Allow your dog to guide YOU

This article is written so beautifully by Rebecca Hanlon, of SPEAK DOG

Adopting a dog is a wonderful feeling for us. Full of excitement and the idea of saving a life. But the experience is not the same for them. I often see posters stating the 3-3-3 rule. For the first 3 days they are totally overwhelmed but will then start feeling a little calmer. After 3wks they start to feel safer and more at home and then after 3months they have properly settled in. This idea, at least, makes people realise that moving to a new home is a massive, life changing event for dogs and that they need time to settle in.However, I find it a little too prescriptive and can set everyone up for dissapointment.

Each dog is totally different, they were all born individuals and continue to become more unique with each life experience. I know some dogs that have settled in the first few days they arrived in their new home. The type of dogs that don’t get fazed by much. Adapt to change easily and take everything in their stride. But I have known others that have taken years to feel truly safe. When we take dogs into our lives, it’s a magical event in our life. We can’t wait to show them off, take them to wonderful places, get them spruced up at the groomers, have company and cuddles on the sofa. For them, they have just been taken away from everything they’ve known, they have no idea where they are going and have no clue that you are a person who wants to love and protect them. For many, you are just another person in a long line of many who have let them down.

They may have come from a shelter environment which you cant wait to get them out of but that shelter has been predictable for them, has provided them with a level of safety and consistency. Often people say it must be like moving to a new country where nobody speaks the language, you don’t know the rules, the culture, what is expected of you or where anything is. I moved to a new country and it was terrifying. After nearly 2 years, it can still be scary. I definitely don’t have the hang of it yet. For a dog it’s even worse! I had a choice! I decided to make these changes, I prepared myself, I saw photos, researched and had insight into what was happening. Our dogs get none of these privileges. No choice, no idea what is going to happen, no idea where they are going or who they are being left with.I often hear people say, but they should know I just want to love them. I’ve been nothing but kind, why do they still not trust me? If you had gone through half of what many of these dogs have been through, how easily could you trust? Would your anxieties and fears just disappear because one person started being nice to you?

So instead of having rules about how many days they need to feel safe and settle in, let’s allow them to guide us. Let’s understand their body language so we know when THEY are ready to meet the whole family, go for a trip to the groomers, visit lovely places and even go for their first walk.When we adopt a dog let’s take it at their pace, be guided by them, not be guided by our expectations. Give them space, give them time, give them choice but be predictable and keep our expectations low. Create environments where they feel safe and teach them in ways that are clear and kind.

Each dog will settle in their own time, whether that’s days, weeks, months or even sometimes years. It is a beautiful thing to watch a dog grow in confidence, learn new things, start to feel safe and loved. It’s also a process that lasts their whole life. Bonds continue to change. I still have magical moments as I watch my boys change, even after years of sharing my life with them. I don’t expect them to love me, trust me and feel safe with me, it’s something that I constantly strive to earn.

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Ruth Martin

I have been volunteering at APROP since April 2018. You will normally find me there on Tuesday mornings, helping to care for, clean and feed the dogs. In 2019 I adopted Barney, a Podenco from APROP. In fact I have taken a distinct liking to the Podencos and some call me the Pod-Mother! I am also part of the adoptions team the fundraising team and I help by fostering dogs too. Helping animals brings me much joy and happiness into my life.