Thursday, November 5, 2009

Setting Boundaries

Too often as rescue volunteers and adopters we forget that our new fur babies are in desperate need of boundaries in order to further their adjustment to life as a 'real' dog in a 'real' home with a 'real' family. I often hear people say, "Well, the dog just won't listen" or "He/She is acting up". It is easy to forget that our furry little friends who've come with some baggage need structure and a schedule to make adjustments to their lives. They don't understand or reason like us humans and live on a much more primal, or basic, instinct.

When someone adopts a dog I coordinate I like to prepare them by sharing my secrets to success in integrating a dog into my pack or into my family.

First things first...there have to be some basic "Absolutes" established. These are the absolute "cans" and "cannots" of the household. Mind you this is a family exercise and all members should contribute. These "absolutes" should be posted on the refrigerator (the most commonly used appliance and where you are likely to find a basenji waiting for you to make a mistake and drop something). If you don't want the dog on the furniture or in the bed, then make that a rule. If it is okay for the dog to lay in a laundry hamper for his afternoon naps, put that on the list too. There are no right or wrongs aside from the basics in dog and basenji care. This has to be something EVERYONE, including the dog, can live with and abide by with CONSISTENCY!

Consistency - wow, that is a MOUTHFUL! This is what I find to be the hardest concept for anyone to grasp. BUT, it can be achieved - again through a family meeting and a list prior to bringing your new dog home. I encourage adoptive families to also make a list of 1 word commands to teach and use with the dog. For example...if you want the dog to "sit" use the word "sit", "down" for lying down, "off" for getting them off of you or stop them from jumping up onto someone or something, and so on. This list of one word commands should also be posted on the refrigerator for all to see and as a reminder.
Next I also ask that adoptive families make a schedule for the dog. Establish a full daily and again, CONSISTENT schedule for your dog.

AM -

7 Get up and let dog out or "Johnny" will take dog on a walk.

7:30 "Sally" will feed the dog and let the dog out again

8 Dad will play with the dog and let the dog out again before work

9 to 4 pm - dog will be crated

PM -

4 "Johnny" will get home and take dog on a walk with "Sally"

5 Mom will feed dog and play with dog

7 Dad will walk dog with kids

9 Everyone goes to bed and dog sleeps with Sally

This gives EVERYONE a clear picture of their duties and responsibilities, as well as providing the dog with a consistent schedule to aid in adjusting to its new life and family.

My next request is for the family to tether the dog for at least a few weeks in the house. This, again, helps the dog get used to the new family, rules of the house and establishes that the dog doesn't run the show, but that he must follow the "leaders of the house". Along with establishing leadership leads to my last point. I employ, and encourage everyone to use this, the "nothing in life is free" rule. My dogs must EARN everything they get - from food to affection. This is accomplished by the dog always "giving me an action" before they get something from me. Example: Food/Feeding - when my dogs get fed, they must either give me a sit, down, stand, eye contact, shake BEFORE I give them their food. If the dogs want to play, well, they certainly won't get it if they initiate keep the hierarchy of me as the boss, I will take the toy, hide it for a few minutes until their attention is diverted and then bring it out as if it were always my intention and begin the play. They love it and respond very well. The toy becomes a surprise again!

These are some simple techniques to make the adjustment of your new family pet easier for EVERYONE in the home.

Remember: You are the leader...and catch them doing something good! Reward the good and ignore the bad as much as possible. Negative reinforcement is still reinforcement of a behavior!


  1. Hi! I just want to say that I agree with the article totally! I have two Basenjigirls, and had anotherone(adopted) for two years. The adopted one we used a lot of work and effort on, and she was so great in the end. Sadly we lost her this january, when she got hit by a car... The 2 B-girls we have left are living after strict bounderies and funktions very well! Basenjis are the perfect dog in my eyes, but we have to be clear strong leaders to them.
    I would also like to thank you all for the amazing work you do getting new homes for all the "lost souls" out there!
    Best regards Dorrit in Norway