Welcome! It’s fabulous to have you here. 🙂
Quick – can you tell me the most cost-effective way to get security, companionship and entertainment on your farm? A dog, of course! A big, muscular farm dog! Farms (and homesteads) and dogs go together like … well, like little children and dogs. And guess what we got this week?
Just after we moved here in 2013, Mojo came to us as a five-year-old black Lab who had already had a couple of homes.
That’s not ideal for a dog, since they’re pack animals. People sometimes forget that a dog bonds with his people and sometimes has a lot of trouble adjusting to a new pack. (As a reader noted, this is more, or less, extreme depending on the breed. Some need a lifetime home while others can adjust fairly quickly) Our place was to be – and definitely will be – his forever home.
Ahem. We call him a black Lab. The vet says his white bib and paws say there’s Border Collie in there, and his jowls and broad chest and body sure aren’t Lab, either. More like a pit bull. He looks more like a baby black bear than he does a dog, and, truth to be told, he kind of waddles like a baby bear. So while he’s a beautiful mutt with the sweetest temperament you could ever find, we call him a black lab so as not to hurt his feelings.
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Mojo is probably the most perfect dog we could have here. He is gentle with everything that lives here, from baby chicks to human children, even though he did not (as far as we know) grow up around children or livestock. And yet, as gentle as he is, we know he’s run off at least one bear, and I have to warn visitors not to try and get out of their vehicles until we appear and tell Mojo the visitor is safe.
The problem, though, is that the poor old boy is lonely. He certainly loves his people but we’re not … you know … dogs. We don’t like to run in the woods or roll around in the compost, and we never get as excited as we should about finding a half-rotten chicken egg under the hen house. No matter how much he loves us, we simply can’t take the place of another dog.
So when we were asked if we could take in a one-year-old pit bull terrier who needed a new home, I hopped right in the car and headed over. No questions.
Which is not, you know, the order in which you should actually do things.
Generally, adding a new dog to the house should involve more than “Ok.”
And, seriously, if you have any doubt when it comes to adding a new animal, take the time to talk, talk, talk and talk some more. It’s like getting a child, since a dog is going to be completely dependent on you for the next ten to fifteen years. (Maybe more!)
For us, we had already decided that we needed another dog, and we had left the decision-making to God. (Hey, if you want to insert “the Universe” there, go ahead. I promise not to be offended.) Just like when Mojo was, without warning or much ceremony, dropped at our doorstep, we knew the right dog would appear at the right time.
The only issue I have is that February is not “the right time” to add a new animal to a Nova Scotia homestead, and I wasn’t really expecting to home a completely untrained, malnourished, unspayed rescue. (And, like Mojo, Deeze is definitely not a purebred.)
Come along and check out some of the things you really need to do before – and after – bringing home that new dog. This is important stuff that you need to know! What are you waiting for?
Talk About It
This is so very important!
Is this going to be an indoor dog? An indoor/outdoor dog? Or will it be entirely an outdoor dog? (Only if you have the climate for it and can provide some type of housing.)
What are the rules? It’s rough when one family member says “No dogs on the sofa” while another loves cuddling up and watching movies with the pup.
No matter what the rules are going to be, establish them right away. A dog needs stability.
A vocabulary list is important! If Mom says “down” and Dad says “off” and they both mean “four paws on the floor”, the dog is going to get confused.
An important word about rules. Dogs are pack animals. As such, they need a leader, an alpha. In a family, there can certainly be both an alpha male and an alpha female, but neither of these can be the dog. All humans rank above the dog, and that’s perfectly fine in your dog’s mind – so long as this is established right away. The more consistent the rules, the happier the dog will be.
Dogs don’t do democracy.
Almost every time a dog is “bad” or uncontrollable, the problem comes from confusion about their role. A dog that does not know where she stands in the pack order will try to take control or try to get attention. Of course that is not something that you want!
And here’s another important point – who is the dog’s main caregiver? Ever hear about the job that Anybody could have done, and Somebody really should have done, but in the end, Nobody did it? One adult in the household must have ultimate responsibility for the dog.
Consider Other Animals
If you have other animals, take a moment and consider how they’ll react.
To our surprise, Mojo is less than impressed by this young dog at first. Oh, he’s tolerating her, he’s showing her the rules, and I’ve even caught him cleaning her nose and ears, but I think she’s a lot more energetic and enthusiastic than he’d like. After two days, he’s finally agreeing to lie down next to her near the fire for a little while instead of heading for the opposite side of the house.
When we convert to dog years, this is like a hyperactive six year old invading the house of sedate, settled senior.
Our cats are quite happy that she can’t climb up the wood pile like they can.
Of course this is going to be more of an issue if the animals are indoors often, or if they have less space to run around in. With our acreage, there’s enough room for everyone.
Use rawhides and smoked pig’s ears very cautiously as treats, and if you treat one dog, treat them all. If there is any chance of aggression, have them tethered before handing out these treats. These are high on a dog’s list of desirable treats and they will fight each other, or bite people, to keep them.
Plan For Expenses
Vet bills can get high and this is a necessary, unavoidable part of owning a dog.
