How to Welcome Your Furry Friend into Your Household:
I. Introduction – the Commitment
A cute puppy that just wants to be in your lap melts your heart. Envisioning a dog waiting eagerly for you at home makes you smile. Who would not want such a wonderful companion? What many people do not appreciate, especially those who are new to dog ownership, is how much of your time you must invest in your relationship with your dog to achieve that ideal companionship. Dogs love being there for you and with you, as they want nothing more than to please you. Before you go for it, however, you need to understand that the happiest dog-human relationships require a good deal of quality interaction.
Statistics show that the happiest and healthiest people have pets, especially dogs, proving that the relationship is as beneficial for the human as it is for the dog. Like all relationships, it is also a big commitment. A healthy dog can live ten years to fifteen years, and sometimes longer depending on the breed and the quality of care it gets. If you are not sure whether you can make this commitment, the first thing you should do is be honest and fair to the dog and to yourself, and consider whether a dog really is right for you. If you are not certain about it, consider doing volunteer work with a shelter or foster care first. Then you can decide if the ownership commitment is right for you. Once you are ready to make that commitment to some lucky dog, this article gives you some pointers about how to welcome the dog into your home and make it part of your family.
II. Do Some Homework First
Once you decide to adopt a dog, try to resist making a rushed selection. One of the most important keys to a successful adoption is doing your homework on the different types of dog breeds and narrowing your search down to those who are likely to be compatible with your lifestyle and that of your household.
As you know, dogs come in all different sizes and temperaments. A cute puppy may catch your eye. As cute as it may be, you probably should not take it home if it is going to grow into a 100-pound athlete that needs frequent romps outside and you live in a one-bedroom apartment downtown. Do your homework first. A little bit of research will go a long way to ensuring that you select a dog that will fit into your household instead of one that is based purely on the cuteness factor. Go online and research dog breed characteristics to determine which dog breeds have the traits that are likely to fit well in your life. Plenty of resources are available to help you. The American Kennel Club has an excellent guide with lots of descriptions you will find helpful. You can also use the interactive tools at this Dog Breed website to screen out breeds that just won’t work for you.
You should learn the physical characteristics of the breed you are considering, such as its typical size, common health issues, and the breed’s average lifespan. You also need to know whether it sheds a lot or a little. Is it hypoallergenic? Ask what kind of coat the breed has, and consider how much grooming is required to keep the dog healthy and clean and whether you will be able to keep up with it. Then inform yourself about the breed’s typical energy levels, ease of training, and temperament. For example, you should know that a retriever will want to play endless ball-chasing games with you and gorge down whatever food is put in front of him, while a terrier will thrive on games involving ferreting out hidden treats and may inspect his food carefully before eating it one piece at a time. Similarly, don’t expect a brawny Doberman or energetic labradoodle to be happy confined alone all day lounging on the apartment sofa like a Shih Tzu may do, and don’t expect a poodle to run the same distances as a greyhound. You get the picture. Another very informative site is Dogtime.com where you will find breed characteristics organized in very practical if unusual categories, such as breeds that are prone to drooling, breeds great with kids, breeds that adapt well to apartment living, or breeds that are good for novice owners, breeds that are suited for cold climates, and those for hot climates.
Adopting a shelter or rescue dog may be more important to you than breeding. Bravo! Shelter dogs have a very iffy future absent someone adopting them into their home. With a shelter dog, you may or may not know the dog’s breeding. Some have been rescued from appalling puppy mill conditions, but even then, the breeding can be a question. The shelter sometimes has a lot of information about the dog, and the shelter is happy to share what is known about the dog’s personality and breeding. After all, the shelter wants the dog to find a suitable forever home, too! Ask the shelter to let you see dogs based on the screening factors that are important to your household, such as: Does the dog get along with other dogs? Cats? Children? Strangers? Does it have any habits like digging, chewing, barking a lot? Does it understand basic commands such as come, sit, stay, no, down, off, etc.? Does it have a playful, energetic personality, or is it a couch potato? Is it hypoallergenic? Does it shed a lot? What are the grooming recommendations? Some have been abused and may be very shy, and not compatible with a noisy household. What is the dog’s age and medical needs? Perhaps you are someone who can adopt a special needs dog or a senior dog, already trained and socialized. Once you narrow it down to a few dogs that seem suitable, ask for the chance to interact with the dog for a while, and perhaps take one home for a few days’ trial.
Another very important issue to consider before making your selection is how much time alone the dog will spend each day. For people with a full-time job, the dog will be home alone most of the day, five days each week. Is the dog you have in mind able to handle that? Dogs are pack animals, not designed for solitary living, but some dogs can handle it just fine. Puppies, in general, need a lot of attention each day. In cases where you will have to leave your dog alone, you may need to arrange a dog sitter or a doggy day-care where the dog will also get some very important socializing and training while you are gone. Another option is to consider adopting a companion dog! Two dogs are often less work than a single dog, and they are happy with the companionship of another creature who speaks their language.
