The first few days that your new dog is at home with you are the ones that set the tone for your whole relationship. Although you may want to grant your dog the freedom of the house following their time in a shelter, it’s definitely not the way forward. A dog won’t understand why first night cuddles on the sofa aren’t a permanent thing if you would prefer him to stay in his bed, and they certainly won’t understand why, when they cry the first night and you let them on your bed, that this isn’t the way it will be for the rest of their life with you.
If you are looking for advice on house-training or on fearful dogs, you will find further information on the site. Please bear in mind that many dogs, even dogs who have lived in a home all their life and spent less than an hour at the refuge, can have a bit of an issue with house-training and knowing where to go. Some dogs may have one or two accidents and others may be stubborn, especially if you have other dogs. Even if you are sure you are getting a dog who has been house-trained, a change of circumstance can mean a change of bladder habits and it is well worth a read as a dog’s cleanliness depends on you even before you come in through the door.
Even if you do not think you are getting a fearful dog, a change in circumstances can be very disorientating. Slipped collars and dogs who dash out of cars can cause owners no end of worry and there are many dogs who are never found again. Reading the article about fearful dogs can be a lifesaver, literally. A sliplead, harness and supervision at all times in the garden for the first few days can make all the difference.
Many dogs are subjected to new experiences and you may find that they have new fears.
Some of the things dogs may not have experience include:
- Being indoors. Many dogs in France live outside all year around. A house can represent a small, enclosed, unfamiliar space and although you think that your new dog will love being cosied up with you, a house can be terrifying if you have never been in one, or, indeed, if you have spent your life being kicked out of one. If you have other animals inside, this fear can be very intense indeed.
- The dark. Many refuge dogs are left alone when the dark comes, and they may come to associate it with abandonment or loneliness. Do not be surprised if your new dog shows no desire whatsoever to go out at night. This can even lead to puddles, so make sure it’s not a fear of the dark rather than stubborn resistance to house-training.
- Windows and patios. Houses in France may have French windows, but most rural houses do not. Seeing their reflection for the first time can be disorientating, and it can be hard for some dogs who have never had a head-first experience with double glazing. Barking at their own reflection, or even wagging, are very common, as are accidental collisions. Make sure you introduce your dog carefully to low glass and mirrors!
- Stairs. Many houses in France are single-storey, or owners have never permitted dogs upstairs. It may take your new dog a while to get used to going up and down stairs. Something to bear in mind is that going up is one thing, but coming down is another altogether and if you get your 50kg dog up the stairs, you may be faced with the task of carrying him down.
- Fireworks and thunder. These are standard fears for many dogs but seem to be worse for ex-shelter dogs. Don’t leave your dog out in storms or you may find that they’ve done a runner. If you can see from the weather that storms are predicted, try to make sure you are home with your pet and that you can gauge their reactions before you leave them home alone.
- Being on their own. Unless you have adopted a breed that is valued for its independence, you may find that your new rescue pet is terrified of being alone. This may be because they were abandoned before, or because they are left at the refuge, but it can also be because many French dogs are bred for sociability and being able to be part of a pack. Being isolated from the pack can be an overwhelming experience.
- Fear of the vet. Some dogs arrive in terrible conditions and are quickly seen by the vet for the first time in their life. Others meet the vet for the first time when they have an injection. Needless to say, the first vet experience for many refuge dogs is a painful one, even if the vet is very experienced and gentle. Most arrive and are in a high state of anxiety and fear. Seeing the vet can be the first real interaction they’ve had and it is not always pleasant. Please make sure you are aware of your dog’s behaviour round vets and don’t be afraid to take a muzzle and a friend if necessary. This isn’t a shelter-dog special phobia: many dogs have a fear of the vet. If it takes four of you to hold a muzzled dog down to clip its nails, don’t be too alarmed. Better to have too many hands than too few when your first vet visit is due. You can also ask the shelter staff who will have certainly accompanied your dog on their vet trips.
- Fear of men. Many people assume that because a dog is afraid of men that they have been beaten by a man. This is not strictly true. Dogs rely on seeing our faces and the taller you are, the harder it is to see what you’re feeling. They just might never have had much experience of tall people and so it causes them alarm. My own dogs don’t meet many men and they are much more shouty about men than they are about women. A gentle woman of my height can be an absolute stranger and yet she will be greeted much more gently than a man who is much taller. My dog Heston barks at tall men. He has never been abused by a tall man, or even had a mildly negative experience: it’s just lack of socialisation with them.
- Fear of children. Again, this is less than they have been abused by children and more that they have never met children. Children are freaky, unpredictable things to some dogs. They have moving parts that do different things than adults do – all those swinging limbs and uncoordinated feet! There are hands that pull, or pet weirdly, faces right at their level… it can be a dog’s worst nightmare.
- Fear of weird objects. Brooms, hoovers and washing machines are usual culprits: moving, noisy things that don’t make sense to dogs. This isn’t always the case and you may find your dog barking at a sieve, a snowman or a stone cross. Heston has barked at all of these things. He spent five minutes having an argument with a fertiliser sack once.
Gentle desensitisation is usually the key to overcoming most of these fears, but you will not be chastised for avoiding them completely if needs be. Sometimes, if it’s not necessary that your dog get used to stairs or snowmen, why bother? On the other hand, men and children are probably going to be things your dog comes into contact with and it will be worthwhile desensitising them to these things.