Dog Bite Liability: Can “Old Dogs” Learn New Tricks?
It’s a very exciting time when a family decides to add a dog to their family. Whether you are purchasing a puppy or adopting an older dog, you have many considerations to make when deciding to grow your family. It’s important to take a good look at your lifestyle and day-to-day routine to determine what breed, what size, and even what age of dog you want to get.
Many people see adopting an older dog from a shelter as a noble effort. Taking in an older dog can be rewarding, however it can also be challenging. Even if the dog is only a year or two old, if they are from a shelter you may not know their background. It’s important to get all the information you can about the dog before making a decision about bringing them home; are they housebroken, have they been around children, cats, other dogs?
No matter the breed, older dogs need time to adjust to a new environment. This is especially true if you already have another animal in the home. The dog should be supervised every minute they aren’t confined or crated until you’re comfortable with their behavior in your home and around all other family members, including other pets.
Chances are, a re-homed older dog will have at least one undesirable behavioral issue you’ll want to address. The good news is; it’s not impossible to teach an old dog new tricks! The key to training an older dog is to have patience; expect accidents, expect the need to re-housetrain, have all family members agree on house rules and what type of doggy behavior is unacceptable and how to address it.
When it comes to modifying the behavior of an older dog, it’s important to remember that dogs learn desired behavior through positive reinforcement; which means rewarding good behavior and ignoring undesired behavior. It doesn’t mean yelling or physical punishment of any kind. You don’t know your adopted older dog’s history; they may have been abused in the past and hitting them or screaming at them can actually add to their stress and cause more problems than help anything.
The first day you have your older dog, you should work on any basic commands they don’t know yet; come, sit, stay and down. You may want to invest in a training class if you don’t have experience with pet training. Many trainers advise taking it slow with an older dog; working on just one command a day or for a couple of days or a week, then moving on to another command. Another reason patience is important is because even though your dog may seem like they know these basic commands, they may have come from a home with people that spoke another language, and even though they “know” how to sit, stay, etc. they may not actually understand the actual English words “sit” or “stay.”
It takes time to build a solid bond of trust between you and your older, adopted dog. Don’t assume that they were socialized by the previous owners. It’s important to let your dog set the pace with training and use gentle encouragement if they are especially timid or shy.
While an older dog can certainly learn new tricks, it’s important to address any behavior issues they may have right away- before they become habits in the dog’s new environment- with positive reinforcement behavior modification techniques. It’s also important to remember that when you don’t know a dog’s background, it’s even more important to be financially protected by purchasing an adequate dog bite liability policy. Even if you have a dog that seems like the friendliest dog around, dog bites are still likely, especially in unfamiliar or stressful environments.
F.I.D.O., the Federation of Insured Dog Owners, Inc., now offers the Covered Canine Policy, an exclusive product and benefit for F.I.D.O. members only that specializes in Dog Bite Liability Insurance Programs This policy is available in California, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Utah and Wisconsin. It will protect you should your dog bite an individual and cause harm. It does not exclude any breed of dog and starts as low as $75 per dog, per year.