The day you bring your rescue dog home is the first day of her or his best new life— and possibly yours! And for pet parents, those first moments are ones you will cherish forever, from cuddles and exploration to, let’s face it, spending more time watching your precious new pet snooze and snore than you would rewatching Game of Thrones in its entirety.
As much as dogs sleep (spoiler alert: at least half the day on average!), they are still likely to be one of the most active members of your household. Here are some steps you can take to make sure that after bringing home a new dog, the first 30 days are a success.
Rescue pups Brooklyn and brother Abe await the arrival of their new fur-brother
Slow introductions are key. Whether it’s your family or excited friends coming by to visit, try to overcome everyone’s instinct to basically bum rush your new buddy all at once.
Let each human meet Baxter one at a time, allowing your dog to sniff each one while his new friends gently pet him and speak in soothing tones. They are quick to bond with people, but you don’t want to overwhelm them in their first few minutes in your home.
“Children, in particular, should be taught boundaries,” says Torre Willadsen, a certified National Narcotics Dog Handler and a canine training/handling specialist with K2 Solutions in Southern Pines, North Carolina. “Naturally, kids want to hug, pet, and kiss their new family member, but that’s not always appreciated by a dog just entering your home.” Willadsen asks children to recall how nervous and anxious they may have been on their first day of school and explain that dogs can feel the same. He urges parents to be certain that children do not put their face in a dog’s face. “In the wild, this is extremely rude and can be taken as a sign of aggression.”
Roland Tripp, D.V.M., C.A.B.C., veterinary behavior expert and founder of AnimalBehavior.net, agrees. “Avoid hugs and petting of the head. Instead, start with a little chest rub when you are crouching,” he says, adding, “Only pet the dog when the dog looks very relaxed and has chosen to be close to you.”
Schlomo Freiman, D.V.M., a co-founder and chief veterinary officer of Petriage, a leading health technology company that provides fully integrated telehealth solutions for veterinarians and their clients, says, “Dogs, for the most part, are social creatures that want to be part of the pack and family.”
If you have a young puppy, you should limit their space with a crate or a gate and gradually expand their access to the rest of your home. The same is true of older rescue dogs.
You’ll want to introduce them to the whole of their surroundings, room by room, over time. Consider leaving things that can be tricky (stairs!) or tempting (bathrooms with dangling toilet paper or laundry rooms with ALL THE SOCKS) for the weeks and months to come.
Be sure you’ve properly puppy and dog-proofed all areas. Remove anything hazardous to their health, from dangerous foods and chemicals to physical hazards that could result in choking or illness.
Daniela Sere, president of Who Let’s Your Dog Out, a dog-walking/sitting company serving the Patchogue, New York, area, says, “It should be a house rule to keep all counters clear of any food and to close all doors in the house — even if the dog is in a crate or pen or gated area.”
Related: Preparing your Home for a New Dog
If you have other dogs in your home, calm, controlled introductions are essential. Some experts recommend introducing grown dogs on a leashed walk outside your property, side by side. You may consider gating or crating the new addition so the dogs can sniff and scope one another out and grow familiar with each other from a safe distance.
Your new rescue should not be left alone with other dogs unsupervised until you — and the rest of the pack — are clearly comfortable. If you have a cat, be sure he or she has a safe space to seek solace if your new dog is overly interested in him or her. Most reputable rescues will “cat test” a dog if a potential adopter has a feline in their home. Sometimes, even dogs can be jerks.
Trigger, rescued from a southern state through New York State Retriever Rescue in Bayport, New York
Most rescue dogs, adults or puppies, have been through some sort of journey before arriving at your doorstep. Maybe they were found wandering the streets and don’t yet know how to be part of a family (or live indoors). Perhaps your puppy has endured a long transport from another part of the country. Or they may have been in a foster home for several weeks. In other words, they may have been through A LOT.
If possible, find out as much as you can about the dog’s past. “Dogs over six months come with at least some experiences. Some of these may not have been positive,” advises Willadsen. He suggests reviewing the pet’s evaluation from the shelter or rescue organization to prepare for the decompression period, something Dr. Tripp says is “essential to give the dog or puppy time to release fear and trust the safety of the environment.”
“Regardless of the age, your new dog will need time to adjust to her or his new environment, including the humans in it,” says Dr. Freiman. “Depending on the personality and temperament of the dog, this can take anywhere from a few hours to days and, in extreme cases, a few weeks.”
Willadsen encourages owners not to rush the decompression period. Your dog’s personality should fully emerge after they feel familiar, secure, and loved, so granting them this adjustment period is vital. “Trust me; they will settle in and life will be amazing,” he states.
Dr. Freiman of Petriage examining a patient
Once you have selected a vet and gotten through your first visit, map out a schedule for future appointments and set them as you check out. Vaccinations, flea and tick prevention drugs, and heartworm prevention medicine are all time-sensitive, and you don’t want to miss a window as it could endanger your pet’s health — or, in the case of missed heartworm treatments, require another blood test.
“Always stay current on shots, medical checks, and wellness programs that may be needed,” Willadsen advises. “These are especially important for a healthy, lifelong companion.”
