Adopting a new dog can and should be an exciting event in our lives. Unfortunately, sometimes the first day is the last and only good part of it. In my line of work, I hear many stories about dogs that had to be returned. The owners are never happy about it. People rarely, if ever, want to take a new pet back to a shelter or rescue. There is a tornado of feelings including guilt, shame, and a sense of failure. Yet, they sometimes relinquish the pet anyway because their life has suddenly been turned upside down into a roller coaster of chaos, destroyed belongings, pee, and poop. Sometimes the shit literally hits the fan.
If I had a magic wand to help all these dogs and owners, I would wave it in a second! The next best thing I have is far inferior. All I have is this article and my site to publish it on. I encourage, nay implore, you to share this article with your friends and family. The only way to keep dogs in their homes is to get information in the hands of the owners.
On your dog’s first day home, she is going to be overwhelmed and will likely be on her best, most cautious behavior. She’s scoping you out to see who you are, what you are, and what your expectations are. This is the best moment to set and enforce rules and boundaries. This period usually lasts about two weeks and is jokingly referred to as “the honeymoon period” by those of us in the industry.
Watch your dog like a hawk. No, not so you can find her doing things wrong, but so you can find her doing things right. Every single time you look at your new dog and you like what she’s doing, give her a piece of kibble. If you extra like what she’s doing, give her a treat! This is the best way to say “I like this. Keep doing more of this.” Whether it’s sleeping on her bed, playing with her new toy, or lying calming at your feet – give her a reward.
During your dog’s first few days home, it’s like to be a very exciting time for you and your family. Everyone is going to want to pet and make friends with the dog. Think about this scenario from the dog’s point of view. She’s been taken from a familiar place and put into a house with a bunch of strangers who don’t even speak the same language as her. A little scary, right? As hard as it is, give her a little space to get things sorted out. If and when she approaches you, let her smell you, give her a treat, offer her a toy, etc. The key is to let her come to you once she’s comfortable.
As your dog warms up to you and your family (the amount of time this takes will vary greatly between dogs), she’ll start to test her boundaries. For example, “Do they really mean I shouldn’t get on the couch uninvited?” When this starts to happen, nicely remind your dog that she should wait to be asked on the couch by luring her off, waiting a bit, and then inviting her up. During this period, you will be very grateful for all the time spent at the beginning rewarding the behaviors you like!
One last piece of advice: It’s much easier to start out by giving your dog very few freedoms and privileges in the house and let her earn more with good behavior than it is to give her free reign, realize your life is chaos, and then try to take it all away!
As always, I’m here to answer questions and provide support!