By Laura Hentges, CPDT-KA, CCS
Congratulations! You’ve decided to welcome a new rescue or foster dog into your home. You have all the usual supplies: collar, leash, bowls, comfy bed, food, treats, toys, and lots of love. What could go wrong? Everything about your warm, safe, loving home is completely new (and potentially scary) to this dog.
You’ve probably thought about the essentials such as where your dog will sleep, eat, go potty, and spend time when you’re away. That’s a great start, but even if you have other pets that have never knocked over the garbage or peed on your grandma’s heirloom rug, that’s no guarantee your new dog will do the same. Make sure you have securely stored potential hazards like toxic household cleaners, your garbage can has a secure lid, and you block access to, or store irreplaceable items out of reach.
It’s also a good idea to learn the basics of how to read dog body language. This will help you understand when your dog is telling you he’s getting overwhelmed or starting to feel anxious about his new surroundings.
Freedom rides are amazing and exciting for you and your new dog! Just remember to make sure it’s safe and keep your dog out of the front seat. It’s a good idea to keep the leash attached to his collar or harness and make sure you have a good grip when you open the car door so he doesn’t bolt.
Dogs experience new people and places first by scent. So, as soon as you arrive home, allow your dog to sniff outside. Even if you have a fenced yard, keep him on leash. Be prepared to spend several minutes or more letting your dog sniff. This also gives him a chance to relieve himself before going inside. Once inside, keep the leash on and let your dog sniff around each room (except for the ones you have closed off so the dog cannot access, such as your cat’s room or where you’ve stored your antiques you don’t want chewed up
After a good sniff inside, take him outside again to a designated potty area whether he relieved himself before coming inside or not. Even if the rescue or foster home told you he’s completely potty trained, do NOT assume that he will know where to go at YOUR house.
Whether your new dog came from a shelter or foster home take it easy for the first few days. Your new dog is going to want to sleep—a lot. Give him a comfortable bed or blanket in a quiet room where he can sleep and not be disturbed by other pets or family members. He needs space and patience. Loves, pets, snuggles should all be on his terms rather than yours. Let him approach you or curl up next to you, but if he doesn’t, that’s okay. He needs time to get to know you and to feel safe in your home. Save the visits from well-meaning friends and family until later. Instead of having a welcome home party, bring friends over one or two at a time after the first week or two.
Remind human family members, especially children, to stay calm and give your dog space. If you have other dogs, it’s best to do introductions one at a time and outside if possible. Dogs can get tense around doorways, gates or in narrow spaces like hallways so it’s best to avoid these for introductions. Here’s a great article about how one frequent foster dad introduces his new fosters to his resident dogs.
As you introduce your new dog to human family members, other pets, and your neighborhood, your goal is for your dog to have positive experiences. The best way to do this is to offer something you know your new dog will like such as yummy treats and praise every time you introduce him to something in his new environment. The first time you introduce him to your sister—yummy treat. The first time you turn on the washing machine—yummy treat. The first time he hears your neighbor’s dog bark—yummy treat. There’s no need to feel rushed to do everything right away. Take it easy and watch your dog for any signs of stress, such as pacing, excessive panting, lip licking, tucked tail, looking away, whale eye (you can see the whites of his eyes), etc.
After the first few days, start establishing a general routine for your dog. Remember to include frequent potty breaks, regular physical and mental exercise, daily playtime, regular mealtimes, and a bedtime routine. There’s no need to be on a strict schedule except for any needed medications, etc.
There is no magic timeline. Be patient and enjoy getting to know your new dog. Some dogs seem to settle-in within the first month, others may take two-three months or longer. Going at his pace will help him start to feel safe and feel like your home is his home too.
Laura is a Professional Dog Trainer and Behavior Consultant and owns Cassie’s Canine Connection LLC in Seattle. She trains dogs of all ages but her first love is seniors and she is a longtime supporter of Old Dog Haven.