctable.
   So an older dog's previous history is actually an asset, not a
   detriment. Quite often when a dog is put into a new situation, they
   are looking for leadership and will attach to you almost immediately.
   Even breeds known as "one-person" dogs will accept a new master rather
   easily. For example, observe the relationship between a blind person
   and a German Shepherd guide dog. These dogs have been through at least
   3 homes before they're matched with their blind people.
   The research on bonding that is most often quoted (Clarence
   Pfaffenberger's _New Knowledge of Dog Behavior_) is almost always
   misrepresented: i.e. the puppies in those studies were deprived of
   _all_ human contact until they were older; the research had nothing to
   do with how well dogs that have bonded with some human or humans
   transferred those bonds later on.
   An additional benifit to adopting an older dog is the truely wonderful
   feeling one gets when the dog comes out of its shell and bonds with
   you. The bond feels special, particularly when it is an older dog that
   no one wanted. The rescue and subsequent bond with that dog is strong,
   lasting, and special.
   Older dogs are often not adopted from shelters because many people
   want puppies. It is wonderful when one can come in and offer a good
   life to the older dogs.
Where Do I Find One?

   There are a good many places you can find a grown dog. Besides the
   obvious, like shelters, there are other sources. For example, breed
   rescue organizations have many suitable adult dogs. Breeders often
   have dogs that they have retired from the show circuit and are not
   breeding; they also have younger dogs that simply never fulfilled the
   potential that they showed as a puppy and thus cannot be shown or
   bred. Both are otherwise perfectly good dogs.
   Sometimes people give up their dogs because of death or divorce or
   other personal upheaval. Perhaps the dog was intended for work, but
   was injured and rendered unfit. An adult dog in need of a home is not
   necessarily an abused dog with an unknown background.
   Ask local veterinarians. They often know of dogs that need adoption.
   Shelters, of course, are a very obvious place to get adult dogs, but
   it can be hard to get an idea of the dog's true behavior and
   potential. Some breeds, like Shelties, may absolutely shut down in a
   shelter and will appear to have behavior problems when they really
   don't. Find out how much time and about the physical space your local
   shelter is prepared to give you for evaluating dogs--beware of
   shelters that won't even let you take the dog out of the kennel run to
   see it! If the shelter will let you take the dog out on a lead and
   spend some time playing with it you can generally get a good idea of
   the dog's potential. Count on spending some time working with the
   shelter staff to find the right dog for you.
   Keep in mind that many dogs are at the shelter because their owners
   couldn't or wouldn't keep the committment they had made by getting the
   dog in the first place, not that the dog was at fault. Reasons include
   "not enough time for the dog," "moving to another place," "dogs not
   allowed where living," "divorce," and "not enough space." Frequently
   dogs with behavior that the previous owners could not handle are fine
   in new homes. As long as you scrutinize your potential dog carefully
   _and_ you are prepared for the work of owning a dog, you are not
   likely to wind up with a problem dog or a problem situation.
   About 25% of the dogs at shelters are purebred! If you have a specific
   breed in mind, you can check your shelters regularly in case one comes
   in. Keep in mind that even if the dog arrives at the shelter with its
   papers, many shelters will withhold the papers since they don't want
   to see people take such a dog and then breed it. You might get its
   pedigree without the registration, but even that's uncertain. Many
   shelters will take down your name and the breed you are interested in
   and call you when one comes in.
   If you don't care about the breed, you can check your local shelters
   for a dog that you want. You _should_ have some idea of what size and
   coat type you prefer before going in.
  Breed rescue
   You can contact a local breed rescue organization. These organizations
   will scout shelters for dogs of their breed, take them in, evaluate
   them, and put the adoptable ones up for placement. They can give you a
   good idea of the dog's temperament and known background.
   Most major breeds are represented in most major cities. You can always
   contact AKC for the address of the national breed club which you can
   in turn ask about local addresses.
   Or, you can contact local breeders and see if they have older dogs
   that they are trying to place. Sometimes a puppy that is kept as a
   show prospect does not fulfill it's earlier promise and is
   subsequently placed. Sometimes a brood bitch or a stud dog is retired
   and the breeder looks for a suitable home for it. Some breeders do
   keep their older pets, but in many cases find that a loving home for
   it is in the dog's best interests. Breeders too have dogs that are
   returned to them for any number of reasons: dog turns out to not be
   show-quality, people are moving and can't keep the dog
   Go to dog shows and ask around, or contact a breed club (note: for
   some clubs, referrals to "rescue" dogs are handled by one volunteer,
   whereas the puppy referral service also handles dogs that were
   returned to their breeder--so when contacting a breed club, make sure
   you've made contact with all the appropriate people).
