Lessons From Aspen: New Dog Tips

Any new dog will present challenges to your household and routine. Often these disruptions and frustrations can be eased by taking small proactive steps. During their transition into your home, your new dog is learning what is expected, what gets rewarded, and what doesn’t work. Setting them, and yourself, up for success means preventing bad habits from taking root and being kind and clear for your pup.

At the beginning of 2022, I added a new dog to my own home. One year old, chihuahua-mix Aspen fit in pretty well right away, but that doesn’t mean there were zero challenges or annoyances. Here are three things I did to minimize problems and maximize happiness.

Brown Chihuahua chewing the ears of a stuffed fox toy that's as big as her.
Oh hi, I'm Aspen!

Challenge: Annoying Us During Dinner

Little Aspen, though small enough that she couldn’t steal food, would bounce around us, try to wiggle onto our laps, and generally make her presence very known! 

Solution: Proactive Enrichment

Aspen needed something better to do than bother us. Before we sit down to eat, she gets an edible chew, which she loves. This gives her something to focus on and rewards her for laying down quietly. 

Results: Eating in Peace

A few months after starting this routine, Aspen excitedly awaits her chew each night. After finishing it, she rests quietly next to us until we finish eating (at which point she likes to move to our laps). 

Additional Tips

Being proactive in this situation was key. You don’t want to wait for the annoying behavior to happen before grabbing a distraction. Take note of when you might experience annoying or demanding behavior and offer your dog an alternative beforehand. Make sure it’s something they actually want. 

Not all dogs will be engaged enough to fully leave you alone, at the start. To add extra clarity and to prevent them from getting rewarded for undesirable behavior (like stealing food), you can use a tether, baby gate, crate, ex-pen, or put them in another room. Again, plan in advance and make sure they have something to entertain them.

Problem: Play Biting During Yoga

At-home yoga became hazardous as Aspen assumed that I was on the floor to play with her. This resulted in her being underfoot and lightly chewing on my fingers and toes while I stretched.

Solution: Prevent the Problem

Before starting my time on the mat, I would attach a secure tether to the leg of a nearby piece of furniture and connect it to Aspen’s collar. She had a comfy bed and lots of toys within reach but I was too far for her to get to. 

Results: Improved Flexibility with Fingers Intact

The first few times we tried this, Aspen stood on the end of her tether and whined at me for a little while before settling on her bed and chewing a toy. A few weeks later, she settled and remained on her bed from the start. Now, several months later, she can be loose in the room without play biting me at all. 

Additional Tips

Again, being proactive is key. Had I tried pushing her away or scolding her, she may have thought I was joining in the play. Instead, she just didn’t have the option to make mistakes. This wasn’t a punishment and she was set up to be comfortable and entertained. 

A tether was an easy option for Aspen but a crate or ex-pen could work too. You also always have the option of leaving your dog in another space while you are doing something you don’t want them to help with, as long as your dog is comfortable being alone.

Problem: Being a Wild Child in the Evenings

By the end of the day, all of Aspen’s “good dog” energy seemed to run out and she frequently got extra mouthing and rambunctious. She could sometimes be redirect to a toy but would return to our hands and clothes frequently.  

Solution: More Rest in the Routine

Many puppies and young dogs need more sleep and quiet time than you might think. “Out of control” behavior can often stem from being overtired, especially when it happens in the evenings. For Aspen, I started ensuring she had options to rest away from people and household activity during the day. I also shortened her walks as she was getting too worn out. 

Small brown dog curled up with her nose under her back leg, on a lap.
Aspen is a champion sleeper but can be a challenge when she's overtired.

Results: Everyone is Calmer and Happier

This wasn’t an overnight, 180 turnaround, but quickly it became clear that Aspen was able to be calmer and better behaved on days where she had plenty of quiet time. Today I continue to experiment and monitor her daily routine. It certainly also helped that she has matured further from puppyhood during this time but finding the right balance of exercise and rest was necessary. 

Additional Tips

It’s common to assume that overexcited, rambunctious, mouthy, naughty behavior is a sign that your dog or puppy needs more exercise, play, or training. This can absolutely be true! The flip side is that these same behaviors can also be signs that your pup is overtired. Experiment with different blends of activity and rest to see what leads to better behavior over time. 

Activities that encourage mental focus or problem solving can also help, in addition to the right blend of exercise and rest. This post has some ideas on varieties of exercise.

Take It To Your Home

These are three things I did to help my new dog settle in our home and be her best self. There are no “magic” fixes to changing behavior; however you can take steps to make it easier for your dog. 

  1. Start with management.
  2. Be proactive with enrichment
  3. Meet all of your dog’s needs with their daily routine, including mental stimulation, physical exercise, and rest.

Your new dog will change as they settle into your home. Be patient with them, set them up for success, and enjoy your new companion!

If your dog has a behavior problem that you need help solving, consider scheduling a private behavior consultation.