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Adopting A New Dog : 10 Tips for Success

--Taylor Jones, Alaska SPCA Adoption Center Manager

You’ve made the decision and found the perfect pup to adopt.  You (and the rest of your human pack) are so excited to bring Fido home and you just can’t stand to wait another minute.  We’re excited for you, too, but we all want this to be successful, so here are 10 tips to help make those early days go more smoothly.

1. Practice patience. Yep, this is a hard one, but you’re going to need it.  It can take 6-8 weeks or even longer depending on the situation for a dog to get used to their new home. Dogs that have come into our shelter come from all walks of life: some animals are owner surrenders, and their entire world has been turned upside down.  Other have

come from abusive, hoarding, or neglectful situations. Some are strays that have been living on the streets just trying to survive. It is important while making the decision to adopt to realize that many of these animals may have gone through some traumatic events and are going to need love, time, and patience. 

2. Loosen up your sense of humor. Some transitions are easier than others and you need to have a sense of humor when taking in a new dog. I like to view the transition period to a comical scene from Marley and Me. The new dog is going to find mischief you couldn't even begin to imagine. Sometimes you'll want to pull your hair out, other times you'll be filled with laughter. Roll with it.  It will get better (just keep repeating that to yourself).

3. Create a safe space for your new addition. Before bringing home your new dog, set up a safe space for the animal. You can pick a quiet room or any area that you can restrict access to such as with a baby gate.  Make sure the area is big enough for you to have an appropriately-sized dog crate, with room to spare. If you can, pick a safe area that has tile or hardwood floors. Even the most potty-trained dog will have accidents in

a new environment.   Talk to your kids about when the new dog is in his or her

designated safe spot that this is not the time to try and pet the animal.  This will set your new pup up for success because the animal will learn that when he or she is overwhelmed they can go to their designated safe spot.  Have their treats, toys, and a comfy bed and make sure no one will bother them in the space.

Although you think you might have created the perfect retreat for Fido, take a minute to look at it from his point of view.  Are there things there that smell good and could be edible?  What about cords or wires? Plants? Anything breakable?  Make sure anything that could be dangerous to the dog is removed from the room or secured. That includes small items like bottle tops, jewelry, or stinky socks.  There are few things that dogs won’t try to eat, especially if it smells like you. Underwear are a special treat.

4. Create a routine. Develop a routine that you and everyone in the household will follow with the new animal. Like humans, animals are creatures of habit. A simple routine will make the animals transition much easier. If kids are in the house this is a great time to have a conversation about how to interact with the new animal. Most dogs need a bathroom break after naps, after eating, and when they are let out of their crates.  Add regular times for feeding, playing, walks, and training and you’re set!

5. Pack introductions. Hurray! Today is THE day!  You can’t wait to have your new addition meet everyone else in your family pack, but let’s continue with the Setting up for Success theme.  If you have other dogs, this can be just a tiny bit tricky.   We require

meet and greets between the dog we are adopting out and the dogs in the existing home.  That’s to help the existing pack get to know the new guy a bit, and they won’t feel like there’s an intruder storming in when you bring Fido home.  Even if the dogs get along fabulous at the meet and greet, you are introducing a new dog to your existing dog’s household and this can cause conflict. When you do pick Fido up and head to your place, plan for a detour and have another family member or friend meet you with your other dogs.  Life at home will be MUCH easier for you if you allow them to get reacquainted in a neutral area and have them to walk around together, with everyone leashed. Except you.  Unless that’s your thing. We don’t judge.

6. Home, finally! Ideally, you will have someone helping you so that the dogs can get home in two separate cars.  Once home let the dogs sniff around outside the home. Start off with just letting the dogs interact in the yard on leash. If you have a backyard, introduce your new dog to this area with the other dogs but keep both dogs on a leash. Make sure to remember to not put tension in the leash as this can cause reactivity in a dog. If all is going well, let the dogs play but with leashes dragging. That way if there is a conflict or tension you can gain control of the situation quickly. Once you are comfortable, you can start letting them play off leash in the back yard but monitor closely. This process can take a while. I know with the last dog I adopted, it was almost three months before we got to the off-leash play time portion. That is ok. There is no time limit.  

When you go indoors introduce your new dog to his designated safe area.  Make sure that your other dog or dogs cannot get into this safe area.  At this point make sure to follow the schedule you developed before getting your dog--feeding, potty, playtime, training.

7. Have separate feeding areas. Sure, we all know households where all the animals eat and drink from the same bowl, groom each other, and sing kumbaya around a camp fire.  Assume that yours is not that household, especially if your new addition has been a stray or had to fight for food.  This type of trauma is hard-wired in the dog’s brain and can take a VERY long time to correct.  Face it: your new dog might be a resource guarder and protective of his food bowl.  Start by letting him eat in his safe place.  Keep the kids away from his bowl! Again, consider his point of view—he's in a new place with strange people and other animals and some little person is looking like he/she is coming for Fido’s food.  There’s a good chance of a nip, so teach the kids to leave Fido alone when eating.  

8. Beware of too much freedom. Left to his own devices, Fido will explore his new home and find mischief everywhere.  Laundry hampers.  Tabletops and counters.  Cat litter boxes (Eeww! Yes, dogs love “cat snacks” covered in litter).  Stuffed pillows begging

to be shredded.  Important work papers.  TV remote controls.  I once had a newly adopted dog who ate half a sofa while I was at work.  Too much freedom is not a good thing.  If you’re going to work or will be away from the house for a while, secure your new dog in his safe place.  Make sure he’s got some toys and bone, but don’t leave him to roam unsupervised.  You’ll thank me later for this one.

9. Limit new introductions for the first week. Avoid inviting non-household members over initially.  We’re social distancing, remember?  Even if we weren’t, the dog needs time to process. Being in a new place is overwhelming enough and having a parade of new people can be too much.  Even if the dog seems to be super outgoing, still wait.  At this point you may be thinking, “But I want everyone to see my new dog, and if the dog is not social then I don’t want this dog anymore.”  Take just a second to see this from your new dog’s perspective.  Fido doesn’t know yet that you’re the most awesome pack leader in the world.  So far, you’re just this cool person who took them for a car ride and maybe a walk, brought them into a strange place with toys and food, but WHAT IF?!  WHAT IF you are mean like some people they have encountered in their life? WHAT IF another new person hurts them?  WHAT IF someone takes them away from this new paradise? WHAT IF...   Trust takes time to build and Fido needs to learn to trust that you are going to protect him from the WHAT IFs of his world.  Patience is key here and continue to try see things through your new dog’s eyes. 

10. Enjoy your new pup.There are going to be ups and downs in the process of your new dog getting to know you and you getting to know your new dog. Don’t forget to have fun. I like to tell people to go on and enroll your dog in a positive reinforcement obedience class. Not only will you and your pup have fun learning but also it will help

you guys create a bond.

There are going to be accidents and slip ups.  Shoes may get destroyed.  Loaves of bread may disappear from the counter.  Someone may piddle on the floor.  Cut yourself and Fido some slack and chalk the accidents up to everyone learning to live together.  You’re all learning and learning is a process.  Have fun with it.  If you’re at your wits end, give me a call.  Between us, we can help make your newpack member understand his place in your world.  

Do you have a dog behavior question? Email Taylor at tjones@alaskaspca.org

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