What You Need to Know For a Successful Transition When You Bring A New Dog Home
Before You Bring a New Dog Home
I believe that everyone that loves and wants a dog should have one. However, there are times in our lives that it wouldn’t be best for the pet to add them to our family. Before you bring a dog home, take stock of your work schedule and home life to honestly evaluate if you really have the time to spend with your dog for them to thrive. Consider the needs of the pet. Dogs are very social animals. They need to spend a good amount of time with their people. They need to explore the world and go on walks to be happy. There are exceptions to this, but most dogs love to get out and sniff their neighborhoods. Do you have other animals in the home that will not get along with a new pet? For example, an elderly or ill pet may not want the chaos that a puppy brings. An animal-aggressive dog may need to be the only dog in the home. A good way to tell if a new dog will get along with an existing pet is to foster the new pet for a trial period before committing to adoption. A dog is a lifelong commitment. The time to decide if you are ready for a dog is BEFORE you bring them home — not after you have had them for a year or two and realize that you were not ready for what you brought home. Dogs are not perfect. They don’t arrive trained. Many people do not thoroughly think the decision through, and the dogs suffer for it. Too many dogs are surrendered to shelters at the 1–2-year-old mark. They aren’t little cute puppies anymore, and their owners had no idea what they were doing. They may bark excessively, dig up the yard, or chew up the furniture. Maybe they don’t get along with the other pets in the home. All of these behaviors are common among dogs with little to no training. Training is not optional if you want to have a great experience. It is a must. Dogs can get sick or injured too. Do you have the financial ability to pay for unexpected veterinary bills? Will your senior dog end up in the shelter because you cannot afford their vet bills? This sadly happens far too often.
If you have never had a dog before, read up on dog behavior and training tips before bringing your new dog home. A wonderful way to learn about dogs is to volunteer at a shelter or rescue group. Many have training programs for their volunteers, and they will teach you how to behave around dogs for free. Volunteering will help you learn first-hand about the personality differences between the breeds and the handling differences that vary according to the dogs’ size.
Do you have small children in the home? Children must be taught how to behave around dogs for their own benefit and the dog’s benefit. Teaching them basic skills for living around dogs should be taught before bringing the dog home if you have small children. Practice when you visit friends or family with dogs if you don’t already have a dog in your home. Small children should not be left alone with dogs. Both children and dogs can be unpredictable. This is to keep all parties involved safe.
Check your home and yard for points of escape or hazards. Long curtains, electrical wires, candy dishes, and laundry hampers without lids can all be dangerous for new dogs. Loose gates or holes in the fencing need to be mended before you bring a dog home as well. Many dogs escape their owners on day one.
Secure your trash and your laundry. Some dogs find both irresistible, and both can become hazards for potential bowel obstructions. Put your hamper in a closet with a closed-door if possible, and if you can put your trash behind a door or in a garage, you will be happy that you did.
Shopping List for New Dog
Here are the things that you will need on Day 1:
- Martingale collar — it prevents a new dog from escaping the collar. When you first adopt a new dog, they are at the greatest risk of running away because they fear their new surroundings. Always remove this when crating your dog or leaving it unattended. They can get caught on crates, and dogs can panic and strangle themselves. They are best used while on walks. They do have break-away closures that work well.
- A basic or slip lead leash. If you are bringing home a chewy puppy or dog known to chew leashes, a metal chain leash is recommended. I once had a labrador puppy that could chew through a webbed leash in about 10 seconds.
- A crate large enough for the dog to stand up in when fully grown. If you are unsure about crate training, check out my post here that gives a full explanation regarding the benefits and techniques to crate train your dog.
- Food and water bowls — many medium and larger-sized dogs benefit from an elevated food and water bowl. Dogs that eat too quickly benefit from puzzle bowls. Labradors are notoriously quick eaters and can be prone to bloat. Puzzle bowls that slow down their eating help with this problem.
- Poo bags — lots and lots of poo bags.
