The First Week With A New Dog

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Attempting to show peak leadership

We have thrown a lot of new situations at Hank in his first week and he has shown himself to be an excellent follower!

Wow! What a wonderful week!

We have been truly blessed with getting such a beautiful new member of the family, Hank (and when I say beautiful I mean both in and outside) – and really all credit must go to Szabolcs Szalmasi and his wife Julia who are one of the team of Vizslamentes foster families – that take in the rescue Hungarian Vizsla and GSP dogs in Hungary, care for them, feed them up if necessary, assess them and generally give them a loving stable environment before the dogs are found permanent homes elsewhere – usually in Hungary and the UK.

So we picked him up last Sunday from the designated rendezvous point with the Hungarian courier and one of the Vizslamentes UK Representatives and we’d like to think, immediately bonded with him – got him on a lead, gave him water and treats , jogged up and down the carpark, jumped in and out of the new crate in the car. We tried to hold back on the gushing smothering affection in order to assert calm leadership qualities he could easy decide to follow. It wasn’t that easy but I think we managed.

We decided to implement Jan Fennell’s “Amichien Bonding” techniques after Szabolcs had recommended her book “The Practical Dog Listener – a 30 Day Path to a Lifelong Understanding of Your Dog”. In the book she describes how to be seen as the “top dog” by any new dog joining your family based on how you act during 4 critical occasions:

  1. Pack Reunions
  2. Feeding
  3. Protection
  4. The Hunt / The Walk

Now she proposes that the first 48 hours concentrate on the first 2 elements – to settle your dog into his/her new environment so in fact you do NOT go out on a walk. However since Hank had travelled for 24 hours plus in a crate from Hungary (obviously with regular water and toilet breaks) we thought that we needed to allow him some exercise so we did incorporate small walks on the lead in those first 2 days whilst training on the recall and heel work in the garden.

Tanja is on school holidays and I have essentially taken paternity leave (even though I work from home) for Hank’s first three weeks with us. We have pretty much spent the whole first week constantly working situations that help Hank settle in, know his boundaries and accept us as his pack leaders and… fingers-crossed we think he has! Of course it is early days and in fact we know that we are extremely lucky to have had Szabolcs and Julia lay the ground rules and foundations with Hank so that actually all we needed to do was replace them as pack leaders and continue the good work.

Here’s a very brief rundown on the 4 elements of Amichien Bonding – however if you are interested in learning more then I thorough recommend any of Jan Fennell’s books – I’ve read both the “The Practical Dog Listener – a 30 Day Path to a Lifelong Understanding of Your Dog” and “The Dog Listener: Learning the Language of your Best Friend”.

Pack Reunions

The principle of this element of the Amichien Bonding is that as pack leader you choose when and how to dispense affection and acknowledgment. So whenever you leave and place a closed door between you and your dog then when you return you need to reassert your leadership by… ignoring them until they have settled and relaxed. Then you can call them and give them affection, etc. During the ignoring time (no matter what your dog does and no matter how long it lasts – average is apparently 10 minutes) you should not make eye contact, not touch them (apart from possible moving them gently out the way), not talk to them, etc. Basically this is what the alpha wolves do with their pack – everytime they return!

Feeding

With feeding the idea is that you as the pack leader eat first. So Jan’s technique (so that you don’t have to coincide your dogs feeding time with yours) is that as you prepare your dogs dinner in view of them you also prepare a plate for yourself with a cracker (or whatever treat you prefer) and make a big show of eating your plate first before then placing your dog’s bowl down in their designated feeding place and allowing them to feed. Once the bowl is empty of left by the dog you remove it until the next meal time. In this way you control the supply of food to your dog and you are also seen to be eating first – thus cementing your position as “top dog” in the pack.

Protection

In wolf packs it is the alpha pair that ultimately provide the protection of the pack. It is the alpha pair that decides for any given “threat” whether to do one of the following 3 “F”s – Fight, Flight or Freeze. So in the same way it is you that must provide the appropriate response to your dog in the variety of situations that you and they encounter everyday from the postman delivering mail, the telephone ringing to meeting other people or other dogs – and everything in between!

Controlling your dog’s response is an important part of this element and so basic commands like the “sit” and “come” are essential and she details her methods for training these actions.

Jan also gives lots of examples in her books on how to deal with various situations that have plagued various dog owners.

The Hunt / The Walk

The final element is the ritual of the walk (which has long replaced the original has activity of the hunt). Here you must be seen to lead. Basically you must initiate the walk, after the initial excitement wait for calm and then be the first to step over the threshold to start your journey!

One of the most important aspects of the walk is the walking to heel – how many dog owners have you seen being dragged along by their dogs (whether on a short lead/leash or long flexi-line)! This is just so wrong and even before reading Jan’s books I knew I didn’t want to be one of those dog owners.

She has great techniques for encouraging walking to heel that DON’T involve yanking on the lead/leash. Now be prepared you may not get very far on your first walk but you will be setting yourself up for a lifetime of wonderful walks.

Now to be honest we have taken a pragmatic approach to the walk as we want to give Hank the exercise he needs but we implement her techniques whilst out and about and so far we are seeing improvements every day with his on-leash walking.

The First Week Summary

So in our first week we have been implementing all of these elements and have been introducing Hank to lots of situations both in the house and outside on walks or in the town centre, etc. I think we have been pretty successful at getting Hank to accept our guidance and leadership but realise that one can never get complacent with the responsibility of “top dog”!

I would love to hear about any of your tips for any of these 4 elements or what you think about them…

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