Preparing for adoption events
Adoption events are a LOT of fun, there are lots of dogs and lots of people that love dogs, and I've had a fun at every one I've been to. It is a stressful environment for most dogs though, and it can be especially stressful for a rescue dog that may have fears that we aren't even aware of yet. Keeping a few important points in mind will help the event go smoothly.
The most important thing is to have a good understanding of canine body language. Look over the handouts "Doggie language" and "Batzone" and commit as much as possible to memory.
If the dog you are handling starts showing any stress signals, give them a break and get them away from whatever is scaring them, no matter who or what it is.
If you notice another dog giving stress signals, give that dog a little space.
If your dog wants to say hi to a stressed out dog, don't let them. That may be a little frustrating for the dog you are handling, so you'll want to make sure your own mood does NOT appear stressed, even if you are a little stressed. There is a technique called "The Jolly Routine" that you can and should use whenever the dog you are handling is feeling stressed out. Our normal attempts to soothe an anxious dog are often, maybe even usually, misunderstood by dogs. If the dog doesn't understand what we mean when we say things like "there there, it's OK" (and they don't!) then they may end up thinking words like "it's OK, there there" mean something scary is approaching. Dogs are pretty good at recognizing our happy, playful body language though, and will often respond playfully, or at least respond a little more calmly. Here is a link that describes it in more detail, with a short video to follow: http://animalbehavior.net/LIBRARY/Canine/PPM/DogJollyRoutine.htm
SHOW YOUR DOG SOME LOVE!
You also need to find something that is rewarding to the dog. We want the dog to have a good time at these events, if they get scared by another dog or a person, they may become more fearful around other dogs or people in the future. I always take treats with me wherever I go. My pockets ALWAYS smell like meatballs! But you have to be very, very careful with food at these events, as many dogs are resource guarders. If too many dogs are sniffing at your pocket, (a treat pouch that closes tightly will work better than your pocket) just throw away any treats you have on you, it's not worth the risk. If there is ANY sign of resource guarding either from your dog or one of the other dogs, throw the treats away.
We do NEED to find things that are rewarding to the dog though. If you aren't going to have any treats on you, you may need to experiment a little bit.
Most dogs get a little itchy behind the ears, along the collar line, under the neck, and at the base of the tail. Some dogs love petting, but most dogs are not very fond of being petted on the head. Do a simple test: pet the dog on the head for a few seconds and then stop. If the dog solicits more petting GREAT! That dog likes petting and you can pet them to your hearts content. If the dog doesn't react or moves away, they probably aren't crazy about the petting. Do the same thing with scratching behind the ears, tail, collar, etc.
Whatever they like, give them a LOT of it,
whether that be:
1-treats (but not when other dogs are close by)
a friendly scratch
petting IF they like it.
3- a little walk or a run. Dogs LOVE to run. One of the best things rewards you can give a dog is a playful, happy run. If we can teach a dog to have a GOOD time at these events, that will help them be more comfortable around unfamiliar people and dogs, which is exactly what we want.
4- a potty break
How to handle people approaching your dog
There are going to be some things you can't control. There are ways of greeting an unfamiliar dog that are considered polite in the canine world, but most people don't know them, and you are not going to have the time to explain to people that some of the ways they greet dogs are inappropriate.
Some of the most common mistakes are:
1-giving direct eye contact to an unfamiliar dog,
2- leaning or looming over a dog,
3- approaching head on and getting in their space before they have accepted you.
4-petting a dog that does not want to be petted
I'll include a handout for politely greeting dogs, but you probably won't have a chance to explain this to people. You'll still want to familiarize yourself with the polite greetings though, so that if a guest is giving a dog a hard stare or starts petting a dog they've never met on the head, you'll be aware that the dog is likely to become stressed. Let the person that scared the dog know that the dog is feeling a little stressed (don't blame them) and back off, maybe take the dog for a short walk or run.
The body language handouts and the polite greeting handout should be helpful, try to commit as much as possible to memory. Remember to monitor your dog's body language and the other dogs as closely as you can, make sure they have a good time and give them lots of something they find rewarding: treats, play, a friendly scratch behind the ears, collar line, or base of tail, a short walk or run, a little playtime away from the crowd, maybe a potty break. Keep an eye on the way people are interacting with your dog, and be ready to give the dog a break if anyone interacts inappropriately with your dog. And some people WILL act inappropriately, they will get in the dog's face a little too much, stare a little too long, or be too quick to reach out and touch the dog. If the dog gets stressed, you need to step in and help them out. If they know they can count on you to be their advocate when they are anxious, they will love you for it. This will help you earn the dog's trust, and there's nothing better than earning the trust of a dog that's feeling a little insecure.
The most important thing is to have fun. My mentor, Steve Benjamin used to say "Dog training is SUPPOSED to be fun, if it's not fun, there's a good chance you're doing something wrong!" Rescuing dogs should be fun to, so let's go have some FUN!