- Dog food — find out what the pet is already eating. Try to avoid changing their diets because any change in food usually causes stomach upset and diarrhea. When a dog is newly adopted and brought home, it is very stressed. Changing their diet will add to this stress, and the dog could become very sick from a change in diet. If you have other dogs in the home on a different type of food, feed the dogs separately to prevent the dogs from eating each other’s food- at least until the transition period is over. After a few weeks, if you want to change their food, change gradually by mixing in a small amount of the new food with the old and increasing the ratio of new food to old food over time. Don’t rush the change if you don’t want your dog to have diarrhea.
- Dog bed or blankets for the first day you bring a new dog home. I recommend having the new dog sleep in its crate for at least the first few nights in a new home — especially if there are other pets in the home. Some dogs have a rough start in life. My border collie, Betty, had nightmares when she slept at night. She would become ferocious and bark strangely in her sleep. Her crate helped her feel safe. Some believe that letting a dog or puppy sleep with you from the start increases the likelihood of separation anxiety in the dog. My dogs sleep with me now, but both are also crate trained and voluntarily seek their crates as well. Having a new dog sleep in their crate will prevent fights with other dogs in the home while you sleep.
- Baby gates will come in handy if you have other dogs or small children. Separate the new dog from the children and other dogs as necessary.
- Enzymatic Pet Urine Remover — Accidents are probably going to happen.
Selecting a dog to match your family and lifestyle
When you select a new dog, take a hard look at your schedule, your children’s age, if you have them, the other people who live in the home, your activity level, and the space you have for a dog. Other important considerations are your overall health and your age. Learn a little about the breed characteristics for dogs that you are considering. The age of the pet is important too. Puppies need to be with their mama and littermates for several weeks to learn valuable social skills. Also, not everyone can handle a large active breed. Working dog breeds and sporting dog breeds need a great deal more exercise and mental stimulation than toy breeds that like nothing better than to spend the day in the lap of someone they love. Not all dogs are the same, but the breed characteristics will give you clues as to what you may expect. Mixed breed dogs will have a combination of traits. If you are frail and sedentary, an older, calmer, and smaller dog may be a better choice than a large active breed that is untrained or a puppy. Some breeds tend to gravitate to one person in a household. Others are known to not do as well with small children. There are exceptions to every rule, of course, but try to learn a little about a new breed before making a lifetime commitment to it.
If you frequently travel for work, who will care for your dog when you are away? Do you work long hours? Who will walk your dog while you’re at work? Does everyone in the family want a new dog? Are the other people in the household willing to handle walking and feeding the dog if you are not home? Does everyone in the family understand how important it is to keep gates and doors closed around new dogs to prevent escape? Is everyone on the same page about how to train the dog? If you don’t want the dog jumping up, but everyone else allows it, it will be a lot harder to train the dog not to jump up, for example. Or, if you are training the dog to not beg at the dinner table, but your kids are secretly passing food under the table, you will have a little beggar in the house. It is important to have the whole family in full agreement.
Do you have a backyard that is secure for an active breed dog? Huskies can jump a 6-foot fence. Coyotes can attack any dog in its own yard. The smaller the dog, the greater the risk from predators like coyotes and hawks. Do you have a swimming pool? Many dogs fall into swimming pools and become exhausted trying to get out and drown when left unattended- especially dogs with shorter legs and larger bodies. If you have a swimming pool, take some time teaching your dog where the stairs are and practice getting out of the pool with the dog. Dogs that like to dig can dig out of a yard in a rapid amount of time. For these reasons, I do not recommend leaving any dog in a yard unattended.
