Bringing a new dog home, copyright 2011-2019 Frania Shelley-Grielen, all rights reserved
What do you need to know about your new dog? Bringing a new dog into
your home can be an exciting and stressful time for us as humans and an
exciting and stressful time for the dog. As many plans and expectations as
you may have for your new dog, know that your dog simply cannot share
them, he or she does not speak English, read or now your intentions. He
cannot know that you plan to be the best of friends, to go for plenty of walks
every day, teach him to play fetch or let him sit on the couch with you. Your
new dog cannot trust that you will find the right dog food and make sure she
gets to the vet when she needs to and find the right toys and games to play
Things are changing very fast for your new dog; whatever routine or family
or place your dog has been in is now gone and his world will never be the
same. What your dog does know is what is around him right now, what this
new immediate environment (including your presence) smells, sounds and
looks like in this moment. There is a biological necessity for this new dog to
seek safety, safety, solace and routine. Read on for some tips on how to
provide this much needed assurance of safety:
- Anticipate what your dog will need and have it around before you
bring your dog home. Things like high quality dog food, bowls for
food and water, a leash (4-6 feet of leather or cloth), a leather or cloth
flat or martingale collar (Skip prong, choke and head halters) toys
-especially chew toys, a brush and a dog bed round out the essentials.
Do not be concerned if your new dog does not exhibit much interest in play
initially, this will come once your dog feels safe enough to play and when you
identify which toys your dog prefers to play with.
- Bring your new arrival directly home, do not stop and run errands or
introduce this dog to your friends or family on the way home. As much
as you may want to show off your new dog, resist, you do not want to
overwhelm your new companion. For the first week or so limit visitors
to your home in order to allow the dog to process you and your home
environment at an easy pace.
- Make sure and take time to allow the dog to sniff around (on a leash!)
the block, yard or perimeter area of your home. This walk around
should also include the indoor areas of your home. Remember to
engage the dog at all times in this process—talk to your new dog in a
happy and calm voice, explain what is going on. While your dog may
not understand every word you are saying, your tone of voice and
accompanying body language will reassure your dog that he or she
is in a possibly welcome and safe place. Keeping the dog on leash
will keep the dog connected to you, helping to foster both emotional
and physical security (all new dogs are capable of escaping from
unfamiliar surroundings given an opportunity).
- Establish a consistent and frequent on leash walk routine. Initially
use your dog walks as relief walks rather than recreation. Take your
dog for shorter walks in your neighborhood for the first several
weeks, save excursions and dog park visits for the second month
when you are and your dog will know each other better.
Even with the best house training your home is new to this dog, there are no
familiar smells, routines or safe and comfortable places to be yet. Should
there be a break in house training, know that this loss of control may be stress
related. Avoid any reprimands as they will only serve to create more stress.
- Place your dog’s bed in the area the dog will be sleeping in; a cozy
and quiet corner of your bedroom is ideal-- avoid hallways, garages,
basements or other isolated areas. Dogs are social animals and you
have brought this dog home to be a part of your family, this is the time
to incorporate him or her into the comfort of you and your home.
Set your radio to a classical music station and make sure to leave it on for
your dog when you are not around. The soothing music coupled with the
melodic voices of the announcers will add to the comfort of your new dog’s
- Allow for the dog to move at his or her own pace. It is essential for your
new dog to have ample down time or quiet time with no expectations.
Do not put pressure on your new dog by assuming an immediate friend-
ship; it is perfectly acceptable and natural for this dog to be hesitant
around you for the days it will take to get more at ease in these new
- Please allow the time necessary to get to know the individual dog,
including expressed preferences and dislikes. Relationships take time
to build, so no forcing allowed here. The dog should never be yelled at,
scolded or scared—ignore all bad behavior and reward all good
behavior with simple calm praise. Think of focusing on reinforcing
what you would like your dog to be doing rather than punishing what
you do not want.
- Stay positive. Remember that over 90% of communication is non verbal
and that dogs are masters at reading this non verbal communication.
Should you be concerned or discouraged your new dog will "read" this as
easily as he can "read" contentment and ease.
You are encouraged to engage with the dog by announcing your presence
when you walk in a room—say hello and use the dog’s name but leave it at
that for the first few days. Again, do not expect instant rapport, this dog does
not know you and needs to see how trustworthy you are. Your new dog will
be watching your facial expression, body posture and tension and
anticipating your movements so go slowly and be the friend your dog would
like to have eventually without scaring him or her off. If you simply cannot
resist interacting with your new dog no matter what, take a book and sit on
the floor parallel to your dog leaving about three feet of distance between you
both and read out loud -to yourself. Pick something you are interested in
(no horror stories!) and stick with it for a few pages. This will allow the dog
to become more accustomed to your presence without that pressure of on the
- Watch and observe your new dog to get to know them. “Listen” to your
new dog, their behavior will often tell you what they need and when
they need it. Do not expect all things right away. There is no set time
table here; every dog is an individual and what takes one dog weeks to
feel at home with may make take another dog months.
I was recently asked how to help a new dog overcome a fear of stairs in a
home where the dog had been in for less than 24 hours. The dog was settling
in but was reluctant to climb a flight of stairs after an initial slip. The new
owner was concerned that the dog needed to overcome this fear right away in
order to be at home in her new surroundings. The answer is that while there
are ways to work on getting your dog to be more comfortable on stairs this is
just not the time to ask for it. For now, it is certainly acceptable, if not,
preferred to carry that dog up the stairs. Helping a fearful dog is never a bad
thing, as Suzanne Clothier points out-- we never, ever see a wild animal (think
of a mother tiger or polar bear) forcing their babies to “suck it up.”
What is key here is creating a trusting relationship first off. A relationship in
which it is OK to be afraid of new and scary slippery stairs. Much of what
your new dog is afraid of is necessary caution in encountering a novel
situation. Given time and a safe environment (which you are helping to
create) the situation becomes familiar and the caution gives way.
- Utilize the positives in relationship building. Add to your positive and
reassuring behavior effective communication strategies. Working one
on one with a well qualified dog trainer or training classes offer a dog
manners to navigate the human world, structure, stimulation and
bonding activities for you and your dog (—do wait until your dog has
settled in first). Avail yourself of the wealth of free resources online
or in books by experts like Pat Miller, Ian Dunbar, Victoria Stillwell
or Sophia Yin.
- Avoid at all costs dominance based or aversive methods and look for
trainers and material offering positive reinforcement styles.
- Even as your relationship with your new dog progresses always permit
adjustment periods to changes in environment or development and
allow for individual personalities, likes and dislikes. There are some
New York City dogs that would prefer never to walk on sidewalk grates
and as long as there is a way around the grate why not allow for that?
The point here is that what you are aiming for is an optimal relationship
and not for a perfect dog (even if all dogs are perfect already).
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As many plans and expectations
as you may have for your new
dog, know that your dog simply
cannot share them, he or she does
not speak English, read or know
your intentions. He cannot know
that you plan to be the best of
friends, to go for plenty of walks
every day, teach him to play fetch
or let him sit on the couch with
you. Your new dog cannot trust
that you will find the right dog
food and make sure she gets to
the vet when she needs to and find
the right toys and games to play
212-722-2509 / 646-228-7813
Website copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
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