All dogs are creatures of habit, and every change of home causes a dog to feel more anxious and insecure, so changes should be accomplished with careful thought and planning. Be sure that the dog going to a new owner is the right fit for the new home.
Preparing for the New Dog’s Arrival
It is very helpful to have preliminary visits between the dog and the prospective owner or family, including any pets, but these visits should not include any separations from the former owner or foster family. Once the dog changes homes, there should be no visits with the former owner, as these only upset and confuse the dog.
The new dog adjusts more easily if the change is done early in the day, since all dogs feel more insecure at night. Everything should be ready for the new dog in the home—food and water dishes, familiar food, a crate of size and type the dog is used to, and appropriate toys. The former owner or foster family should send to the new home a piece of bedding and toys with familiar scents to be kept with the dog for at least two weeks.
If the dog is being picked up by the new owner, there should be a pleasant visit, with the dog sitting for treats or biscuits for the new owner. The dog’s play and training can then be demonstrated, and the lead handed over to the new owner, who then practices the play and training.
From that point on there should be no attention from the owner or family giving up the dog, and the dog should be taken out to the car by the new owner with cheerfulness and treats. Long goodbyes are not understood by the dog and only cause confusion.
It is better if the new owner can keep the dog’s undivided attention with the training and the treats. Most dogs settle down quickly once they are in a car that is moving, but it is easier if one of the new owners can ride in the back seat holding the dog’s lead and attention while someone else drives.
If the dog is being delivered to the new home by the original owner, follow the same instruction, but when it is time for the new owner to take the dog away with training and treats, he or she should go out of sight and keep the dog busy while the former owner leaves, quickly and quietly. Under no circumstances should the dog ever be allowed to see or hear the former owner leave.
If the dog is being picked up at the airport, try to time things so that you get home while it is still daylight. Give the dog a short training session when taking the dog out of the crate (in a closed room, in case the dog gets past you) with plenty of treats, and more training, treats and play when you first arrive home.
TIP: Don’t underestimate the importance of treats, training, and play to help the new dog feel secure.
At the New Home
When arriving at the new home, the dog should first be taken out into the backyard and encouraged to relieve himself in a preferred area. Dogs who are normally very clean can become confused in a strange household, especially when upset and excited.
Next, take the dog for a walk through the house on a lead. Let him investigate, but also let him know what the house rules are. Keep him closely supervised and in the same room you are in, unless confining him to a crate or another room—and then stay close by at first, to be sure he is not upset by the separation.
The dog’s diet should not be changed for at least two weeks, and the schedule for meals and exercise should remain as close as possible to what the dog was familiar with in the former household.
Introduce the dog to other family dogs in a neutral area, one at a time, then in a large, fenced area—again, one at a time. Even social dogs have to work out dominance issues, and family dogs can be possessive of resources as well as of favorite family members. (Expect to have to supervise the behavior and relationships of the new dog for at least three months. A new dog can begin with the submissiveness of a “visitor,” and then by three months want to assert dominance.)
For at least three months, children 9 years and up should be supervised when they are with the dog. (Children under 8 years old should always be supervised when they are with a dog.) This is to be sure that rules for both the pet and the children are being followed. If a teenager will be assuming the role of primary caretaker, oversight will be needed to make sure the dog is being fed, watered, groomed, and walked properly.
Always leave the dog calmly and pleasantly, such as with a radio playing, soft lighting, bedding, water, toys, and a treat. Always return to him calmly and pleasantly by going to him and putting the collar and lead on before taking him out of a confined area. This calm return, preferably by one adult alone, helps to prevent separation anxiety.
If the dog becomes very upset at being confined, be sure you are confining in the same way the former owners did. If you have no information about this, experiment to see what he might be used to. A foster home should realize, however, that leaving the dog in the company of other dogs does not prepare him for being left alone.
Beware of Escape Artists
Our breed, the Flat-Coated Retriever, is a friendly but very loyal dog, and a dog such as this in a new home should not be left outdoors unsupervised for the first month. They have a strong homing instinct, and if a Flat-Coat who is left alone is able to get out of the yard during the first month in a new home, he or she will attempt to return to the former home, regardless of distance.
Flat-Coats are very agile and usually require a five- or six-foot fence if they are eventually left outside alone. They are also very intelligent and curious and can find other ways out of a yard if they have the time to investigate.