Alright, so you've decided where you're getting your new dog from, chosen the lucky pooch, and prepared for the car ride home. What now? Did you plan ahead and make sure to have all supplies waiting at home so that you could make the transition as stress free as possible? NO?! How could you?!?! Just kidding, it's pretty common that we get home with our new addition and have forgotten to pick something up from the store, but it does always help to think ahead, so here's a list of my favorite tools and items to help make the transition into the new home as seamless as possible!
Side note: A lot of people think that bringing their dog straight from the shelter to a pet store to look for harnesses, treats, etc. is a good experience, but I urge you to reconsider this decision! The adoption process is extremely stressful for dogs; when you think about it, they have no way of knowing they're going to their new home, they're surrounded by unfamiliar though well-meaning people, and they're about to have everything familiar pulled out from under them. Taking a stressed out dog you don't know all that well to a public place could very well end in disaster. Do your best to head straight home with your new pup to avoid any trouble.
Another side note: It will help tremendously if you can choose to bring your dog home and then use some vacation time, or if you are one of the lucky souls who work from home maybe work from home for several days. In a perfect world everyone would be able to take a full week off to help their dog adjust, but sometimes that isn't the case, so even if you can pick them up Friday afternoon and then take Monday off, those three and a half days of helping your dog acclimate can make all the difference!
- Crates and Pens
This will depend on the dog you're bringing home as well as if you know the dog is trustworthy to have some freedom in the home environment. Some older dogs who have lived in foster homes don't need to be crated, but if you're bringing a younger dog home or a dog from a shelter that may have never lived in a home before you probably want to be able to leave your dog and not worry about your house being destroyed while you're out. The crate should be at least big enough that your dog can stand up and turn around comfortably. Please note, it's important that you don't simply throw your dog into the crate and hope for the best. Some dogs will tolerate this, particularly if they have been crate trained before, but for other dogs this can poison the crate as something negative or can even cause behavior that looks like a panic attack (screaming, biting bars, drooling, urinating or defecating in the crate). To read more about crate training check out this link or give me a call and I can help with the process!
If you don't think crating is an option because your dog has had negative experiences with crating before or you have it on good authority from the foster family that the dog won't tolerate crates, you can also try an exercise pen. For some dogs having an open top is enough of a difference from the crate that you can teach them a new association.
- Baby gates
Repeat after me: baby gates are your friend! While I understand that some models are expensive, and that they can get in the way of daily life (especially when your hands are full with a heavy laundry basket!) they are life savers when it comes to managing your home, particularly if you have children or other pets. When you bring your new dog home you don't want to give them too much freedom; who knows if they'll chew on inappropriate items, chase the cat, or mark on the furniture? Baby gates are one of the simplest ways to prevent this. There TONS of models out there, such as the ones found here and here.
This is just one more way to manage a dog, and they work particularly well if you have an open floor plan. For more information on how to use tethers safely and effectively check out this link.
- Leash, Harness, and Collar
Life is MUCH easier if you have this equipment up front, and usually you'll need it in order to bring your dog home. For leashes I like any 6 foot leash made of light material; the heavier and bulkier a leash is the harder it is to manage your dog. If the clip of the leash is too heavy and you're using it with a small dog it can be uncomfortable for them to walk, so take that into consideration as well. Please don't use a Flexi-lead, particularly with a new, unfamiliar dog. That's far too much freedom for them, and if you happen to drop the handle and it "chases" them you can traumatize your new pooch. Collars should be wide enough to displace any possible pressure; I only use collars for keeping tags on my dogs, and prefer to walk on a harness to protect their sensitive throats. If you have a fearful dog or a dog who has a history of escaping use a martingale collar double clipped to their harness (as mentioned in my last blog post on bringing you new dog home). As for harnesses check out my resources page for a list of my favorites.
- Kong toys
Kong toys are one of the few things I feel comfortable leaving a dog with when I'm not around. They are typically indestructible (especially the black kongs) and can be stuffed with goodies to keep your dog busy. If you brought home a Tasmanian devil that wants to chew on everything in sight, kongs are a great appropriate alternative. If you have a young dog that is high energy, feeding meals out of the kong is a great way to keep them busy and engage their mind. Some of my favorite things to stuff kongs with are: peanut butter, pumpkin, honest kitchen dog food, the dog's kibble soaked in warm water until softened, wet dog food, apple sauce, plain greek yogurt, and pieces of fruit and vegetables. Freeze the kong to keep your dog busy for a longer period of time.
- DAP or Lavender essential oil
This isn't really a "necessity" but it can be helpful, especially if you are bringing home a dog that seems worried or afraid. DAP is a synthetically recreated pheromone that has been shown to help soothe some dogs, and lavender essential oils are thought to have a calming effect as well (on both humans and dogs) although I don't believe there's any solid peer reviewed research on these. It's one of those "can't hurt might help" tools. A word of warning, cats can be sensitive to some essential oils so if you have cats check for safety of use first! As far as I know DAP is safe to use around cats (and there's even a cat specific pheromone marketed as Feliway!)
- iCalm music for dogs
This is another "can't hurt, might help". iCalm used to be marketed as "Through a Dog's ear" and can be used as CD's, Mp3s, and portable speakers. Known as "bio-acoustically" arranged music, some research has found that certain music is particularly soothing to our dogs, and these musical devices can play that music to help soothe the canine soul.
- Chew toys
In addition to kong toys provide your dog with many different outlets for chewing and other play behaviors. Aim for variety and make sure to only leave your dog with toys that they cannot ingest pieces of or otherwise hurt themselves on. You may find that your new dog likes squeaky toys more than tennis balls, or goes bonkers for tennis balls but doesn't have any interest in rubber balls.
The shelter or rescue should send you home with some of your dog's old food. If it's a formula that you read up on and feel good about you can continue to feed that same food, however if it's a lower quality diet and you'd prefer to get your dog onto something with less fillers you still want to bring the old food home with you. It's important to transition your dog onto their new diet gradually, rather than giving them the new stuff all at once and causing an upset stomach. I've had success with doing 1/4 cup of the new diet with 3/4 cup of the old for about a week, then 1/2 and 1/2 for another week, then 3/4 of the new diet with 1/4 cup of the old until I've run out of old food. Some dogs may be able to transition faster and some may need an even slower transition or a totally different food.
While you want to give your dog time to adjust to life with you before getting into any kind of heavy duty training regimen you can also start reinforcing polite manners the moment your dog gets home. Be careful with doing too many novel treats at once, as some dogs will have a more sensitive stomach than others. I always suggest trying one or two new treats at first, and then as you're sure they do well in your dog's stomach (i.e. no loose stools or bad gas) you can start to introduce other new treats as well. For my favorite treats check out my resources page.
- Old blankets, towels, or a bed
Again, this will depend on the dog you end up bringing home. Some older, more mature dogs may have proven themselves trustworthy around sofas and nice, expensive dog beds in their foster homes and will be able to have a nice bed right away. If you bring home a dog with an unknown history, a young puppy, or an adolescent who may not have had the experience of having a bed yet or isn't fully potty trained you're probably better off just using old towels or an old comforter so that if it gets chewed or peed on you don't have to throw away a hundred dollar dog bed. After all, our dogs don't automatically know the difference between an expensive dog bed and a giant stuffed toy that's made for de-fluffing!
It might be a slightly intimidating list (the Boy Scout motto is "always be prepared", right? I guess I'm channeling by inner boy scout in this post!) but it will help IMMENSELY to have these supplies ready BEFORE bringing Fido home. So, get to shopping!