“A lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me.”
- Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States
Homechecks are a very important part of the rehoming procedure, not just for the rescue itself, but for you too.
Some people think of homechecks as an inconvenience. After all, you know that you’d be a fabulous home for a rescue dog. If there are rescue dogs needing homes, then they should welcome you with open arms, right?
Well, no. This dog has, one way or another, already been let down once. It’s more important than ever to make sure that this homing is right.
Whether a centre carries out homechecks or not gives you a good idea of whether they care about where the dog is going. While you may know your garden is secure, should a centre responsible for homing a living, breathing creature really take your word for it?
If a centre isn’t worried about your garden, your house, your family circumstances, how is it possible to make sure the right match takes place?
You may take a shine to Billy, a very bouncy Lab who has a penchant for jumping into ponds. Your next door neighbour has expensive Koi carp, and your fences are only 3ft high. It doesn’t take a genius to realise that Billy will be very tempted to go and splash around. And whilst he’ll have a fabulous time swimming, the Koi might not be so lucky, and you’ll end up with a bill for hundreds of pounds for some very expensive dead fish.
Whilst you’ll be furious getting a huge invoice like that, and your relationship with your neighbour will now be a bit frosty, there would be no point getting angry with Billy because it wasn’t his fault. If the garden was secure and he couldn’t see the pond, he wouldn’t have leapt over there for a splash around.
With a homecheck and the right advice, that situation might be avoided. Heightening the fence so Billy never even notices that there’s a pond, and even if he did, he couldn’t get to it, would solve that problem. Billy wouldn’t get into mischief, and you won’t get a huge bill.
Homecheckers are usually volunteers of the rescue, and may have done many homechecks over the years. Their expertise and help can aid you in making sure that your garden is secure, safe and a happy environment for a new friend.
If you’re thinking of adopting a dog but his vice is enjoying digging up gardens, you could install a sand pit (with non-toxic sand, obviously) and hide toys in there. By guiding what is often seen as a problem behaviour from your flower beds into a controlled area where you can encourage him to play and dig, you’re showing that dog that there’s exciting things to do in this new environment. Instead of trying to stop a dog from doing something they enjoy, you’re showing them that they’re still allowed to do it in an area specially designed for them to have loads of fun.
If you do decide to take a dog from a centre that does not carry out homechecks, then you should really carry out your own homecheck to make sure everything is right for a dog to come home. You would not want to bring a dog home, and then it all go wrong because you didn’t check the basics. Here are some of the things to look out for:
First, the garden. It’s worth making sure that your fences are in good repair, of a good height, and are entirely secure. Clearly the size of fence you would need for a Yorkie in comparison to a Great Dane is obvious, so you must use your common sense. Equally, if you have wrought iron gates, the Great Dane can’t slip through the bars, but a Yorkie could.
There’s no point having a fully secure garden with high fences if then you have raised flower beds, tables and chairs stacked against the fence. We’ve often seen a nice little arrangement where a flower bed leads onto a chair, onto a table, onto the shed roof… and there’s the dog running havoc in a neighbours garden because it’s smelled the barbeque. All while you’re oblivious in the house because you were confident that the garden is completely secure.
Also, don’t be lulled into thinking that even if your fence isn’t high enough “they can’t get out of the neighbours garden”. Firstly, it really isn’t your neighbour’s responsibility to make sure your dog is safe. If they open their gates, have a window open, have visiting children round that are scared of dogs, all sorts of bad things can happen. You wouldn’t want to find your dog has been injured or killed in a road accident because they got out of your neighbours garden.
Make sure that your fence panels are nice and sturdy. Whilst you may bring home a dog who has no interest in replicating their own version of ‘The Great Escape’, if your fences are rotten, high winds, or even an over-enthusiastic dog chasing a ball could quickly breach the perimeter.
You may have a fantastically secure garden… six foot fence panels and a nice six foot gate. However, that gate isn’t much use if it isn’t bolted. If someone opens the gate and doesn’t shut it properly, it could be quite some time before you realise that your little pal has gone missing. Invest in a sprung gate hinge, which will automatically swing shut if someone doesn’t close it properly, and make sure you install a bolt on the inside of the gate. These things may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many dogs are lost simply because a gate or a door has been left open. Spending a few pounds on a sprung hinge and bolt, is a small price to pay for the safety and security of your dog.