We took our new dog for her first “well dog” visit, picked up worming meds and a round of probiotics. $125 – no joke! While we were there, we discussed the need to have her spayed – $425. And then annual checkups. Our vet recommends that dogs are treated with a worming medicine three times a year.
Consider everything that your dog will happily eat, this is a really good idea.
Assemble Your Supplies
Whether it’s a dog, a cat, a goat or a rabbit, there are things you are going to need for that animal, and you’ll want to get them ahead of time. Otherwise your dog might be eating out of a casserole dish for two days until you can get back to the pet store.
At the very least, you’ll need:
– a bag of whatever the dog has been eating and (if necessary) a bag of whatever you’ll be switching him to. Because we have a lab and a pit bull, we get a dog food meant for large breeds
– and we buy it in big bags!
– stainless steel
or ceramic food and water dishes of appropriate size (I like stainless steel – durable and easy to clean!)
– baby gates if you don’t use a crate
– treats and toys
Okay, so what if you don’t know what the dog has been eating?
Yes, that’s possible. The answer is that you will have a few days of gastric upset – diarrhea and vomiting. Dogs like a predictable diet just as much as they like predictable rules. If this is the situation, ask your vet for some probiotics to keep things running smoothly.
It is definitely possible to change a dog’s food if the previous owner has been feeding something low-quality. Make the change gradually to limit gastric upset.
Here’s a tip – have supplies ready for cleaning up a big pile of dog poop. Even housetrained dogs can have accidents when they’re getting settled in.
Call The Vet
Perhaps you have a vet that allows you to just drop in? Neither do I. If you know you’re picking up a dog, call your vet and make an appointment for immediately after. Ideally, you are not going to bring a new animal home to meet any current animals until you’ve received an all clear. Okay, that’s in a perfect world and the reality is that you might have to take the new dog directly home and see the vet later.
This isn’t really optional. Find a good vet and make sure they get to know your animals. From worming to getting them spayed/neutered, a vet is important.
If the history of the dog is unknown, the vet is going to assume that it has worms and that it needs vaccinations. The vet will also check to see if the dog is spayed or neutered, do a quick check on its temperament, and verify health.
This first visit is very important since it gives your vet a starting snapshot of the dog’s health and temperament. If the dog came from another home, this might be a really depressing snapshot.
Now you have that dog home! It seems like a lot of preparation, doesn’t it? But think about it this way – you spend a lot of time preparing for a new baby, too. Right?
No matter the age of your new dog, moving to a new home is stressful.
Previous owners might have punished the dog in any number of ways, from kicks to slaps, rolled up newspapers to brooms. You are not going to do any of that, of course!
If you adopt a dog that has already been in another home, always assume the worst.
Assume that the dog has been starved, ignored and, when not ignored, beaten and abused.
Assume that the dog has had no housetraining and essentially knows nothing about living in a house.
Basically, when you get a new dog, no matter the age, treat him like a brand new puppy. Confine him to a room (generally the kitchen!) until you know he can be trusted. Expect accidents and messes. Do not trust him with the children until you know, without any doubt, how the dog will act.
A dog that has lived with other people has been trained – either purposely or accidentally – by them.
Dogs (just like children) are not born knowing to stay off the table or to play gently. A dog that jumps on the table to steal food has been taught that this is acceptable behavior, and the blame lies in whoever allowed this, not the dog.
There are a few games that, while fun, will teach your dog the household hierarchy and rules.
a) Sit for it. No matter what you are giving the dog – from a treat to a dish of food to a new ball or even a scratch behind the ear – make sure he sits for it. This teaches him that the human is the source of wonderful things, and well-behaved dogs get rewarded. Our dogs quickly learn that they sit by the door to go outside, that they sit quietly beside us to be scratched, and then leaping like a mad dog for the dinner bowl only gets it removed. None of this is cruel from the dog’s perspective – it is a matter of rules and direct cause-and-affect.
b) Me first. Humans always, always, always go first. Think like a dog and recognize that the alpha goes first. Never let the dog run through a door ahead of you – since the alpha always goes first, this will cause role confusion. Let the dog know, at every boundary, that this is your territory but you are allowing the dog into it. What do I mean by that? Well, I said that a new dog should be confined to one room at first and taught to stay in that room. Dogs understand boundaries and territories. If she has shown she can be trusted and it is time to let her into your bedroom, then you go into the bedroom and invite her in.
c) Come. The lower dogs in the pack always come to the pack leader. Figure out what your dog responds to (treats or affection) and reward accordingly whenever he obeys “Come!”
Dogs are not people.
They are the most loving, loyal, amazing animal that humans have ever managed to associate with. Dogs are pack animals who are happiest with clearly defined roles and they will die for their pack members. On a daily basis, a farm dog that is secure in her role will offer warning alarms, an excellent deterrent for most four – and two – legged threats, a playmate for children and a loving companion.
With all that dogs give us, it seems that the very least we can provide is a good, safe, structured home life and lots of love and affection.
Our newest pup has had her vet check up and is settling in beautifully!
Now she sits, tail wagging madly, for affection or other treats, and her delight at quickly learning this new “trick” is quite apparent. She is going to be an asset to our little homestead for years to come.