Welcoming a Senior Dog into Your Home and Heart
If you’re interested in becoming a member of the “Old Dogs Club” and are thinking about adopting or fostering an older dog I have a few thoughts about a welcoming routine that you might find helpful, so I’ll just pass them on for your consideration. Just use what makes sense for your situation.
I’m going to call your new dog Andy just so I don’t have to keep saying “the new dog.”
Manage your expectations before Andy arrives.
1) Your home will most likely be a big change for Andy if he found himself in a shelter or perhaps has been living in a temporary home because his person died or some life changing circumstance caused him to become homeless. Regardless of background, Andy may need time to adjust to his new home. Don’t expect him to instantly be comfortable and secure.
2) Be optimistic and excited rather than apprehensive about welcoming Andy. Dogs are intuitive and they process everything emotionally so your attitude and energy will be picked up by him when you meet him.
3) Understand that whatever you may have been told about Andy in terms of behavior and personality may not necessarily be true in your home. This is especially relevant if he’s coming directly from a shelter. Shelters are very stressful places, especially for older dogs, and stress contributes directly to a dog’s behavior and personality while he’s at the shelter. Once in a home you may see a totally different dog.
4) If Andy is grieving for his person, he may likely be withdrawn and sad when he arrives. That will change in time with your help.
5) Understand that dogs, like people, have developed habits, routines and “this is what I’m used to” stuff over the years that may linger for a while in a new home. Resolve to be patient with Andy as he adjusts to his new life.
6) If Andy is coming to you from a home rather than a shelter I’d suggest you make arrangements to pick him up from his current home (or meet at some neutral place) rather than having his people bring him to you. Seeing the people who brought him to you drive away from your house without him will be very hard on Andy, especially if he’s confused and apprehensive.
7) If you have young children and they’re not used to having an older dog around make sure you talk to them about how they need to be gentle with Andy and generally be respectful of him because he’s older.
8) If you’re adopting/fostering Andy as a way to honor the memory of another senior dog companion that is no longer physically with you, don’t expect Andy to be that dog. Resolve to allow Andy to be the dog he is without expecting him to be just like your other dog.
Meeting Your Other Dogs:
1) If you have another dog and he tends to be territorial, it’s best to let the dogs meet in a neutral place (not in your yard or home). It’s often good to just put them on leash and go for a walk together. If you have more than one dog, have a family member help.
2) If your dog is good with other dogs, it works well to let them meet without leashes in a very safe spot—not too small—leave room for maneuvering. Don’t worry if they play-skirmish a bit; they have to work out what their relationship is to each other. Try to ignore them and not referee. If you have a fenced yard, when you arrive home let Andy into your yard, remove his leash, and then bring your other dog out to meet him. If you have more than one dog, bring the dogs out one at a time. Your other dogs should be off-leash too. Allow the dogs to explore the yard and get acquainted without being pushy. They’ll do fine together if you just let them meet and greet in their own way. You can’t choreograph this dance; just stand back and smile.
3) Once the initial introductions are made, invite Andy into the house and let him explore. You don’t need to be a tour guide; he’ll find the water bowl and the dog beds.
4) If you have a doggie door begin the process of teaching Andy how to use it. In a perfect world your other dogs may do this for you. How long it takes for him to use the doggie door is a crapshoot; I’ve had dogs catch on right away, but sometimes it takes days or weeks. With dogs that don’t see well, using the doggie door may never happen. Again, just be patient. But make sure he knows that he needs to go outside to do his business. Senior dogs are generally housebroken so this shouldn’t be a problem unless the dog is coming right from a shelter, in which case you may have to do some re-teaching about bathroom etiquette.
5) Sit down, relax and just let Andy get used to his new home. Don’t follow him around or be pushy about wanting him to sit near you, on your lap or be close to you. If you’ve bailed him out of the shelter he may do all of that right away because you rescued him and he’ll be your Velcro dog, but maybe it’ll take time.
6) When it’s time for bed, allow Andy to sleep wherever is comfortable for him. Make sure he has his own bed or he knows he’s welcome on your bed if you like your dogs to sleep with you. Whatever you do, it’s very important that you don’t isolate him from you or the rest of your family (including other dogs). He needs to feel like he’s part of the family right from the beginning.
1) Feed Andy small amounts for the first day or two, using any food that came with him, gradually mixing in whatever you choose to feed. If he doesn’t eat much right away or even vomits from nerves, don’t panic. Feed him well away from the others and don’t offer treats for a couple of days. Don’t encourage excited play with toys, or offer chewies close to the other dogs until the pecking order has settled.
2) Avoid unnecessary stress until Andy feels safe with you. Wait a couple of days to begin bathing and grooming (unless he smells so awful a bath is really necessary.) If he’s very matted, cut away the worst of the mats and trim away from his eyes. Try not to have too many visitors or take him to strange places for the first week.
3) What takes patience is letting Andy get used to a new routine, showing him what’s expected without putting too much pressure on him. Don’t hover. Let him relax and work his way into the family. Don’t be surprised if he sleeps a lot once he relaxes—especially if he came from a shelter.
4) For a smooth adjustment, pay a more than usual amount of attention to the resident dogs if you have other dogs. You need to reassures the other dogs that Andy hasn’t come to replace them in any way. Try to keep life the same for your existing dogs.
5) Remember that each of the dogs in your family may have some special activities or time with you. Don’t change that. As long as each dog gets his own special attention all will be well.
6) If your other dogs are rescue dogs too, they’ll understand that Andy needs to be there. They haven’t forgotten their early days with you and they understand the need to be accepted and loved.
Ok, that’s enough. Just use whatever seems right for you and your situation. Remind yourself that older dogs are amazingly resilient and have the ability to adapt very quickly to new situations. Andy will know that living with you is an opportunity to be a happy dog, and he’ll be ready and willing to become a valued, respected and well-loved member of your family.