Zen and the Art of Dog

Ask the (non) expert – How to Help a Newly Adopted Shelter Dog Transition Into Family Life?

About a week ago we received this great question from a reader who was looking for some general tips about her newly rescued Great Dane/ Boxer mix:

I just wanted to leave a comment asking for some advice. I have had plenty of dogs in the past, all being rescues and two of the ones I have currently are amazing; however, the recent guy we have brought back is quite the challenge. We brought him home about 2 weeks ago. The shelter claimed he is a boxer and Great Dane but I am thinking boxer and husky because he is a very vocal dramatic guy. My days are full of his sighs and other dramatic doggy noises. He is also incredibly stubborn: for example from day one we have set boundaries like only getting on the couch when invited and only entering my husband and I’s bedroom when invited in, as well as only passing a door after us.

I have been told that I have an inclination to naturally be able to train dogs better than the average person (probably just because I do tons of research and have loved animals since I was young). Anyway, I have a VERY vocal and dramatic 65 pound dog. He doesn’t mind having guests over, loves everyone. At the shelter we were told he was dog friendly, and we seemed to agree, but once he is on leash outside and sees another dog, it appears that he doesn’t have enough self control and gets so frustrated that I won’t let him approach and play with every dog in the universe which causes him to squeal and cause a pretty big scene.He could win an Oscar with his acting.

I am trying to discover the exact root of his reaction, so we can fix it in the most direct way possible. What are some things you would recommend in order to discover if it is simply his lack of self control?

Additionally for some reason whenever I am gone, he likes to test my husband. For example trying to get on the couch often and when he tells him to get down he refuses for longer than when I tell him. The dog even lunged at him once and tried to bite him. The shelter told us that he was surrendered because he was a wifes dog but she died and the husband didn’t want him, so I think maybe his old male owner didn’t like him or was possibly rough with him, would you come to a similar conclusion?

And are any of your rescues more receptive to your wife than you?

Any feedback or information is helpful! I am trying to find the best training method/tools for him because he is not highly motivated by food or toys for longer than 5 minutes indoors.

And here was our response:

I’m happy to help you as much as I can.

First of all, this behavior all sounds completely normal. We had similar behaviors in one form or another in all three of our dogs.

Since you said you’re the trainer in the house I’m going to assume that your husband isn’t as active in the training. We have this exact situation in our house except reversed (dogs respect me because I’m the disciplinarian, wife gives them more license so they don’t give her the same degree of respect). If this is the case I would have your husband start participating in the training regime.

Also, have you considered crate training? You might try it; then if the dog is having a hard time with your husband, your husband can put doggy into crate for a little while (editor’s note: this was difficult for us to learn with Benji. It is okay for them to spend up to several hours in the crate if they are getting into trouble. Taking away all of Benji’s options calms him down immediately and he goes to sleep).

Reactivity outside is probably the most common issue with rescues. Your pup probably just wants to play so badly and you physically won’t let them. 2 suggestions here: I would introduce a prong collar and I would start training your new pup outside of a dog park. If the pup is good with sits, stays, downs at home then I would work on sits, stays, downs with the commotion of dogs playing nearby. I would start with short increments and build up their attention span. Check out my article here about using a prong: https://zenandtheartofdog.com/how-to-use-a-prong-collar-using-the-most-practical-dog-training-tool-you-can-buy/

Remember, I’m not a trainer but have a lot of experience with our dogs and volunteering at a bunch of shelters. Obviously I can’t know your dog personally so your mileage may vary with my suggestions.

That was my advice for this dedicated dog owner. I have since heard back and she has updated me that she and her husband are using their pup’s breakfast as a training aid during morning walks. This is a great idea and can really help with training and reactivity.

Let us know if you have any additional suggestions down in the comments below!

Thanks for reading.

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