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Reviewed for accuracy on February 12, 2019, by Dr. Katie Grzyb, DVM
By Carly Sutherland
Adopting a dog is exciting for both you and your new furry family member. The first several days in your home are special, and quite frankly, critical for your new dog. She is likely to be confused in a new environment and unsure of what to expect from you.
It is important to establish clear boundaries and maintain structure within your home to help create a smooth transition. Here are 10 tips to help guide you during the adjustment period after bringing a new dog home.
Be Patient With Your New Dog
When adopting a dog into your family, remember to be patient. It may take a dog time to get to know your family and really feel at home.
“Every dog is different,” says Sabine Fischer-Daly, DVM, the Janet L. Swanson intern of shelter medicine at Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at Cornell University. “It may take some dogs a couple of days to get comfortable with their new family, while others may need a couple of months. Therefore, a dog’s true personality may not be apparent for some time after entering the home.”
Bringing a new dog home obviously comes with its rewards, but it’s important to remember that caring for a dog also comes with challenges.
Realistic expectations and understanding are key, Dr. Fischer-Daly explains. “Each dog’s response to a new home will vary. Some may hide, shy away or have accidents in the home, or have gastrointestinal upset or bouts of overexcitement and high energy, among many others.”
Establish a Routine and Structure
Having open communication between your family members before adopting a dog is essential. Aside from preparing areas of the home where the dog will spend her time, Dr. Fischer-Daly suggests discussing responsibilities with your family when it comes to caring for a dog.
“Plan who will take on certain responsibilities, what’s allowed and what’s not allowed in the home, and what verbal commands will be used,” says Dr. Fischer-Daly.
Establishing a routine right when your dog gets into the home will help to make her feel safe and secure. So, plan on feeding your dog and walking your dog at the same times every day right from the get-go, Dr. Fischer-Daly says.
Introduce Your New Dog to Your Resident Dog Slowly
“Introducing animals is a slow process and may need to be done a little bit at a time,” Dr. Fischer-Daly explains.
When your new pet and your resident pet meet for the first time, make sure to do so outside the home, in neutral territory. You should also have a dog leash for each dog to control the interactions.
During the introductory period, Dr. Fischer-Daly recommends creating separate eating spaces and removing potential items that could cause guarding or conflict. This will help to minimize tension and negative experiences between the dogs. She also warns against leaving the animals together unsupervised during the first few weeks.
Dr. Emma Grigg, MA, PhD., CAAB, a postdoctoral associate at the University of California, Davis, vet school, says you should “try to ensure that the resident pets are still getting plenty of your time and attention to avoid the development of problems between dogs.”
If you notice any signs of aggression from either pet, it’s important to intervene immediately. “If any real aggression is seen,” she says, “it is important to separate the new dog from the other animals and household members until you have come up with a plan to either modify the behavior, or if necessary, return/rehome the new addition.”
Crate Training Is Recommended
Dog crates are wonderful tools to use for new dogs and are highly recommended by the experts. Crate training does not mean that the crate is used as punishment. It is about creating a safe space for your new dog where she can be safely contained while you are out.
“When properly crate-trained, many dogs will see their crates as their ‘safe space’ and will sleep in an open crate regularly; they may also retreat to the crate when anxious,” Dr. Grigg explains. She recommends a good quality, suitably sized dog crate like the Midwest Life Stages single door dog crate. Before your purchase, be sure to follow manufacturer’s recommendations on sizing.
Provide Enrichment for Your New Dog
Having a variety of dog toys available, like dog chew toys and dog interactive toys, can have a positive influence on your dog’s mental health. These toys provide your new dog with positive outlets for her energy and help to redirect natural chewing behavior from household objects like furniture.
Be sure to supervise your dog with any new toys or any that are likely to become damaged. Dr. Fischer-Daly advises, “Chew toys should not break into pieces easily—which could get lodged in the intestines—but [should be] soft enough not to damage teeth.” She recommends the KONG Classic dog toy or KONG Ring dog toy. “A good test to ensure a toy is not too hard is to press the toy with a fingernail, and if a fingernail does not leave a mark, it is too hard,” she says.
“No toy is 100 percent indestructible,” Dr. Grigg says, “but there are certainly some that last longer.” She says her dog loves stuffed toys and recommends Tuffy’s Lil Oscar dog toy or Tuffy’s Ultimate Tug-O-War dog toy.
Dr. Griggs warns, “Also note that the size of the toy is very important—the toy must be large enough that it cannot be swallowed by your dog.”
A Good Dog Trainer Is a Great Resource
Getting training advice from a positive-reinforcement-based, reputable dog trainer will help strengthen the relationship you share with your dog.
“Training your dog on the essentials of how to coexist in a human-dominated world is essential, so it should be a primary focus for any new dog owner,” Dr. Grigg says.
Avoid information from sources who recommend harsh punishments that rely on fear and/or pain. “These methods have been found to have unwelcome behavioral side effects—most notably increases in fear-based aggression—and compromise the welfare of the dogs involved.”
“It is important to work toward modifying undesirable behaviors promptly, before they become a habit,” Dr. Griggs explains. “But how you react to these behaviors and make these changes is very important for building a lifelong, happy and satisfying relationship with your dog.”
House-Train With Positive Reinforcement
As with all other dog training, it is important to remember to have realistic expectations and patience when house-training your dog.
Some may already be housebroken, but as Dr. Fischer-Daly explains, “It is possible that even a house-trained dog will have accidents when accustoming to a new home. Dogs can be overstimulated by the newness and may not know where to go.”
To remedy any unwanted indoor accidents, she says, “Take [your dog] out where she should be going to the bathroom often and give her instant reinforcement in the form of treats and praises for going in the appropriate place.” Both house and walking rules should be positively reinforced with dog treats and praises.
Walk Your Dog Every Day
“If the dog pulls, use a front clip dog harness or a Gentle Leader, learn how to use it correctly and start using it soon after you bring the dog into your home,” Dr. Fischer-Daly says.
Ideally, walk your dog a couple times every day, and as she says, do it around the same time each day to establish a routine.
Establish a Relationship With a Veterinarian
In preparation for adopting a dog, it’s a good idea to establish a relationship with a local veterinarian before or soon after adoption, if you don’t have one already, Dr. Fischer-Daly explains.
“Soon after adoption, it is recommended that the dog gets an exam to have a baseline health evaluation and because stress can cause certain illnesses, such as diarrhea.”
Slowly Transition to a New Dog Food
You may plan to feed your new dog a different food from what he was eating at the shelter. If you do, there are some important things to keep in mind.
Dr. Fischer-Daly says, “Changing a dog’s diet abruptly, as well as stress, can cause gastrointestinal upset and diarrhea.”
Transitioning your dog to a new diet gradually is important to prevent unexpected consequences, like vomiting or nausea. If possible, Dr. Fischer-Daly recommends providing the same dog food that the shelter or rescue was feeding for a few days. Then gradually mix in the new dog food and reduce the amount of the old dog food until you have fully switched to the new food.
It is best to ask your veterinarian for her recommendation of the best food for your dog.