Adopting a dog is wonderful and exciting, but no matter how well you’ve screened your new pal, it involves bringing a strange dog into your house and seeing what they do. That might, and probably will, involve a few house training errors, a bit of nervous chewing, and a few surprises. For a dog, it’s an exciting, overwhelming, and scary experience, and there are new rules, faces, and places to learn. It’s a lot to take in and it can be hard to fit smoothly into an alien household. Here are some tips for making that transition go a little smoother.
Prepping Your House
Dog proof your place over the course of a few days. This will vary depending on the size of the dog you’re adopting, but try to think dog. Small dogs may be able to get into little cracks and crevices behind or inside your furniture or under your kitchen cabinets. Big dogs may be able to jump up and snatch medications off your bathroom counter. Crawl around at your dog’s level and see what they’ll see, and until you’re more familiar with your dog, just assume that anything they could potentially physically get into, they will get into. Having a few young children or a friend’s dog come over and watching what they go for is a good way to test your preparations. If you’re adopting a dog taller than your side tables, remember to account for the happy tail. Many knick knacks are broken by the tails of oblivious dogs. Visit the home of any lab owner, and you’ll find a clear zone at tail height.
The kitchen and bathroom are popular places to confine dogs because there isn’t usually much soft furniture or carpet in these rooms, but they have their own issues. At minimum, you’ll need to look at your trash habits and adjust accordingly. Just because you’re adopting a puppy doesn’t mean you can put this off, because if it smells good in there, they’ll figure out a way to break in. I caught my first puppy eating coffee grounds out of my trash at 10 weeks old, and if I hadn’t been lucky enough to catch him right when he first got started, that could have ended very badly. In my house, we have our kitchen trashcan up high on an old night stand, and we’re careful to take smelly trash out immediately and that keeps the hounds out. My in-laws found a trashcan that fits exactly under the table they use as a kitchen island, so it effectively makes an immovable lid. Other people put child locks on a cabinet door and put their trash in there.
Have a crate, exercise pen, or baby gate on hand, even if you don’t plan to use them. Sometimes dogs act out when they’re nervous and you might need to confine them to a smaller area until they’re ready to start learning the rules and get comfortable in their new home. If the dog you’re adopting is a puppy or adolescent, you should just go ahead and plan on a good way to confine them to an area they won’t be able to ruin. Even older dogs can have nervous bladders or be nervous chewers, so try to remember that your dog may not be at his best for a few days, and plan accordingly.
Plan some rules and figure out some strategies for training and rule enforcement before you bring your dog home. Try to make sure that these rules will be enforced consistently by all family members and be ready to treat all the good behaviors you see to get your new dog off to a good start. Have all the treats, chews, chew deterrents, beds, and toys you think you’ll need ready to go.
Bringing Your New Dog Home
You’ll want to strike a balance between starting as you mean to go on, and being sensitive to the fact that your new dog is probably at least a little scared. Be ready with wonderful, smelly treats, a variety of toys and distractions, a soft bed, a quiet space to sleep, and anything a foster or previous owner has said the dog will find extra comforting. If you can arrange for something that smells like their old home, that can be a big help. For young puppies who are leaving their mom and litter for the first time, sleeping in a crate or room by themselves is scary and overwhelming. Don’t let them sleep in bed with you if you don’t plan to ever let them do it again, but it’s very reasonable to bring them into your room and use a crate or exercise pen to keep them out of trouble and help them feel less isolated. Remember that they may not be able to regulate their body temperature very well yet because they were used to sleeping in a pile and have plenty of warm blankets for them to cuddle in. A food dispensing toy filled with wet food or something else wonderful can help them settle down and provide a full belly so they’ll hopefully go to sleep, but they might keep you up the first few nights. Young or nervous dogs will probably need to go to the bathroom at least once overnight, so don’t plan on a full night of sleep.
Watch your dog’s body language and give them the space or attention they need to get comfortable. Some dogs don’t like too much physical affection when they’re nervous, and may react badly to being startled away with kisses or constantly bombarded with pets. Other dogs thrive on that sort of attention and lots of snuggling with you will make them feel more comfortable and settled sooner. Try to make it clear to your dog that they’re welcome to seek you out for attention and comfort, and give them a safe space that’s just theirs. This is especially true if you have children or other animals. Giving the dog a place to retreat where the children and other pets aren’t allowed to bother him is a really important way to foster a good relationship between your new pet and his new family members.
If you have a large home, or a small or young dog, start off by introducing them to just a part of it. A huge new space can be overwhelming and gives your new dog too much opportunity to find trouble unsupervised. Depending on your dog’s temperament, you may want to tether him to you or to furniture you’re nearby so you can reward good behaviors and prevent bad ones from starting. It’s hard to chew or pee behind the couch or dig at the floor when you’re attached to your human. It might also be good to set up an exercise pen in the area of the home where people spend the most time, so the dog can be part of the family without having full run of the house before he’s ready. Don’t isolate your dog in a rarely used area unless he’s made it clear that he absolutely needs the alone time. Dogs are a social species and the vast majority of them don’t like hanging out where their family doesn’t spend time.
Remember that even a dog that was housetrained at a foster home may have issues at your home. A dog used to going potty in a private yard may not be immediately comfortable going in a public space, such as an apartment common area, or with a stranger attached to his leash. Be ready to try a longer leash, find a private area, and work with your dog a little to get bathroom habits back where they should be. Take them out more often than they need to go so that they’re less tempted to find an inappropriate place in your house, and reward the good behavior you see.
Remember that your dog’s behavior right after you bring him home isn’t what he’ll be like forever. Hopefully, the organization you adopted your dog from will be available to advise you if you have any difficulties, but most common issues can be worked though with a little patience. It is possible that you’ll get your new dog home and discover that they’re just not a good match for your family, but in most cases, a little faith in your dog and some training before you give up is all that’s needed.