Bringing a New Dog Home: 9 Successful Adoption Habits

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You have an adorable new puppy or just adopted a sweetheart of a dog from a shelter or rescue group. You can’t wait to spoil him or her rotten, right?

Loving on a new pup is mandatory, sure, but it’s also important to provide him with a structured environment from day one. Setting clear expectations is key to successfully integrating any dog into your family. Here are nine tips to set him up for success.

  1. Don't leave room for accidents. Your new dog may or may not already be housetrained. Act as if he’s not because in a new situation he may be nervous and forget what he knows. Take him out to potty on leash on a regular schedule, praise him when he potties outdoors, and keep him tethered to you or in a crate or exercise pen when you can’t supervise his activity. Don’t give him free run of the house until you’re sure he’s reliably potty trained and not destructive.
  2. Lay down the law. Not in a mean way! Just be sure he knows what’s okay and what’s not. If “no dogs on the furniture” is the rule in your house, don’t let him up there “just once because this is his first day”. Kindly remove him, then reward or praise him when he has four on the floor.
  3. Be consistent. All dogs like a routine, even more so if they are shy, stressed or fearful. Knowing what the rules are or that meals, walks, playtime, or bedtime will happen at certain times or in certain ways can help reduce anxiety.
  4. Begging begone. It’s one thing for dogs to be in the kitchen while you cook or the dining room while you eat, but it’s quite another for him to be underfoot or paw at you for food. Require dogs in the kitchen to stay in an out-of-the-way area, like on a mat or rug where he can see what’s going on but not be in your way. Praise and reward for staying put. If your dog leaves the designated area, simply take him back and give the stay cue. Before you serve meals, feed your dog so he has no reason to beg. Put him in a down/stay on his mat or rug or in his crate while everyone else eats. Most important: train your kids and spouse not to give him food from the table.
  5. Be positive. Your new dog might be fearful of certain objects or sounds. You can help him build positive associations by pairing those things with food rewards, praise or toys. It can be a good idea to seek advice from a trainer, animal behaviorist, or veterinary behaviorist who uses positive-reinforcement techniques.
  6. Be affectionate but not overwhelming. Hugging, kissing, and squealing can make a dog nervous, and being nervous can cause him to feel threatened. Go soft and slow as you introduce him to his new family (including other pets), home, and neighbors.
  7. Give choices. Find out whether your new dog likes turkey treats or beef bites. Does he enjoy playing fetch or does he prefer tug? Encourage him to come to you but don’t force yourself on him. All of these things are ways to let your new dog have a say in what he likes as well as for you to learn more about him. When he has a choice, he’ll feel more secure.
  8. Body language tells all. Watch for signs of stress such as lip licking, yawning, pacing, whining, or destructive behavior. You may want to ask your veterinarian about natural or prescription products that help with anxiety.
  9. Get help. Training builds your dog’s confidence and strengthens the bond between you two. Sign up on day one for a group class or private lessons from a trainer or veterinary behaviorist to make sure your new pal starts off on the right paw!

About Mikkel Becker: Mikkel Becker is a certified trainer, dog behavior counselor, and lead animal trainer for Fear Free. Mikkel graduated from the rigorous San Francisco SPCA Dog Training Academy with Jean Donaldson (earning a Certificate in Training and Counseling; CTC), the Karen Pryor Academy (becoming a Karen Pryor Certified Training Partner; KPA CTP), the Purdue Dogs and Cats Course, and she shadowed Dr. Nicholas Dodman at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. Mikkel is also a Certified Behavior Consultant Canine (CBCC-KA), a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA), and a Certified Dog Behavior Counselor (CDBC).