Adding a new dog to your family is a very exciting time, and brings a lot of joy and new experiences. However, it can also bring stress and change, for both you and your new family member. If you don’t prepare ahead of time and have a plan in place, you may become overwhelmed by the new challenges that life with your dog brings. The following points are, in my experience, some of the most helpful tips when bringing home a newly adopted dog.
1) No matter what, DON’T allow free range to your home within the first few months, if not longer, of your dog’s time with you. One huge mistake that a lot of people make is bringing an adult dog home and allowing the dog free access to the home immediately. While there are certain situations where you may know the dog’s past, the fact of the matter is that adult and house trained are not mutually exclusive. We see a large number of dogs come through rescue that were either outside dogs, were never properly potty trained inside, or were kept inappropriately in crates and were actually TAUGHT to go to the bathroom in their rest area. Even if your dog was fully potty trained in their last home, stress, anxiety, and new scents can all trigger marking in dogs. It is always better to be safe than sorry, and restrict the dog to one area until they feel more comfortable, and you get to know them better. NOTE: This first tip is directed specifically at older dogs. If you are bringing home a puppy, that puppy should be confined to a crate or exercise pen at all times unless being actively supervised. But that, in and of itself, is a whole other blog post!
2) Keep the house calm! When you bring home a new dog or puppy, it is SO tempting to invite every person you know over to show your new family member off. However, put yourself in your dog’s paws. You’ve just been removed from the shelter where you were left by your old family, and have arrived at a strange new place, with strange new smells, and strange, but kind, people who you don’t really know that well yet. Coming into their new home is a stressful event for adopted dogs, and it’s our job as their guardians to make the transition as calm and painless as possible. Allow the first week of your dog’s transition to be just the dog and the members of your immediate household. Gradually introduce new people, paying attention to how your dog handles strange people coming into their new home, and being aware of overwhelming them with too much commotion.
3) Don’t go from 24/7 company to 8 hr work days with no adjustment period. A lot of people decide to take some time off work when they first get a new dog, which is a wonderful idea. A full 8 hour work day is a long time for a dog to be home alone in a new environment, and the first few days of your dog being home are an important time for you two to bond together. However, there is a happy medium that must be found. Some dogs have a harder time adjusting to your regular schedule if you’re with them 24/7 for the first week of their time with you, then you’re suddenly gone 8 hours every day after that. If you have the privilege of taking a few days off in the beginning with your dog, make sure you leave them periodically through the day in their designated dog-proof spot so that they won’t go into total shock when you have to go back to work. Additionally, you might consider stopping home at lunch or hiring a dog walker to come in around the noon hour to see how your dog is doing when your normal work schedule does resume.
4) Read your dog! Some dogs are social butterflies that enjoy every new experience with vim and vigor, and some dogs are slower warming up to novelty, especially if they have a history of multiple homes or poor socialization. Learning the various signs of stress in dogs (shaking off, avoidance, lip licking, yawning, etc.) can help you understand when your dog is uncomfortable with something, and when you should remove them from a certain situation until you’re able to help your dog grow more comfortable. Don’t push your dog into circumstances where they are uncomfortable; it’s important to set them up for success. Instead of stressing your dog out when you have a party and leaving them to fend for themselves, be proactive and place them in a back room with a wonderful chewy bone. They will be happier, and you will avoid any possible hairy situations involving your stressed dog and a party guest. For more on canine stress signals and how to tell if your dog is overwhelmed, check out: 4 Paws University's Page on Stress Signs and Doggone Safe's page on signs of anxiety.
5) Understand that it will take time. In my own personal experience, the adjustment period for each dog will vary greatly. I’ve seen dogs relax into their new role as family pet within the first week, and I’ve seen dogs who didn’t seem truly at ease until they were there for six months. I always tell people to anticipate the dog’s adjustment period lasting at least a month, and longer if there are other pets or children involved. Another thing to note is that there is sometimes a ‘honeymoon’ period for dogs, where the dog is on their absolute best behavior in the beginning because they’re not quite sure about their new environment, and it’s safer to remain under the radar than to risk breaking the rules right away. Don’t be too surprised if your dog is with you for a few months before they truly start to come out of their shell and begin testing boundaries. Stay consistent with your management, and remember that much of behavior is modifiable with the help of a professional, positive trainer or behaviorist.
Is it sometimes a challenge to bring a new dog with an unknown history into your life? Yes. But if you find a dog that truly fits into your lifestyle, and you prepare yourself ahead of time, setting yourself and Fido up for success, you will find that the challenge is well worth the love you receive and the bond you will build.