Bringing a new dog into your home
It's important to put some thought into bringing a new dog into your life. These are some of my top tips for helping a dog get adjusted to their new life in your home and for setting your new dog up for success moving forward.
Since the start of the Covid pandemic, far more dogs than usual have come into homes in the areas where I live, and it seems to be the same everywhere. We have seen both young and older dogs from breeders and rescue organizations—from all over the world—many with common issues as well as more challenging issues in far greater numbers than ever before. Frankly, we have never been busier in the pet dog training industry.
Let your dog decompress.
There are many different places from which to get a dog and every dog will come with a different history that will affect how they view the world and the people and other dogs in it. Take some time to let your new dog get used to you and your family, your home and all the sights and sounds in this new environment they finds themself in.
Rescue organizations often use the “Rule of 3’s” when figuring out how long it takes a dog to get used to his new home:
- In the first 3 days, your new pet may be overwhelmed with their new surroundings. They may not eat or be themselves.
- After 3 weeks, they're starting to settle in, feeling more comfortable, and realizing this just might be home.
- After 3 months, they feel truly at home.
Although it’s exciting to have a new dog, don’t be in a rush to invite all your friends and family over to meet your dog, and don’t be in a rush to get them out and about to all your favourite places. Just let them learn to live and relax in their new home. Dogs needs to feel safe to be comfortable and happy. Give them time to get used to their new life and realize that they can be safe there.
If you live in a house with a yard, then it’s pretty easy to get your new dog out to do their business while you stay close to home. I would highly recommend doing this on leash, at first, if you have a lot of close and/or noisy neighbours so you can pre-empt any need to rush the fence and bark.
If you have a rescued dog, then you absolutely need to use a leash in the yard in case your dog is a flight risk. Fearful and desperate
dogs can scale a fence very quickly regardless of height and construction. Most of us think our yard is secure until you have a desperate dog in there and then you find the holes. More newly adopted dogs than I can count make many headlines on social media with frantic pleas for help locating them.
If you live in an apartment or condo, figure out an easy routine that keeps contact with others to a minimum. Use distance to let your new dog just watch and get used to the comings and goings of the building.
Show him or her the ropes.
- Which doorway leads to outside access and use that same one every time to help get good toileting habits established.
- A location for water that is convenient for your dog.
- Ensure that you don’t put their water and food bowl where you are going to be stepping around them or walking closely past them or that they are part of a high traffic area. Dogs need to feel they can eat and drink safely and comfortably.
- Have one or more bed locations for your dog that are in rooms where the rest of the family also spends their time. Keep beds placed out of the way of the general traffic flow of the house as much as possible.
- Put simple boundaries in place right away. If you would prefer that your new dog not be on couches or beds, those rules need to be made clear right at the beginning by simply preventing access. There is no value in letting your dog do whatever they want at first and then slowly changing the rules – it’s confusing and unsettling when you think you’ve got it all figured out and then things change, again.
Incorporate plenty of mentally engaging activities.
Use treat toys or make a game of hiding treats in easy locations for your new dog so you can give him some easy but mentally challenging activities while they get used to you and to their new home. If you have a yard, consider tossing half their meal kibble around the yard (and help them locate it at first) instead of feeding straight from a bowl – it’s fun, challenging and enriching.
These simple activities will help them to relax and expend some energy while at the same time boosting their confidence and help them feel more comfortable. Continue this routine throughout their life. There is a lot of long-term value in providing additional, mental enrichment to your dogs on a daily basis.
Put a simple routine in place.
Keep your daily routine reasonably similar to start. Get out in the morning for toileting, eat meals at regular times and get your normal routine going right away so your dog can see what happens daily. They will find comfort in routine, and you will need time to figure out how your dog fits into your routine.
Don’t expect your dog to be crate trained.
Even puppies coming straight from their breeder are often, unfortunately, not crate trained. It’s unfair and unreasonable (and inhumane) to put your puppy or dog straight into a crate and expect them to figure it out and get used to it. If it’s important to you that your dog use a crate, then you need to take the time it takes to get them comfortable with it.
