Bringing Your New Dog Home
(first day , first week)
This is mostly about bringing a newly adopted dog home, but it also applies to bringing a puppy home. A little extra thought and care and effort in that first entry to the home and first few days can pay off in sparing you a lot of work and trouble later on.
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Congratulations on adopting a rescued dog or gettting a puppy from a respected and responsible breeder. Here are a few ideas to make that first entry into your house easier and to set the situation up for sucess.
The main issues are (1) introducing the new dog to the dogs you already have, whom I will refer to as resident dogs, and (2) introducing the new dog to your yard as potty area and teaching the route from house to yard. Also (3) advice on first meals for the dog..
I should write a separate article on the "honeymoon" period of the first several weeks, but I will put in a few comments here that introduce the concept..
This introductory walk might take place in any of several locations and circumstances :. (a) with the adopter's own dog(s) being brought to the place where the adoption candidate dog is living, either a foster home or a shelter. (b) the adopted or candidate dog is brought to the adopter's home or the fosterer's home.
My own experience is with the new rescue-foster intake coming to my home to meet the my own dogs and foster dogs or the prospective adopter bringing her/his own dogs to my home to meet a foster dog.
You have to modfiy this advice to fit the circumstances you are actually in. If the circumstance is a shelter, your options for going for a walk may be limited to walking within the confines of the training field / exercise field at the shelter.
These are not the only ways to accomplish these goals. I am just describing what has worked for me.
My favorite way to introduce one dog to another or to several others is to go for a walk together. Ideally there are two (or more handlers) and each dog is on a head halter (so handler can control direction of dog's head and thus the dog's eyes, thus preventing a direct eye contact from becoming a challenge). One handler takes the new dog and the other handler(s) takes the other dog or dogs. Pick a route where the path is wide enough that the two handlers and dogs can walk parallel to each other but several feet apart. Thus the new dog is several feet apart from the other dogs. The dogs are aware of one another but not interacting in any challenging way. Thus they can start to perceive each other as someone they can get along with.
Ideally the walk will be long enough that all the dogs will get pleasantly tired but not exhausted. If one of the dogs is a young puppy, a debilitated or out of condition dog, or an elderly dog, the limits of the walk will have to be shortened to accomodate that dog. Or perhaps the less able dog could be returned to the house and the others continue walking. Or perhaps the more able dogs could have already been walked a distance before adding in the less able dog.
If you are planning an adoption, and if the intending adopter lives close enough to the foster home (or breeder home), you may plan to do more than one of these walks before proceding to the next step, the interaction in a fenced yard.
Variation on this theme : with or without second handler. When I am bringing in a new foster dog and want to integrate that dog into my home, because I have the luxury of having a kennel run (actually 2 small ones) that is separate from my house and house-yard, I can introduce the new dog to residents one at a time, starting with the resident dog who is least likely to conflict with the new foster dog and then the next least likely , and so on. So the new dog will live in the kennel run for a few days. The first few walks are for this dog solo, so I can do a little training so I can "get a handle on him", ie establish some cues and some control. Then the introductions begin. Usually this will lead to the new dog being able to live with others in the house. Occasionally, the new dog just isn't going to get along with one or more of my residents (my own dogs and fosters), thus will have to live in the kennel run until adopted, with only limited periods of time inside the house (other incompatible dogs being crated or otherwise separated).
(This next step assumes the walk has gone well, ie no significant hostilities.)
Note : re driving back home from distant meeting place.
If your dogs are meeting an adoption candidate at a place beyond walking distance from your home, you have to consider how to drive the dogs home, ie newly adopted dog and your resident dogs. You must avoid the risk of a squabble or fight in the car, especially the risk that anything could distract the driver and thus risk a wreck. I've writen advice on transporting a newly bailed-out shelter dog as only dog in the vehicle in the article Transporting a Newly Rescued Dog Safely but that doesn't discuss the issue of new dog plus other dogs.
If you have a second car and driver, that's ideal, but unlikely. If all dogs are crated, that's ideal , and driver can ignore any barking or growling. If you have a barrier between front and back seat or between middle seats and back seats or between seats and cargo, then your own well behaved dog rides up front of the barrier and the new dog rides behind. Do not under any circumstance put the new dog in a crate and strap the crate to the roof of your car, nor inside the trunk, as either could result in injury or death..
After the walk has taken some energy out of the dogs, relaxed them (exercise induced endorphins and seratonin), and let them experience one another as non-challenging, it's time to take them to a safely fenced area where they can interact. While it's wonderful if you can do this in a safely fenced "neutral" territory, ie one that is not the home of any of the dogs, usually the reality is that this area will be the home yard of the adopter or of the foster home. The adopter's home yard probably gives a psychological advantage to the resident dogs, ie the dogs the adopter already has and is committed to. I don't think that's such a bad thing really.
Before the dogs are let loose in this yard, it's probably best to shut the door from the yard into the house. Thus delay the dogs going into the interior of the house. The house is a more "hot button" area than the yard is. If there's a dog door, there are various ways to temporarily block it.(Note : I don't usually physically block this entry, but I use my own body space and language to discourage the dogs from running inside. Since the people are remaining outside, the dogs are very likely to want to remain there too.)
