Bringing your new dog home

Bringing your new shelter dog home can take a little adjustment from both you and your new furry friend, so here are some general tips on how to care for your new dog and help settle them in their new home so you both can build a fantastic and lasting bond.

How to look after your new dog

Settling in

Before picking up your new dog, it’s best to make sure that your house is prepared and that you have all of the supplies that’ll need. When collecting your pet, it’s important that you head straight home and do not make any stops. It’s likely that your new dog will be feeling overwhelmed, we don’t want to exacerbate their stress by stopping at the pet store or visiting friends/family. In the first few days, it’s important to keep things quiet as your dog adjusts to their new routine and settles into their new home. If your dog is shy or fearful of other dogs, spending the first couple of days at home before venturing out for a walk might be best. If your dog is boisterous or struggling to settle, a brief short walk is all that is needed in those first few days.

Supply your dog with plenty of enrichment (such as food/treat puzzles) to build a positive association to their new home and to assist in settling active or exuberant dogs.

Creating a safe space

With any dog that has come into our care, we have limited information on the dog’s history and anything that they may have been exposed to in the past. That’s why it’s best to give your dog time to settle into their new home and make sure you provide them with a safe place to relax. It’s also important to give the dog some space and don’t force interaction. If your new dog is a little shy, giving it time to relax and approach you in its own is much more successful than forcing it to interact.

A safe space might be a bed or crate either in the lounge room or in a quiet room if you’ve got a busy house (such as the bedroom or laundry). A safe space is a designated area where your dog can choose to rest without being disturbed by anyone else in the household. A safe space should never be used as a place of punishment and your dog should not be confined to this area if it causes them distress.

Meeting other household pets

It’s always best to start a new relationship slow and positive with minimal room for error. Starting off on the wrong foot can make it harder to repair the relationship. Introduce your new pup to other household dogs on the lead and off the property, such as going for a short walk around the block together and then coming into the house together. Keep both dogs on lead until you are comfortable they are getting along and then allow one or both dogs off lead, all while maintaining active supervision. If you need to go out during the first couple of weeks, it might be best to separate the dogs when no one is home and cannot actively supervise interactions. Utilise solid doors, baby gates and play pens to section off the house.

If you have cats in your household, it’s best to hold off on a nose-to-nose interaction until both animals are comfortable behind a physical barrier (such as a glass door or baby gate). Cats are likely to flee and seek somewhere to hide when they’re feeling fearful, so ensure your cat has a safe space they can go to where the dog can’t access. Neither animal should be forced to interact with or look at the other – the relationship should move at its own pace. For some cats, this may take several weeks or months before they feel comfortable, even with a physical barrier still in place.

Other small animals, such as guinea pigs or birds may be seen as prey by some dogs, so it’s important to ensure you have a solid physical barrier that prevents your dog from gaining access to them.

If your dog is showing any aggression or predatory behaviour, contact a reward-based trainer or RSPCA for further advice.

Interactions with other dogs

It’s important to take your time to learn about your new dog’s behaviour. Don’t rush into interactions with other dogs and avoid going to off-lead areas such as dog parks until you are confident knowing how your dog interacts with others.

During the first couple of weeks, remain at a distance from other dogs and observe your dog’s body language. Assess how they react: do they look tense? Are they staring or growling? Is their body soft and wriggly? You can take treats with you when out walking and give your dog a treat every time they see another dog. This will help to build a positive association and will also reinforce calm behaviour. If your dog is showing any signs of fear, such as growling, barking or lunging, remain at a safe distance from other dogs and seek help from a reward-based trainer or contact RSPCA.

Alone time

As your dog adjusts to their new surroundings and their new routine, it is common for many dogs to feel uneasy about being left alone for the first time. With some minor preparation and training, we can help ease our dogs into this new routine. If you plan to leave your dog outdoors, check your fencing and gates to ensure there is no way for your dog to escape. If leaving your dog indoors, close the doors to areas you don’t want your dog to access or use baby gates/play pens to section off the home.

Start with small ‘mock’ departures. Always leave your dog up with treat-dispensing enrichment items to keep them occupied and then head out for 5-10mins. Gradually increase the amount of time that you leave your dog alone. You can either peek through a window to check what your dog gets up to or use a smart device to film your dog when alone (such as smart phone, iPad, laptop, or baby cam). If your dog is showing significant signs of stress, such as howling or destructive behaviours, it’s best to contact a reward-based trainer or RSPCA for further advice.

Start training!

Whether you’re welcoming a new puppy into your home or adopting an adult dog, it is never too early or too late to start training. Reward-based training (also called positive-reinforcement or force-free) is a great way to establish a bond with your dog and build a trusting relationship. If you’ve recently welcomed a new puppy into the home, enrolling into a well-run Puppy Preschool program as soon as possible is a must (recommended puppies attend from 8 weeks of age).

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