Congratulations on your new dog! Pet adoption can be extremely rewarding, providing a life time of companionship and love. But as with adding any new family member, sometimes there can be unexpected pitfalls that make the transition more rocky than it needs to be. Part of our mission at HSSET is helping new pet owners through the first few weeks into their happily ever after–with their pet, at least.
Like any person, moving into a new home can be a nerve-wracking experience for a dog. No matter what their age, dogs are creatures of habit. Once they are used to an area and have marked it as “home” any change to location can be upsetting. Having patience with them during this transition is key, but there are things you can do to make it easier.
Before you bring your new dog home you need to prepare the home for them. Begin by identifying the area where your dog will be expected to spend the majority of their time. This can either be the area you spend the most time in (such as your living room), their crate, or the room they will be confined to while you are not home; kitchens and bathrooms work best. If you do leave for extended periods of time, and are not planning to crate train, it is best to confine them to a smaller room while they are unsupervised–at least at first. Because of the new environment, and the particular stresses of shelter life, the dog may temporarily forget their housebreaking or be easily excited. Confining them will ease their stress and reduce the amount of damage they can cause to the environment and themselves if the worst happens. It is recommended you leave your new friend unsupervised as little as possible in these first few weeks.
Once you’ve identified their area, prepare it for their arrival:
- De-clutter the area. Dogs who can jump may be able to reach items left on shorter tables. Pay special attention bottles containing any kind of non-edible liquids, such as lotions.
- Tape down or cover any electrical cords on ground level, or at a height where the dog can reach them.
- If doors to the room do not close, or there are no doors, block them with baby gates at a height the dog cannot jump over.
- Check that cabinet doors cannot easily be opened. Baby-proof cabinet locks in most cases also work for dogs.
- Be sure to provide a designated place the dog can rest, such as a pillow or bed which belongs to them. You may want to leave an article with your scent on it as well, such as a blanket. For animals with separation anxiety (often caused by being abandoned before/at the shelter) this can be a life safer–or a furniture saver).
Crate training is very similar.
You will also want to identify where the dog will be relieving themselves; if you plan to take them on routine walks, or if you have a yard they’ll be allowed to use. Make sure you have a means to remove the waste, either way.
Lastly, be sure to have a means of transporting the dog home from the shelter. While some dogs are very comfortable riding lose in a car, many others are nervous or scared of moving vehicles. To spare the animal’s nerves, and your upholstery, having a crate in the car can help immensely. This can be the same crate you intend to train them into, or one specifically for car trips. Remember that the dog needs to be able to stand inside of it and turn around. Any larger negates the point of the crate, and anything smaller is too small for the dog. Make certain that wherever the crate is, it is strapped securely to the vehicle. We do not recommending putting an animal–even with a crate–in an open-air truck bed for any reason.
Bringing Puppy Home
Dogs are creatures of habit. Beginning your relationship with consistency is essential to building and maintaining a healthy relationship with your new dog. Your dog needs to know that they can depend on you to: be home around the same time every day, take them on scheduled walks several times a day, make time to play with them, and reward them for good behavior. While life inevitably gets “messy,” it’s best to try and stick to a routine as best you can for the first few weeks. Beginning this routine from day one is absolutely necessary.
As tempting as it might be to take the dog inside immediately, the first thing your new companion will need–like children and many adults–is a restroom. After getting out of the car, you should take your new dog either straight to their designated “spot” or on a walk around the neighborhood, allowing them to explore it at their own pace. Once they’ve had a few minutes, or a block, you can take them inside–even if they do “go” in the right place this time be aware that some accidents are still bound to happen during the adjustment phase.
The first trip inside can also be a big a deal for a new dog, especially if you have other animals or have had some in the past. Dogs can be nervous about entering someone else’s territory, so it’s best to make sure they feel welcome in a way they can understand. Enter the house ahead of them and invite them in. Once they’re inside, keep their leash and collar on as you take them to the room where they will be eating. Have them stay with you–tell them to sit if they understand that command–while you fix them something to eat. Dogs are very much ruled by their stomachs, and having a meal will help put them at ease.
After they’ve eaten you can take them through the house room by room, staying with them so that you can watch for signs that they need to go potty or stop any negative behavior (such as chewing) in it’s tracks; remember to avoid rooms you will not want them going into. If they start chewing on something they shouldn’t, the best way to correct this is by taking the wrong object away with a firm “No” and replacing it with an acceptable toy or treat. Be wary of high-value treats like raw hides or bones, however, as these can cause food aggression issues as well as medical complications.
The most important thing during this period is to keep the dog from being startled or overwhelmed. Any children in the household should have already met the dog at the shelter, and should be encouraged to stay away from them for a few hours while the dog settles in. When the dog has had a chance to explore every inch of their new home, take them to the room where they will be spending the majority of the time. Now family members can greet the new dog. Remember to have each family member greet them one-on-one, and offer no affection until the dog comes to them willingly. Coming to the dog or forcing affection on it can be detrimental in a variety of ways, from the dog seeing this person as subservient rather than a master, all the way to triggering an aggressive response if the dog is fearful. Remember that this dog had a history before it came to your household and sometimes the dog will be upset by things relating to their past which we may never understand. Be mindful of their body language.
If you plan to use a crate with your dog, or if they are already crate trained, be sure to leave their crate door open and accessible to them. Let them explore the crate at their leisure without locking or forcing them in. This part can come later, and you should do your research into proper crate training before attempting this. You may also discuss crate training techniques with your adoption counselor before leaving the shelter.
The Next Few Weeks
It can be beneficial to schedule a few clear days around the introduction of your new family member, though no more than a long weekend should be necessary. While you will want to be there for the new dog, allowing them to get too used to your being around can be just as detrimental as leaving them for long periods of time right from the get-go. Instead, use those few days to ease them into longer periods of separation–and be sure to reward them for good behavior as soon as you get home. For instance, you might leave the dog while you go the mail box and giving them a treat as soon as you return. The next day, you can go to the supermarket and, again, give them a treat when you get home. The third day, perhaps you go run a few errands–being sure to be gone several hours–and when you get home, you immediately take the dog for a walk.
When you’ve worked your way up past a few hours’ disappearance, you have to be sure to take the dog for a walk when you get home if you want to avoid accidents in the house. They can still happen, but for the most part if the animal knows they will be given a chance to properly relieve themselves (and be rewarded with praise and/or treats for doing so in the right locations) they will learn to manage until you arrive. Scolding and shaming an animal for an accident is no where near as effective as positive training techniques, especially if the accident happened hours before. We’ll discuss that in a later article.
It bears repeating that the best thing you can do is be consistent with your rewards and behaviors. You can vary from this routine later, after you’ve established a good, trusting relationship with your new dog. While this sounds like a lot of hard work, we guarantee it is well worth it for a long, happy life with your furry pal.