Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Dogs: Every Day is a Training Day

Seems whenever I go out to do a photo shoot these days, I'm coming home with a lot on my mind. It happened the other night after a great session with a border collie and her mom. Our rescue team got involved because this super nice young woman adopted a 2 year old on the promise of several things which have not turned out exactly how they were presented. Please note: I didn't say the people lied. More on that later. After spending a good 30+ minutes with her and the other ladies from the rescue team, it brought back memories of all three of my own rescues.
It's often a nightmare when a dog goes into a new setting. It has been for all three of mine.  Fights, digging, a torn up lawn, separation anxiety, inability to walk on a leash, won't stay in kennel, etc. And, the worst of all is that they don't play together at all. When I see other dogs being playful I am seriously jealous. I've had to accept that my dogs are not the playing kind. Having said that, they have learned to adjust to the pack but it took a lot of work, some blood on the floor, flying fur, and a ton of training.

Here's the deal:  RESCUED DOGS NEED AN ADJUSTMENT PERIOD. Sorry, I didn't mean to yell just now. I simply cannot emphasize it enough. Nobody tells you this at the shelter or from the ad you saw on Craigslist. Many releasing shelters are just so happy to make a space for the next one that the virtual door almost hits you in the hiney. And, private adopters are usually happy their Fluffy got a new home. Please don't get me wrong. This is not a put down of shelters or people who need to rehome their dogs. Not at all. They are not in the business of training you or your dog. That's up to you.

I've been to a lot of training over the course of 30+ years. You'd think I'd know more but I only know a fraction of what there is to learn about dogs and their behavior. Every time I go out with my dogs to walk or play, I am learning something about them and they about me.  Every day is training day. Let me say that again. EVERY DAY IS A TRAINING DAY.
So, let's say you pick up your rescue. You've been given a list of things this dog will do and won't do. The owner has tried their best to put their dog's best paw forward (and sometimes not). While it's true that some releasing owners may tell lies about their dog's behavior, I'm willing to bet that much of the bad behavior you'll see is a reaction to stress.
Go with me here: Think about what it would be like to board a plane with your favorite people and somewhere mid-flight your people disappear into thin air. You get off that plane in a foreign country by yourself, where you don't speak the language, you don't know the smells, you are not familiar with the customs and culture. NOTHING is familiar to you. Please. Let this sink in for a minute. This is what it's like for your rescued dog.
The best thing I've learned in all my training classes was to give my rescue dog at least 6 months. That trainer said in 6 months I'd have a different dog.  Thank dog she said that to me. It isn't that I would have given up on my K9. What that allowed me to do is stand back and see this dog for the experience she was having. I needed to convey that she was going to be with me forever, no matter what.  And you know what? I needed to know that for myself. I do not give up. I have embraced this idea with each of my three girls.
So, I'd love for you to look at your dog(s) and think about what I've said here. Did they have an adjustment period? Are they different today than they were a day ago, a month ago, a year ago? What have you done to assure them you will never give up on them? Have you given up some of your free time and dollars to train them? Have you talked to other dog people to get ideas and ask for help?

Every day is a training day. Say it with me.
love, susan



  1. Not every day ... Every moment. It's like raising a kid. You don't have training sessions for learning to say please - they get reminded every time they ask for something.

    The mistake I see people make is, they're so happy to have a new dog, they know their home is better than the shelter (or at least as good as the foster), they know they're the answer to the dog's problems ... but as you say, they forget that the DOG doesn't know any of this! From the dog's point of view it's just another case of "Oh no - now what?"

    So the dog is hyper ... and they figure it needs more exercise, longer walks, lots of energetic play, and the more they do that the more wound up the dog gets. The dog seems anxious, so they cuddle it and talk to it in a soothing voice, essentially rewarding the anxious behavior. The dog breaks obvious rules, and they think, "It's okay, I'll give her time to settle in."

    Honestly? What a dog needs when it first arrives in your home - and this applies, to at least some extent, to ALL dogs - is a nice long stretch of absolutely nothing. I tell new adopters not to take the dog out of their yard for at least a week, longer if the dog is anxious. If they don't have a yard, I tell them to take the exact same walk every time they go for a potty break - no dog parks - just a calm, boring walk and then back home. Inside the house, when the dog is anxious or wound up, it needs crate time with something good to chew. If the dog is relaxed in the crate, leave the door open - but be sure she knows that it's her personal safe space. And lastly, dial down the attention! Being the focus of attention is incredibly stimulating to a dog, and when they're surrounded by strangers it's stressful. Just get on with your life, calmly correct undesired behaviors, and ignore them unless they ask for attention.

    1. YES!!! Every moment! Thanks for chiming in, Val. I still have work to do with my youngest and the kennel thing. I take very bit of information I can gather and use it.


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