So you've decided to adopt a dog, and you have all the supplies you need, but are you really prepared? Here's some general tips to help your new pet become one of the family:
Have A Training Plan
You’ll want to find a force-free trainer in your area who uses science-based, positive reinforcement training methods.
Look for a trainer with a string of letters after their name: CPDT-KA should be there, but you may also see things like CPDT-KSA, CBCC, KPA-CTP, PMCT, CTC, CBATI. These are all certifications that indicate that your trainer is committed to education and science-based training. Avoid trainers who still adhere to dominance theory, talk about being the “Alpha”, or suggest using any type of electronic collar to train a dog. These are all old-fashioned ways of thinking about dog behavior and training. Dog training has changed, and if its been a while since you’ve had your last dog, the good news is you can toss out that old choke chain and pick up a clicker instead and achieve better results.
Your new trainer can either come to your home and work with you one-on-one, or will offer group classes that you can join. Training helps build a good relationship between you and you new dog. It also teaches him what the rules of the new house are. You’ll want to have a good relationship with a trainer in case any behavior problems pop up in the future. Addressing behavior problems early on is an important part of changing the behavior.
Be Clear About The Rules and Establish a Schedule Early On
Consistency and routine help your dog learn that his new world is stable and predictable. These things help him feel secure and confident. If there are multiple people in your household, everyone needs to be clear about what the rules for the new dog will be.
Will he be allowed on the couch? Will he be allowed upstairs? Where will he sleep at night? Where will he be left while you go to work? Who will feed and walk him and at what times? Will you need to hire a mid-day dog walker? Will you be enrolling him in a dog day care?
It’s important to be consistent so as not to confuse your dog. If mom allows him on the couch, but dad doesn’t, this is inconsistent and confusing. Your dog can’t learn the rules if they keep changing. Nor can he learn to predict when his potty breaks will come if his schedule is very irregular. Having a plan for these things before you bring your dog home allows you to implement them from the very beginning.
Be Respectful Of His Personal Space
Don’t smother him with hugs and kisses, dogs dislike this type of handling from humans. Instead, use long strokes down his back with gentle but firm pressure to reassure him and connect with him.
Avoid patting the top of his head too. Many dogs feel uneasy when someone reaches over their head. Instead, reach under his chin and rub his chest a little. If he’s enjoying it, move up and scratch behind his ears.
If he wanders off to lay in one of the beds you have provided, leave him alone while he rests. Show him that you’re going to be respectful of his space. Don’t allow children to bother him while he sleeps, or to play in his crate.
Don't Punish Potty Accidents
Stress, a change in diet, a change in routine… any of these things could cause your dog to have some potty accidents in the house. Don’t punish him, but instead be consistent about taking him out for potty breaks and rewarding him with a food treat when he does his business outside.
If the accidents continue, check with your vet to rule out medical conditions and contact your trainer to help start a behavior modification plan.
Be On The Lookout For Changes In Behavior
Many dogs will transition to their new home without incident, but other dogs might be a little shut down when they first arrive in your house.
After some time, your dog might become more bold about experimenting with behaviors to see what does and doesn’t work. Suddenly, your dog might start doing things he hadn’t previously done, like barking, chewing, or stealing food off the counter.
If this is the case, don’t worry, just contact your force-free trainer and see what advice they have to offer. This is the time to show your dog that in his new home there will not be any punishment, but there will be behaviors that work and behaviors that don’t.
Understand That Dogs Feel Stress
Your dog has been through a big transition which may be stressful for him. Stress is the underlying cause of all types of behavior problems, including aggression.
If your new dog growls at you, don’t punish him. Understand that a growl is your dog’s way of communicating that something is wrong. If you punish a growl, you might punish the warning system out of your dog, and next time he’ll just go straight to a bite. Simply stop doing whatever has elicited the growl and contact your trainer immediately.
Any type of stress, aggression, or fear should only be treated with gentle, force-free training. Pain and punishment based training make these things worse.
Did you know your dog is communicating with you through body language signals? Your trainer should be able to help you learn to recognize these. Recognizing body language signals will help you understand how your dog is feeling and allow you to act accordingly. If you can recognize low level stress indicators and take action early on, your dog may never need to growl.
Dogs will first try telling us in subtle ways that they are uncomfortable. When we don’t recognize their subtle communications, they try more obvious ones like growling and snapping.
Subtle body language communication includes things like out-of-context yawning and repeatedly turning his head away. You can see why these things could be easily missed!
Meeting Other Animals In The House
If your home already consists of cats, make sure the cats have plenty of dog proof places to escape to. Provide cat trees, and place baby gates so that cats can slip under but dogs cannot.
Designate a dog- free area of the house that is just for the cats. Also, show your dog how you’d like him to behavior around the cats. Feed him a treat every time the cat walks in the room and he remains calm. We want your dog to learn – Every time kitty comes near me, I get a treat. Cats make treats happen for me!
You can also use environmental management like leashes and tethers to prevent kitty chasing. Likewise, provide a treat for your cat while she perches atop her cat tree and watches the new dog. Teach her that the new dogs makes good stuff happen for her too!
If you already have a dog, and you are adding a new dog to your home, don’t expect them to be best friends right away. Introduce then in a neutral area outside. Ask if you can borrow a friend’s fenced yard. Allow the dogs to approach naturally, on loose leashes (you’ll need 2 people, one to hold each dog’s leash) Stop the dogs about 8-10 feet from each other, and if there are no obvious signs of concern, drop the leashes and allow the dogs to finish the introductions on their own. If there is a scuffle, you and your helper can each grab the leash to separate the dogs. Don’t worry about minor squabbles that are nothing more than shouting. It takes a while for dogs to get to know each other and they can often work things out on their own.
If you’re feeling nervous, ask your trainer to supervise the session and talk to you about what’s going on. If the dogs get to romping, quickly remove all collars, leashes and harnesses so that the dogs do not become tangled. Allow the dogs to play a bit, and then leash them up. Go for a walk together and then return home.
Prior to bringing the new dog inside your home, pick up any toys, bones and food bowls. These things might be objects of contention, it is reasonable that the resident dog might not want to share right away with the newbie. Make sure you have provided your new dog with his own crate and sleeping spots in the home. When its time to feed the first meal together, make sure you have distinctly separate feeding areas for each dog.
For a while, you’ll want to separate the dogs when you are not at home to supervise, so plan in advance where the dogs will be left.
If there is a large difference in age between the new dog and the resident dog, don’t allow the youngster to annoy his elder. Enroll the young one in a day camp program to provide plenty of play opportunity with dogs his own age.
Don’t give the new a dog all the same privileges of the resident dog right away. Dogs don’t expect to be treated equally, and it is reasonable that the new dog might have to wait a while before he is allowed to sleep in the bed or get up on the couch, even if the resident dog is allowed to do these things. Provide acceptable alternatives for the new dog – a comfy bed and crate set up in the bedroom allows the new dog to be with you, but not up on the bed. A plush bed on the floor next to the couch is an acceptable alternative to the prime spot on the couch next to you, which the resident dog occupies.
Make sure you spend time with each dog individually. 10 to 15 minutes per day with each dog individually will allow you to maintain the relationship you have with your current dog and build a relationship with your new dog. The time could be spend training, playing fetch, or just giving belly rubs. Additionally you’ll want to do activities that foster a good relationship between the dogs. Walks and fun hikes together will help them bond over mutually enjoyable activities.