  Other places
   Vets and kennels sometimes have abandoned dogs they are happy to place
   into good homes; call around.
   People sometimes give away or sell dogs through the newspaper: ask
   carefully about why the dog is being given up. Many people are not
   very knowledgable about dog behavior and will not be aware of if
   problems are the result of heredity or the result of their own
   mishandling. There is an advantage here of being able to see how the
   dog was kept and get an idea of relationship between previous owner
   and the dog. Sometimes the family is moving, or has lost some income,
   or there have been deaths or other upheavals where the dog's behavior
   is not an issue. Do make sure you don't feel pressured into taking the
   dog just because the person wants you to take it.
How Do I Select A Suitable One?

   Regardless of where you get your dog, you should make some effort to
   evaluate it before making your decision. Does it follow you? Watch you
   warily? What happens if you sit down next to it? How does it respond
   to a leash? A sudden noise or movement? What is known about its
   background? How does its health seem? Is it lame? Offer it a tidbit
   and see what its reaction is.
   If this is a dog through a rescue organization, chances are that a
   foster family has been taking care of it in the interim. Ask them to
   tell you what they've learned about the dog. If you have children or
   other pets, ask them how it would react to them.
   If you're looking at an animal shelter, you should have the
   opportunity to interact with the dog in a fenced-in enclosure rather
   than simply staring at it through the bars of it's kennel. Many dogs
   are extremely shy or upset in the kennel and it's difficult to tell
   what they are like. Bring some tidbits and see how it does outside the
   kennel. Walk it around on a leash if you can.
   If you are getting a dog from a breeder, then you should be able to
   find out about all its background. Do ask all the questions you have.
   You can evaluate it's temperament _to some extent_. Remember that the
   dog may be anxious or disoriented and thus not behave as it would
   In evaluating temperament,
     * Talk to it. What is it's reaction? Does it look up at you? Ignore
       you? Cringe and move as far away from you as it can?
     * Stand up and move near it. How does it react to you? Does it come
       up and lick your hand? Crouch down with ears down, perhaps
       urinating? Back away? Back away with ears down and snarling?
     * Squat down, extend a hand and let it approach you (do not approach
       it). Does it come up (perhaps after some hesitation) and lick or
       sniff your hand? Does it move away?
     * If you have children, bring them along. How does the dog react to
       the sight of them? To them walking up to it? To them sitting down
       and waiting for the dog to approach?
     * If you want to know how it reacts to cats, ask for permission to
       walk the dog past the cat part of the shelter. You might be able
       to improvise something else if you're not at a shelter: walking it
       around the neighborhood past some cats, for example.
     * Bring along a friend of the opposite sex with you to determine if
       the dog is averse to the other sex or not. Some dogs have specific
       fears of men, for example, so it's best to check this out
       especially if this will be a family dog.
     * If you walk away from it, does it follow you? How does it react to
       various things when you take it on a walk?
   Dogs that are obviously uncertain in their temperament (snarling and
   biting, etc.) are not generally up for adoption at shelters. Dogs that
   tend to whine or urinate or crouch down are generally submissive dogs
   (not a problem unless it's severe or not what you want). Dogs that
   approach you, even cautiously, tend to be friendly. This is obviously
   just a rough indication of the dog's temperament. Stay away from dogs
   that seem to be _too_ fearful unless you feel you know enough about
   dealing with these dogs to help it overcome it's fear. These dogs can
   turn into fear-biters.
   Indications of friendliness: Ears relaxed or down. Tail _level_ with
   body, moderate to fast rate of waving. Approaches and sniffs. Watches
   you but averts eyes if you look at it too long. Play bows (front legs
   lay down but back legs are still standing).
   Indications of submissiveness: Ears down. Eyes constantly averted.
   Dribbles a little urine. Rolls over on back. Licks your chin or
   anything near. Tail tucked between legs.
   Indications of fearfulness: Ears down, eyes averted, tail tucked, runs
   away from you. Shivers in corner [some breeds shiver anyway]. Cringes
   or yelps at sudden movements.
   Indications of dominance/assertiveness: Ears erect or forward, tail up
   high and wagging stiffly [spitz type breeds can be difficult to
   ascertain between friendly wagging & assertive wagging]. Holds ground,
   stares at you. These are not _necessarily_ bad things. If the dog
   eventually approaches you and is friendly, then it's likely a
   reasonably self-confident, friendly dog. If it growls, then it's
   probably more aggressive.
