When shelter animals first get to their new home, they need to learn the rules and routines associated with their new environment. Although it’s not exactly a fresh start, they might have some habits from a previous home or a genetic predisposition to behave in a certain way, so it’s a chance to steer them in a new direction.
Lindsay Lieberman, behavior and training coordinator at San Diego Humane Society’s Oceanside Campus, says it’s important to view undesirable behaviors not as problems, but the animal communicating a need or emotion. “We need to recognize why the animal is performing those behaviors, and either give them a more appropriate outlet or try to change what the animal thinks about the situation.”
For example, dogs need to chew, and in the absence of a chew toy they like, they may turn to a shoe or table leg. But reinforcement is key, Lieberman says. Scolding a dog for chewing on the wrong thing is a form of attention, and trying to take it away can be seen as play. Jumping is another problem behavior we unknowingly encourage. When puppies put their paws on our shins, we bend down and interact. However, when that puppy grows up, that same behavior isn’t so adorable anymore. Disengage from a jumping dog. Eventually she’ll learn that paws on people equals no attention.
It usually takes dogs a few weeks to get into the flow of a new house, so start showing them what’s acceptable and unacceptable early on. “We need to acknowledge that our behavior matters,” Lieberman says. “The way we’re reacting to the dog matters, and it matters from day one.”