What To Expect When You First Adopt A Dog
What to expect when you’re expecting a dog. They never talk about that, do they? Why would there need to be? When a new fluffball comes into your life, you expect it’ll be all cuddles, all fun, all the time. But there are some things you might not have thought about before that can sneak up and darken those early days if you don’t take care to prevent them! Besides the basic new dog to-do list (make sure any landlords allow pets; get your new dog checked out by the vet for a clean bill of health; microchip right away), here are the things you should keep in mind:
1. There Will Be An Adjustment Period.
There will be an adjustment period. Your dog will be getting used to your behavior, testing boundaries, feeling out what’s going on. And you’ll need to adjust to having a dog! It’s natural to think you’ll bring your dog home and everything will immediately be perfect and just as you’ve imagined, but dogs typically take about three weeks to adjust to a new setting.
During that time, your dog will be decompressing from its previous time in a shelter, learning to trust you, and learning what it will be allowed to do. It will likely begin to show its true personality slowly during this time. Get to know your dog’s individual likes and dislikes! Crates can create a safe space for the dog to hide, so if you’re crate training, make sure to keep the crate open so that the dog can retreat there if it gets overwhelmed.
Now, if you have another pet in the house: that’s a whole other deal. Introduce them slowly, and on neutral territory if possible. You want both pets to feel comfortable and secure.
2. Accidents Happen, Even To The House-Trained.
“House-trained” — two little words that are music to a dog owner’s ear. But even if you’re adopting a house-trained adult dog, accidents happen in those first few weeks as your dog to its new home, schedule, and food. And don’t forget the possibility of a nervous tummy! Besides just having patience, here are some tips to minimize accidents.
When you first bring home your dog, take them directly to the area where they’ll be going to the bathroom. Get them comfortable there! Replicate what your dog has been eating for a few days before gently transitioning them to their new schedule so they don’t experience gastric distress. And don’t forget, human food is for humans. Dog food is for dogs.
3. Set Boundaries Immediately.
Boundaries: difficult to set, but worth the effort. Training should start immediately upon the dog entering your care. Every interaction sets a boundary and teaches your dog what behavior will be allowed in your home. Be firm! This can be hard (trust me, I know) when a cute little dog is looking up at you with its big eyes, but you both will be better off if you’re the one in charge. You’ll both be happier once you’ve established yourself as the alpha in your relationship.
One way to establish you’re in charge is by keeping your dog to a tight schedule. Really, really stick to your routine, especially at the beginning. Dogs are more comfortable and better behaved when they know what to expect. If you don’t have a routine in your life currently — get one.
One great way to set boundaries is via positive reinforcement, with treats and praise! Get your dog’s tail a-wagging. But you may also need some training yourself. Dogs may act out and show certain behaviors with inexperienced, weak leaders that they wouldn’t otherwise display. One recommendation: Get obsessed with dog training. You were obsessed with following dog adoption Instagram accounts — now get obsessed with dog trainer accounts. Soak in their tips by osmosis. And if you and your dog need some extra training, take a class together! There’s even dog training over Zoom these days.
4. Keep Your Dog’s World Small, For A Bit.
Of course, it’s natural to want to take your dog everywhere with you once he’s joined your fam. In fact, many new dog owners’ first stop with their pup is the pet store to pick out some toys. But this is actually the wrong move! At that point, only hours into your new relationship, you are still a stranger to your dog, and your dog is a stranger to you. You haven’t yet earned its trust. The pup doesn’t yet feel secure with you, so bringing it into a public situation with lots of stimulation is adding reasons for it to feel nervous and afraid.
In fact, in addition to trying to stick to calm, quiet places at first, it’s also recommended to avoid interaction with other dogs and people. Give time to acclimate to your home and its occupants before taking it to other new places to meet new people. That means not too many visitors while your dog is getting used to your home, and no dog parks at first, either. Keep walks short while you learn your dog’s behavior, gradually increasing in length. Keep things calm and chill as your dog settles in — not too much excitement!
Gradually, of course, you can start to open up your dog’s world, and introduce it to all the joys it has in store.
5. Dogs Are More Like Babies Than We Like To Think.
Before you bring your pup home, make sure you dog-proof everything. Remove any chewing or choking hazard, close your toilet bowls, and make sure any potentially toxic plants are well out of reach.
A wise former coworker once told me that having a dog is more difficult than having children, so if you’re having a hard time adjusting to your new lifestyle — don’t worry. You’re in good company. Dogs, like babies, benefit from a structured, supportive environment and mental stimulation. As we’ve previously mentioned, a consistent schedule to set your pup’s expectations can go a long way. Your pup should know when it can expect to eat, use the bathroom, and sleep.
In those first few weeks, be home more! You and your dog need time to bond. Consider taking a version of parental leave to spend time with your family’s new addition — maybe during those first few weeks, you could work from home or postpone your social engagements. It’s too soon to take your dog places or leave it home alone.
But it’s also good for your pup to know that you coming and going is not a big deal. Separation anxiety is common, especially among rescue dogs who haven’t been able to count on their humans until now. To prevent separation anxiety, don’t make a big deal about coming and going. If you make a big deal, that reinforces to the dog that anxiety is the proper response behavior. Normalize it.
It’s a good idea, before leaving your dog for some time, to make sure it’s gotten ample exercise. Tire your dog out, and they won’t have the energy to act up! Another key in that area is toys! Mentally stimulate your dog so it doesn’t get bored. Toys can also serve as a distraction from any anxiety, and help keep your dog from acting out (and save some of your shoes and furniture in the process).
Follow these simple guidelines, and you and your pup will be trusting, bonded partners in no time!