In honor of PAWS’ 14th Annual Mutt Strut (check out event details here!), we’ve compiled our top 5 tips for welcoming home your new dog pal and setting them up for training success.
Bringing home a new friend can feel exciting and sometimes overwhelming. The first few days with your new dog will require some extra time, attention, and patience. Here are some ideas to help you create positive experiences, get training off on the right foot, and build a lasting friendship between you and your dog.
1. Let your dog set the pace and spend time getting to know each other.
Your dog is happy to be home - but they have travelled a long way to get to you. Whether your dog was previously in a shelter, transport van, or foster home, shifting living situations can be extremely stressful and disorienting for dogs. It might take weeks and sometimes months for your new dog to feel all the way at home. You may also see shifts in behavior and energy levels as your dog gets more comfortable and begins to let more of their personality show. You may see your quiet and reserved dog become more energetic and vocal, or your hyperactive dog might become more chill.
It will also be very tempting to show your new dog off to extended family, friends, and take them on trips right away- but it is important that your dog is acclimated to your home and housemates before putting them into novel situations. Adding one stress on top of another can sometimes cause behavioral issues to surface and can hinder learning. Your dog may not be ready for your family picnic, the art festival, or the dog park just yet! Improve your bond first by going on long walks together, engaging in play, and helping your dog acclimate to a typical day in your home.
2. Create a safe space for your dog.
Just being in your home may feel like a kaleidoscopic experience for your dog - everything from new smells, sounds, and roommates can leave your dog’s head spinning. Having a safe and quiet place where your dogs can retreat to when they feel overwhelmed or tired can reduce stress, speed up the acclimation process, and help your dog process new information more effectively.
Also be sure to provide plenty of enrichment activities such as stuffed bones or kongs, long lasting chews, and food puzzles to help your dog blow off some steam and relax in their new environment.
3. Set house rules early.
Helping your dog adjust to their new home means helping them understand what is expected of them. Frequent changes to house rules can cause stress and greatly hinder training. Here are some questions to ask BEFORE your bring home your pup:
Is your dog allowed on the furniture?
Where will they eat?
Where will they sleep?
Who will be responsible for taking them out?
Where will I confine my dog when I am out of the house?
4. Management is key.
Management refers to tools, equipment, and lifestyle changes that help prevent unwanted behaviors and set your dog up for success. Your new dog may not know that your living room shouldn't be used as a toilet or that your favorite shoes aren’t chew toys. Similarly, having full reign of the house upon arrival can feel overwhelming and confusing for most dogs.
Utilizing management tools like crates and gates are fantastic way to:
Reinforce house rules.
Create puppy-proof areas of your home.
Help your dog acclimate to small sections of the house at a time.
Support a house training regimen.
Assume your dog does not yet know your house rules and offer a small area of your house at first. As your dog begins to understand what is expected of them, gradually increase supervised freedom in the house.
5. Normalize your routine.
Providing structure and establishing routines can help your dog learn what to expect during their day to day- which is vital for keeping stress at bay. Schedule your dog’s walks, play, feedings, and down time so your dog doesn’t have to wonder when their needs will be met. This type of structure can also help provide contextual cues for your dog so they know when it is time to play, and when it is time to chill.
You can also fold confidence building into your daily routine to help prevent separation distress. Show your dog it’s ok to be alone by starting slowly:
Close the bathroom door while you shower.
Confine your dog while you fold laundry nearby.
Provide an enrichment activity in another room during your dog’s scheduled down time.
Once these activities feel normal and safe for your dog, you can start taking short trips out of the house, adding 10-15 minutes to your outings provided you are not seeing any signs of stress and remembering to keep exits and entrances low key.
When to reach out to a trainer
Aside from learning basic or advanced behaviors, group classes can be a great way to slowly introduce your dogs to other dogs and people without the pressures of the dog park or an on-leash greeting.
If you feel overwhelmed, unsure, or feel like you need some guidance on your dog’s behavior, it is always best to reach out to a certified trainer EARLY. Problem behaviors can pattern very quickly, and the longer they are practiced, the more difficult they are to modify.
Working with the right trainer can help you speed up the acclimation process, teach your dog new skills, and strengthen your bond with your dog. It is important to find a trainer that you feel understands the needs of both you and your dog, utilizes positive reinforcement training methods, and is CPDT certified.