Adopting the right dog for you and your lifestyle is the first step in helping him adjust to your home. Preparing your home for his arrival is the second step. Before heading to the shelter, get some basic supplies like a leash, food bowl, water dish, soft beds and blankets, treats, and some toys. Because even adult dogs may need potty training, get a few packages of potty pads, too. For puppies, in addition to the potty pads, you might want a crate, an exercise pen, and some chew toys. Some shelters have stores where you can buy supplies if you forget anything important or pick up a small package of dog food. Find out what the shelter staff feeds the dogs to give you an idea of what food to buy.
No matter how long your new dog spent in a shelter, he will need time to decompress, so after you finish the paperwork and pick up any last-minute items from the shelter’s store, take your dog straight home rather than stopping at a dog park or a pet store. Even if he likes other dogs, he needs a break from overstimulating environments. You also don’t know how your new dog will do in a pet store. He may be okay, or he may have an accident, grab a toy, or sneak a treat.
Keep your new dog’s world small for the first several weeks after adopting her. Give her a couple of days to rest before you start inviting people over to meet her. Introduce her to only one or two people at a time. When they arrive, give her a treat or two. Then have the guests gently toss treats to her to avoid putting her in the awkward position of wanting a treat but not wanting to get too close to a stranger.
During the first couple of weeks together, take your dog on quiet walks and hikes, giving him plenty of opportunities to sniff, but avoid dog parks and crowded trails. Leave him at home when you go to busy places like food carts and outdoor cafes. Your new dog may enjoy accompanying you eventually, but as he’s still settling in, it’s better not to overwhelm him.
Take introductions to your other pets slowly. Keep your cat in a separate room for at least a couple of days (longer is better if you can manage it). Help them adjust to each other by swapping their blankets so they get familiar with each other's scents. When you introduce them, have your dog on leash and leave plenty of room for your cat to get away. After they meet, supervise their interactions and separate them when you go out until you are positive they will be okay. Provide your cat with plenty of options for keeping away from the dog like high perches or tall cat trees.
If you have another dog and they didn’t meet at the shelter, you’ll introduce them to each other somewhere neutral. Watch their body language carefully for any signs of distress or aggression. You can facilitate their relationship by taking them on walks together. Feed them in different rooms with a door closed between them and give them high value treats in separate spaces. Keep them apart when you can't supervise their interactions and give them breaks from each other even when you can. Also be sure to give your original dog plenty of love and attention.
In the first weeks you may have to potty train your new dog (you’ll definitely have to potty train your puppy). Take her outside first thing in the morning, after meals, play time, and naps, and right before bed. If she still has accidents inside, take her outside more often. Puppies need even more potty breaks--they can hold waste for one hour per month of life. When your dog goes potty outside, give her a treat right afterward and tell her what a good girl she is. Then let her have a little more time outside as part of the reinforcement. Gently interrupt her if she starts to go inside and then take her outside. If she does have an accident, simply clean up with an enzymatic cleaner. Punishing your dog for going inside won't help her learn, but it may teach her to be afraid to go in front of you.
Aside from potty training, give your new dog time to settle before taking her to a training class. In the meanwhile, try practicing the SMART x 50 (See, Mark, and Reward Training) protocol devised by trainer Kathy Sdao. Put fifty small treats mixed with a little kibble into a jar--you may need a few in different spots in your house. Whenever your dog does a behavior you’d like to see again, say “yes” and then give her a treat. This game works on the principle that reinforced behavior is likely to happen again, but it also teaches your new dog that she can make good things happen simply by choosing a behavior, which can build her confidence.
As your dog settles in to his new home, you'll start to see his personality emerge. You may also see some behaviors arise that you don’t understand or would like more help with like resource guarding or separation anxiety. If you do encounter any problems, contact a certified trainer or behavior consultant. You can find one through the Association of Profession Dog Trainers or Force Free Oregon. You can also book a training session with me through my website.
Next week I'll supply resources for every aspect of adopting a shelter dog.