As your puppy grows or as your dog’s needs change, you may need to switch to a different type of food. “Your vet can help you decide what kind of food to give your new dog based on breed, size, and health, or if your dogs need a special diet,” says Dr. Freiman. “No matter what food you decide to give your dog, it’s important to transition them slowly by mixing their old food with their new food over a few days until their stomach adjusts.”
You can also talk to your vet about grooming and dental care and when it is appropriate to start either.
Related: Finding the Right Vet for your Pet
If you can afford pet insurance off the bat, get it. It doesn’t defray all the costs of everyday visits, but if your dog blows an A.C.L. or is in an accident, it can be not just a money-saver but a lifesaver.
Yes, you’re going to have to do some research on the interwebs to find a provider that’s right for you, but a great place to start is with your vet. He or she should have familiarity with the best plans; hivemind queries on social media groups will also yield a lot of guidance and opinions.
Related: What is Pet Insurance and is it Worth the Money?
Many adult dogs will enter your home fully housetrained (YAY!), but puppies and some adult dogs will not. Routine is paramount here when housetraining your rescue — along with patience. While one dog may catch on after just a few days, others will take more time and, again, patience on your part. “Having a routine with a puppy while house training is very important,” counsels Dr. Freiman.
There are a lot of approaches out there — and they each depend on your unique circumstances. If you have a small breed dog and live in an apartment, you may choose weewee pads, while those with larger dogs may go the crate-training route.
According to Willadsen, you should “set times for everything. Always try to feed at the same time every day. In the morning, take the dog out when you wake up and then give her or him breakfast.” Then, take your dog out again. “This will help establish his/her body clock for potty breaks. Showing patience and making sure they learn to do their business outside is important.”
Before you commit to either approach, do some research and speak to your vet at your first appointment. Cracking this nut will make life stress- (and, let’s face it, smell-) free for everyone.
It’s no secret that dogs are people pleasers, which is why most are highly trainable. Just as with housebreaking, there are different methods from clicker training to food/reward-based training.
“Young puppies have a very short attention span, so while it is important to start training early, you need to have realistic expectations for how much time your puppy will stay focused and engage in the training. You can start very basic and simple training for a brief period of time with puppies as young as ten weeks old. Make sure to use plenty of treats and make it fun for everyone involved,” states Dr. Freiman.
Part of training can include leashed walks. While most puppies get used to having a leash on very quickly, Dr. Tripp notes that some may need a more gradual process. If your puppy or dog has no idea what a leashed walk is like, he recommends having the pup or dog drag a leash in the home. “Whenever you put on the leash, give a treat. Then use treats or kibble at your side as you walk with your dog on the leash,” he says, adding, “Do not use the leash to pull, drag, or jerk the dog.”
“Be patient and realistic in your expectations and always make it fun, and your puppy will get the idea,” says Dr. Freiman.
No, we’re not talking about creating a highly curated Instagram presence for your pet (BUT YOU SHOULD TOTALLY DO THAT!). Socializing your dog is vital to their development, confidence, and overall well-being.
Dr. Freiman states, “It’s essential, especially since a high percentage of pet parents live in urban and suburban areas where your dog is very likely to interact with other dogs and people.” The more you socialize with other dogs and people at an early age, “the more likely these interactions will be friendly and less anxiety-inducing” for everyone involved.
“Early positive puppy socialization is a vaccine to prevent future dog aggression and unwanted fears,” notes Dr. Tripp. “It is essential to start during the puppy’s critical socialization period when learning has more impact and lasts a lifetime.” He recommends starting puppies at as young as 10 weeks in weekly socialization groups supervised by a C.P.D.T., K.P.A., or I.A.A.B.C. certified trainer or behaviorist.
As a professional trainer, Willadsen is obviously an advocate of the practice as well. “You form the dog’s mind and actions and reactions from day one,” he says. “It’s always a good idea to attend puppy classes for socializing and mental stimulation as well as an outlet for physical release.
While not a fan of dog parks (“You have no control over other dogs or dog owners who have an unsocialized dog or a dog without proper immunizations!”), Willadsen believes in having a plan for social meetings with other dogs by way of local groups. “Find a good one that meets in a regular location at set times with an experienced handler present,” he says. “Go as often as you can; a well-socialized dog is extremely important.”
Of course, If problematic behaviors arise as you work with your dog, “getting a professional trainer is a must,” states Dr. Freiman.
Indiana, rescued from North Shore Animal League in Port Washington, New York
No, not that one. The one we mention time and again — patience. Whether this is your first rescue dog or your tenth, you need to remember that every dog is unique. “It’s important to keep in mind that, just like us, different individuals have different temperaments and personalities,” Freiman says. What worked with one puppy may not work with the next, be it housebreaking, learning basic commands, or even preferences for toys.
Dr. Tripp says, “Early training gives a dog the information to thrive in a human family. Never yell at or scold a dog. Never do anything that makes you seem unfriendly or a threat.”
Lead with your heart when faced with a lack of understanding on your pup’s part. Lean into consistency when redirecting undesirable conduct. And don’t forget to sprinkle in lots of treats.
What are your top tips for making the first 30 days with your new dog totally pawsome? Send us a note or comment on Facebook or Instagram
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The Ulti-Mutt Guide for Rescue Pets and their Pawsome Pet Parents.