Taking the steps to get a new dog is exciting. Going to a breeder, rescue, or shelter and spending time with various dogs opens the heart. But when you find that perfect match, the dog of your dreams, it’s better than any present, any surprise.
I refer to ‘new to you dogs’ as ‘dogs in transition’. A dog in transition is a dog that is moving from one environment into their permanent environment. You know why they are in your home, you’ve been planning. Dogs in transition have not a single clue when they arrive in your home why they are with you, and whats going to happen to them.
The transition period is a time to re frame how your dog interacts and sees their world with you. With good information, structure, and love, dogs tend to settle in with grace. I have found that the transition period is anywhere from 2-8months, depending on the consistency of the household.
Here are my Top 10 tips to help with the dog in transition –
- A new start – Sometimes you will know the back ground, sometimes you will not. The kindest thing you can do is to leave that information behind, no dog needs to carry that baggage around, and it isn’t healthy for your new relationship. Your first day together is the beginning of a new life for both of you. Your new dog is now ‘your dog’. Breathe!
- Consistent Schedule – It’s normal for some ‘dogs in transition’ to be very polite for the first two weeks or so, some even shut down. They don’t know why they are in your home and will be observing everything, and taking notes! You won’t start to really see who your new dog is for weeks. And when you do, underlying behaviors from their previous experiences will surface, both good and bad. Your home is your home, but now that you have invited a new dog to live there, please be on your best behavior for the first few weeks, or hopefully longer. A daily schedule for your new dog will keep everyone honest, and keep the guess work out. All time should be accounted for. Sleeping area, exercise, meal times, down time, play, socialization, etc. Having a schedule on the fridge is not a bad idea!
- Space – Have an area in your home that is managed, and designated for your new dog. This can be a gated room, kennel, or crate. You want your new dog to have a space of their own from the moment they enter your house. Make sure it is comfortable, in an area that does not have thru traffic, and that the temperatures are right for your new dog. When you need to leave, or your dog needs a break from the activity in the house, they will have a space of their own that is calm, relaxing, and safe. Have a pillow or two in the rooms where everyone spends the most time. Your new dog needs furniture too, and needs to feel welcome.
- Food/Chewing – Transition can be stressful, for some more than others. Have items for chewing. Bully sticks, raw bones, stuffed KONGS, hooves, etc. Chewing can be very calming, and it gives a ‘dog in transition’ a job of sorts. You take the guess work out of down time. Their food should be healthy and sugar free. No grains, sugars, or junky treats. A nice balanced species appropriate diet is the best. If they feel good on the inside, they will show it on the outside!
- Containment – With a new dog, please do not take them off leash outside of a contained area. While they are new to you freedom off leash should be in a fenced area. They will not know you well enough to be off leash on a trail, or in an off leash open space area. And you will not know your new dog well enough to know how they handle situations under stress, while off leash. You need to get to know each other better before the leash comes off outside of a contained area. You need to work on the relationship and trust. And you need to have good behaviors, like ‘come to me’ before the leash is ever off in open space. This takes months.
- Exercise – ‘Dogs in Transition’ need a bit more exercise than normal, both mentally and physically. Please don’t feel the need to pound then into the ground, but do make extra time in your day to exercise your new dog. Walks, running, fetch, tricks, and games in the yard. This new interaction with you should be positive, rewarding, and physically and mentally satiating. Slightly tired takes the edge off, and allows for more restorative sleep. You do not want a fully loaded ‘dog in transition’.
- Being Right – Start building a conditioned emotional response that is positive. Reward your dog for new experiences in your home, and while out and about together. This can be with a food reward or verbal praise. It comes down to ‘catching your dog being right’, and acknowledging it! Reward your dog if they follow you into a new room, reward them for eliminating in the right place (preferably outside), reward your dog for interacting during a play session, or trying something new in your home that you want to keep.Giving information on ‘being right’ takes the guess work out of their new life.
- Corrections – If you give a ‘dog in transition’ a lot of freedom off leash, a lot of time at a dog park, and unrestricted use of the house, they will fail, because you as their new owner are creating an unsuccessful environment. PLEASE be careful to not ‘punish and/or’ correct your ‘new to you dog’ for making the wrong choices, consider this a lack of management error, and fix it on your end. If you are correcting more than teaching and/or rewarding for good choices, then you will put a nice ‘ding’ in the relationship. ALL hands are kind and considerate hands, no rough housing, no physical corrections.
- Push – sometimes when a ‘dog in transition’ is uncertain, they will get a bit pushy. If your new dog demands your attention in anyway, nudging, whining, barking, etc, check out your environment. Have you met your management check list; feed, potty, exercise, play, potty, and manged area with something to chew on. If you have not, please do.
- Play – Socialization with other dogs, if your ‘dog in transition’ is social, is a great form of play. Please choose their friends wisely and make sure it is mutual. All new experiences with other dogs should be positive. As your dogs new owner, play with a purpose will be super important for your relationship. You build trust, deepen the relationship, help with a positive emotional response, and ultimately get to know each other on a fairly mutual level. You are now responsible to initiate play with your dog. Play should have a purpose of sorts; fetch, find it, hide n seek, tug, back yard game, tricks, etc. When your play sessions are over, please put any toys away that you used, those will now be relationship tools and should be kept valuable.