Taking in a stray animal can be a rewarding experience that doesn't have to be a difficult one.
One unfortunate rumor is that you cannot teach old dogs new tricks. Untrue! Old dogs have the same capabilities to learn, and can actually learn faster than puppies.
When taking in strays, there are a few things you should consider. First and foremost-do you have the financial capabilities to take care of this animal? Pets do cost money. Before allowing the animal major exposure to your home or around other pets, a visit to the veterinarian is a must. Heartworms and other contagious pet-carrying diseases are a big risk with strays. But, most diseases are easily treatable. The vet will also suggest a few preventative shots and/or flea and tick treatments. These are also a must for a healthy pet.
After the medical exam and care, it's time to bring the pet into your home. The pet will probably do his/her business in the home at first. Regardless if they were at one time housebroken, the new environment will take them back a few steps. Like with puppies, you must steadily discipline the animal for "going" inside of the home. You need to catch him/her in the act, though. Many people believe that rubbing the animal's nose in their urine or feces will associate that "going" inside of the home is wrong. This is not true for most animals. They will not realize that they are the culprits, and will be unsure as to why they are being punished.
Just as it is important to discipline the pet for doing wrong, it is equally important to not over discipline or discipline when the time is not right. Another misfortune with strays is that they may prefer to get their food supply from your garbage bags. This is probably where they have been finding their meals for a while. Once again, to discipline the dog, you need to catch them in the act. When you do find your new friend going in the house or ripping through the trash:
*First, firmly and harshly say "No!” "Bad!” or another word of your choice. Whatever word you choose, stick with it so that when they hear the word, they know they have done wrong.
*Physical contact with the dog is optional. It is an effective learning tool and you do not need to be rough. In fact, you should not hurt the dog. However, you may choose not to use any physical contact and still be effective. Other suggestions for discipline are: putting him/her in their cage for awhile (time out), or simply using a harsh sounding tone of voice.
*Lastly, show the animal the right thing to do. If he/she went in the house, take him outside. If he/she was tearing through trash, lead them to their food dish.
*You may want to give your dog a treat for good behavior. Some choose this method as reinforcement. Be careful though, they make pick up on the "I go outside, and when I come back in, I will receive a treat." Not associating that what they are being rewarded for is using the restroom outside. Dogs are clever, but not that bright. Regarding treats, either way you choose, no harm done.
Regular check-ups are important with animals that are brought in from the street. Depending on how long they were on their own, they could have been exposed to any range of diseases that may not show up in their first exam with the vet. Monitor their health regularly. Some signs of bad health may be seizures, bumps, vomiting after meals, and lack of movement. Unlike with most pets you can buy, strays come to you with no medical history and no knowledge of their usual behavior.
Taking in a stray can be a challenge, but an even greater reward. If properly taken care of, you will see their health and happiness improve greatly, and have the satisfaction of knowing you’ve saved them from a life of struggle and misery.