Now that the dogs are in the yard, possibly you'll want to make a few more on-leash circuits around the yard. Or not. It's a judgement call. Then drop the leashes to the ground. Let the leashes drag. This gives you the security of knowing that if trouble starts, if a fight begins or is about to begin, the handlers can grab the leashes (probably stepping on leash then taking leash in hand) to separate the dogs. Grabbing the far end of the leash is much SAFER for the person than grabbing the collar on the dog. It's also easier, faster, to do and thus SAFER for the dog because the interruption comes sooner. Grabbing a collar is risky because if the other dog means to bite this one, that bite is probably going to be aimed at this dog's neck and thus is very likely to hit the hand grabbing the collar. (How do I know this ? Let me show you my scars.)
Don't get alarmed if they get into ordinary dominance posturing or squabbling. You need to have ability to see the difference between a scuffle versus a real fight. Keep yourself calm and keep your breathing and body relaxed.
If you want an added precaution, have one or more garden hoses attached and with any sun-heated water already run out of them. Outdoors the best way to sttop a fight is to run a stream of water straight into each dog's face, aiming to flood the mouth and nose, because when they think they might drown, they will let go.
It's also possible to put basket muzzles on all the dogs, thus you "take the worry out of being close" for that first interaction. If resident dogs are absolute non-fighters , it's an option to basket muzzle only the new dog, though this is a bit risky for that dog if you have misjudged the situation. For most people, if you find yourself wanting to muzzle dogs, that's the right side of your brain telling you not to procede with this interaction step. Either do more parallel walks or give up on the idea of adding this particular new dog into the pack.
By this time you may feel things are going well enough to take the dogs into the house. Maybe you will first take off the leashes outdoors and let them interact a while longer or maybe they come indoors with leashes still dragging.. Or maybe you decide you've accomplished enough for one day and you want to quit while you are ahead. Do another meeting , repeating these steps. If you have a kennel run or you have the ability to separate off part of the house (with stretch gates), maybe you bring the dogs in with leashes dragging and let them interact a while and then separate the new one into the kennel run or separate part of the house.
All of this will go much better if you are skilled at "reading" dog body language and thus can notice the very earliest signs of tension in the dogs.
Your ability to control your own mind and body is extrremely important. Keep your mind as calm as possible, keep your breathing calm and slow, keep your body language relaxed. This should be easier because the preceding parallel walk has gone well between the dogs and had a calming effect on the dogs and the humans.
Because the dog may very well remember the door through which you entered the house as the door by which to exit the house, for the first several days it's best if you have the dog enter and exit the house by way of the fenced yard. Normally this would be the door that has the dog door to the yard. This may very well not be the door you usually use to come and go, but it's worth this little bit of effort in order to set the dog up for success. This can be especially important if the dog was brought to your home by someone the dog felt attached to, as the dog will likely want to follow that person when she/he leaves.
Normally the gate from your yard to the world is kept locked. With a new dog, ensuring this gate security is extra important. If you need to add extra latches or safety chains, do so.
(Note : I have not usually done this method because for me it's so much more convenient to enter by a non-yard connected door (my kitchen door) , but recently I had a foster who tended to have "accidents" next to the door by which he had first enteredthe house. So if you want to give yourself an advantage and iu's not too inconvenient, do as I say and not as I have been doing.)
An adult dog may or may not have been totally house-broken in the former home. Maybe you know the dog was or was not reliably house-clean in that home, and maybe you don't know.. Assume the dog is NOT house-broken or at least that this dog does NOT yet regard your home as his/her home/den, ie an area to be kept "clean", and certainly the dog needs to learn the route to get outdoors and how to get out that door.
(Note : this is also true if you and a dog who has been totally clean in your home were to move from that home to another home. A brief "refresher course" would be a wise investment of effort.)
So you will follow the same house-breaking rules you would for a young puppy, but the intervals between escorted outdoor potty breaks can be longer for a mature dog than for a puppy (but make your errors on the side of going out more often than needed, rather than less often). Probably this brief course will take a week or less, usually less.
If you have a dog door from house to yard, many adult dogs will house-break with extreme ease . You do need to teach the dog where the dog door is and how to negotiate through it. Sometimes that means moving the flap out of the way for a couple of days, and sometimes using food to lure the dog through or leash to guide the dog through is needed. Often my own dogs teach the new one faster than I can.
Bringing some of the new dog's feces from the former home or from your first walk and placing this marker at an appropriate spot in your yard can encourage the new dog to use that spot. Taking the dog to an appropriate area on leash and waiting for the dog to urinate for the first time is a good idea. Dogs do tend to develop a habit for locations for urination and defecation, so if you can control or inspire the initial choice that may start a pattern. But some dogs like bare areas and some prefer taller vegetation.. In my own opinion, just as pilots say "any landing you walk away from is a good landing" , I think that anywhere in your outdoor yard that a dog pees and poops is a good location. Do try to get the dog into the habit of using your yard before you go out for your walk , as this (a) makes the walk a powerful reward for eliminating outdoors and (b) reduces the number of full scoop-up baggies you will have to carry until you find a trash can or carry back home.
