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Adopting my dog was like winning the lottery.

About Adopting

A Voice4Paws’ goal for each adoptable dog is to find the perfect forever home. We carefully screen prospective guardians and always start by “Fostering to Adopt.”

Understanding Your Rescued Dog

These days, there are many ways for dog lovers to obtain dogs. One of these options is adopting a rescued dog.

Some dogs are unfortunate in that, for different reasons, they lose their homes and the owners, with whom they have bonded.  Some are given away, some are rescued from irresponsible owners, and some get dropped off at shelters such as the SPCA, or get lost and sent to kill shelters.

Many dogs stay at no-kill shelters for months and months and some live with foster parents until they are adopted.  (Once they come into our care, A Voice4Paws only uses foster homes to shelter dogs awaiting their forever homes.) Whichever way they end up, these dogs go through a major emotional roller coaster while they are being re-homed.  In spite of the efforts of shelter workers or volunteer fosters doing what they can to prepare and make the dogs adoptable, they still may have some difficulties.

In many cases, dogs are released to rescue groups or foster parents due to lack of space in the shelters. The problem that these well-meaning groups are facing is that some dogs start misbehaving after few days or a few weeks living with foster parents.

Foster homes are one of the key aspects in the adoption process. Without them, dogs may not have the chance to be re-homed. Foster homes are hard to find and have a very difficult duty on their hands. The foster home acts as a bridge between dog’s past and future as a first-hand observer.

Most foster parents are dog lovers and are willing to help, but loving dogs is not enough for the role they have taken on. They have to remember one crucial point before taking this role: the dogs that they foster are not regular dogs and should not be treated simply like any other dog.

In general, whether you are fostering or adopting a dog, you have to realize and be prepared to accept the fact that dogs in transition have some emotional and behavioral issues. They may exhibit behaviours right away or later, but often it is just a matter of time.

To explain this more clearly, we need to see the situation from two perspectives: the dogs that are being adopted or fostered, and the humans, who are either adopting or fostering the dogs.


Dog’s aspect

First, let’s look at it from the dog’s point of view.

Due to whatever they had to go through, these dogs may not be mentally stable: they have not had a regular lifestyle or a healthy routine. Their lives have been filled with stress and instability. Even when some shelters try to provide a good life for them, it is still not their home. They often are kept in a kennel or in small rooms on concrete floors—an environment made even more stressful by the presence of other dogs who are as stressed as they are. They bark, growl, shiver, and are not happy.

This is not a healthy environment, even for a short period.  Any dog or any person as a matter of fact, will not be normal after what many go through in the shelters. In the odd case, the dogs may have been given good food, they may have been walked in the parks, the staff may have pampered them, but their mindset has not been stable.

Dogs–whether they know it or not–are Pavlovian.  That is, if a hungry dog is fed at a time it is experiencing a particular emotion, the dog can associate food with that emotion.  If fed when sad, the mindset becomes sad = food.  If fed when angry, it becomes anger = food.  They relate the food to the feeling that they experience.  If this procedure is repeated over and over again it creates a negative experience with the food that eventually could make the dog exhibit food aggression or food protection or in extreme cases the dog may shut down and not be interested in food at all.

There are many other scenarios that can happen at the shelters and the staff may or may not pick up on these behaviours. The fact is, dogs experiencing confusion and stress, learn to deal with them in their own ways – most likely not the right ways. This causes them to become unstable.  Some will show immediate signs, but other canine stress-coping mechanisms may not be observed.

This is why it is very important to treat all dogs consistently, regardless of their past, where they come from, or the duration of their “trauma”.

To gain self-confidence, dogs need to be around people who are balanced leaders and who provide a routine. They need to start becoming balanced dogs: a dog that has self-confidence is calm and stable, social with people, other animals and objects. In order for dogs to be balanced, their daily needs must be fulfilled.


Dogs’ needs

These needs are different than daily essentials, which are water, food and shelter. Needs are the elements that provide a natural, healthy structure for dogs to live in.

All dogs need five basic, common needs to be fulfilled.  They are:

  1. Exercise (Preferably in the morning)
    Start the day with walking, hiking, running or jogging. Anything that will allow the dog to travel and burn pent-up energy.  Exercise is an excellent way of releasing stress, anxiety and negative emotions. Remember a tired dog is a good dog.
  2. Training (Throughout the day)
    Try to re-establish the rules by starting with the basics. Practice the basic commands like: sit, come, stay… and move on to any other familiar commands. This will allow you and the dog to bond; will establish you as the person in charge and will maintain the dog’s respect.
  3. Socialization (Throughout the day)
    Now that you have exercised and trained the dog, allow the dog to socialize with other dogs and people.  Include environment and objects such as: trees, cars, umbrellas, bicycles, etc. Socialization is training that is done one part   by you and the other part, by other dogs with whom your new dog is socializing.
  4. Care (In the evenings)
    After steps 1 to 3, now is a good time to do a daily physical check to look for any cuts and bruises on the dog; brush his or her coat, clean his or her ears and check teeth.
  5. Affection (At the end of the day)
    Since you are performing the daily physical check, it is the perfect time to share affection and spoil them with love now, rather than throughout the day.

