You puppy-proofed your home, signed the adoption paperwork, overloaded on puppy pics, and purchased just about one too many doggie toys. It's official: You're ready to be a dog owner.
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A dog can make for a remarkable, life-long companion, but with over 3.3 million entering the shelter every year, not all canines get the best start to life. When you adopt a pooch into your family, she may bring along some of her fears, insecurities or bad habits from her past. But not to worry! You and your furry friend can overcome these initial obstacles and have a wonderful, tail-wagging time together.
Here are some tips to instill confidence into your new buddy so you can start off on the right paw.
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Take your time with a fearful dog
Always proceed slowly and with caution when your dog is showing signs of fear. You are both in a new situation and must take your time to acclimate to each other. Never force anything, and if need be, seek professional help from a dog trainer or your veterinarian for further advice. Let your pup sniff your hand before you approach her for petting, and get down on the floor with your dog so as not to intimidate. A human towering over her can make a dog feel unsafe.
Routine can help with behavior modification
Bouncing from shelter to shelter makes it hard for a dog to relax and settle in with their new family members. Thusly, setting a routine for your new dog is crucial for her well being and sense of security, especially in these first few months. Make sure to establish consistent meal, walk, play and bed times, so that your new pup has a sense of predictability throughout her day and a chance to build lasting trust within her new home.
Dog training with a crate
In addition to being a great potty training tool, the crate can reduce any lingering anxiety by functioning as a safe haven to which your dog can retreat. Make your dog's crate the ultimate crib and fill it with blankets, toys, treats, chews, and an old shirt or two: your dog will take comfort in having your scent close by.
READ MORE: Why Would a Dog Have Fear In a Certain Room?
According to ASPCA, crate training may or may not be the best solution for dogs with severe separation anxiety. Test it out when you are home with your pooch. Other options include play pens, or closing off a smaller room with a baby gate.
Chew, baby, chew
While different dogs have different preferences, at times, a nice bully stick or rawhide can do wonders for an anxious dog (and it can keep them busy for hours at a time). Make sure to be present and monitor when your dog is chewing. Some dogs chew more quickly than others or have food allergies, and you will want to keep a watchful eye.
Food is love
The way to a person's heart is through their stomach, so why should it be any different for your dog? If there is anyone in the household that your pooch is a little iffy with, try having this person feed them at meal times to establish them as nurturing and the keeper of "the good stuff." Your pet may be fearful to eat on his own, so be sure to set up a safe, quiet space for him to chow down. If your pet is hesitant to eat, you can (carefully) try hand-feeding him until he has the confidence to dig in on his own!
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All the treats
Cookies make everything better, right? When welcoming a new dog to your family, you can never have too many treats. You will start making good memories and associations, and can even get a head start on your training! Training a fearful dog isn't all that much different than training any other dog . . . they will eventually respond to praise and things they like, such as treats.
A dog's fear may not seem rational. They may be afraid to make eye contact. Their fearful behavior may include lunging, which can look like aggressive behavior. Living with a fearful dog means that any thing can become a scary thing: thunderstorms, any loud noises, other adult dogs, unfamiliar people, or just about anything really. A visit to the dog park or any kind of normal socialization can become a stressful situation. If you think you have a frightened dog, understand canine behavior and start slowly reinforcing the dog's confidence through positive reinforcement, treats, and playtime.
Sit! Stay. Kisses!