Many dogs that end up in the shelter system are there because they were unsuccessful house pets. This may be because they were never given the chance to be a successful house pet and were instead left outside tethered or in a pen. For others, they were simply not successful and their behavior landed them in a shelter. By spending time in a kennel, these dogs will not magically learn to become successful house pets. If anything, kenneling works against the house pet.
To be a successful house pet, 90% of a dog’s time will be spent indoors, with a human, doing absolutely nothing. This isn’t a sub-standard dog owner—this is real life. Not every minute can be spent in exercising and training. Most of a companion dog’s time is spent indoors doing absolutely nothing.
On the shelter arousal scale, where 100 equals aneurysm and 0 equals sleep, the only times shelter dogs see humans, the scale tips at close to or at 100. At the shelter, any time spent in the presence of a human is either an activity (volunteers walk and work with the dogs; grooming, medical attention, etc.) or a frustrating and arousing event, such as feeding time, cleaning, or, god forbid, walking one dog down the kennel aisle. I think that after a couple weeks in a kennel, the average shelter dog, even the previously successful indoor pet, will equate humans with arousal/activity.
What you will need:
Goal: To teach the dog to settle down, relax and take a nap in the presence of a human.
Your inclination will be to want to ignore the dog when he settles, since it feels like it is ruining the moment of calm. It is not true. In fact, this is just the lesson the shelter dog needs to learn.
Most shelter dogs have spent a lifetime getting more attention for misbehaving—like getting chased when they steal a pillow, or yelled at when they are chewing a shoe, or even touched to get them to stop jumping up or mouthing. Most shelter dogs never got any attention for behaving nicely. Most owners, so relieved that their perpetually misbehaving dog is finally napping, tiptoe around the house and ignore the dog behaving exactly as they really wish.
You do not want to stroke the dog continuously while he is settled. Try for one second, then discontinue and sit up. If he remains, bend back down and repeat. Gradually, you can ask the dog to settle for longer and longer periods before getting attention from you. Sometimes vary the attention with just verbal coaching, “that’s a fine dog, gooooood dog,” instead of always touching him.
Resist the temptation to potty or exercise the dog before doing this exercise. Real dogs in real successful homes, don’t always get the chance to relieve their bladders or tire themselves out before they are asked to settle and do absolutely nothing. Nothing could be more vital to the success of this shelter dog’s ultimate chance for a successful placement than teaching him these skills, even if he is mildly uncomfortable at times.
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