I still remember the excitement of our first family dog arriving. I was maybe 7 or 8 years old, and the family had decided to take on a guide dog puppy for its first year of socialisation and basic training. My parents had decided that the full time responsibility of a permanent pet at that point in time was too much to take on, so we committed to helping the Guide Dog Association with this worthwhile project. Our first pup went on to be star of his class, so we took on a second a year later. He was as lovely a Labrador as you’ll ever meet, but so mischievous he was unable to proceed to the advanced training and ended up living on a farm.
I remember the joy of having those puppies in the house, and the intense sadness to see them leave after 12 months. These days this approach to part time dog ownership still exists, and is something to consider when deciding whether to take on a dog as a pet. But most of our new owners have decided to take on the full time responsibility of a new dog, and they have had to decide whether to look at purchasing a new puppy or giving a home to one of the many dogs in rescue centres around the UK. There are pros and cons to both approaches. I would strongly recommend that you consult with your vets about these options, particularly if you are new to dog ownership. There has been a lot of media coverage of puppy farms, and it can be quite challenging to a novice owner to differentiate the amateur well intentioned breeder from a puppy farm. It is also very difficult to go and look at puppies without being drawn in to purchasing one, even against one’s better judgement.
If you are considering a new puppy you can look at a specific breed, and these days in addition to the recognised breeds this includes some of the wonderful cross breeds becoming more popular and recognisable. (Cockerpoos, Labradoodles, Puggles etc) When looking at breeds we hope for a predictable temperament, abilities and size of dog, although be warned this is not always the case. Most registered breeders are proactive about improving the health of their particular breed, and there are several schemes in place to screen dogs prior to breeding to reduce the risk of congenital diseases being passed on. If you are looking at a rescue dog I feel it is vital to get veterinary input – always ask if you can take your new dog to your own vets for an assessment before fully committing to ownership. Sometimes dogs have been left at rescues because of problem behaviour issues, or in some cases with chronic medical conditions which may require long term and potentially expensive medications. Homing a dog from a rescue centre can be incredibly rewarding, as often these dogs are in need of a safe and loving home in order to gain confidence and become the loyal and friendly pet we always wanted.
Whether you have a new puppy or rescue dog, there are a few simple things you can do to improve the acclimatisation and behaviour of your new dog. My first step is consistency and routine. In both puppies and rescue dogs, these animals have had their routines turned upside down, and having regular meal times, sleep time, play time and walks repeated day in and day out will make them feel more secure in their new home. At St Vincents Vets we also use a range of options to help new dogs settle in, and these include pheromone diffusers or collars, various non prescription calming medications and occasionally (often for very nervous rescue dogs) prescription medications used in conjunction with qualified behaviourist supervision. Consistency also applies to behaviour – reinforce the behaviour you want always requiring the same responses every day. For example, sitting before the lead attached for walks, waiting for food, taking a treat gently from your hand.
Most dogs are kept indoors for long periods in the UK, and this can lead to boredom and destructive behaviour. A common solution is to use an indoor cage as a bed – we like to create a safe ‘den’ for your dog. If you position the cage in a corner or and cover the back half with a towel or drape this creates a very safe place for the dog to remove itself to when tired or stressed. Do not use the cage as a punishment for bad behaviour as this will make the dog reluctant to see the den as a place to settle. If you give the new dog or puppy a regular downtime in the den morning and afternoon, then it will be increasingly happy to sleep in the den when you go out.
We also use a wide range of suitable toys and challenging feeders to keep the dog stimulated and interested – again discuss this with your veterinary practice particularly regarding suitable size and strength of toys for your pet. We discuss all of the above at the initial health check while also discussing vaccinations, flea and tick treatments and worming.
There is much more we could cover in this article – but I would like to finish by discussing socialisation. There is overwhelming evidence that early socialisation including interaction with other animals, people, places and getting used to noises and car trips can make for a happier well adjusted pet later in life. We advise clients to enrol their dogs in puppy classes or basic obedience classes early on, as this definitely helps the dogs but also improves the owners confidence in training and supervising the dog. If your new dog is nervous in these environments it is important to seek veterinary advice early on so as to prevent any anxious behaviour and negative associations becoming ingrained.
Michael Morrow owns and runs St Vincents Veterinary Surgery, a family owned independent practice providing personal care for all your pets. Should you have any queries regarding your pet’s health please contact the practice for an appointment or further advice.