With a puppy, you must expect to do the full long course of house-breaking , including the very frequent escorted potty breaks. This is difficult for anyone who has to leave the house to hold a normal job to bring home the kibble and pay the mortgage.
But if house-breaking a puppy is too much work for you or taxes your patience, I have one very strong advice for you : never have children ! (Children are very hard to house-break..)
I added this section because of the good effects I experienced in bowl-holding feeding a foster dog, Leo, who has a swallowing disorder and needs to eat from bowl held at an elevated height so that gravity is helping him swallow.. I think hand-feedingor bowl-holding is a simple and easy first days procedure that might benefit many dogs.
(Caveat : This assumes the dog does not come to you with a serious food guarding problem, thus it is safe for you to hand feed or bowl holding feed. Many dogs who fail the shelter's food guarding test, a rather severe test, will cease to guard if they are simply allowed to eat in peace, undisturbed by people or other dogs. Let him eat in peace while you sit at the other end of the room ignoring him. )
If you can take the time (a few minutes or less) to feed the first few meals either from your hand or from a bowl held in your hands, this can help the dog to understand that you are a giver of food , not a taker, not a threat to his eating. If you are holding the bowl, hold it at a level that lets the dog eat comfortably, which might mean you sit in a chair for a big dog or on the floor for a small one. Alternatively, the bowl can be on the floor and you add a handful of food each time the dog finishes the previous handful, until the entire meal is done.
This also ensures that you are observing the dog eating so you can see if there are any problems. It also ensures that any other dogs in the house are not able to try to steal and that no uneaten food for this dog gets left for others (who don't need extra calories) to clean up.
Because a dog who finds himself in a strange situation is sometimes not very interested in food, is too concerned with his own safety, to want to eat during the first day or two, please do notice this but please don't worry if the dog is otherwise healthy. Dogs, being evolved as predators, can usually miss a meal or two without harm (For a severely malnourished dog or a sick dog, or for one recovering from injuries or surgery, getting the dog to eat is more important. You may need veterinary help in these cases.) Hand feeding can encourage a dog to eat (indeed it's the first thing a vet will try), assuming the dog is not afraid of you, and being fed by you can reduce moderate levels of fear. (If dog simply won't eat with you close by, then put the dog in a private peaceful area and let him alone to eat or not eat for 15 to 30 minutes. Then let him leave the area and you pick up any uneaten food)
Try to resist any temptation to add extra goodies to the dog's food if he doesn't eat. You could easily teach him to become a doggie gourmet. Use the good quality healthy food that you normally feed (or any special veterinary diet that has been prescribed for a problem this dog has been diagnosed with). Again, this assumes a basically healthy dog, not a sick or injured etc one.
After a few days , likely it will be time to start asking the dog to Sit in order to get you to deliver the food bowl or handfuls. Soon enough it will be time to reserve a portion of his daily ration for use in training.
A lot of rescue people call the first few weeks "the honeymoon". It's a period when the new dog is trying to figure out where he fits into the social system (hierarchy) and what the rules of behavior and the routeins are. So some dogs seem to be very careful "not to make waves", seem to be "on their best behavior". Dogs coming out of a shelter situation may be either (a) very "shut down" or "repressed" or else (b) very "hyper" from lack of exercise. Either of those conditions take a while to change towards whatever is normal for that dog. Good leadership, consistent rules, and adequate exercise will have beneficial effect towards those changes.
Years ago when I was just starting doing rescue and foster care, my obedience coach and rescue mentor (Ellen Haro of Greenfield's Belgian Sheepdogs) gave me a lot of valuable advice. Her advice on what to advise people about those first few weeks was to start off with pretty strict rules, ie clear and consistent, not with indulgence. She said that many kind hearted adopters (and almost all adopters are kind hearted) imagine that this dog has had a hard life previously, possibly neglected or abused, and they want to compensate for that by being very kind and indulgent to the dog, often letting the dog do whatever he pleases. The result is that the dog decides there are no rules and the dog is the one in charge. That "spoiling" will have to get "unspoiled" later on or life together will get unpleasant for all. Better to have chosen (family discussion) the rules in advance and be strict about them. It's always possible to lighten up later as the dog earns privileges.
What if it's actually known that the dog was neglected or abused ? Even more reason for the new home to emphasize regularity, predictibility of rules and routeins. "The past is prelude" and the new life "begins from where you are". If the dog brings specific fears, identifiable fears, you start to work on those with desensitization and counter-conditioning. If the dog has some undesirable behaviors and habits, the training of alternative behaviors begins right away. All or almost all training can be reward-based, but failure to address issues is not any kindness.
Dogs who come to you untrained or out of control or with known undesirable behaviors need a clear and consistent pattern of leadership and rules even more than do apparently well behaved dogs.
Leadership requires that you are both respected and trusted. With timid dogs you are likely to have to emphasize the trust part, and with confident and pushy dogs you will have to emphasize the respect part.
(Note :Medical issues have to be addressed as soon as possible, with the help of a good vet. Sometimes this alters how you treat the dog, creating excptions to the above honeymoon advice.)