What would you tell a brand-new pet parent to help ease their dog’s transition into the home? Renowned canine behaviorist and trainer Patricia McConnell, PhD, CAAB, discussed this in her webinar, “Increasing the Odds of a Successful Adoption,” and continues the conversation here.
I asked webinar attendees how many shelters and rescue groups send home literature with adopted dogs. Lots of people chimed in to say that they did indeed send information home with new owners. However, just as many had no confidence that any of what they sent home was read or understood.
We’re shocked, right, that often people don’t read or remember important information? The fact is, we’re all human and often don’t retain information. We leave one place with the best of intentions to follow instructions and then arrive at another place and get caught up in the drama of life, whether it’s the new dog throwing up on the carpet or a phone message that wipes everything else out of your head. How then are professionals—who have a limited amount of time with new owners, and who know that only some literature sent home with the dog will be read—best able to convey what is important when they send an adopted dog out the door? I certainly don’t have all the answers, but here are some ideas in hopes it generates some helpful conversation.
"Decide the three most important things to say to people when they come to pick up their dog, and stifle the burning desire to add just one more."
#1: Don’t compete with cute
Petting a dog or cat may decrease a person’s blood pressure, but it does nothing to increase their concentration. Just as it is easier to begin training a new skill to your dog with no other dogs around, it is easier to convey information to people who are not distracted by a bundle of adorableness squiggling under the palms of their hands. Thus, do all you can to provide important information when the dog or cat is not in the room. Many shelters have a protocol of when information is to be discussed, but that is less common in rescue groups and foster families. Wherever you are, think about when you convey information, and if you can improve on the timing.
#2: Do some verbal triage
Decide the three most important things to say to people when they come to pick up their dog, and stifle the burning desire to add just one more thing. I remember when I first started teaching dog training classes, and couldn’t stop myself from trying to convey virtually everything I knew about training and behavior in a six-week class. It didn’t take long to realize that the glazed faces on my clients had more to do with my verbal excess than the late evening hours. And yet, I was motivated by the best of intentions: To give them their money’s worth and teach them everything I possibly could in six weeks. However, I was ignoring the fact that people can only take in a limited amount of new information before their brains turn into applesauce, and all I was doing was exhausting and confusing them. Have you heard the advice about preparing for a trip: Take half the clothes and twice the money you thought you needed? The same logic applies here: Figure out how much you think people can comprehend, and then divide it by two, because you are likely going to overestimate.
#3: Take-home literature should be visually appealing and short enough to be readable
When I adopted my cat Sushi from my local shelter (a long time ago), I received a packet of information that included a rainbow of Xeroxed pages about a range of topics, from state law relating to rabies vaccinations, information on how to contribute to the shelter, a small booklet prepared by a pet food company that was so memorable I don’t remember a word of it, and various and sundry other items. I thumbed through quickly and put it aside. Years later I found it under a pile of papers and threw it away. I suspect that the information being sent home now is much better organized, but I do strongly suggest that each organization thinks carefully about what they send home with adopters. Ideally, information for new adopters should be in one place, visually appealing, short enough to be truly readable, and yet thorough enough to be truly helpful.
That’s not always an easy thing to accomplish. I should know, because my zoologist and animal behaviorist colleague, Dr. Karen B. London, and I spent a year working on a small book that meet those criteria. Love Has No Age Limit: Welcoming An Adopted Dog into Your Home is the result of no small amount of hand-wringing, hair-pulling (not each other’s!) and the consumption of copious amounts of stress-relieving chocolate, because we wanted to say what is most important, yet keep the book light and accessible. Although we are not inclined to pat ourselves on the back (we’re usually too busy pulling our hair, after all!), the truth is we are both sincerely pleased with this book and its reception.
People from all over tell us that it has helped them immensely to deal with the excitement, fears and worries of bringing a new life into their home. If you are using it yourself to hand out to adopters, be sure to tell them that they should use it as a reference and not to worry about reading it in order. Lots of people do, but they can also skip the section about “Preparation” if the dog is standing and staring at them from the living room rug. Karen and I both would love to hear from readers who have used the book—any requests for tweaks? What other resources have you found useful for cats as well as dogs? Again, thanks to all of you who joined us in the webinar last week.