Congrats on your new family member!
You probably have been thinking about bringing home a friend for a while and are ready to start this next chapter of life. However, your new dog may be surprised by the sudden change in their life, especially if you’re bringing home an adult dog. Being in a new place can be overwhelming, even for the most confident pup. Other dogs may bring a whirlwind of chaos as they check everything out. You can take steps to set up your new family member to feel safe and be well behaved in their new home.
First Days and Weeks
A Safe Place
The best way to prevent issues with your new dog is to give them a secure place to stay when you aren’t able to supervise them. This might be a crate, an exercise pen, or a thoroughly dog-proofed room. When they are in this space, your dog won’t be able to make house training mistakes, chew inappropriate items, or get into other trouble. If you have multiple pets or kids, a safe confinement space also allows you to safely manage those interactions.
Start introducing your dog to their safe place on day one. Make sure they have pottied and gotten a little exercise first. Encourage them to go into the space with treats and toys. Sit with them while they investigate and settle in. Some dogs will relax quickly, but some might complain a little bit. A nice chew toy or food-stuffed Kong can help the process. As long as your dog isn’t panicking or hurting themselves, sit with them until they quiet down. Offer a few more treats and then let them out. Go for a walk or play a little and then do it again. Now practice walking a few steps away and returning. Slowly build up the time that your dog is alone in their safe place.
Decide on house rules early. If you don’t want your dog sleeping on the bed, don’t let them do it for the first night. It is easier to loosen the rules over time. Remember that your new dog has no idea what is expected of them. Be kind and fair by consistently redirecting them to appropriate activities and rewarding them for doing what you want. Avoid punishment, which can damage the bond you are forming and scare your new companion.
Don’t Throw A Party
No doubt you are very excited to have a new dog and ready to show them off to all your friends. This is a great time to post pictures to social media, but leave the welcome-home party for a future time. Remember that your dog is in a completely new place and may be a little overwhelmed by the experience. Give them at least a few days (and maybe a couple weeks) to settle in before introducing them to a large group of people. This goes for trips to the local cafe or your dog-friendly workplace. When you do have people over or take your dog to work for the first time, let them enjoy the group for a little while and then give them a break in a quiet area. This is true for puppies, too. While it is important to start the socialization process early, you don’t want to scare your pup by doing too much, too quickly.
Set Up For Success
Your dog’s environment has a major effect on their behavior. The right setup will encourage good behavior and help them feel more confident and relaxed.
Regardless of your dog’s age and history, act as though they aren’t housetrained at all.
- Take them out regularly and reward them with treats and praise for going outside. This means walking outside with your dog, even if you have a yard.
- Supervise your dog or put them in their safe space when they are inside.
- A small confinement area can prevent accidents as dogs generally do not like to soil their beds, but you must make sure you don’t leave them longer than they can hold it.
- A larger area can include an appropriate potty spot so that your puppy or dog can be left for longer periods.
- Add time spent loose in the house slowly. If there is an accident, there is nothing you can do after the fact, other than watch more closely next time.
Access to appropriate chewing options is a necessity for dogs. Use supervision and your dog’s safe place to make sure they are consistently choosing their toys instead of your belongings. If your dog targets a certain inappropriate item, the best option is to remove that item or otherwise prevent your dog from getting to it. In some cases a taste deterrent like Bitter Apple can also help.
Learning to be Calm
Relaxing in the house is a skill to be learned, like any other. Particularly during the first few days, a dog may struggle to settle in their new home. This is normal but you can help by:
- Providing appropriate physical and mental exercise.
- Using food-stuffed toys and puzzles to occupy them and work their brain.
- Creating a calm, safe place where they can take breaks without seeing or hearing lots of activity. You can also play music to cover noises.
- Actively rewarding calm behavior with treats and quiet praise. At first this might make your pup jump right back up but over time you can teach them to settle on their own.
Training and Behavior Issues
Your dog starts learning from the moment they walk into your home. You can and should start training your new dog right away. Use management to prevent bad habits from forming and positive reinforcement to build good habits. It is not uncommon for behavior concerns to appear after a few days or weeks, but often these can be resolved with consistency and patience. A basic manners class can be a great place to learn more about dog behavior and training. If the behavior is more concerning (such as aggression) or persistent, a professional trainer who uses positive-reinforcement based techniques can help you get on the right track.
Every dog is an individual and some will have more trouble transitioning to a new home. It is normal to struggle or feel overwhelmed at some point during the first months of having a new dog. After setting up your home and starting a routine with both physical and mental exercise, the best way to help is to be patient and allow your new canine friend time to adjust at their own pace.
If your new dog has a behavior problem that you need help solving, consider scheduling a private behavior consultation.