Be grateful for the home you have, knowing that at this moment, all you have is all you need.
- Sarah Ban Breathnach
So you’ve done your research and done a good job of it. I’ve made an educated decision about which dog you’d like to adopt, and there he sits in the backseat of your car, on your way home. You’ve got the the dog food, the vet appointment is set up, and perhaps you’ve even made an appointment with a dog trainer to get off on the right
So now what do you do?
Here’s a step by step on how to acclimate your dog to their new home. It’s all about stages and not overwhelming a dog at any point.
1) On the way home, in the car, give your new family member plenty of time to sniff you. Give him a positive (a tiny reward or at least some praise and petting) every time. What you are doing is linking your smell to a positive. You’re a good thing. That will translate later when he’s in a house that smells like, well, you.
Scent is a very important thing for humans. We bond through scent. We cradle babies by our armpits so they can smell us and be relaxed. We hug for the same reason – sharing scent. How often has a crying baby been brought in to snuggle with mom, and then, without nursing or anything, instantly falls asleep? They smell mom and feel soothed.
For a dog, nothing smells safer than pack. Pack is like a security blanket, and the bigger that blanket is, the better it smells. You are the dog’s new pack. Familiarize him with the scent as much as you can. Providing a lot of positive combined with your scent makes it a very comforting thing for new pooch needs.
2) Take your dog immediately into a quite, secluded area of the house. If you’ve set a crate up for them, put them in the crate and just quietly hang out by them for a while, again, equating your scent with the safety of the crate. The crate isn’t a bad thing, it’s their “bedroom”. A place that is safe and entirely theirs. Allow them to become familiar with it immediately.
3) Give frequent potty breaks. A lot of shelters will say that a dog is housebroken because the dog never messed in their cage. While they aren’t lying, the dog may not be housebroken. A lot of dogs will not eliminate in their cage or crate. Start off on the right foot immediately by following the basic rules for housebreaking, outlined here.
Don’t get upset if your dog marks in the house. This can be quite normal for the first day. A lot of dogs will do it once or twice, and then never do it again. They are merely adding their own scent to the house, often as a way to self soothe.
4) Put yourself in the Pilot position. I say over and over again that Piloting is a huge piggy bank, and whomever has the most money wins the position. Start adding money to your bank immediately, before your dog has any chance to add money to their bank. Don’t allow them to jump on you. Don’t allow them to demand your attention (a dog version of “may I please be pet” should always be expected). Start answering their questions now. They’re going to want to know the rules of the house, so be kind enough to give them the answers. Some answers are “yes” and some are “no”. Read here to find out how to give it to them.
5) Take them for a (calm) walk. No, not in the Metroparks, or downtown. Try your backyard. Somewhere that still sorta smells like pack, but will still require a leash (yes, even if your yard is fenced in). You are adding even more money to your Piloting piggy bank. If you need some help with leash walking, read this series on how to do it without drama. Remember to praise and reward for any potty activity that takes place outside.
6) Put your dog on a leash and walk them around your house, allowing them to sniff and smell. They are familiarizing themselves with the area, and it feels safer to explore if their Pilot/New Best Friend is doing it with them. Remember, though, a lot of dogs have never been acclimated to living in a house. Some may not know the rules. They’re dogs not humans, so be prepared for some crazy behavior, such as jumping on tables or counters to investigate, etc. You have them on a leash so you can easily answer their question, which is, “Is this acceptable?” Um….no, Fido. Not in the slightest.
Do not allow your dog full run of the house immediately. Start with small areas, and has your trust in them grows, go ahead and add areas of freedom for them. Baby gates are integral for this.
7) Bedtime. Ah…this can be the hard part. You’ve set yourself up as Pilot, your dog is (mostly) acclimated to the house. But now comes the scary part…being alone all night. If you want your dog to sleep in bed with you, go for it. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, if the dog is to sleep elsewhere, you have to help them prep for this. The worst thing you can do is try to pop the pup in the cage for the night without any prep work.
You are going to do a crash course in separation anxiety. The first time he’s alone in his crate shouldn’t be for 8 hours while you’re (trying) to sleep. Put him in the crate for five minutes, leave the room, come back and let him out. Now try for 15 minutes. You are creating normalcy out of being alone in the crate. Pop him in and out of the crate all day, focusing on longer and longer periods of time. Think of it as dress rehearsal for the big show. Trust me, you’ll thank me for this when it’s bed time. For a more detailed description on separation anxiety, read this article.
Wash, rinse repeat. Some dogs take 5 minutes to feel comfortable in new home. Other take a little longer. Take your time. Don’t rush them. They’re worth the wait.
Brittany Graham Photography