Introductions to Other Animals in the home
If you already have a dog or dogs in the home, it is important to introduce them in a neutral and non-threatening way. Introducing the dogs on a leash outside away from home is ideal. Keep it short and allow the dogs to sniff each other. If they seem happy and are behaving well around each other, continue on a group walk with all the dogs. If the dogs seem nervous or tentative around each other, a short meeting is a good start. Don’t rush putting the dogs together. When you move indoors, allowing the dogs to roam freely while being separated by a baby gate is the safest. Allowing the new dog to explore and sniff around will help them relax. If any of the dogs are anxious or are barking at the other dogs, do not yell at them. Keep them far enough away from each other so they can relax. You can also use pens or crates to create more distance. Do not pay extra attention to the new dog. Let the dogs get used to each other at their own rate. Allow the new dog to come to you rather than chasing it around the house. This phase may last several days. Each dog will acclimate at its own rate. Don’t rush putting the new dog with the existing dog or dogs. Once the dogs seem more comfortable around each other, take all the dogs together on a walk. If all is going well, continue to keep dogs separated at night while you sleep for the first week or two to be safe while sleeping.
Walks and bonding
Walks are a wonderful way to start establishing the bond between dogs and their humans. Walking new dogs and existing dogs together helps them realize that they are all part of your pack. Walking helps redirect the nervous energy that your new dog will have from unfamiliar new surroundings to a stress-reducing activity. Dogs need the mental and physical stimulation that they get from going for a walk. A backyard to play in a terrific. But structured, regular walks help dogs in ways that a backyard romp cannot. Walking your dog 2–3 times per day is a great way to introduce your new dog to its surroundings and help them relax. A regular walking schedule will also help with potty training. You are in charge of walks. Do not allow the new dog to take the lead. Work on leash manners from the beginning.
Appetite and Diet, Tummy Problems
As mentioned earlier, changing a new dog’s food should be avoided initially to prevent digestive issues. Many dogs cannot tolerate a sudden change in diet without suffering from diarrhea. Avoid changing their food if at all possible. Furthermore, dogs commonly lose their appetite for a couple of days when they move to a new home. I saw this consistently when I offered boarding in my home years ago. None of the visiting dogs would eat on the first day when they didn’t already know me. (I don’t offer to board anymore). Allowing the dog to relax and feel safe will help bring back its appetite. If there is another dog in the home, feed them separately and do not leave food out for free feeding so they can eat without worrying about losing their food or becoming possessive.
Potty training and accidents
Potty accidents can happen even when the new dog is already potty trained. Bringing a new dog home is a very stressful event for the dog. Accidents can and often do happen. Some already trained dogs will “mark” a new home in the first day or two. Potty training will be a priority. Clean up any accidents immediately with an enzymatic pet cleaner designed for urine. Natures Miracle is my favorite. Using a regular cleaner or a DIY vinegar solution will leave behind traces of the urine that the dog can detect. The residual urine odor will encourage the dog to return to the spot. Cleaning it completely with an enzymatic cleaner removes all traces of the urine odor.
If you have made it this far, you may be tired, and it is time to talk about sleep. All dogs but especially new dogs or puppies need a safe, quiet place to sleep. I recommend a crate for safety. Crate training is not hard. It is most successful when done gradually with positive associations. A dog’s crate is their safe place. Teach children to leave dogs alone when they sleep or retreat to their crates. A crate should be large enough for the dog to stand up and turn around in it. Dogs will not usually go potty in their crates because they naturally want to keep the area they use to sleep clean. Do not put pee pads in their crate for this reason. Some dogs and puppies are very chewy and will eat a dog bed or padded mat left in a crate. I have found a trick that works with bed eaters; put a microfiber bath mat or a small throw rug in there instead.
Never put more than one dog in a crate. If a fight breaks out, the dogs cannot get away from each other and be seriously injured or killed.
Some short-haired dogs tend to run cold and love blankets and soft cushy beds. If you are getting a breed with a reputation for being very chewy (Labrador retrievers come to mind), take extra precautions to buy a durable bed made for a chewy dog. It is common for a nervous new dog to chew its bed into little bits. If I were bringing a Labrador home, I might wait until they were settled in at home before buying an expensive dog bed. I have learned that lesson the hard way with past labradors.
Bringing home a new dog is a fun and challenging experience. Be patient and expect the unexpected. Dogs are the best. Enjoy the process.