Before bringing your new dog home:
- A family decision. Make sure everyone in the family is on the same page and that everyone’s responsibilities are made clear. Who will be the primary caretaker, do the feeding, bathing, and walking etc?
- House rules. Draw up house rules that everyone in the family agrees to stick to so your new dog doesn’t get confusing or conflicting messages about what he is and isn’t allowed to do.
- Know your dog. Find out as much information about your new dog and his personality as possible, especially if he was a stray with no background history at all. Most shelters have some form of assessment, especially larger organisations like Battersea Dogs & Cats Home in London.
- His own little space. Determine where your dog will be spending most of his time. Pick a room that’s the centre of activity at home so your soon-to-be family member won’t feel isolated. The kitchen is often a good option as it’s best for easy clean-ups.
- Patch up the house. Dog-proof the areas where the dog will be spending most of his time during the first few months. This includes taping loose electrical cords to baseboards, storing household chemicals on high shelves, removing plants, rugs, and breakables, setting up the crate, and installing baby gates. This is especially important if you’re adopting a puppy.
- When you’re out during the day. Create a temporary, gated-off living space for your new family member where he can’t damage or eat something. This will be his area whenever you’re not at home.
On the big day:
- Try to avoid rush hour at the shelter. Weekends and afternoons are likely to be crowded which can excite or agitate the dogs. If possible, go in the middle of the week instead.
- Ask what and when he was fed. Stick to that feeding regime for at least the first few days to avoid stomach upset.
- Microchip your dog. Be sure to register your contact information with the chip’s database company. Remember to bring an ID tag with your phone number on it, too.
- Take him home. Your dog should be safely secured, preferably in a crate. He may find the car trip stressful so having him in a safe place will make the trip easier for him. Remember, you could get landed a big fine if you're driving with an unrestrained pet in the car.
- Give him the tour. Once home, keep your dog on the leash and lead him from room to room - spend a few minutes in each room.
- Take him to his own little safe haven. Take him to his toileting area immediately. Spend some time with him so he gets used to the area and can relieve himself.
- Prepare yourself. Going into a new home with new people, new smells, and new sounds can be stressful for your new dog. Expect the unexpected, and don't scold your new family member if they have an accident!
The first few days:
- Bring him to the vet as soon as possible. This way you can check you’re not bringing home internal parasites or fleas. It’s also a chance to ensure he’s on top with all vaccinations and get worming and other preventative medications.
- Keep calm and carry on. For the first few days, help your new family member settle in easier by keeping a calm quiet environment for your dog and limiting excitement (e.g. the dog park).
- Change foods slowly. Switch to your preferred brand / diet slowly, over a few days to a week. Start with mixing the old dog food with 1/8 or 1/4 of the the new one and increase the proportion at intervals.
- Reward-based training is fun. The earlier you start his training, the faster and easier it is for your dog to learn. Pay attention and keep an eye on him at all times. As soon as you spot him doing things you like, quickly reward these desirable behaviours by giving treats.
- Make introductions. It’s never easy for the new family member to meet the other dogs and cats that already live at home, but there are a few tricks that might help.
The next few weeks:
- Be patient and understanding. Your dog may be a bit uneasy at first as he gets to know you – don’t force interactions. In the meantime, keep to the schedule you intend to maintain for feeding, walking, and training etc.
- Out for a walk. After your vet has confirmed your dog is up to date with all the necessary vaccinations, you may want to take him to the dog parks. Our vets recommend to keep the dog on a lead until you have built up a strong bond with him, and assessed his confidence interacting with other dogs and strangers.
- Some doggy “me” time. Giving your new pet some ‘neutral’ time during the first few weeks will help him settle in better and avoid creating problems. Make sure you provide him with a safe place, or a comfy bed, to settle and relax.
- One step at a time. Don’t expect too much from your new dog – having him change undesirable behaviours in a short period of time is simply not feasible.
- Stick to the rules. Dogs thrive off a consistent routine, so keeping to those house rules will allow him to settle in and feel comfortable in the new home.
- Never too old to learn new tricks! What better way to bond than going to some dog training classes together! If there is lots of training to do, start off with short ten to fifteen minute training sessions every day and make this a positive bonding time for you and your dog with lots of praise and the odd treat.
- Keep asking questions. Many shelters encourage families to call when they need anything – they are likely to know a lot more about your new dog than you do in the beginning!
If you have any problems or concerns about your new pet, seek help sooner rather than later. Your vet may be able to recommend a behavioural counsellor or trainer if you encounter behaviour issues you’re not familiar with. Select a trainer who uses positive-reinforcement techniques to help you and your dog overcome these problems.
And finally enjoy getting to know your new family member. Dogs can enrich your life in so many ways, so making sure you spend the time upfront to build a trusting bond between you both will really cement the foundations of what can be over a decade of friendship.
Dr Jenny Lee, 31/10/17