Adopting a dog is an exciting time. When the time comes to finally bring your new pet home, though, it’s important to keep a level-head to set you and your new pup up for success.
It takes more than buying the right supplies and dog-proofing your home to prepare for your new dog. Once they’re in the house, you need to be proactive about planning how they’ explore, who they’ll meet, and where they’ll spend most of the time.
The first week is crucial to establishing your relationship with your new dog. Setting rules and expectations for good behavior will prevent them from acting out in the long run. The following tips will help you build a routine with your dog to help them adjust to their new home life.
Set limitations and boundaries during the first week
You may want to give your dog free rein of the house to help them familiarize themselves with their new surroundings. This is a common pitfall for new owners. The truth is a new environment can be overwhelming for dogs. And how do dogs respond when they get too excited? They pee.
For the first week or so, section your dog off to one part of the house that people use often so they can get a sense of what goes on. The kitchen, garage, laundry room, or a certain section of the living room will all do. Use a baby gate to block access in or out of your dog’s area. If you don’t have the extra space, you can use a crate. Even if you do have the extra space, a crate is a great tool to have to satisfy a dog’s natural den instincts. Just make sure you don’t keep them in their crate for too long at once.
The overall intent of setting boundaries for your dog is to ease them into their new surroundings. Instead of letting them experience everything at once, you want to establish a baseline of comfort and familiarity by focusing their time in a few particular spots. From there you can introduce them to new places and things slowly.
Keep your dog on a leash inside the house
It may seem counter-intuitive, but keeping your dog leashed inside helps establish discipline. You have more control over your dog when they’re on a leash. Start setting expectations for behavior as soon as you enter with them. Take them for a short tour around the house and then take them outside where you want them to go to the bathroom. While you walk them around the house, give them praise for the right behavior: taking potty breaks outside, drinking from their water bowl, and laying down quietly.
Don’t think of the leash as a punishment. It’s a tool to help you redirect your dog in case they get into something you don’t want them to. Don’t leave your dog alone with a leash on, though. It could be a choking hazard.
Get your dog into an exercise routine
The first week with your adopted dog is about building routines, and that extends to exercise. You may not think your dog needs much exercise if they have low energy when you first bring them home. Don’t be fooled, though. All of the new happenings are tiring for a dog and result in lower energy than usual. They’ll bounce back to their normal energy levels when they get comfortable. When that happens you want to have a routine in place.
Start taking your dog for regular walks the first day they’re home. Go for short walks at first in areas of your neighborhood that are quieter. There are two goals for these early walks: exercise and seeing how your dog reacts while on a leash. Keeping your dog to secluded, calmer areas limits the potential for mishaps while getting them outside and moving.
You can also use indoor exercises to keep your dog active in the house. Remember that a tired dog is a happy dog. Exercising them regularly will help them adapt to their new home quicker. Even if they’re not showing signs of wanting to go outside or play, take the lead and they’ll follow you.
If you’re not sure how much exercise your dog should be getting, you can look at their breed mix for guidance. Some mixed breed dogs might have more active breeds in their ancestry that you wouldn’t guess just by looking at them. A DNA test can identify these breeds and tell you more about your dog’s exercise needs.
Resist the urge to spoil your dog
When you first bring your newly adopted dog home, it’s understandable to want to show them with love, especially if you know they have a troubled past. But this would be a disservice to them. Giving your dog too many treats, cuddling them constantly, and letting them do whatever or go wherever they please is asking for trouble. This sort of coddling gives your dog the idea that they can do whatever they want and get rewarded for it now. It seems harmless during the first few weeks, but it could develop into long-term behavior issues.
Only give your dog treats when they’ve earned them. Don’t always show them affection when they ask for it. This could lead to clingy attention-seeking behaviors. If your dog isn’t allowed on the furniture, don’t make an exception during the first week. There’s plenty of times where cuddling your dog and rewarding them is appropriate and good for the both of you. But in the beginning, make sure the house rules are clear.
Give a refresher on potty training
Adopting a dog that’s housetrained doesn’t mean you’ll be accident-free. It’s common for rescue dogs to have accidents in the house early on. Dogs struggle with generalizing, so what they learned in one home doesn’t automatically transfer to a new home. Just to be safe and prevent unwanted accidents, give your newly adopted dog a refresher on potty training.
Once again, keeping a schedule is key. Taking your dog out the same times each day tips them off to what they should be doing. Paws.org has a few other tips for re-housetraining, including rewarding your dog with treats after they go outside, using a signal phrase like “go potty” each time you take them out, and choosing a location that isn’t too far from your door.
Keeping your dog confined to one area and keeping an eye on them throughout the day will help prevent accidents as well.
Limit visits from friends and family members
Just like with places, new people are overwhelming to dogs if there’s too much too soon. Throwing a “Welcome Home” party isn’t the best idea, at least for the first month or so. Focus on introducing them to other members of the household first. Hold meetings outside on neutral ground and introduce your dog to each person one-on-one.
If you’re introducing your dog to friends you invite over, there are a few extra tips you can follow. Ask your guest to greet you before they greet your dog. You don’t want the new person to get your dog overly excited. Just act like you would if your dog wasn’t there. From there, let your dog make the approach. Give your guests some treats and ask them to reinforce any commands you’ve been working on with your dog.
Get your dog used to you being away during the first week
When you first bring your dog home you may want to spend all your time with them to make sure they’re doing alright. The best approach is to carry on business as usual, though. No matter how much time you spend with your newly adopted dog in the beginning, eventually you’ll have to leave home for work or other commitments.
It’s okay to spend a little extra time at home to see how they’re adjusting, but too much will create the expectation that you’ll always be around. You want to make sure your dog can handle being alone. Take a few short trips outside without your dog during the first week to see how they act. The sooner you get them acclimated to your schedule, the better.
Transition your dog’s food slowly
If you want to switch your dog’s food because of diet or health concerns, make sure to do so gradually. If you give them something different from what the shelter fed them all at once, it could lead to digestion and other tummy problems. Like with everything else that’s new, introduce them to the food you picked out slowly.
Make sure you have some of the shelter’s food on hand for the transition. Hill’s has a handy schedule outlining the portions you should mix of each food type by day during the first week.
While you work on each tip, you want to observe your dog’s behavior and personality to get a sense of how they react to different things. Are they apprehensive, scared, or aggressive? Keep an eye out for any problem areas so you know what to focus on with training in the beginning.
Once you and your dog are more familiar with each other and they start gaining confidence in their new home, you can start letting off the brakes and give them more freedom around the house. The measures you take during the first week will set the pace for your whole relationship together. A little patience and discipline will pay off greatly in the long run.
We spent all of March championing rescue dogs through Mutt Madness. Head over to the bracket to vote in the final round and see which dogs we featured are still looking for homes.