Dogs can bring a lot of love and joy. But they’ll need a little time to adjust to your home and family.
“Some go through this transition very quickly,” says Fiia Jokela, a veterinarian, and owner of Chicagoland Veterinary Behavior Consultants. “It may take weeks or months. Depending on the dog’s history, it might even be longer.”
Here are some steps you can take to help your dog settle in.
Of course, you’ll need to have fresh water and plenty of food. But stock up on some other things, too:
- Food and water bowls
- Toys your dog can’t swallow
- ID collar and fixed-length leash
- Body harness
- Comfy dog bed
If your dog came from a shelter or foster home, “ask for some things the dog is familiar with, like the blanket it was laying on,” says Julie Dorsey-Oskerka, president of A Sound Beginning, a Chicago-based behavior training program that uses positive reinforcement to help dogs learn and feel safe in a new home.
Get a Crate
This is a safe place for your dog to sleep or hang out. They should be able to stand up and turn around without their body touching the sides or top.
“If that dog has to bend even a little bit, the crate is too small,” Dorsey-Oskerka says. “When that dog is lying down, their legs [should] stick out without touching.”
You can get a crate with your dog’s full size in mind — they reach adulthood around their first birthday. Block off extra space so the crate isn’t too roomy.
Dog-Proof Your House
Remove or secure anything that can fall over or break. And don’t leave out food or make meals right next to your new pup. “A lot of times, people will adopt a dog and complain that they’re a counter-surfer,” Dorsey-Oskerka says. “Well, when you first get the dog, make sure you’re not leaving a fresh loaf of bread on the kitchen counter.”
And give your dog clear boundaries. You don’t want them figuring things out on their own. Use indoor barriers, such as baby gates, to block off areas where you don’t want them to go. Maybe invest in a tall gate, Dorsey-Oskerka says, because “even the little buggers can climb.”
Set Up a Doggy Safe Space
Create a place where your dog can relax and retreat. Experts agree it’s best to link this spot to positive training. In other words, “only good things happen in this area,” Dorsey-Oskerka says.
In their safe space, your dog might:
- Take naps
- Eat and drink
- Get treats for good behavior
- Play with toys
- Listen to music
- Avoid other pets or people
Make sure it’s somewhere your furry friend can get to easily. “It’s always important that a dog knows they have an escape route, and they can get to a safe place,” Jokela says.
Learn Dog Body Language
Adults and kids should know if a pup doesn’t feel safe. To the untrained eye, Jokela says, these signs can be subtle or even cute. “But we have to realize the dog is saying, ‘I’m a little bit worried here.’”
She says to give your dog some space if they start to do the following:
- Flick their tongue
- Lick their lips
- Move their ears back
- Walk backward
- Furrow their brow
- Start to pant when it’s not hot
- Turn their head to the side
- Lift one paw in the air
- Tuck their tail
To learn more, ask your vet or talk to a certified dog behaviorist about what to watch for.
Get kids involved
Children and dogs can form strong bonds. But first, you need to make sure your child knows how to act around your new pet. Jokela says you always want to let the dog approach your child, not the other way around. “It always needs to be the dog’s choice,” she says.
Kids can be a big help when it comes to feeding a pup. But they shouldn’t bother the dog during mealtime. Instead, have your child pour food in a bowl while the dog is outside of the room. “But then you put it down and allow the dog to come,” Schmitt says.
And whether you get a puppy or an adult dog, never leave a young child alone with a new animal.
Pay attention to your pet’s body language and behavior. That’ll give you clues about their comfort level. There are some things you might want to hold back on for the first week or so. That might include the following:
- Long car rides
- Mile-long walks
- Trips to the dog park
- Beach swims
- Lots of hugs and kisses, especially from strangers
- Play dates with other dogs
Our basic advice is just to take it slow,” Dorsey Oskerka says. “I know that’s the hardest part for people because they’re so happy to have a dog and they just want to share that experience with everybody. We just need to understand that not all dogs can handle that. Some dogs can. You can take them from the shelter and bring them home and they’re buddies with everyone. But we can’t assume that when we start.”
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