Your cute new dog or puppy may bring some not-so-cute consequences: house soiling, furniture eating, or lack of doggie manners. Even as a dog trainer, I’ve felt a wave of “buyer’s remorse” after bringing home a new dog. Adding a dog to your family is a major change for both the humans and (especially) the canines, and it naturally comes with stress. But don’t despair! The tips below have helped me get through the awkward transition from having a doggie-roommate to a beloved family member.
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Introduce new things… gently
Many dogs are overwhelmed by their new surroundings, which take a while to feel like home. Can you imagine being brought into an entirely new environment where the rules and routines are totally unfamiliar? What these dogs need is to feel secure. As much as you may want to race your new pup to play dates, barbecues, and other fun events, let your dog “tell” you how much stimulation he’s ready for. If you notice he becomes withdrawn, aggressive, or overly excited in any situation, he is telling you that he’s not ready for that much intensity and will need a gentler introduction to it.
When introducing your new dog to people, places, experiences, and other dogs, do so in baby steps. This prevents him from being forced into situations where he might get overwhelmed. As a general rule, when taking a new dog to a new place, plan to stay there for only a short time. For example, if it’s his first ride on the subway, take him for only one or two stops (to an awesome destination, like a park,… not the vet!) and give him a chewy to work on in his carry bag. This will keep him from getting overly stressed through prolonged exposure. As time goes on and your dog gets settled in his new surroundings, you can extend and intensify the exposure.
Reward for good behavior
Your new dog’s mistakes are often far more obvious than the good things he does. Make an effort to identify the moments he’s behaving nicely and reward him for it. Is he sitting, even for a split second? Acknowledge it by petting him gently. Did he come when you called him? Good boy, here’s a cookie! The more you reward his good choices, the more good choices he’ll make.
If training doesn’t come naturally to you, don’t hesitate to contact a force-free trainer in your area as soon as your dog comes home. Group classes can give you a great overview of how to be a “benevolent leader” to your dog, or opt for private lessons if your dog’s behavior or energy-level makes him hard to handle.
Have a plan in place to prevent problems
Prevention is always better than doing damage control. For each potential doggie problem you might encounter, have a few options at the ready. Concerned your dog will pee in your house when left home alone? Have a plan in place: a reputable daycare facility, a reliable walker or sitter, or a book about how to implement force-free house training and crate training. (London and McConnell’s booklet Way to Go is a good one.) Don’t wait for him to develop a habit of urinating on your carpet; act quickly.
What kind of exercise will he get? Each dog has different exercise needs and interests, so experiments to find an activity that fits your pooch’s needs. It may include play at an off-leash dog park, a long walk in the neighborhood, jogging with you, agility or scent work classes, and so on. Finding out which forms of exercise suit your dog will prevent him from acting out due to pent-up energy or frustration.
Take notes and be patient
If you notice any behavior or habits that concern you, record their happenings. Let’s say your dog is barking in your house. What time of day is it? What’s going on in your environment, indoors and outdoors? Did anything noteworthy happen earlier today? And so on. Should you need to address it with a trainer or veterinarian, you will have detailed information to provide.
Many difficult doggie behaviors fade with time. In my experience, it takes an adult dog at least three months to feel fully comfortable in his new home. During that time, he might be extra sensitive to stimuli, barking at or darting away from scary new things. In other cases, a dog with no training may display rude behavior like jumping, furniture destroying, or mouthing; positive-reinforcement training generally mitigates this. Some dogs may even appear withdrawn or shut down the first few weeks or months in a new home, only to come out of their shells when they feel safer. In all these cases, by recording the problematic behaviors, you’ll be able to see if they are reducing in frequency or intensity over time.
While all relationships, including the canine ones, involve a lot of hard work and occasional frustrations, set yourself and your new dog up for success by being both prepared and patient.
Kate Naito, CPDT-KA, MS, is an author and dog trainer with Doggie Academy in Brooklyn, NY.