You need to be able to satisfy these needs in this order to start building a healthy path for your dog’s future. It does not matter how old, how small or how low or high energy they are, dogs all have these needs which need to be filled in moderate amounts.


Human aspect

Now, let’s look at this from human’s point of view. Humans love to help these dogs. They feel sorry for them. They are ready to provide shelter, food and love for these dogs. Unfortunately these attributes are not enough to start a relationship with a dog that is mentally unstable.

Once you understand why you need to act and behave differently with rescued dogs, you have a better chance to start bonding. It is crucial to learn how dogs behave – especially rescued dogs.

Some foster homes or adopters have their own dogs and some don’t. This may or may not be an issue. Sometimes the new dog is compared to their own dog and the same behaviours are expected which is not fair.

You may believe that your dog[s] is balanced, so it should be fine to add another dog to your family, but unfortunately, in most cases your dog[s] are not balanced. Your dog[s] may seem and act as if he/she is balanced, but that is because there has been no other canine competition in your home.  Everything seems normal since your dog is used to the routine that you have created.  In this case if you add another dog that is emotionally unbalanced and weak, to your own pack of dog[s] (who may be unbalanced), you have the perfect ingredients for disaster.

You may also have other pets like cats or your own children or both, and you are thinking of bringing a rescue dog into your family. With all these beings in your home, it is no surprise that when you add an unbalanced dog, it creates some sort of problem for the dog as well as for your whole family. So, in order to have another dog in your family, you must balance your own family first so you are able to provide stability for an additional dog.

If you have a balanced family including balanced dog(s), your dog(s) will be able to tolerate and help a rescued dog. The best way your balanced dog would be able to help would be to simply ignore the new dog’s bad behaviours. That is how a balanced dog helps other unbalanced dogs. Your balanced dog basically is sending a message that he does not agree with the unbalanced energy so is going to ignore that behaviour rather than being sensitive or reactive to it.

Whether you are one of those people who have or do not have dogs of your own, you need to be the one who is balanced mentally and physically to be capable of helping the new dog.

It may be hard for you to believe, but you must understand and remember that a weak and unbalanced dog does not need to be showered with affection at first in order to be helped. It works fine in human world, but not in the animal world.

What these dogs have been missing, until you came into their lives, is routine and activities that will make them feel relaxed (the five basic common needs) no matter what they have been through.

Now, you must reassure them that their nightmare is over, that they are in good hands, can relax and trust your capability to give them what they are going to need.  If you start providing the five basic common needs as soon as you meet the dog and you do it on daily basis, you will not only have better success, but also, you will see a better behaving dog – one who is easy to deal with and one you are able to help.  Moreover, the dog is going to respect you and will be more responsive to your guidance.

Keep in mind whenever a person shares affection automatically, it reflects weak energy. When a person is weak, obviously s/he is not strong or firm enough to be able to help others. If you are weak the same as the dog you are planning to help, you are both on the same level and nobody is helping anyone. That is why it is NOT recommended to start showering a dog with affection as soon as you meet it.  The dog will not see you as a person who is strong enough to help.   The dog will see you as another weak energy animal the same as s/he is.   You will wonder why it is that when you try to help by asking the dog to listen and obey you, it will not listen and might even try to bite you. That is because you are at the same level it is or even lower than it is.

To be effective, you need to have a different mindset than dogs. They need you to be the one who is going to direct them to where they need to be going, which is forward. They don’t want to go back to the past or stay behind.

A touch of tough love should be the key to starting the relationship.


Other Dogs in the home

Another rule to remember is if you have dog of your own, allow it to meet the new dog outside your home, which is more neutral ground for both. You should walk them together on leash side by side. This way you are sending a message to both dogs that you are in control; you are the one in charge. It is easier for both dogs to be introduced this way rather than forcing your dog to accept the new dog in the home.  After you walk them, take them home with that mindset.  It is much easier for your dog to accept the new dog in its territory after being introduced outside.


Do’s and don’ts of dealing with rescued dogs

  • Do prepare yourself and your family before adopting or fostering a dog.
  • Do not start the relationship by sharing affection with the new dog.
  • Do take the new dog for a long walk.
  • Do make yourself available and capable of providing the five common needs of the dog.
  • Do make yourself be firm, confident and positive about what you are doing.
  • Do expect at least two weeks of adjustment time for the new dog and you to settle down.
  • Do not give up quickly. The new dog is as confused and anxious as you – even after few days.
  • Do not emotionally attach yourself to the new dog for the first two weeks, as the relationship may not work out even if you both have given it a fair try.  Also, that emotional attachment will prevent you from making the right decision.

