Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Breaking the Ice with your scared new cairn – Tips from an Adoptive mom

Written by Reggie and Gemma's adoptive mom


We decided to adopt a cairn puppy from CP last year. Did you know that Col. Potter has matchmakers who help find the perfect dog for you even if it isn’t the one you thought you wanted? We ended up adopting a 5-year-old, extremely skittish rescue from a commercial breeding facility. Initially, I was a little hesitant at the thought of missing out on that “puppy experience.” Four months later, I cannot tell you how happy I am that took a chance on an older dog. “Reggie,” our black brindle, is the envy of every dog owner.

He’s not a puppy in the conventional sense but he wasn’t familiar with the life of a companion animal at all. He’s loving and mild mannered and has a following of fans.

Initially, he was afraid of us and his new world, spending much of his time under the furniture or by himself. It was heartbreaking to watch him stay so isolated. What was more frustrating was that I couldn’t find a way to help him. We knew he needed more expertise then we had to offer him and we enlisted the assistance of a trainer. There’s so much to say about our journey together and about why I think everyone should make the “mistake” of getting an older and/or rescued dog.

These are some of the basic tips we learned from our trainer, Mark to develop our relationship with our scared little guy. His advice was invaluable and really laid a foundation for the rest of our training. The most basic tips for building a relationship with your new fearful pup are:


Rome wasn’t built in a day. You can’t expect your dog to know who you are at first and you can’t force him to love you right away. You CAN make small steps every day to show him that you are his forever Mom or Dad and that you care for him.


Mark really encouraged us to spend at least 20 – 30 minutes with Reggie on our lap every day. We held him in a hug for a lot of that time to make him feel secure. Before your dog can ever learn that the world is not out to harm him, he needs the security from you to gain some confidence. Soft physical contact and lots of love will show your new dog that they have someone they can trust.


Although no one is perfect and it’s very hard not to yell “NO” when your dog is marking your favorite chair, it’s important to understand that many rescues come from very scary environments where yelling was often a prerequisite to unpleasant experiences. Instead of yelling, come up with a strategy to reward your dog for doing the right thing. This training, admittedly, takes a lot longer but it won’t destroy that fragile bond that you’re building. It will also build your dog’s confidence much more quickly.

As a additional tip, I suggest getting a dog trainer or enrolling in an obedience class at your local pet store or training facility. Mark was absolutely crucial to our success with Reggie and without him, I think I may have had an emotional breakdown. He was just as important to us as a mentor as he was to Reggie as a trainer. There’s much more to our success story than these tidbits but as we found out with Reggie, it’s important to start with the basics.

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