By Dr. Becker
The first few weeks you and your new dog spend together will shape your future relationship and forge the lifelong bond between you.
To make the most of these crucially important first days and weeks, it's very smart to do some advance planning, including the following steps.
#1 - Hold a Family Meeting
Taking excellent care of a pet requires time, energy, and commitment. To avoid either neglecting the new dog, or battles over who didn't do what to care for him, it's best to set everyone's expectations ahead of time.
Before your new pet arrives, sit down with all members of your household to discuss the many details involved in becoming dog guardians.
For example, decide what family members will be responsible for which pet care chores. Often, children ask for a pet and their parents oblige without realizing a child's desire for a pet doesn't always translate to a desire to take care of a pet. Also, children need help to learn how to care for a pet properly.
Even the adults in the family, if chores aren't assigned ahead of time, can assume it's the responsibility of someone other than them to, for example, pick up the dog poop from the backyard.
- If everyone in the house leaves for work or school every day, who will come in and care for the puppy?
- Who's on potty walk duty? How about when your new furry family member needs to go out in the middle of the night?
- Who will feed and exercise the dog? (Meals, exercise and playtime should happen on a predictable schedule each day.)
- Who will take him for his veterinary wellness exams?
- Who will be taking care of trimming nails, dental care, and brushing and bathing the dog?
Dogs thrive on routine and consistency, so there are household logistics to consider, for example:
- Where will your new dog eat her meals?
- Where will her bowls of fresh water be placed?
- Where will she sleep – in your bedroom? Will she sleep with you or in her own bed?
- Will the dog be gated off from certain parts of the house? If so, how?
- If you plan to crate train, where will you keep it?
I'm an advocate of crate training, especially for puppies, but also adult dogs. If you haven't already, take a look at my videos on crate training, which offer a step-by-step guide to getting your dog used to his crate.
I consider crating a very important part of keeping your dog safe when you're not at home or can't keep a constant eye on him. If you're uncomfortable with the idea of a crate, keep in mind that dogs, by nature, are den animals. They crave being in a small, safe, dark spot.
Have the crate ready when your pet comes home. If he's allowed to sleep in your bed with you for several days and then you move him to a crate, he'll likely have a more difficult time adjusting. This is because your dog will have learned his nighttime sleeping spot is your bed.
#2 - Stock Up on Pet Supplies
I recommend purchasing all necessary pet supplies before you bring your new dog home. This includes a leash, collar, non-toxic food and water bowls, ID tag, toys, biodegradable potty bags, non-toxic bed, crate – everything you'll need to be well-equipped when the new addition arrives.
I also strongly recommend you keep your dog on the same food she's been eating, even if it's poor quality, as you transition to a healthier type of food. Your home may be a blessed improvement over what your dog been used to, but her body will still interpret this wonderful change in circumstances as stressful. Change, whether good or bad, gets translated as stress in your pet's body.
Puppies, in particular, experience a lot of stress because they're being separated from their mom and littermates for the first time. They're also changing environments – often both indoor and outdoor environments - which can bring new allergens that affect their immune system.
Your new dog has a brand new family of humans and often other four-legged members as well. The last thing her body needs right now is a brand new diet that might cause tummy problems.
That's why I recommend you continue to feed whatever diet your pet is currently eating, and then slowly wean her onto a better quality diet after she settles in.
#3 - Dog Proof Your Home and Yard
This is definitely something you'll want to do before bringing your new dog home with you. You might not think of everything you need to do right off the bat, but at a minimum, you should move cords out of reach, plus plants and other hazardous temptations.
If you're bringing home a puppy, you'll have a built-in incentive for keeping a neat, clean house, because if it's been lost or left behind, puppy will find it!
Pet-proofing your home before your new canine companion arrives is the best way to prevent choking, vomiting, diarrhea or another crisis during those important first few weeks.
If your dog will be in your yard off-leash, you'll want to insure there's no way he can escape. You'll also want to avoid using herbicides or pesticides, make sure there are no potentially toxic plants growing, and clear away any brush and debris that could harbor pests during the warmer months of the year.
#4 - Arrange for Your New Dog's Schooling
Whether your new canine companion is a puppy or an adult dog, you'll want to get her socialization underway as soon as you bring her home, along with basic obedience training. The best time to start puppy play groups is at 8 weeks of age, then moving on to puppy kindergarten, beginning, intermediate and advanced obedience classes. These are essential elements in raising a well-balanced dog.
What I tell new dog parents is if you bring home a dog but don't plan to socialize or educate her properly, it's a lot like having a child and deciding not to allow her to make friends, have adventures, or attend school. And starting puppy class at 6 months of age is like beginning to parent your child on her 14th birthday; there will be some behaviors that will be hard to correct.
Puppies and dogs are educated about the world through socialization early on with other people, dogs, cats, and environments outside their houses. Dogs that don't get out of their home environment long before 6 months of age often wind up with developmental or social difficulties later in life.
There's a period of time in every puppy's life, typically from 6 to 12 weeks of age, during which mental and social development is most achievable. If your pet isn't socialized during that time, it can set the stage for problems years down the road.
If you adopted your dog from a shelter or rescue organization, she may have some behavior problems, fears, or lack basic training. Many dogs abandoned to shelters weren't given the best care, and staying in a shelter environment for any length of time can also have an effect on an animal's behavior.
Because your dog may come to you with emotional or behavioral baggage, you should be prepared to put in the time and effort required to help her succeed in her new life with you. Behavior modification using a positive reward system is the key to encouraging good behavior.
You may be able to accomplish this on your own, or you may need the help of a veterinarian or an animal behavior specialist. Most importantly, you may correct one training issue only to find another fear or phobia pop up 4 months later; hang in there with positive behavior modification until you see the desired results.
There's a wonderful program I recommend to all new parents of adopted or rescued pets that helps dogs adjust to a new home in the least stressful manner. You can find it at A Sound Beginning, and you can immediately begin using the book's tips and tricks and the calming music CD on your dog's first day home.
#5 - Give Your New Dog Time to Adjust and Lots of Positive Attention
I always recommend that dog guardians take at least a few days off from work - preferably a week - to properly welcome a new pet home. It will take some time for your puppy or dog to get acclimated to his new environment and into a consistent daily routine.
If you're gone from home for several hours most days, I also recommend arranging for a regular dog walker or doggy daycare a few days a week. Most dogs have difficulty spending hours alone every day with no one around and nothing to do. This goes double for new canine family members, and triple for dogs who have just come from a shelter environment.
The more time you're able to spend with your new canine companion giving him lots of positive attention and teaching him the rules and routines in his new home and life, the better the outcome for both of you.