ADOPTING A SHELTER PUPPY

This is Ziggy. She’s the second puppy I fostered during the lockdown and I failed miserably. Not failed as in let her down, failed as in I was unable to just foster. Three months after she arrived, she’s still here and I’m still firmly in denial…

playful puppy biting a blanket

I’d call myself an experienced shelter dog adopter (Ziggy is rescue dog number six for me), however it’s been a while since I had a puppy and Ziggy is particularly naughty.

cute puppy portrait showing teeth

She was around 4 months old when she was delivered to my door during lockdown, having been surrendered to CLAW a week or so previously. She was skinny (5.5kgs), flea riddled and rather shell shocked, however it didn’t take long for her personality to emerge. I knew she’d need time and some space to get settled and adjust from a shelter to a home environment, but not everyone who adopts a dog is aware of this.

big puppy eyes looking up

So, if you’re a new rescue dog adoptee, here’s what you need to bear in mind about your dog (puppy or grown up) and how you can best help them settle:

  • Arriving in a new environment is stressful for a dog, so it’s best to give them time to explore your home and garden without lots of touching, cuddling and fussing.
  • Introduce them to your existing dogs gradually and one at a time if you have multiple dogs. I’ve found the garden is the best place to do this and I make sure I constantly monitor what’s happening.
  • Shelter pups aren’t always house trained, so to avoid accidents, take them into the garden every hour and reward them with praise and snacks when they pee or poop. You might also want to restrict them to tiled areas of the house until you’re confident that they know where to go to the toilet. Expect accidents, it’s par for the course.
  • If you know the brand of food they’ve been eating at the shelter, keep them on that and gradually change to the brand you’d prefer to feed them. Abrupt diet changes cause tummy upsets which make house training more challenging – I give probiotics to new arrivals to help settle their tummies and try to preempt any upsets as well as having Diomec paste on hand.
  • Feed pups little and often. Ziggy was literally starving when she got here and I fed her four times a day to get her to gradually gain weight, I also dewormed her when she arrived just in case parasites were causing the hunger problem – they weren’t, she was simply ravenous.
  • Give them a quiet area with their own bed so they can feel safe to lie down and sleep. Let them rest here without interfering.
  • Your shelter dog may seem hyper alert for 48 hours and not want to settle. This is normal when they’ve come from a shelter environment. Once Ziggy realised that our home was a safe space for her and she didn’t constantly have to keep one eye on everything going on, she slept like a log, but it took a day or so for her to relax.
  • Give your dog time to get to know you. Often we have no idea what a dog’s previous experience of humans has been. Timid dogs will get braver, but on their own terms. Keep calm, encourage them to sit near you with some tasty treats and be patient. Once your shelter pup understands that they’ve arrived in a kind and loving space, their character will start to emerge and they’ll bond with you.
  • Once your rescue dog starts to trust you, teach them some basic commands. If you’re not sure what to do, enlist the help of a dog trainer to show you. I only recommend working with a trainer who uses positive reinforcement to train, no choke chains or yanking of leads or ‘punishment’ of any sort. Training is a way of building a bond with your dog and teaching them boundaries around what is and isn’t ok in your house. And you’ll enjoy your dog far more if they can follow instructions from you.
  • Allow your shelter rescue time to settle. It will take a few weeks before they find their feet and feel ‘at home’ with you. Expecting them to play, follow you around and be house trained within 24 hours is unfair. Some shelter dogs have been in multiple homes, some have experienced trauma and often we have no record of their previous life history. Your patience and kindness will be rewarded ten fold once your dog knows they are part of a family. The best thing you can do as a new shelter dog parent is be gentle and patient.
puppy and big dog playing

It quickly turned out that Madame Ziggy’s trademark thing was her sharp teeth and she loved to show them off. She’s not got much bite inhibition and tends to get quite enthusiastic with her grabby teeth, so we’ve got rope tug toys and lots of other goodies to keep her gnashers busy.

bog dog and puppy looking at the camera
puppy barking and playing
puppy barking at owner
puppy teeth biting a couch

I volunteered to foster Ziggy hot on the heels of my great success in fostering her predecessor Max. He also came from CLAW and found a home within 10 days, giving me a very false sense that somehow had ninja dog rehoming skills, turns out, I don’t.

puppy yawning

My skills apparently lie in adopting. So, it seems she’s a permanent member of the family now. I’m not sure if it’s the fact that she’s just a plain old brown dog that didn’t inspire any interest or that she looked like a savage in all the photos I shared….I didn’t think there was any point in falsely advertising her as a calm and sensible puppy, either way she’s part of the family now.

black and white photo of a small puppy

She might be a bit mad, however she’s incredibly smart. This girl ‘gets’ new moves straight away, so, unlike my other dogs, she’s a joy to train. Township dogs like Ziggy are often very street smart which makes them easy to teach and highly intelligent. You’ll be seeing lots more of her on my social media accounts and in fact, since I took these pictures, she’s gained a whopping 10kgs and looks like a totally different dog. Check her out on my Instagram feed here.

puppy being cheeky

If you’ve enjoyed these photographs of Ziggy, you can book your own dog portrait shoot by getting in touch with me. I’m shooting in my Centurion studio and on location at client’s homes during lockdown.

 

EMMA O'BRIEN

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