How to Make Your New Pet Feel Loved and Welcome

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

new pet ownership

Story at-a-glance -

  • New pet ownership is not only exciting, but also somewhat stressful for everyone involved, including the new furry family member
  • The very best way to welcome a new pet into your home is to prepare ahead of time for his or her arrival
  • Preparation steps include pet proofing your home, stocking up on pet supplies, assigning pet care chores and developing a plan to socialize your pet beginning the week you welcome your new arrival

Bringing home a new dog or cat is a very exciting time, but it can also be a bit stressful for both two- and four-legged family members — especially when there hasn’t been much groundwork laid to welcome the new arrival. As I often say, preparation is priceless. Pre-planning for a new pet can go a long way toward reducing stress not only on the animal, but also on the human members of the household.

Prep Step No. 1: Pet Proof Your Home

This is something you should do before bringing your new pet’s first day home with you. You might not think of every last detail beforehand, but at a minimum, you should move cords out of reach, and plants if your new addition is a kitty. If you have children, you can involve them by having them get down on the floor to take a puppy or kitten-eye view of all the temptations your new pet might want to investigate. Pick up anything that has dropped on the floor that could pose a temptation or hazard.

As I often tell people, the best incentive for keeping a tidy house is a puppy or kitten, because if it’s been lost or left behind, they will find it. Your kitty could disappear under your bed and reappear with something you’ve either long forgotten or never knew was there!

Pet-proofing your home before your new puppy, kitten, dog or cat arrives is the best way to prevent a choking, vomiting, diarrhea or other crisis during those important first few weeks as a new pet parent. For more details, read “10 Ways to Kitten-Proof Your Home” or “10 Pet-Proofing Steps for New Dog Parents.”

Prep Step No. 2: Stock Up on Pet Supplies

Purchase most of the pet supplies you’ll need before you bring the new addition home. These include items such as a leash, harness, collar, ID tag, toys, scratching posts, litter and litterbox. I strongly recommend you keep your dog or cat on the same food she’s been eating, and wait to transition to a better diet (if necessary) after she’s all settled in. It’s important to realize that change, whether good or bad, gets translated as stress in your dog’s or cat’s body.

Puppies and kittens, in particular, experience a lot of stress because often they’re being separated from their mom and littermates for the first time. They’re also changing environments, which can mean new allergens that can affect their immune systems.

Your new pet has a brand new family, humans and perhaps other four-legged members as well. The last thing her body needs at this particular time is a brand new diet that might cause gastrointestinal problems. That’s why I recommend purchasing whatever food your pet is currently eating, and then slowly move her to a better quality diet if that’s your goal.

Prep Step No. 3: Assign Pet Care Duties to Family Members

Taking excellent care of a pet requires time, energy and commitment. To avoid either neglecting the new addition, 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 pet guardians. Decide what family members will be responsible for which pet care chores.

Often, children ask for a pet and their parents oblige without realizing the desire for a pet doesn’t always translate to a desire to care for a pet. Also, children need help to learn how to care for a dog or cat 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 or scoop the litterbox. Additional considerations:

  • 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 pet? (Meals, exercise and playtime should happen on a predictable schedule each day.)
  • Who will take him for his veterinary wellness exams?
  • Who will handle nail trims, dental care and brushing/bathing duties?

Dogs and cats thrive on routine and consistency, so there are also household logistics to consider, for example:

  • Where will your new pet eat his meals?
  • Where will his bowls of fresh water be placed?
  • Where will he sleep — in your bedroom? Will he sleep with a family member or in his own bed?
  • Will certain rooms be off-limits to your pet? If so, which ones?
  • If you plan to crate train, where will you keep it?

I’m an advocate of crate training for dogs and training cats to be comfortable in a carrier. Have the crate or carrier ready when your pet comes home. If your puppy or dog is 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.

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Prep Step No. 4: Plan to Socialize Your New Pet

It’s absolutely crucial for the well-being of your new pet that she’s properly socialized. Veterinarians, animal shelter staffs and an ever-growing number of pet parents are learning the far-reaching negative consequences of unsocialized puppies and kitties who mature into unbalanced adult pets.

For a more detailed discussion of this important topic, read my tips for socializing puppies and adult dogs, or how to raise a well-adjusted cat, so you can be prepared on your pet’s first day home to begin providing important, safe and positive learning experiences that build a solid foundation of emotional and social flexibility.

I recommend young puppies join puppy play groups as soon as possible to learn social skills with other dogs early on, and stay in training classes consistently through the first year of development.

Especially if your new furry family member is a dog adopted from a shelter or rescue organization, she may have some behavior problems, fears or lack basic training. Because she 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. Always move at a pace that instills trust and builds confidence with your pup.

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 four months later, so be prepared to 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.

Prep Step No. 5: Give Your New Pet Time to Adjust

I always recommend that new pet parents take at least a few days off from work, and preferably a week in the case of new dog owners, to properly welcome a new pet home. It will take some time for your dog or kitty to get acclimated to his new environment and 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 and some cats have difficulty spending hours alone every day with no one around and nothing to do. This goes double for a dog brand new to your home, and triple for one who has just come from a shelter environment.

The more time you’re able to spend with your new dog giving him lots of positive attention, building trust and teaching him the rules and routines in his new home and life, the better the outcome for both of you. If your new addition is a cat, I recommend separating him from the rest of the household in a little bed-and-breakfast setup of his own for at least a week. This will help him get acclimated on his own terms, which is the way cats prefer things.

Kitties are very sensitive to new environments, sounds, tastes, smells and so forth — and they’re very easily stressed by any change in their lives. Put his litterbox, food and toys in his private room and keep noise, confusion and visitors to a minimum.

Introduce other members of the household one at a time. Ideally, this takes place in, say, the living room, after the new cat has ventured out on his own to investigate. However you arrange these meet-and-greets, they should be done in a calm, quiet, low-stress environment so as not to scare or further stress the new kitty.

Whether you’re bringing a new puppy, kitten, adult dog or cat into the family, it’s very important that the new pet not have free rein in your home before you’re completely confident he is safe in the new environment, and that both he and your other pets are safe in terms of interacting with each other in your absence.

Don’t ever leave a new pet unattended with an existing pack until you’re very sure the new arrival has acclimated to the other animals and vice versa.

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