What this article has said so far seems so obvious, but the statistics on abandoned and stray dogs (and cats) indicate that these points must be re-emphasized. Don’t be someone who adopts a dog only to abandon it because you later discover that it sheds a lot, or requires too much exercise, or has severe separation anxiety, and so on. A dog is a loving and caring animal that wants a relationship with you; it is not a disposable toy, so you must know what you’re getting into and commit to being a responsible dog owner before you take it home. The rewards to your own well-being are worth so much more than the investment of your time.
III. Prepare Your Home for the Dog’s Arrival
Now that you selected your new dog or puppy based on rational thinking, you need to prepare your home for its homecoming before it actually arrives. It will be an exciting moment for everyone, especially the dog, so make sure you have adequate supplies on hand in case of accidents. This preparation will keep the event positive and exciting but as low-stress as possible for the dog. Here is a checklist of things you should do in advance of your new dog’s arrival:
- Dog Food – it’s best you have a week’s supply of whatever the shelter was using. You will likely want to change to a better quality of food, but you will need to make that change gradually. Do it by feeding a little less of the old food and more of the new food each day over about one week’s time. Otherwise, your dog’s digestive system could be upset due to the stress of the change of environment and its food, causing vomiting and bathroom accidents or constipation.
- Sturdy food and water bowls that are dedicated for your dog’s use only. Stainless steel bowls will not crack or shatter and they are easy to clean in the dishwasher.
- Cleaning supplies designed for the occasional and inevitable dog messes.
- Good quality bedding suited to the dog’s needs (which you have already determined through your interaction with the shelter) placed in the location where the dog will sleep. Do not make your dog sleep on the hard floor. If you do, you are likely to end up with a stiff, tired and sore dog that sneaks onto the more comfortable furniture in the middle of the night.
- Crate suited for your dog’s size and/or dog gate. Crating your dog for short periods is an excellent way to give your dog its own space and make your dog comfortable in your home. It is great for house training, too. Dogs will avoid urinating or defecating in their “house” and will learn to hold it until they go outside. Note, however, that leaving the dog in the crate for hours upon hours is too long and inhumane. You can also use a dog gate as a great way to confine your dog or exclude it from an area of the house as you determine appropriate.
- Name and contact info of a good vet convenient to your home, and any immunization records you can get from the prior owner or the shelter.
- Toys, including any that the dog has claimed as its favorite that the prior owner or shelter can send home with you.
- Leash and collar suited for the dog. Choke chains, prong collars, and electronic devices should not be used without professional instruction. They should never be left on your dog when your dog is unsupervised by a responsible and knowledgeable adult.
- Name and contact info of a good dog trainer or the contact info for a good dog training class where you will participate at least once each week. Name and contact info of a responsible person who can care for your dog when you are gone.
- Adequate fencing and safe and effective shelter, especially if your dog is going to spend time outside alone.
IV. Plan the Date and Timing of the Dog’s Arrival.
Just like moving is stressful for us humans, it is very stressful for the dog. Try to bring the dog home on a day when the stress levels can be minimized. Ideally, the dog’s homecoming date should be:
- On a day when you or someone can be home for a day or two, like a weekend. Minimize other distractions so you can carefully observe and tend to the dog. Begin showing it boundaries and your expectations, using gentle and positive reinforcement techniques with affection and treats.
- On a day when the excitement level is not elevated – no birthday parties or holidays involving loud family reunions until the dog’s routine is set.
- On a day when the dog can get to know other family members and pets. They may have met already at the shelter to determine compatibility, but now the dog’s instinct will drive it to learn his place in the pecking order of his new “pack”.
V. Finally, the Date of Arrival Is Here
You have already set your place up and planned as best you can to be ready for your new dog’s arrival. You have fresh water, the bed, and the crate set up where it will be located at least until your dog is comfortable in its new home.
Excitement levels in your household likely will be high, especially among children. Make sure the other members of your household interact with the dog in a friendly, relaxed, affectionate manner, and any children are closely supervised until the initial moments of excitement are over.
Keep a keen eye on the dog’s interactions with other pets but try to let them sort out their own relationships. Step in to supervise their attempts to guard resources and prevent escalation of conflicts between them. One easy way to do this is to keep collars and leashes on all of the dogs to make it easier to control or separate them if needed. Otherwise, give them a few minutes to socialize and play together.
Once the initial moments of excitement are over, go outside with your dog and let it become familiar with its outdoor surroundings. Most likely it will need to urinate at least once. Take it for a short relaxing walk and let it explore its new territory.
VI. Begin Training Immediately
Training begins right away just by following the routine you will follow for the dog on a daily basis. A good routine to start with is:
- Morning wake up, go out to urinate and take a short walk.
- If a puppy, take back out to urinate and take a longer walk.
- Crate and rest.
- Take back out to urinate.
- If a puppy, take back out to urinate.
- Crate and rest.
- Take back out to urinate.
- Take back out to walk and urinate before crating for the night.
- Crate and rest for the night.
Do each of these things at the same time every day, and before you know it, your dog will be telling you when it’s time to eat or go out for a walk! You will be surprised at how quickly the dog responds to the routine and the trust and confidence it builds.
