I first wrote this blog a year ago for The Canine Chronicles, a community website for dog lovers, set up by my friend Emily the groomer from Wagging Tails. I am publishing it here to introduce my dog Kipper to you and I hope that our story will hopefully help others welcoming a new dog into their life make good choices when settling them into their new home.
I don’t normally admit to having favourites at the doggie daycare I work at, but Kipper was definitely my number 1 from the day he started! He has so much personality and is such a sensitive soul that it’s hard not to love him. Each time he arrived at daycare, the first thing he would go around the humans who worked there saying hello. His preferred method is to rear up on his hind legs and lightly placing his paws on our arms while making ‘Kipper noises’ (sounds like a whine mixed with a hmm). Once he had said hello, he would then spend the day playing with his favourite dog friends and giving suspicious looks to dogs he didn’t like or didn’t know. It is a passion of mine to study dog behaviour so I loved the days he was in because he often acted very differently to the other dogs. Like whenever a new dog would arrive that he hadn’t meant before, he would follow them around making ‘hmm’ noises like he was saying “I’m not really sure of you”. I also loved how he looked like he was having the time of his life playing with his favourite friends.
Watching Kipper at daycare
Kipper is 4 next week (he is getting a giant tennis ball and a toy fish as presents, shhh!). He has not had the best start in life; originally from Romania he was discovered on the streets with parvovirus before he was old enough to leave his mum. His littermates all died but Kipper recovered and was brought by a rescue charity to Scotland. I first met him when his new family enrolled him in the doggy daycare I work at when he was, I think, about four months old.
Kipper in Romania
Unfortunately, his previous family were unable to look after him anymore and made the very difficult decision to rehome him. When told this, I jumped at the chance to adopt Kipper. So he came into my home nearly 3 years ago when he was just over a year old. The day I picked him up, he had never been alone with me outside of the daycare environment and now he and all his possessions; his bed, crate, toys and stuff was crammed into the back of my car (now known as Kipper’s Taxi). The drive home we had a total mismatch of energy as Kipper was obviously apprehensive and confused about what was happening. Me, on the other hand, I was pure bursting with happiness and excitement. I was driving home planning all the places we will see together, the fun times we were going to have and all training we were going to do.
Instead, I should have been spending more time planning how to make the transition to a new home easier for Kipper. Because I had known him for quite a few months before I adopted him, and he loved coming to my work at the daycare already, I didn't think that he would need long to adjust to his new way off life. But almost everything was changing for him. New city, people, home, other animals, sights, sounds, textures and smells to get used to. Imagine the shock to your system if all of a sudden someone drove you away to another city to live with them and their family. At first, Kipper was very nervous in his new home. He was very unsure of new people and would bark if they approached. Even when I came into the room wearing different clothes than he saw me in before I left he would bark or make his 'hmmm' I'm not very sure of you noise until he realized it was me.
He would also startle if there was a sudden noise or if he heard the neighbours or noises outside. I never realized how noisy the world is until I got Kipper: TVs; traffic; alarms; the small bang the kitchen door makes when it opens; baking trays falling to the ground with a clatter; people thundering down the closey steps; person next door sneezing. Kipper would pay attention to everything. I spent time with him, explaining to him that the noises he was hearing were just neighbour noises and getting him used to as many other noises as possible. First I would making the noise as quietly as I could, like opening the kitchen door really softly, then I would give Kipper a piece of chicken. Gradually I would make the noise louder but only if Kipper wasn’t paying any attention to the noise at the quieter level. Other noises that I had no control over, like people coming in the close, signified something tasty, like pate on his Lickimat.
But sometimes noises that you wouldn't even consider would bother Kipper. A good example of this is when he came through to the living room carrying a toy snake and shaking his head playfully. Both my mum and my sister said "awww" at the same time as in aww isn't that cute! Kipper's response was to dejectedly drop the toy snake and slink up onto his couch. Yes, he had a whole couch to himself when he first came to live with us. Now he will squeeze onto whatever couch I am on and proceed to stretch out to take up at least half of the room. But when he first arrived he preferred to sit on a couch to himself.
Kipper now likes to share the couch
After a long weekend settling in, I went back to work taking Kipper with me. I figured that the familiar environment and people at the daycare would help him. I now think I was wrong to do this. I wish now that I had let him get used to his new home longer. Kipper loves to play with other dogs but it is stressful to play for extended periods. A dogs need time for the stress hormones to leave the body before more stress is added or it will build up inside them. Too much stress is bad for a dog’s behaviour, health and ability to learn. It’s now clear to me that it was probably much too soon for him.
Playing at daycare
Kipper was suspicious of new people and needed to meet them a good few times before he trusted them. Having time to adjust to his new family members would have been a better start for him. On top of this, Kipper also had quite a delicate stomach which is likely due to having parvo as a puppy. But when I first got him he would have an upset stomach every few weeks and I couldn’t always pinpoint the cause. I am now really happy with his appetite and his reactions towards food but I could write, and probably will, a whole other blog on Kippers eating habits and my time spent researching and trying out different options. When Kipper first came to live with me, he was also quite timid and lacked confidence during training and would give up on a problem, like getting into a cardboard box or Kong containing food, quickly if it wasn't easy for him to understand.
Despite the over ambitious start to life with me and food issues, Kipper has settled in very well and his cheeky character and fun loving ways is a total joy to be around. Although he is still suspicious meeting new people, he makes friends a lot quicker. He now also loves my friends and family, rarely has stomach issues, and pays no attention to the “neighbour noises” anymore. He is also more confident when training and learning faster, and I'm sure that there will be a blog for this topic too!
The next time a rescue dog comes into my life I will do a lot of things differently. The main thing will be to go so much slower with introducing my next dog to their new home, family and surrounding environment. It is hard to give an exact time frame as each dogs personality is different. It’s like comparing how long different people take to get used to the lockdown measures. But I would reduce as much stress from the environment as possible: I would only stay at home for weeks, maybe months, until the dog is confident and happy with their new surroundings. Once they are happy at home, then I’ll take them out to meet the world.
I'd love to hear how you found life settling in a new dog, whatever age or background, into your life in the comments below.