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Bringing a New Adult Dog Home

Remember the saying: "You never get a second chance to make a first impression"? The idea works with dogs, too. No matter how happy you are to bring him home, no matter how much you want to make up for the shabby way he was treated before you got him, start him off right from the beginning. Decide what the house rules are and stick to them, for the first couple of months, at least. Let him know that even though you're the nicest person on earth and the best human he could ever hope to find, your house does have rules, and he must follow them.

Be what dog trainer Carol Lea Benjamin calls a benevolent alpha — a nice boss, but still a boss. Your dog will understand, respect, and love you for being his leader — it's the way dogs are. If you're not in charge, your dog will be. No democracies here.

Establish a routine

Most adult dogs start feeling comfortable in their new homes in about a month. You can do a few things to help him understand that yours is his new home and he is a loved member of his new family, but model your leadership in front of him. Here are a few exercises to try:

  • Leash-bonding. For an hour each night, attach your dog's leash to your belt and go about your business with the other end snapped to the dog's collar. Don't call him along with you and keep your hands off the leash. Just move about your house as you normally would — putting dishes in the dishwasher, paying bills, putting in a load of wash. Don't pay the dog much mind — just let your body weight remind him that he'd better go with you. The payoff is that he learns to pay attention to where you are and to think you and what you're doing are significant.

  • Sit for what you want. Your dog should get in the habit of sitting for the good things. Ask him to "Sit" — and praise him when he does — before putting down his food dish, before petting him, and before letting him walk out the door on a walk. He'll start to think all good things come from you, but only when he behaves as you wish.

  • People first. In the dog world the higher-ranking animal goes first. You want that higher ranking animal to be you. So your dog should eat after you do, and he should walk out a door after you do. Never let him run past you — out of a car, into your yard, or into the park — as if he owns the joint. He doesn't. It's that simple.

  • People food, dog food. Don't share your meals with your dog, and don't add your table scraps to his. If you share, you have no one to blame but yourself for his begging.

  • People bed, dog bed. Get your dog a comfortable bed or crate and make him sleep in it. Let him sleep in your room so he can be near you. Your bed is the most prime piece of real estate in his world, and it should be yours alone. He should have access with your permission only.

"Oh, c'mon!" you're saying, "who died and made you a drill sergeant? I want to spoil my dog!" Sure. Later - when your dog has impeccable house manners and you have nothing to complain about. Can your dogs sleep on the bed? You bet! But they shouldn't come up without permission and they should know it's a privilege, not a right. Can you share your carrots sticks with them? Of course! But they should sit for them, every one. And when you tell them you're done sharing and to go to their beds, they should. Set the ground rules early and stick to them fairly and consistently. You can always loosen up, but tightening up is awfully hard after your dog's out of control.

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