Welcoming Your New Family Member
“The love of a dog is a pure thing. He gives you a trust which is total. You must not betray it.” – Michel Houellebecq
Welcoming a new dog into your home is an exciting time. For a dog going into a new home, it will be stressful. For some dogs this will be the first time they have ever been inside a home. You know where everything is and you’ve been through your home lots of times.
Remember everything is a first for him in your home. Put yourself in their paws, think of it being like when you moved into a new home or got lost in a new town. It feels daunting, scary, exciting too. Have patience, understanding and be forgiving if your new dog doesn’t know something. It is your role to show your dog their new home, teach them, guide them and reassure them.
Your new dog may have been abandoned, found as a stray or surrendered to a shelter by a previous family. The dog has had to adjust to a shelter and now has to adjust to another unfamiliar place. This may be stressful for your new dog so be kind, calm and patient. Normal behaviours for a stressed dog include: panting, whining, licking, urination, diarrhea, loss of appetite and shaking. Over time as your dog settles these behaviours will subside.
To make it easier on your new dog and to help him get used to your home and their new surroundings, it’s best to plan for their arrival and their first few days.
Preparing to welcome your dog
Food and water dishes
Ensure you have separate bowls for food and water and place these in an area that allows your dog to feel safe to eat and drink.
Check to see what they have been fed before, initially feed them this to help them settle into their new home, once they have settled a new diet can be introduced over several days to try and limit any upset tummies.
Don’t worry if for the first few days they turn their nose up at any food. This is really common in a new environment. Very often dogs are far more interested in what is going on around them and are not interested in eating. They also tend to have a very clever trick up their sleeves (or paws) and pretend that they are used to being fed the most expensive food (oysters and champagne or the dog equivalent) this is absolutely not the case. But we don’t blame them for trying this clever trick!
Have some nice high value and tasty treats at the ready to reward and to facilitate training
It is important to provide a safe and comfortable area for your dog to feel safe and secure but also part of your home and family. We suggest providing a dog bed, blankets and a crate in living areas as well as a quiet area for your new family member to be able to settle and get some well deserved sleep and peace.
Collar, lead and I.D tag
Ensure you have a secure collar that is tight enough for your dog not to be able to slip out of it as well as a lead and an I.D tag with your details on it.
It is advisable to walk your dog with a lead attached to their collar and a slip lead or a lead attached to their collar and another to their harness.
Your new absolute must have for when walking your dog outside of your home.
Car dog seat belt or carrier
A dog seat belt that clips into the normal seat belt fastening in your car is a good and simple way to ensure your dog is safe when travelling in the car. Simply attach the seat belt lead to their harness and not to their collar.
Your dog will be chipped and be registered to their previous address. You must register your dog’s chip to your address prior to their arrival.
Ensure prior to welcoming your dog you register and your local vet and have their number for emergencies. It is always advisable to take your new family member to the vets within the first few weeks for a health check.
Make your home and garden dog proof
Stair gates can be useful if you want to block off access to a particular area of the house including upstairs.
Ensure there is nothing breakable or chewable within your dogs reach for the initial settling in process.
Thoroughly check your garden for any holes or gaps in the fences or gates where your new dog may be able to escape from. It is always recommended during the settling in process to not leave your dog alone in the garden.
Welcoming your dog from overseas
You may be welcoming your dog from an overseas rescue. This will mean a day or two of travel either by plane or by road transport.
Your dog is likely to be tired and disoriented from the journey. Remember how tiring it can be for humans and we know what we are doing and where we are going.
When meeting your dog for what could be potentially the first time, don’t overwhelm them by rushing up to them. Just take things gently and slowly and let them approach you and smell you.
Show them where they can drink water from and where they can urinate as your dog is likely to be very thirsty after the journey and may well be desperate for the toilet.
Introducing your dog to other family pets and family members
Supervision is an absolute must when introducing any new addition to other family members, whether animal or human. They may already be used to other children, dogs and cats but your children and animals are all new to them and will take a little time to adjust and make friends.
Introduction to children:
- Allow your new dog to approach your children in their own time and on their own terms.
- Reducing the feeling of being overwhelmed and threatened will mean there will be less chance of snapping out of fear or uncertainness.
- Encourage your children to remain calm and not to scream or use high pitch voices when meeting your new furry member. Although this is very tempting of course for your children it may be too much for the dog.
Introduction to existing family dogs:
- Meet on neutral territory and go for a walk together.
- Open areas are ideal as there are lots of interesting sights, sounds and smells to keep the dogs distracted and to bond over.
- Expect the dogs to sniff, circle, play, urinate or simply ignore each other. Let them do what they want to establish a relationship with as little intervention as possible.
Introduction to existing family cats:
- Always make sure initial encounters are supervised until you are certain they tolerate each other.
- Don’t allow your new addition to frighten your cat or give chase as this will not create a sound basis for a lasting relationship.
- It may be that if your cat is used to a carrier that introductions can be made with your cat in the carrier as this will allow them to see each other and sniff each other without any chance of intimidation or attack.
- Keeping your dog on a lead whilst meeting your cat can also help. Do not force the meeting and if your dog becomes too excitable remove them away from the cat.