   Indications of aggression: Growls at you with ears forward and a
   stiff-legged stance, tail still. Watchful and alert.
   Indications of a fear-biter: Growls or snaps at you, ears are folded
   flat back, posture is crouching or submissive even though it is
   growling or snapping.
   Some dogs appear totally disinterested. They don't respond one way or
   another to you. These dogs may be sick. They might be overstimulated
   or exhausted. Or they might just be very independent dogs. Some dogs
   are more independent and less overtly affectionate than others.
   Plan on making _repeated_ trips to whatever agency/person has the dog
   for repeated evaluations. Let the dog dictate the speed at which you
   progress through these steps. For very shy dogs, it may take a full
   week of visits to progress to step three. If the agency/person that
   has the dog will not allow you to remove the dog from its current
   environment for an evaluation, look elsewhere for a potential dog. It
   is important to get the dog away from its current environment as it
   may be very shy and timid there, by association, but carefree and
   wonderful when alone with you, like on a walk. The only way to tell is
   to remove the dog from the environment. Stated another way, you should
   eliminate the current environment the dog is in from any potential
   problems you may see with the dog. You will be able to tell by
   comparing its reactions in the original environment and when it it
   outside of it.
   The questions you ask during these steps are often a function of the
   environment in which the dog will be placed should you decide to adopt
   it. For example, if you have other dogs at home and the potential
   adoptee is housed with other dogs and seems to get along well with
   them, chances are better that you will be able to integrate the dog
   into your home, as opposed to a dog that is agressive towards other
   Implicit in these steps is asking the agency/person that has the dog
   for all information they have about the dogs background. Just a stray
   they picked up? Was it an abused dog? How did it come to be where it
   is? All of these things give you more information that can be used to
   evaluate the dog's personallity and suitability for adoption.
   When you evaluate the dog during these steps, look for any physicaly
   ailments as well. Lameness, shortness of breath, lethargy, and so on.
   Above all during these steps, evaluate the dog and how the dog reacts
   to you. It is important for you to feel confident that this is a dog
   that you can nurture and spend time with and enjoy, and that it will
   enrich your life. Do not feel bad if you must reject a potential
   adoptee. This is part of the adoption process, and it is important for
   you both to get off on the right foot.
   If you decide to adopt the dog, you should always take it directly to
   the vet before you even take it home. If there is something seriously
   wrong with the dog, you want to find out before you've had the dog
   long enough to form an attachment to it.
What If I Already Have Pets?

   Select a dog that is, to the best of your knowledge, accustomed to
   other dogs (i.e., one that is socialized with other dogs). Also, pick
   the opposite sex dog than the one you currently have, if possible.
   Hopefully, you know your current dog well enough to know how well it
   gets along with other dogs. If it is a naturally submissive dog when
   around other dogs, it probably does not matter too much whether the
   adoptee tends toward submissive or dominant (but not _too_ dominant).
   However, if your current dog is a dominant dog, a dog that has been
   around you for a long time, or a male dog (generally speaking), your
   best bet is a dog that tends towards the submissive and is _smaller_
   than your current dog (like a small, quiet, female). Size is can be
   important as your established dog may feel threatened by a newcomer
   that is larger than he or she.
   Introduce your established dog and the new addition in a neutral
   place, like a park or a home that is new to both animals. Both dogs
   should be on a leash. If your current dog is obediance trained, a
   down/stay is in order. Allow them to sniff one another and encourage
   play, discourage agression. Should your adoptee show agression,
   forcibly place the dog in a submissive posture and hold it there (as
   in an alpha roll). Then allow your established dog to come and sniff
   the new dog. What this does is diffuse a potentially violent situation
   by forcing the new dog to be submissive to your established dog. The
   new dog learns to trust the established dog by realizing that the
   established dog is not going to eat him, and your established dog
   learns that the new dog is submissive to him. This fosters trust
   amongst the two animals. This may not be necessary, but sometimes it
   is. By all means, if the dogs want to play, _let them_. In fact,
   encourage them, and don't interfere unless you feel you must.
   At home, the first thing you must do is establish a spot for each dog
   that is physically separated from each other. Kennels, crates, or even
   different rooms. Never, never, never feed the dogs together. _always_
   feed the dogs simultaneously in these physically seperated areas (if
   in different rooms, close the doors while the dogs eat). If you must
   free-feed, the dogs should be placed in their respective areas for the
   entire time each one's food is down. Also use these areas for
   "time-outs" when the dogs are misbehaving.
