The first thing you should do is not panic! Most dogs handle change just fine, and sometimes the only thing that stands in the way of them being ok with a new situation is their owner’s emotions. Your only real decision is whether or not the dog will be welcome to continue sleeping in the room while your son is home. If he’s allowed to stay in the room, start teaching him where his new place will be, reinforcing with lots of cool toys and treats. If he’s not, don’t make a big emotional deal about it. Simply keep the door to the room closed, and offer him one or more alternative options. Resist the temptation to commiserate with him “Johnny’s being home will be hard for me, too, Spike” and go about your daily life as if all is well. Because really, in the grand scheme of things, it is!
Temperament, which, ironically, isn’t always easy to see. To shed some light on the subject, enlist the help of an adoption counselor at the shelter, or hire a trainer to go with you to assess the dogs you’re considering adopting. Ultimately (especially for families with children) what you’re looking for is a friendly, happy, outgoing, dog who can’t get enough of you petting him or her. Making friendly eye contact with you is a big plus, too. When properly evaluated, this type of dog can be less at risk for aggression issues, because a dog who asks you for physical contact is going to be much more likely to be ok when you have to handle him in a way he wishes you wouldn’t (ear cleaning, nail clipping, etc), than one who doesn’t enjoy or seek pleasant physical interaction.
Remember, too, that temperament is genetic! As with people, so, to some extent, is it with dogs. They are who they are. Your mom probably had this talk with you at some point when you were dating someone you were incompatible with. The old expression “You can’t ask a tiger to change his stripes.” comes to mind.
It’s imperative that you remember this lesson during your dog/puppy search. If your dream dog is a snuggle bug, then when you’re told by an adoption counselor or trainer that the puppy you’re considering is independent – i.e., likes to play by himself, is off wandering around the room, thinks a squeaky toy is more fun than any human he’s ever met – DO NOT think to yourself “That’s fine. When I take him home he’ll see how much fun I am and what great games we can play and he’ll become bonded to me.” Maybe. But more likely not. Remember the tiger.
Last night I came home from work and my saw that my dog had destroyed three photo albums with irreplaceable pictures of my family. I lost my mind and started screaming at her and she ran under the bed. Now I feel so guilty, and even though she acts like nothing happened, I think she secretly hates me. I keep hugging her and apologizing, but I still feel terrible. Have I destroyed our relationship?
OK, take a deep breath and repeat after me “dogs don’t secretly feel anything”. If your tantrum had emotionally scarred her, you would know it. She would be skulking around the house, head down, avoiding you like the plague. And even with a dog who was that emotionally sensitive, with time and patience, you would be able to repair the damage done to the relationship. Your dog, however, has weathered the storm and moved on. Most dogs (those who have been emotionally or physically abused and those who have emotional issues are a different story) are able to shake it off and move on. They don’t post “FML” on Facebook, and send texts to their friends, ruing the day they came into your home. The hard part is for you to let go of the incident – smothering her with hugs and apologies may actually cause her anxiety, or, in the case of a dog who doesn’t like a lot of physical contacts, just plain annoy her. THEN she would avoid you, and then you would say “See, she hates me for yelling at her”. Sometimes we humans create our own reality. Look, here’s the scoop – first, don’t scream at your dog for anything. Dogs fear anger, ignore it, or it amps them up and makes everything worse. If you’re about to pop your cork walk away and cool off – may I suggest counting to 10 or higher. Second, and most important, keep heirlooms out of reach of your dog. A good rule of thumb is “if you wouldn’t leave it out with a toddler, don’t leave it out with your dog”. Finally, resume acting normal around your dog – you said it yourself “she acts like nothing happened”, which, translated, means she’s over it. You need to be, too.
My dog has five places in my house where he loves to hang out, none of them being the expensive dog bed I bought him. Help!
Dogs, like people, have preferences, and (unlike some people) aren’t shy about meeting their needs. As opposed to the guest who sits uncomfortably on your couch that’s really uncomfortable to him without saying a word, your dog has no qualms about finding a place that meets his comfort requirements, a la Goldilocks. Since you don’t mention that the chosen places are taboo, just that you’re miffed he’s turned his nose up at the high-end bed, then consider him a better judge of his likes and dislikes than you, and return or donate the item in question. You also might want to figure out why he chooses the places he does – warmth, softness, privacy – and keep those factors in mind when you go shopping for his next doggie divan!