When bringing a new dog into your home, management is the key to preventing problems. It is so much easier to teach the appropriate behaviors right from the start rather than needing to fix behavioral issues caused due to poor management skills.
No matter your dog’s background, once he enters your home, he’s basically like a visitor to a foreign land. The customs are different. The setting is different. The people are different. He doesn’t know the rules and things he may have understood completely in his previous home are completely forgotten due to the stress of the new world he’s been placed in. Expecting your dog to automatically fit in in his new home is setting him up for failure and going to add additional stress to his period of adjustment (and yours!).
We all want our dogs to assimilate to our family and it’s up to us to facilitate that transition as best as possible. That is where management comes in. You want to set your dog up so he cannot help but succeed in everything he does. Right now, you don’t know what he is going to do in many situations. Even if you have information about him from his past (good with kids, housebroken, knows some tricks, is great with dogs, etc.), forget about it for now. He may be all of those things but, due to the stress from his dramatic shift in lifestyle, they’re probably the last things on his mind. There is also the danger that, despite being told those things about your dog, he may not actually be any of them! So, for everyone’s sanity, you need to manage your dog’s life for now.
Management is not the same as training. Management is what you do while you’re in the process of training a dog so that they cannot practice the opposite of what you’re trying to teach them. I’ll use housebreaking as a good example. A good management protocol to follow when housebreaking is to keep the dog confined to an area where you can monitor him constantly to avoid him having an accident in the house. This ranges from using an exercise pen to contain him, a kennel only large enough to lay down in comfortably (most dogs will not soil where they sleep), or tethering him to you with a leash. You must also be constantly watching him for signs that he needs to go out and taking him out frequently so you can reward him for eliminating outside. By being vigilant and not allowing your dog to potty in the house, you help successfully teach him that eliminating outside is the best bet.
On the flip side, if you do not manage your dog properly from the onset, he will be more difficult to train. Every time your dog is allowed to do something that you don’t want him to do, you risk him doing it again. Especially if that behavior is extremely rewarding like counter surfing or pottying inside (relieving a full bladder is definitely a good thing as far as your dog is concerned!). You need to be proactive rather than reactive. Planning is critical.
This goes for every aspect of your new dog’s life as well. Unless you like potential property damage, keep him contained when you cannot watch him. Don’t allow him access to rooms with valuables you don’t want to lose. If you cannot crate him or leave him in an exercise pen, find a dog-safe room to leave him in when you must leave the house. You should also be sure to leave him plenty of appropriate things to play with and chew on so he won’t be as likely to add his toothy autograph to your furniture.
If you have another dog in the house, it’s best to take it slow on introductions. Especially if one (or both) of the dogs are unsure around other dogs or have other canine-related issues (like resource guarding). I will admit that I am probably a bit extreme when it comes to management of foster dogs in my home. Given Risa’s fear of other dogs, it’s critical that I set everything up so that introductions go smoothly. I use baby gates, crates, leashes, and exercise pens to keep everyone safe. I give both dogs time to assess each other from a distance where they do not interact face-to-face. I let them learn each other’s scent from behind closed doors and from potty trips to the yard before I let them see each other. Depending on the dogs, this may last a week or just a day. Knowledge of canine body language is critical to success so you can intervene before things go south should the two dogs not get along.
It is also critical that all toys or other objects of contention (dog beds, treats, etc.) be put away and out of reach when you’re introducing two dogs for the first time. Whether or not you know they’re a resource guarder, it’s best to play it safe rather than have to break up a scuffle (or a fight!) over a toy.
Management is also vital when teaching other behaviors like waiting at doors or recalls. It would be foolish to expect a dog with no solid recall to come back to you in an unfenced, wide-open field. So, when you have this dog outside, he needs to be safely contained behind a fence and/or on a longline. The longline is also beneficial so that you don’t need to chase your new dog around the yard every time you want him to come back inside. It should not be used to drag him towards you or back into the house. It should simply be backup in case your attempts to train fail; not a part of the training process. Leashes are also handy when teaching a dog to wait politely in the doorway before going outside. There is nothing more damaging to teaching this important skill than accidentally letting the dog bolt outside and race gleefully around the yard! Instead of learning to wait to get that freedom, he earned it by doing the exact opposite of what you wanted.
It can be a bit of a pain to set up an appropriate management protocol for your household when bringing a new dog into the home. Especially when there are multiple family members who need to adhere to the new plan. However, you’ll find you and your new dog adjust to your lives together a lot easier and with much less stress and frustration when you set them up to succeed right from the beginning.