Life skills lessons


Editor's Picks
28 February 2022
Behaviourist Toni Shelbourne advises on what to do in the three-week to three-month post-adoption period.

Once your adopted dog has been with you for around a month or more, he may well be starting to come out of his shell. If all is going well, he’s beginning to relax, and get used to you and his surroundings. For some dogs though, this is when behavioural issues can emerge. It is extremely difficult to assess dogs in a rescue kennel, and staff cannot predict or be blamed for issues that may arise once your dog is home with you; they may simply not have known about the problem. If you are struggling with your dog’s behaviour, contact the rescue organisation, or seek the help of a certified behaviourist. 

The types of behaviour that may emerge include:

● Reacting aggressively towards other dogs, animals, or people.

● Guarding items, areas, or even smells!

● Noise sensitivity.

● Handling issues, like not wanting to be groomed or touched, or being reluctant to have a harness put on.

● Stealing food.

● Toileting in the house.

● Not wanting to go for walks.

● Not wanting to be left alone, and howling, toileting, or destroying things when left.

If seeking professional help, look out for the UK Dog Behaviour & Training Charter logo so you know the person is qualified, up-to-date in their methods, and follows a code of ethics set by their governing body.

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Going for walks with friends’ calm dogs can boost your new dog’s confidence.

Manners and life skills

Your dog probably isn’t up to learning complex tricks or obedience exercises in a class environment yet, but you can start to introduce basic manners and life skills at home. Make a list of everything you think is essential for your dog to know, what is useful, and what you think is desirable. This will help you prioritise what to work on. Everyone’s list will be different depending on your new dog’s needs and any behaviours he is displaying, but it might look something like this:

Essential life skills

● Learning to be alone for short periods.

● Toileting in an appropriate place.

● Relaxing — a skill often needing to be taught.

● Interacting with other people and dogs.

● Being handled for husbandry and veterinary examinations.

● Recall.

Useful life skills

● Response to his name.

● Walking on a loose lead.

● Learning a leave cue for manners around human food.

● Travelling in the car.

● Door manners. 

● Crate training.

Desirable life skills and manners

● Basic obedience: sit, down, wait, leave, stop.

● Settling in a cafe or pub environment.

● Visiting new places.

The key point here is that many people focus on the desirable skills and manners first, when they can be taught much later. Your dog may not be able to learn a great deal at first, as it takes a lot of brain power to process new information, routines, environments, and bond with you, so concentrate on the important skills.

For some dogs, one-to-one sessions with a behaviourist to advise about emotional fear-based issues, or a trainer to help with useful life skills, is much more productive then asking your already overwhelmed dog to enter a training class environment; again, this can come later.

Read the rest of the feature in the April 2022 issue. Buy the latest digital edition and read instantly on your computer, mobile or tablet device.

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