Opening up your home to a rescue dog can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life but it can also be very stressful for both you and your new canine companion. More than just chewed furniture, toilet training and gaining the trust of a furry friend, there is a great deal of anxiety on both sides of the relationship and knowing right first steps can make all the difference.
We spoke to WA dog trainer Eric Crozier, who has spent more than a decade training and assessing dogs from rescues and shelters, about how to welcome a new dog into your home.
Mr Crozier’s path as a dog trainer began at an early age in the highlands of Scotland, while working with sheep dog and gun dogs for shepherds and gamekeepers. Unfortunately, at the time, a career as a dog trainer wasn’t open to him but after 35 years as a chef, Mr Crozier decided to make a change. He went back to his first love, dogs, and started volunteering in animal rescues. He was then offered a job assessing dogs for rehoming, which though rewarding was very tough as it meant deciding which could go to new homes and which needed to be put down.
“It was a job of massive highs and massive lows,” he said. “I probably assessed over 10,000 dogs in that time.”
Mr Crozier then underwent certification as a dog trainer in Melbourne through the national dog training course, gaining a level three certification in animal behaviour.
“Its nice to have the behavioural science in your head but there’s nothing like working with thousands of dogs to give you those dog handling skills that you need to work with damaged dogs,” he said.
Mr Crozier said the process of rehoming a rescue dog is one of the most rewarding things you will ever do but it is also one of the most stressful.
“You are saving a life and making room for another dog to be saved, it doesn’t get any better than that,” he said.
Once a dog is rehomed, the main issues that appear, which aren’t picked up beforehand by the shelter, are separation anxiety, resource guarding and lead reactivity.
One of the biggest mistakes people can make when they bring a new dog home is to feel sorry for it, Mr Crozier said, and giving it too much unconditional love, which can make your dog’s condition worse.
“When you bring your rescue dog home, first, stop thinking of it as a rescue dog,” he said. “Every dog and puppy has to be rescued,” he said.
“Personally, I will take the dog on a long, structured walk before I enter the house.”
When you enter the house keep your dog on its lead, try to make sure it stays calm and take it around the places it’s allowed to go.
Crate training your dog is critical, Mr Crozier said, and the most important part of creating the structure it needs.
“The most fearful dogs need massive structure, lots of leadership and need to be trained to walk on the lead properly,” he said.
Long line recall training, which is keeping your dog on a long lead while training it to return when you call, is critical not only for its safety but the safety of other dogs when starting out.
“Your dog should never be off leash around new dogs unless it has perfect recall under distraction,” Mr Crozier said.
“Long line recall is a must for as long as it takes.”
“Remember there are at least six dogs killed a week in the metro and over two hundred dog on dog attacks per week, which is why controlling you dog’s environment at all times is critical.”
The secret to keeping your rescue dog happy and healthy in a new home comes down to two main factors, Mr Crozier said.
“For me the secret to having nine dogs in my pack of all shapes and sizes, and most of them extremely damaged, is making them feel safe through strong leadership and consistency,” he said.
“Make sure they have a purpose and make sure they have all their needs met if you have to leave them for the day.”