Remember that everything will be new to your new addition, even if they are used to cats, dogs and children they will not be used to yours. Take each step at a time, encourage good behaviour and provide them with everything they need to settle and become a loved member of your family.
Introducing your dog to your garden and home
- It is recommended to keep your dog on a lead whilst you show them their new garden and their new home. This will help if they are suddenly scared or unsure about venturing into the unknown.
- Allow them to take things at the pace with gentle encouragement and praise. Let them smell and explore and of course toilet if needed.
- Your new dog may never have lived in a house before and may not be properly toilet trained. Keep an eye on them and help them learn where the toilet is and not in the house. When they go to the toilet where you want them to make sure you give them lots of praise and a treat or two.
- When taking your dog into your home for the first time, ensure you keep them on a lead and do not close the entrance door behind them. Allow them to smell and to take things at their pace. Gently guide them into your home and show them the spaces and rooms they will have access to.
- Ensure you praise your dog and talk as you guide them through your home. Show them where their bed is and where their water and food bowls are placed.
What to Expect and Do during the First Few Weeks
When your dog first arrives in your home there will be an adjustment period whilst they adjust to their new life with you. Normally during this time their habits and behaviours previously displayed in the rescue shelter or prior home may not be apparent immediately and may take time to show.
It is not uncommon for the dog to sleep a lot when they first arrive at your home. If they are from a shelter where the noise levels can be high and there is a lot of movement and goings on every day, to suddenly be in a much quieter environment will allow your dog to recover from the stressful and exhausting environment they may have been in previously.
Establish a routine
It is of course an extremely exciting time when you adopt a new dog and of course it is natural to want to take time off work and spend every moment with them. However it is advisable to create a normal routine for your dog to settle into, not one that is false and non sustainable as this will create problems further down the line.
Show your dog how life will really be so they are not surprised when they are left for a few hours at a time.
Remember to use that safe space you have created for your dog, whether that is their dog bed, a crate or a quiet, peaceful area for them to be left in when you do go out.
Your new dog needs boundaries. Too much freedom can be overwhelming to new dogs. If they are from a shelter, they will most likely have had a set daily routine for months, maybe years. It is your duty to make sure they have an environment where your new dog can’t make a mistake such as chewing through the television cable or the sofa. You should also be careful and familiarise yourself with which foods dogs can eat.
Many dogs when they arrive in their new environment are not the same dogs they will be in a matter of days or weeks once they begin to settle and unwind. When they first arrive it is very common for the dog to be overwhelmed by all the new sights, smells and sounds which can cause the dog to go into reserved mode and shut down.
The ideal set up is a centrally located room or area with a dog bed and or crate. This allows your dog to settle calmly and appeals to their natural nesting instincts.
As mentioned earlier some dogs go through a “honeymoon” period where they are not their usual energetic selves. What makes implementing boundaries a little easier is maintaining a regular exercise routine. Exercise and mental stimulation encourages relaxation, allows time for you to bond and a relaxed and happy dog is easier to manage indoors.
Walking and playing with your dogs is a fantastic way to exercise both physically and mentally. One pitfall some adopters have is the excuse of having a fenced garden and use that as an excuse not to exercise their dog. Of course a secure garden is wonderful but it is not a replacement for getting your dog out and about and preventing boredom both mentally and physically.
Toys including bones are a great way to keep your dog mentally stimulated and is also a great way to avoid any unwanted chewing of furniture or other household items. By giving toys such a Kongs filled with treats this can provide hours of entertainment and comfort for your new dog.
Many adopters are very tempted to immediately let their dog off the lead allowing them to run free. This is absolutely not advised.
Your dog has no concept of their allowed boundaries, recall, they may not even know their name and they most likely have no idea you are their forever family and to return to you. They will not understand the consequences of running off, not being able to find their way back to you, or being too scared to return to you.
Everything is new to your dog and they are new to you.
It is recommended to keep your dog on a lead when out walking whilst you work on their recall in a securely fenced area where they can’t escape, run off and get themselves lost or into trouble. Extendable leads are a good option for giving the dog more freedom to explore and run.
Take things slowly with your dog. Be responsible and judge a situation before exposing your dog to it. Going to public places to socialise your dog is a great way to meet other dogs and people but your dog is still going through an adjustment period so take things at their pace.
Just getting to know you, your family and their new environment is a mental overload as it is. Keep things simple for your dog, be patient and avoid taking your dog to loud and chaotic events for at least the first few weeks. Allow them to get to know you, to trust you and to feel safe with you.
Allowing your dog to flourish
Many adopters mistakenly think they are offering security by not leaving their dog alone and allowing them into their personal space at all times.
Of course it is natural to want to spend as much time caring for your new dog, showing them affection, cuddling them and helping them settle.
For many dogs from shelters and rescue centres who maybe have not had the best start in life and have a level of insecurity, it is really important to encourage time apart.
If you never have time alone you will be nurturing unbalanced and anxious behaviour. As their new family, it is your responsibility to help them learn self confidence and personal space.
This is an exciting time for all of you, enjoy, take things slowly, try and look at everything from their eyes, take baby steps, help them learn and most importantly have fun getting to know them and watching them blossom in your home, under your care and with your love and support.