Tilly's Tales :: A Shelter Dog's Blog

Starting Life Together

It was over 11 years ago that my husband Mike and I rescued Trista, our bicolor Shepherd, from a northern New Jersey shelter. For those years, she was a constant companion, traveling everywhere with us – on trips across the country involving boat ferries, horse-drawn carriages, motels and shops that allowed dogs and, of course, sidewalk cafés. When we had to say goodbye to her in early January 2016, there was a terrible void left behind. So when little Tilly, a Shepherd puppy, became available at the shelter where I worked, she seemed an angel sent by Trista to usher us into our next dog chapter.   
drawing by Josh Hartl
As a shelter trainer, I counsel people every day about housetraining, the importance of the crate, of giving dogs a job to do and about providing mental stimulation and physical exercise. I espouse slow, gradual exposure to new people, new animals, new experiences. I explain the honeymoon period – the first days and weeks after a dog joins the home, when their behavior is inhibited as they acclimate to their new life. And then as the dog gets more comfortable, I counsel owners about how to solve problem behaviors that emerge as their new dog starts to experiment with limits and boundaries and exhibit their doggy-ness.

   These first days and weeks are when relationship is forged and habits are formed. When a new behavior emerges, one shouldn’t wait in the hopes it will disappear on its own; that is how troublesome habits develop. And with any new dog, there are many lessons to learn at once – potty training, appropriate behavior in the house, crate training and separation tolerance, introduction to new people and new animals, basic cues and loose-leash walking, and just general politeness. It is always a juggling game of which to bring to the forefront, which has the greatest urgency.

   It will come as no surprise that having a new puppy was a lot of work! Mike and I spent much of our early days with Tilly attending to puppy training and a grueling exercise regimen. As I said, it had been a long time since our last rescue… it was over 11 years ago since Trista was new to us, and over 8 years ago since she had been young, really young! For us, it was a rude awakening, with discoveries, frustrations, and lessons to learn. But I knew that once these habits and routines are established, life would even out and we would have a constant canine companion and family member. As I moved through these new challenges, I looked forward to sharing them with you in this space.