Tips On The First Few Days with Your New Dog (In Honor of Adopt-A-Shelter-Pet Month)

Because October is “Adopt-a-Shelter-Pet” month, we thought we’d share some tips on making the first few days and weeks after you bring your new dog or puppy home smooth for everyone (including any existing pet family members, who will be none too thrilled with the new addition).  There is quite a difference between falling in love with an adorable face or ball of fur in the shelter and managing that ball of fur’s constant barking, inevitable “accidents,” and returning from work to find your new leather couch ripped to shreds. Establishing boundaries and clear expectations on day one are critical for preventing these later “misbehaviors.”

The first few days in your home are vital to your new pet’s adjustment. Your new dog will be confused about where he is, who you are, who the other pets are around him, and what to expect from the whole situation. First impressions are lasting ones, even for young puppies, and habits start to develop from day one.  Because it is much harder to break a bad habit than to teach a good habit, try to instill good manners and habits from the first day your new puppy or dog comes home.  Although it may be tempting to indulge your new puppy by setting him loose in your house and watching what happens, this would be akin to letting a toddler run wild in your house – chaos, bad habits, and destroyed objects are bound to result. In addition, your current family pets should maintain their “established” status, and overwhelming attention paid to this new creature running loose in THEIR TERRITORY will undermine their sense of place in your home and in your eyes. Newly adopted dogs could also bring a multitude of communicable diseases and parasites into your home (and to your existing pets). If for no other consideration, it’s best for this reason, to keep existing pets completely separate from new adoptions, especially prior to completing the full course of vaccinations.

Dogs are creatures of habit and crave structure, so it’s up to you to give that to him, otherwise he’ll create his own “structure,” even though to you it will seem like pure pandemonium. Setting up your “house rules” and a clear schedule for your dog will help to make the transition as smooth as possible. Establish these guidelines with your family members before you bring the new dog home, and write the daily schedule out on a board where all the family members can see, and adhere, to it. If one person is always up early for work, that person should have the responsibility each and every morning, to take the dog outside for his morning potty break, feed the morning meal, and take him out for another potty break immediately afterwards before she leaves for the day. If another person is home for lunch, that person should take care to observe the same rituals and timing: CONSISTENCY is the key to successful housetraining and development of good habits overall, for your dog.  New puppies, especially, do not have developed bladder muscles, so cannot be expected to hold it much beyond 1-2 hours. For this reason, be vigilant and take your puppy out for a potty break after he wakes up, after he plays vigorously, after he eats, when you see him sniffing in circles, before he goes down for a nap or for the night, before a meal,… pretty much every single time you can think of: before or after any activity.

1. Teach your new dog the house rules from the instant you come home. Even though you may want to give your new dog a few days to adjust before imposing rules and restrictions, this delay in training has the potential to be both frustrating and damaging over the long run. When your dog first comes home with you, he will probably be a bit wary of the new living environment and what to expect from you. If you do not immediately establish yourself as the “Alpha” figure, to whom he can look to for guidance and leadership, he will actually feel more confused and distressed.  If you are consistent in your expectations from day one, your new dog will be clear about what to “give” you (even though there are bound to be slip-ups and regressions), and will quickly learn the house rules and expectations. If you change the rules a few days after your dog arrived home, he won’t understand why, and will simply feel more confused and will have a harder time adjusting to a new set of expectations.

2. A dog crate is your best “dogsitter.” Contrary to some people’s belief that a dog crate is cruel or some form of punishment, a dog crate, when introduced properly, is actually a safe haven for your dog that he will come to view as his own den. Dogs’ ancestors (wolves) all retreated to dens for safety, sleep, and warmth, and your domesticated dog is not that far removed from that “denning” instinct. In the overwhelmingly large space that your house will feel like to him, he will experience a lot of anxiety and overstimulation without a small confined place that he can go to whenever he likes, to call his own! This “doggie den” is equivalent to a toddler’s playpen (again, you wouldn’t let your toddler loose in your house unsupervised and expect contentment and peace). Your dog will be safe from tempting (and dangerous) electrical wires, household cleaners, delicious-looking coffee table legs, and your newest Jimmy Choos. There are many options that you can use for your dog’s “den,” but a hard sided plastic dog travel crate, open wire-frame “training crate,” or even a small room in your house is ideal.  Feed your dog in the den, give him treats and chew toys in the den, and place him in the den while you are in the room (so he can see you) for increasing amounts of time, so he will still feel as though he is part of the activity, and not shut away for punishment. Do not ever use the den or crate as a form of punishment.

Keep your new dog either supervised or safely confined with appropriate chew toys at all times. Initially when your dog is loose in the house or in the yard you should be supervising in order to gently redirect your dog’s attention to something more appropriate when he “misbehaves” or chooses to do something inappropriate. If you are vigilant about supervising your dog and showing him the difference between acceptable and unacceptable chew items, your dog will learn to calm down quietly, entertain himself with his designated chew toys and eventually become trustworthy in your absence.

3. Try not to overwhelm your new dog with too much activity during his initial adjustment period, which can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the individual dog, breed, his background, and age of the dog. Even though you want to introduce him to everyone and take him everywhere, all of this excitement (and new people) could be extremely stressful for your dog. It is best for your dog to spend the first couple of weeks quietly settling in and getting to know you (and your family) with brief but very frequent outings in your neighborhood to continue the socialization process. In the beginning, limit introductions to just a few visitors at a time, or the occasional dog and owner you may meet on the street. Always carry some treats with you to help form a positive association to new people.  Don’t, for example, take your new dog, to your niece’s birthday party as the entertainment for the kids! However, it is important to socialize your dog with ever increasing amounts of people, of all different ages, and dogs. Just take it slow and pay close attention to the signals your dog gives you and you will form a lasting bond that will only grow and strengthen over time!