If your dog has just travelled here from another country by transport vehicle or plane in a crate they were not used to, they may be highly traumatized from this event and will take time to get over that experience.
Emily Larlham, dog trainer of Kikopup Dog Training fame on YouTube, has some great videos on teaching your puppy or adult dog to go into and be comfortable in their crates or other confinement areas. Check out her YouTube videos for tips and training instructions.
If your dog seems to have a lot of anxiety when you come and go from your home, look for a local trainer who has either the CSAT (Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer) credentials from Malena DeMartini or a Separation Anxiety Pro Trainer designation from Julie Naismith. This is a very specific area of dog training, and you should only use a trainer who holds one of these two credentials.
Make initial outings about exploring, not exercise.
It’s not important that your new dog gets exercise in the early days, rather it’s important that they gets comfortable in their new life.
Don’t head out for long hikes, jogs, or bike rides. Instead, once their decompression period has been in place for several days, begin to take short journeys out on leash to various new locations.
Don’t be in a rush to give your dog the freedom of off leash exercise even if you know they come with good recall skills. Skills with any previous owners do not necessarily translate to a new owner. Practice safely and re-teach this skill until you are confident you can get your dog back reliably – take your time.
Go to locations where you intend to spend time in the future. Just get your dog out to look around, sniff around and observe what’s going on around them. Often these journeys are better done by vehicle, if possible, so you can come and go fairly quickly rather than walking all the way from home.
Get your dog out of your car and let them dictate the pace – unless the pace is pulling you forcefully one way or another. In that case, hold your ground until your dog calms down and can respond to you and eat treats from you.
Be okay with getting back into the car and going home when your dog indicates they wish to do so. Your new dog might find a new environment so overwhelming that they need time to slowly get used to it. Dogs who have previously lived in rural areas or less populated countries can find our busy downtown areas extremely frightening and unsettling. Building your relationship and being that “safe zone” for your dog is very important – especially in these moments. Be supportive and follow their lead.
If your dog is very frightened, just park somewhere quiet and let them watch from the safety of your car. Do this multiple times over many days starting with areas you feel might be quieter than others. They’ll let you know when they're ready to get out and explore.
While your dog gets used to their new environment, use treats to help “socialize” them to this new space – much like you would with a new puppy. When they spots the neighbour coming out of their front door, respond with a verbal marker like “Yes!” and hand your dog a treat for noticing. Build good associations early rather than wait and see what issues might arise.
Think about what information you are conveying and the training you are doing in that one moment in time:
- Neighbours popping out of their home equals tasty treats.
- Really good treats are carried by and given to me from the new guardian.
- If you have good timing, the “notice things and eat treat” behaviour will be reinforced which will pre-empt any “notice and bark/lunge” behaviour from occurring or being reinforced.
- With luck (and a good amount of distance), while noticing things and eating treats, your new dog is likely keeping a loose leash and standing with you which will help with leash skills.
Do this a lot for a while – longer if your dog is overly excited by certain things. Common triggers that may result in startled barking/lunging behaviour are:
- Spotting wildlife like squirrels and bird,
- People walking, running or moving differently like limping or using a cane or wheelchair,
- People on wheels like bicycles, skateboards, strollers, scooters, etc.
- other dogs or cats,
- Loud home or city noises like smoke alarms, sirens, garbage trucks or construction work.
Be proactive with this and “pay” your dog for noticing these things while keeping him at enough of a distance that they can simply observe and get used to everything happening around them.
Be prepared to be as neutral as you can if your dog suddenly reacts to something – just make a note of the general circumstances so you can figure out a training plan to address it later on.
Go to the vet.
Go to your vet clinic for many short visits. Just pop in for cookies if you can, or just walk around the parking lot and investigate the area well in advance of any necessary appointments.
Prevent common behaviour issues early.
There are a number of normal things dogs do that are commonly a problem for humans. Be proactive in identifying some that may be a problem for you and your home and come up with preventive training strategies.