People also believe that their garden is fully secure because they have very thick hedging. Dogs, even large ones, can get through small gaps at the bottom of a hedge. You would not believe the size of holes some dogs can squeeze through! This is especially the case if you’ve had foxes push their way into your garden. Their scent can lead some dogs directly to the gap, and they’re off trying to find Mr Fox!
One of the easiest solutions to this problem is to install some wire mesh into the hedge, and fix it to the ground with something like tent pegs. The best way to achieve this is to cut the hedge back, and push the mesh flush with the hedge. Use stakes every four feet or so, and fix the wire to the stakes. Then, use tent pegs to keep the wire mesh flush to the floor. Although it isn’t always possible to do this, the best time is during spring and early summer, because within a week or two, the hedge will have grown through the mesh, and you won’t even be able to see it any more. The hedge will now strengthen the mesh, and you have a fully secure hedge, without any visual impact.
It is also worth considering the plants and decor of your garden. Do you have any plants that are poisonous to dogs? Common plants such as Holly, Hydrangea and Tulips can cause skin rashes and other associated problems. More seriously, plants such as Azalea, Foxglove, Mistletoe and Rhododendron can be fatal. If you have a dog, you may want to put up fake mistletoe at Christmas just to be on the safe side.
There are many, many more plants that are poisonous to dogs, and we’ll explore that further in another article on the site. It isn’t an exhaustive list, that simply isn’t possible, so you should always use common sense when looking at the safety of your home and garden. If you aren’t sure – always err on the side of caution. There is nothing worse than thinking ‘it’ll be okay’, only to find that it isn’t.
There are other things in your garden you may never have considered as being a problem. For example, do you have any bark chippings in your garden? Some packs of bark chippings include the bark from cocoa trees, which are poisonous (for the same reasons as chocolate) to dogs. This all depends on where the chippings were sourced, so if you’re unsure, check the bag (if you still have it), or contact the retailer you purchased it from for more information.
There’s nothing more important to a dog that does not know your environment than feeling safe and secure. Even if you’ve had an exhaustive homecheck, it’s your responsibility to make sure that your garden is a safe environment. They may miss something that you’ve noticed.
You can have a good think about where you’d like your dog to sleep, but quite often dogs like to choose their own place where they feel safe and secure. Some dogs prefer to be with you, others prefer to be alone. Some love having their own crate at nighttime and others prefer free-range. Make sure they have some nice bedding – it’s often best to use an old duvet or blanket – something that has a familiar smell of you and your household, rather than an expensive new bed which just smells of fire retardant foam.
If you’re considering taking on a dog who is known to have food issues, or perhaps has been a stray for a long time, you’ll probably want to invest in a kitchen bin with a lockable lid. Even flip top bins are no problem for your determined canine food thief! These dogs have often had to use their intelligence and ingenuity to gain access to food, so you must make sure that you’re careful about where, and how you store things. If they really are interested in wherever you put food, than have all your foodstuffs in the higher cupboards, and no food in the cupboards at doggy-access level.
If you have children, make sure any toys that are precious are kept out of reach of a dog. We often give dogs cuddly toys to play with, and then that same dog gets in trouble for taking little Katie’s teddy bear. We can’t be inconsistent over the rules. Allow your dog to have access to the toys you want them to have. If you buy your dog small squeaky furry toys, don’t be surprised if they get obsessed by small squeaky furry hamsters. If you buy them a novelty squeaky toy that looks like a phone, don’t be entirely shocked when they chew your new smartphone to pieces.
It seems obvious, but just make sure that any you’d hate getting broken is put away safely. When you’re dog-proofing your house, think of it in the same way as if you’d be baby-proofing. You may have a lovely vase that sits on a jardiniere, but Timmy’s waggy tail isn’t as delicate as the appraiser on Antiques Roadshow… Most things that get broken by a dog are usually collateral damage!
Of course, making your garden secure, and the house completely dog-proof is useless if you forget that you’ve left a window open. Many dogs escape from homes purely because a window has been left open. We’ve even heard of determined dogs jumping (unharmed, thank goodness) from upstairs windows. Make sure that your windows and doors are secure. If you’ve taken on a dog who is nervous and skittish, it only takes a second for them to squirm past you – so don’t be tempted to chat to the postman with the door open. A dog is always quicker than you are!