Enjoy your time with your new dog.


Adapted from an article by Saro Boghozian, Jonah’s Ark Doggie Playcare & Training

Keeping Your Dog Safe in New Surroundings

These guidelines apply to the first several weeks of the dog’s relocation, and are specific to preventing lost dogs. They do not deal with other dog safety issues such as introductions to other animals, separation anxiety, aggression, or training. These steps are based on my own experience, reading, and reasoning. The timelines are minimum recommendations–very nervous dogs may need the process stretched out more slowly. I am not a dog trainer–just a person who has spent too many hours looking for too many lost dogs, and who feels sick and angry about the recent spate of dogs lost enroute or within a week of arriving at a new home.

In the past few weeks, an alarming number of BC dogs have become lost in unfamiliar areas. They bolted during transport or shortly after arrival at a new foster home, or within a week of being newly adopted.

A change of home or circumstances is stressful for any dog, and even a dog with a wonderfully calm temperament may suddenly bolt. Here are some guidelines that should be drilled into the minds of every potential foster or adoptive home or transporter:

  • Use a Martingale or Silverfoot training collar, or a harness with a double safety connection, properly fitted. Use it for life, not just for a week. Inspect it regularly for signs of damage, especially checking all clips, rings and fasteners. Make sure the leash is attached to the correct ring. Do not use a flat collar – a dog can back out of a flat collar in the blink of an eye. Do not use a metal choke chain as these can damage the trachea of a strong puller. And before you put that collar or harness on for the first time, attach an ID tag with a current phone number.
  • Keep BOTH hands firmly on the leash. While some trainers tell you not to wrap the leash around your wrist in case the dog bolts and breaks your wrist, I would (as another rescuer recently stated) much rather see a person break their wrist than a dog become lost or killed. A wrist mends; a dead dog doesn’t.
  • For at least the first month, assume that the dog IS going to bolt, given the chance – no matter how nicely your new dog walks on leash. Make sure you have both hands on the leash before opening a car door or opening a house door.
  • Do not let children walk the dog for the first several weeks. A dog who tries to bolt is STRONG and QUICK.
  • Make it clear to everybody in the house that they must put the martingale and leash on the dog before they answer a knock at the door or open it to grab the paper from the stoop. Put signs on the doors to remind them, and hang spare collars and leashes near every door. Keep the doors locked to help prevent people from coming in without first having someone inside confine the dog.
  • Spend the first 24-48 hours in your home with the dog. Your dog needs to become familiar with the smells of the house and the people in it. Your dog needs to start to figure out that this is his or her new pack. Take the dog for very short outings at quiet times of the day or evening – first just into your yard (on leash, even if you have a high fence!) or, if you don’t have a yard, just a couple of hundred feet in each direction from your apartment building.*

*Note: While this is a time for you and your dog to bond, you also need to help the dog know you are going to be reliable. From the first day home, begin doing graduated leaves – leaving the dog in the house for five minutes, five times on the first day, then ten minutes five times on the second day, then slowly increasing the time and decreasing the frequency until the dog is comfortable being left alone, secure in the knowledge that you will return. Confine the dog to a secure area (or a crate, if they are already crate trained) during this time – you don’t want them to slip through your legs and bolt when you re-enter the house!

  • Slowly increase the length of the walks over the first week or two, but always within your neighbourhood – first around the block, around two blocks, going the reverse direction, varying the route. You want the dog to become familiar with the sights, sounds, and smells of its own neighbourhood – that way if the dog should escape (because some burglar broke the window or because you had a heart attack and the dog slipped out as the paramedics came in – NOT because of your own carelessness!) he/she may be able to find the way home, or at least may stay in the area. Gradually expand the dog’s horizons and exposure to new situations.
  • As tempting as it is to want to show off your new pet or foster to all your friends, neighbours and relatives – DON’T. At least, not for the first week or so, and then just gradually, slowly, introduce the dog to new people and places. No matter how wonderful your new pet is, he or she has been through a stressful time – losing a family, possibly wandering loose, possibly staying in a shelter or rescue or foster home, and now another new situation and new people. Do not increase the dog’s confusion and anxiety – let the dog chill with you, become bonded to you, learn about his new home, and gain confidence before adding more new events to the dog’s life.
  • Don’t be lulled into complacency by the dog’s good behaviour. A newly placed dog often has a honeymoon period, where he/she seems to have settled in perfectly. Then, after a few weeks or more, the dog may begin testing you, and/or become more challenging in many ways. The dog you have three months from the time of adoption is seldom the dog you saw during the first week or two – don’t get complacent about the doors, leashes, collars, etc.

And always remember – a Martingale collar or harness are useless if there isn’t a firm hand holding onto the other end of the leash!

Keep dogs safe. Let’s not hear of any more recently moved and now lost dogs.


(c) JFB 2011

Adoptable Dogs

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