Bringing home a new dog can be very exciting, but it can also be a real bummer if the transition doesn’t go well. Here are my top 10 tips for success with your newly adopted dog.
1. Establish a routine: Dogs love routines, especially a dog who is trying to adapt to a new environment. Set up your routine so your dog knows what to expect each day and that will help him better cope with the stress of a new home. Plan meal times, walks, playtime etc and try to stick to a similar schedule each day. Your first few weeks should be low key (no dog park trips or large gatherings) to help your dog adapt more quickly.
2. Teach your dog to love his alone zone: Generally, a crate is a great place for a dog to be while you are gone (at least until he has shown you that he is not destructive). Whether a crate, mudroom, bedroom etc, teach your dog to love his “Alone Zone.” Each time you bring him to this place, leave him with a stuffed Kong or other long lasting (and safe) edible. From day one, you should give your dog brief periods of confinement in his Alone Zone. Ignore any whining or barking when left alone, and instead give him attention for good behavior (such as resting or chewing his toy).
3. Teach some door & gate boundary control exercises: By teaching your dog to sit & wait at a door or gate, you are preventing door dashing. If your dog doesn’t already know how to Sit, start with that. Once he understands that cue, simply go over to a door and act as if you plan to exit. Reach for the door handle and ask your dog to sit. Once seated, begin to open the door. If he gets up, close the door and again ask for a sit. Repeat until your dog understands that the door only opens when he sits & waits in that position. Release him (with a word such as Break, Free or Release) when you are ready to go through the door. Initially practice on an interior door, then leash the dog to work on an exterior door.
4. Play the Name Game: If your dog has a new name, you’ll have to teach him that saying “Fido” means to pay attention to me. Simply say “Fido” and give a treat if he looks in your direction. If he doesn’t look your way, pause a few seconds before trying again, this time touching him gently right after you say it to get his attention. Again, reward him for looking your way. Practice initially in a quiet environment in your home, then work up to more distractions such as outside in the yard or while on a walk.
5. Teach your dog to chase you: A loose dog that barely knows you is difficult to catch, especially if he is fearful, so play the chase game (he chases you… not the other way around which will have the opposite effect) to teach him that running to you is a great game! Start with a bunch of high value treats, say your dogs name and run away from him. When he catches you, deliver several high value treats and praise him. Repeat, repeat, repeat until your dog sees running after you as a great game. In the event that he sneaks out the front door, all you need to do is say his name, and run back in the yard or house. To prevent him from nipping when he catches you, be sure to deliver the treats immediately when he gets close to you, so he doesn’t think to chase you and nip at your clothes, hands or feet.
6. Know how to prevent him from getting away from you & what to do if he does: The type of collar or harness you use when going on walks is important. A collar that is too big can easily slip off your dog. Make sure your dogs collar is snug or use a martingale collar (aka no slip collar) for prevention (and don’t forget the ID tag & microchip). It is also a good idea to set up some double barriers at all exits that lead to an unfenced space. Use gates, x pens or get creative with furniture to make sure your dog can’t slip out the door under your feet. This is especially important in homes with children who may leave the door open on accident or not know to stop the dog from going out with them. The boundary control exercises above will also help prevent this. If your dog does slip out, play the chase game above. If that doesn’t work, bring a bunch of treats to throw directly at him and while he is cleaning them up, you can grab him. Sitting or lying down can also be an effective way to get your dog to approach you, especially if they are running away the moment you get close to them. More often than not, running after the dog is not the answer. Try to stop and think. You can even try corralling him into a fenced yard for capture.
7. Try using some natural calming remedies to reduce stress: When you bring your dog home, consider using a calming collar, calming spray, calming treats, DAP diffuser, or essential oils designed for use in dogs. This can also help prevent separation anxiety which is very common in shelter & rescue dogs.
8. Really get to know your dog: Learn about his likes & dislikes when it comes to affection (where does he like to be pet, or not like), play (does he like squeaky toys, playing tug etc), food (what are his favorite types of treats) and social interaction (how does he feel about strangers out in public or other dogs). Do a little at a time so you don’t overwhelm him, but see if he enjoys things like swimming, going for walks (surprisingly not every dog does) and more. When you figure out what your dog enjoys, you can begin using those things as rewards in training.
9. Dog proof your home: Don’t expect that he should know not to chew on your shoes or your favorite rug. Set up the space so he can succeed. Remove unnecessary things he might try to play with, and give him plenty of his own toys & chews of different types and textures.
10. Set him up for potty training success (even if he’s already trained): Take him to his toileting area immediately when you bring him home, and continue to take him there as often as possible to give him ample opportunity to get it right. Even for a potty trained dog, coming into a new home with new people and smells can throw them off, so don’t expect that there won’t be any accidents.
Often, the first few weeks of an adoption are the honeymoon period. The dog is unsure of his new surroundings and is just sitting back to figure out what is happening. Once he begins to settle in, you might begin to see some not so fun behaviors setting in. That’s why its a good idea to get your new dog into training classes or schedule private lessons in the first few weeks you have him so you have some help on your side to tackle the issues as they come up before they become a serious problem.