If you’re not sure where to begin, consider getting some help from a professional trainer who uses positive reinforcement training methods. They will be able to give you some tips to proactively address common issues. Even if your particular dog doesn’t immediately display any of these issues, they can easily develop once they get comfortable in their new home. Being proactive will prevent issues from occurring or will lessen their impact and intensity and allow you to change behaviour much more quickly.
Here is a short list of some common issues we help people with regularly:
- Barking out the window or at noises in the hallway.
- Barking at the doorbell, buzzer or knock on the door.
- Greeting guests or delivery people.
- Counter surfing.
- Not coming when called.
- Being underfoot at mealtime.
- Jumping up on people.
More serious behaviour problems you can be proactive about.
If you believe your dog has any serious difficulties with these issues, please contact a positive reinforcement trainer to give you some guidance.
Some simple tips follow each heading to get you started in a proactive way with the average dog displaying normal behaviour.
This is a normal dog behaviour, but it’s often misunderstood by owners and dealt with far too confrontationally by using outdated information which will cause the behaviour to become an even greater problem.
A simple tip is to trade for everything you need to get back from your dog and let the dog determine the trade value. If they steal your sock, offer them a very tasty treat to see if they will drop it. If they don't drop it to eat the treat, keep adding to your treat pile until they can easily and calmly drop your sock and eat their treats while you can calmly and safely retrieve your sock.
Another easy thing to do: leave your dog alone when they're eating or working on a special treat like a bone or a stuffed kong. Nobody likes to be interrupted when they’re eating – humans or animals!
Body handling difficulties
Dogs who aren’t comfortable having their equipment put on, having their toenails trimmed, being groomed, having their muddy feet wiped, taking baths, etc. are all examples of handling difficulties. Again, this is another normal dog behaviour that can become a serious problem when dealt with inappropriately.
A proactive approach is to simply start with simple practice sessions before a problem presents itself. Use treats whenever you need or want to touch your dog – practice by simply feeding a treat while you pet your dog. Find ways to approximate something like a bath, incorporating treats, long before a bath becomes necessary. For example, running the water in the bathtub or shower while your unrestrained dog simply watches, listens and eats treats is an excellent place to start.
It’s a rare dog that comes fully trained to walk happily on a loose leash. While not a “serious” behaviour problem, it is a common owner complaint. It can also be at the root of other, more serious, issues, so it’s well worth investing some time in.
A simple way to start is right in your living room or yard. Feed your dog treats at the side of your leg at every step while you amble about with your leashed dog. Using a specific position like this can help your dog understand where they should hang out when on leash. If you feed quickly and frequently, you can prevent a tight leash and get lots of reinforcement in for that leash being loose. If your dog makes a sudden lunge at a squirrel or enticing smell, simply hold your ground until his attention reverts to you and your treats.
A note about equipment
Choose your dog’s equipment carefully. They should always be wearing a collar that contains ID that tracks back to you. This should be a number one priority the minute your new dog walks through your door – even before they enter your home!
I highly recommend dogs wear harnesses when attached to a leash and avoid attaching a leash to their collar to prevent damage to the neck and spine areas. Harnesses should be well fitted so your dog is comfortable and has free range of movement – particularly in their front shoulder area. Some harnesses are easy to escape from, so ensure the harness fits your dog well and has lots of room for adjustment. Harnesses that have 3 points of contact can be helpful with a particularly crafty escape artist. Check out the Ruff Wear Flagline Harness for an example of a harness with 3 points of contact.
Using a 2-leash or double-ended leash set up can also be helpful for escape artists – one leash attached at the front, and one attached at the back which resembles using reins on a horse. For added safety, the second or back leash can instead be attached to a martingale collar fitted properly to prevent escape.
Use a fixed length leash for walking and a fixed length long line for recall practice. Extendable leashes (“flexi-leads”) are dangerous and are rarely recommended by trainers: they simply offer no benefit that can’t be easily matched by a fixed length leash/long line and proper training.
With some up front and thoughtful planning, you can help your dog begin their new life with you in a fun manner. You can help your dog feel safe and loved and begin building a wonderful, positive relationship from day 1. Have fun and keep it genuinely positive!