   The second thing that is required is that you must be sure to spend
   quality time with your established dog, and just with him. You may
   even need to increase the frequency of normal activities you would do
   with your established dog. This helps keep your established dog from
   feeling misplaced by the newcomer.
   Finally, be sure and do activities with both dogs. This encourages the
   dogs to do fun things together, as well as fostering pack cohesion and
   Remember, the general rule of thumb is to make sure that both dogs
   realize you are alpha. They will need to work out their own hierarchy
   among themselves, but they must understand that you are on top and you
   are in charge.
   With cats, you should make one room be cat accessible only. The
   easiest way to do this is to put up a barrier in the doorway. As long
   as your dog does not want to kill the cat(s), they will eventually
   adjust. Make it very clear to your dog that it is not to chase cats --
   correct it for even looking at the cat -- and things should work out.
   Keep in mind that cats can take up to six months to adjust to a new
   dog, even a friendly one. Patience.
Acclimatizing Your Dog To A New Home

   The first thing you should do is take your dog out to the yard where
   you expect it to eliminate. If possible, get the dog to eliminate
   there. If not, take it inside and give it some water. Tour your house
   and go back outside again. It should eliminate this time.
   Take care to enter through doors before the dog does. When you feed
   it, be sure you've already had your food, or eat some tidbit first.
   You want to tell your dog, without fanfare or histrionics, that you're
   in charge here. This puts many dogs at ease since they won't have to
   wonder who the alpha is.
   The dog should sleep in the same room with you, but not on the bed.
   You should either use a crate, or a sleeping pad/towel, or tie it to a
   bed post, although the crate is best.
   Try and get into a predictable routine as soon as possible. Dogs
   prefer a routine, and you will help your new dog settle in more
   quickly by adhering to some routine. Examples: feeding at the same
   times, walking at the same time, going to work and returning at the
   same times.
   Start right away with expected behaviors. If you don't want the dog on
   the furniture, then don't let it on them from day one. Don't fall into
   the common trap of thinking that the dog is moping and should be given
   more leeway initially. If you expect good behavior matter-of-factly
   from the beginning, you'll have less trouble in the long run.
   If the dog appears to be moping, leave it be but stay nearby. Don't
   let it mope too long -- distract it with a walk or a bit of playing.
Crate Training An Older Dog

   You should take some effort to crate train your new dog, if it is not
   already so trained. There are several benefits: if you have to
   housetrain it, a crate is most helpful; a crate gives your dog a place
   of its own which helps the adjustment period; and it gives you a means
   to train it toward being left in your house all day.
   Before a dog is locked into a crate, the dog must be as comfortable
   with it as possible. If a dog is put into a crate while it is afraid
   of the crate, the dog's fear may build while inside and the resulting
   trauma may be impossible to overcome.
   To make a dog comfortable, the dog must first learn not to fear it,
   and then to like it. To alleviate fear, the following things can be
     * Put treats or food into the crate for the dog. Start near the
       mouth of the crate, and then move the treats farther inside each
     * Leave the door off the crate or tie it back at first. The door can
       swing shut on the dog while the dog's head is in the crate,
       startling the dog with the contact and the strange sound.
     * Possibly get the dog used to part of the crate. For instance, take
       the top half of the crate off and use all these tricks to get the
       dog used to that alone, then repeat the process with the whole
     * If the crate is big enough, get in yourself. (seriously!)
     * Get the dog excited about a toy and throw it in the crate for the
       dog to chase.
     * Think of the crate as a good thing yourself. Dogs are good at
       reading their master's attitudes. Never (ever) use the crate as a
     * Once the dog will go into the crate, feed the dog its meals in the
     * If the dog seems particularly averse to the crate, try a different
       type of crate (eg, instead of a wire mesh, try the plastic kind or
   Once the dog is unafraid of the crate, put the dog inside and close
   the door. Immediately lavish the dog with praise and food for a short
   time, then let the dog out. Do not, at this time, leave the dog alone
   in the crate, or the dog will associate the crate with your leaving.
   Also, before the dog is fully acclimated, it may grow panicky if left
   in the crate long.
   Finally, put the dog inside for progressively longer periods of time,
   always praising the dog as it goes in, and perhaps giving treats.
Training Your Dog

   The old adage that you "can't teach an old dog new tricks" is patently
   false. Your dog may in fact be easier to teach than a young puppy
   since the attention span will be better.
