Saturday, April 2, 2011

Keeping Dogs 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:

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. Do not let children walk the dog for the first several weeks. A dog who tries to bolt is STRONG and QUICK.

5. 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.

6. 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!

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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

The above information may be copied and/or circulated freely as long as this blog is cited as the source.


Dom said...

Good tips :)

Del said...

This is such GREAT INFORMATION!! I wanted everyone to read it so I've sent anyone who reads Turtle Gardens blog your way. Thank you so much for writing it! WE all need this refreshes once in awhile!

cynda said...

Jean - great article, well-written,
such simple and sensible tips we
all can use. Thank-you!

Anonymous said...

What a great post - I wish every shelter/rescue (or even just new to your home) dog came with your article attached to their appropriate collar/harness....there would be far fewer lost dogs.

And it is a temptation to "show off" your new canine, but not worth it. They are, as you say, so better off getting used to their surroundings/neighborhood. For as long as it takes.