Over the years, I’ve taken in a number of adult dogs who had, either definitely or most likely, never lived in a house. While every dog is an individual and every home environment is different (number and types of other pets, number and ages of people, absence or presence of yard, etc.), there are some commonalities I’ve observed with these dogs that I felt were worth sharing. It might help to better prepare someone getting ready to welcome one of these dogs home and some of these observations apply to rescue dogs in general so hopefully will be useful.
Let’s start with walking in the front door. It sounds simple enough but for dogs who have never been inside a house, it isn’t. If you have a yard and weather permits, I suggest introducing the new dog to the yard first. Make your introductions to your other dogs there as well, after the new dog has had a chance to be on his own (with you) for a bit. Then leash the new dog and walk him to a door he will be using regularly. Expect some hesitancy when it comes to going inside and if that happens, stop and reassure the dog that everything is ok. Wait until he’s ready to walk in on his own as opposed to carrying him or otherwise forcing the issue. First impressions are important here to my mind.
(Sidenote: it’s not unusual for these dogs to go the hinged side of the door when waiting to go out. They soon work out which side opens, although we had one dog that never quite caught on to the concept.)
The next thing I want to mention is sleep. The new dog will probably be doing a lot of that, starting pretty quickly. He may be exhausted from running loose for an extended period or from barking and anxiety on the end of a chain or whatever he had been up to in the time before you got him. Sleep is restorative and also a good coping mechanism for the radical upheaval the dog is experiencing. Don’t be alarmed at what seems like excessive sleeping at first. But do seek prompt veterinary care if the dog appears malnourished, weak or otherwise unhealthy – that’s different than the kind of sleep I’m referring to here.
It’s also reasonable to expect the new dog not to reveal his personality right away. He’ll be in keep-your-head-down-and-don’t-make-waves mode at first. He is likely to be very polite, follow you around the house and seek reassurance from you when he’s unsure about another dog barking, a strange noise or whatever else. Be generous with comfort and don’t worry that you will “spoil” him. His life has been upended and he doesn’t know what to make of this current phase.
Speaking of strange noises, there will be many. Try to introduce them over a period of days. That is, don’t vacuum the house, run the washer and dryer, use the blender and sample new ringtones on your cell all on the first night. Television alone is a big one as it contains all the sounds including barking, shouting, whistling and many sounds the new dog is guaranteed to have never heard before – e.g. the sound of a tricorder on Star Trek The Original Series.
The new dog probably won’t know what toys are so don’t be disappointed if you show him his toy box and he ignores it. Don’t start squeaking all the squeakers and tossing stuffed animals to him the way you might with a puppy. You’ll just hit him in the face and then feel bad. Just remind him periodically the toys are there and redirect him to a toy when he chews on something inappropriate. Even though adult dogs are past the teething stage, chewing does help relieve anxiety and he can’t tell the difference between his toys and a throw rug yet.
House training: there will be accidents, maybe a small number, maybe a well gee I never liked that carpet anyway number. We’ve had an array of experiences in this area, similar to training any new puppy or adult dog. But most of our previously outdoor or kennel dogs have tended to pick up the idea rather quickly. One did not, to the degree that she would hold it while outside and wait until she got back to the carpet to pee. My vet wondered if she had lived in a beagle box with a piece of carpet inside which she used as a potty area. Who knows? But eventually, she figured it out.
We humans have a natural curiosity about a new dog’s previous life and a tendency to assume the worst. I often read stories from people stating they can tell their new dog was abused because of X, Y, and Z but in most cases, we just don’t know what the dog’s history is and life tends to be shades of grey layered in a complex pattern anyway. The good thing is that it really doesn’t matter. What matters is now – he’s being taken care of, fed and loved now. That’s what matters most to the new dog and that’s where I try to keep my focus. I do try to find out any history I can, mainly for the purpose of medical care (for example, whether the previous owner gave heartworm medicine). But I take any history provided with a grain of salt. If someone tells me they got the dog vaccinated but “lost the records”, I’m going to get the dog vaccinated. Again, it’s often the case that these dogs come with no known history at all so you may as well both start fresh.
As the new dog begins to adjust and gain confidence, he will start to emerge from his shell. He will sleep less, explore the house more, fight back when another dog tries to take something away from him and generally act more like an average dog. Or as we like to call it here, the end of the honeymoon. But it’s a good thing because it’s indicative of his comfort level and the bond forming between you. Remain patient as he tries out various undesirable behaviors, redirect as appropriate and continue to offer reassurance when he needs it.
This post isn’t meant to address every issue you will encounter when bringing a previously outdoor or kennel dog into your home. I hope that readers who’ve gone through this will share some of their experiences in the comments to enrich the knowledge base. Any other related comments/questions are welcome, as always.