   You should definitely look up obedience training in your area and
   enroll yourselves. You will probably both enjoy yourselves quite a
   bit, and it's a good way to build a strong relationship with your new
   In addition, it is important to get the dog into obedience not just to
   teach the dog good maners, but to get the dog socialized for other dog
   and people. Plus, it will give the dog something to do, which is often
   very benificial with older adopted dogs.
   Sometimes dogs have trouble with housetraining when they are first
   placed. There are a number of reasons: they may never have been
   properly taught. Many dogs wind up in the shelter because their owners
   didn't know how to teach dogs correct elimination habits. Perhaps they
   have spent much of their lives outside or in kennels. Such dogs may
   not understand that elimination is reserved for outside.
   You should train these dogs exactly like you would a puppy, with the
   big difference that they will catch on much more quickly, being adult
   and having a full set of bladder muscles. Confine them to a crate or
   otherwise watch them; take them outside regularly to eliminate. You
   might try using a phrase such as "Do it" or "Go potty" -- especially
   if your dog is a retired show dog, it may already understand this.
   Patience is your best ally -- keep your dog's schedule consistent
   until you're sure it understands where you expect it to go.
   _Don't_ punish a dog for going inside. You will get much better
   results much more quickly if you anticipate its needs and have it go
   outside, to your praise, each time. In fact, it is generally your
   fault if the dog eliminated inside rather than the dog's.
   You should note that some aggressive male dogs may mark your entire
   house in an attempt to claim the house as his territory. You should
   first get him neutered, and then, since such aggression is likely to
   be a problem in other areas (such as growling when you approach his
   food), you should consult a book such as Evans' _People, Pooches, and
   Some dogs urinate submissively. If it is lying down, even on its back,
   when it urinates, this is _not_ a housetraining problem. This dog
   needs work to raise its self-esteem. For now, avoid the problem by
   toning down your approach to the dog. If it is urinating submissively
   when you come home, make your arrival much less exciting. Don't look
   at it for a few minutes, then just talk to it. Finally, scratch it a
   bit on its chest (petting it on the head is very dominant). Avoid
   bending at the waist over your dog. Squat instead.
   In the long term, to deal with the problem of a too submissive dog,
   you will have to teach it confidence and help it build up self esteem.
   A good way to to do this is to some obedience training, though take
   care to use motivational methods with little or no corrections (try
   _Communicating with your Dog_ by Ted Baer for some good hints). Be
   unstinting in your approval when the dog does something right.
Neutering An Older Dog

   Many people wonder if getting an older dog (of either sex) neutered
   poses a problem for the dog. The answer is that it doesn't. Your male
   dog will adjust easily to being neutered -- in fact he may well behave
   as if he had never been neutered. The most likely change in behavior
   is reduced aggression toward other male dogs. Your bitch will not have
   any problems with being neutered either. Unfortunately, she may not
   derive the health benefits of early neutering if she has already had
   more than two estrus periods or is over two years of age before being
   spayed. This means that you should be sure your vet checks her for
   mammary cancers at each checkup even though she is spayed.
   As a general rule, _all_ rescued dogs should be neutered. There are
   some special circumstances, such as rescuing a dog of a known breeding
   and returning it to its breeder, but these are extremely rare
   ocassions and not likely to happen to the average dog-adopter.
   Neutering an older dog of either sex will not hurt it at all.
Introducing New Things or Overcoming Dislikes

   Your new dog may never have been, or actively dislike being, bathed,
   groomed, nail-clipped. You will have to proceed slowly and with
   patience. Take baby steps. Your dog hates being brushed? Start out
   with a warm wet washcloth and rub in short lick-like strokes until the
   dog relaxes, then stop. Repeat this and eventually introduce a short
   bit of brushing, until the dog relaxes (always end on a positive
   note). Eventually the dog will accept being brushed. You can do the
   same technique with almost anything else. With clipping nails, first
   start with the goal of getting the dog to accept your handling of it's
   paws. Then accustom it to having its toes massaged & handled. Then to
   having its nails flexed and handled. In the meantime, carry around the
   clippers so that the dog learns to ignore them. When you actually
   start to clip the nails, clip off a teeny piece off of _one nail_ and
   put the clippers away. Later on, do another nail. When the dog accepts
   this quietly, do _two_ nails, and so on.
   If you find out that your dog is afraid of something, remove it from
   its environment, intially. Plan out how you want to deal with it, what
   steps and increments you want to take. Then slowly work on it. Work on
   one thing at a time to reduce stress on your dog. By doing it this
   way, you will build up the dog's self confidence and trust in you.
    Your New Dog FAQ
    Cindy Tittle Moore,
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Last Update March 27 2014 @ 02:11 PM