Be sure to give your dog a treat whenever it does something you like. It may be too excited in the first moments in its new home meeting its new pack to take treats, but you can still reward your dog with kind and loving caresses and verbal praise from you. Reward only the behavior you like.
Try to learn your dog’s language for signs of stress, aggression, submission, anxiety, fear. Your dog tries to communicate with you all the time in the only way it knows how. For example, messages to watch for include:
- Eyes – are they
- Soft and brown, showing friendliness and affection?
- Rimmed white (a/k/a “whale eye”), showing aggression or fear?
- Ears – are they
- Up and forward, showing interest?
- Angled backward or sideways, showing submission or fear?
- Pinned back tightly, showing aggression?
- Mouth – is it
- Open, tongue out, showing play?
- Jaws clenched, lips drawn back, showing extreme anxiety or aggression?
- Yawning, showing it is trying to avoid what you want it to do?
- Back position
- Upright, showing interest?
- Puppy bow, showing play?
- Crouched and trembling, showing fear and submission?
- Tail (note that tail-wagging can show happiness or nervousness and anxiety, it is not a reliable indicator)
- Up high showing confidence or attentiveness?
- Tucked under, showing fear or anxiety?
- Held straight out, showing relaxation?
- High-pitched and short, seeking your attention or play?
- Lower, loud repeating bark, simply announcing itself or a stranger to the world?
- Rapid, repeating, anxious sounding bark, expressing fear or asking for help?
- Deeper, low, unmistakably ominous, neck hair up, clearly warning others to come no closer?
You will come to understand your own dog’s language quickly, and your dog will love you for it!
As soon as your dog arrives at your home, begin training by using positive reinforcement. Always reward your dog profusely (with praise or with a treat) when it comes to you, and even more profusely when it comes to you when you call it to you. Always reward it when it obeys any direction from you, whether it is simply “sit” or “down”. Use positive reinforcement at least three times as much as you use negative reinforcement. Your new dog needs and wants to know that you are the boss, and what your expectations are so that it can relax and behave in ways that please you.
Accept that your dog, like most children, will test your leadership, misbehave, and have accidents. Do not lose your temper. When you must use negative reinforcement, such as teaching your dog to stay out of the trash can or stay off of the furniture, use only the degree of negative reinforcement that is appropriate to the transgression. Usually, a sharp but unemotional and firm “No!” followed by its name is all that is needed, especially for a puppy or a new dog. Physical correction such as spanking or worse is not effective, and your dog will not learn anything from it except to be afraid of you. Once your dog understands the rules and sees you as the leader of the pack, it will trust you. You can begin exposing it to unfamiliar surroundings and strangers, paying attention to its stress levels and trying not to over face it. Some dogs adjust easily, others need more time.
Once the dog is comfortable and settled (after a day or so), try leaving the house for a short period, perhaps a short walk to the end of the driveway and back, to determine the dog’s level of anxiety over being alone and to teach it that you will return. Gradually as the days pass and the dog is more comfortable, you can increase the duration of the dog being alone with minimal levels of stress.
Take the dog to the vet as soon as you can for an overall wellness exam, and take care of any immunizations and parasite control it needs. If the dog is from a shelter, it is likely already spayed or neutered. If not, arrange to have it done, and be sure your household is prepared in advance to help with the short recovery the dog will need. Also, determine if the dog is microchipped, and get it done at the same time if it isn’t already.
Enroll yourself and your dog as soon as you can in a good dog training program and make training a part of your daily routine. It is a lot of fun, good exercise for your dog’s mental health, and good exercise for you. Petsmart and Petco have decent group training classes that are affordable and scheduled several times a day. They range in skill level from basic “puppy” through the more advanced “canine good citizen” programs. Your dog will have the chance to just be a dog, and you will both benefit immensely from participating in one of these programs. You will learn valuable training techniques that you will use at home each day, and then you will see your dog really blossom. You can begin to teach your dog new words and commands. You will be surprised at how smart your dog is and the skills it can learn. Each time your dog masters one skill, it is even more confident and eager to learn another one! All of these things will deepen the bond between you, and your dog will love each chance it has to please you.
Do not hesitate to make changes as necessary to your dog’s environment, especially paying attention to its overall health, bedding, and food. For example, is the location of the bed too hot in summer, too cold in winter, or too isolated from the family? Is the water staying fresh and cool, or do you need to change it more often? Do you need to use softer food for the age of the dog or its health condition?
Your dog may develop behavioral issues that you do not know how to handle. Quickly seek help from your vet or a reputable trainer to resolve it. The earlier you get on top of the issue, the more likely you are to resolve it before it becomes a serious problem. Too many dog owners wait until the behavior gets out of hand, and it is the dog that pays the price for it, sometimes dearly and cruelly. Very often, it is an issue that could have been easily addressed if dealt with from the beginning.
Your dog knows you have made a home for it and it sees you as part of its pack. In the best of circumstances, your dog will recognize you as the leader of the pack and will look to you for direction and wellbeing. Giving your dog a comfortable and safe place to live, healthy food, and plenty of exercise and good training will deepen your connection with your dog and promote a long, happy, and “paw-some” life for both of you!