Eureka! Dog Blog

Dog Training and Behavior weblog

Bringing Home a New Dog

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People often call us in after their new dog has been with them for a few weeks, and they are at their wits’ end.  They did not expect it to be this difficult.  Frequently heard words include “He’s a wonderful dog but…” or “Are all puppies like this?”.  Most of these problems stem from a lack of preparedness by the people, and a lack of understanding by the dog.  This post is about how to prepare for a new dog, and how to explain the rules to him/her.  If there is already another dog in the house, there is more to consider – I’ll cover that in a later blog post.

New puppies, whether from breeders or shelters, don’t know your house rules.  They explore the world with their mouths, and you need to puppy-proof everything.  They have needle-sharp teeth, and have not yet learned when not to use them.  They will miss their mother and litter mates, and will cry at night because they are used to being surrounded by warm bodies and familiar smells.  They need to be potty trained.

New adult dogs also don’t know your house rules.  They may also have some very definite ideas on what is acceptable behavior, based on their earlier lives.  They may be scared of everyday objects or people.  It’s common for dogs who have not been properly socialized or who have been abused to growl or bark at certain objects or people.  They may be emotionally distant at first (see the posts on the case study of the puppy mill dog).

Before you bring home your new dog, make sure you have the house ready, and all the equipment you need.

Dogs (especially puppies) chew on things, so look hard at the areas of your house where your new dog will be spending time.  There should be no clothes, shoes or laundry where the dog can get to it, until you know whether those things will tempt him.  Cables should be hidden away.

Your new pet may not be housetrained (a new home is a scary thing for a dog, and any previous housetraining may be temporarily forgotten), so either you must be able to keep an eye on the dog all the time, or the floors need to be easily cleaned.  It is a good idea to have an area like a bathroom, laundry, etc. where the dog can run around and any messes are easily cleaned, and put baby gates at the exit points – you can see and talk to the dog, but he can’t get into too much trouble.

Please make sure you have a crate (or two).  The dog should sleep in a crate, and ideally that crate will be in or close to a bedroom, so doesn’t feel alone, and you will be aware if he needs to go outside.  During the day, until the dog has settled in and follows all the rules, you need to be able to crate the dog for periods when you are going out, or when you are not able to watch him.  That can be in his sleeping crate, but it is good to have a safe place for him where the people are, so he feels a part of what is going on.  Crates should always be big enough for the dog to stand up and turn around comfortably, and stretch out.  The crate should never be a punishment – it needs to be a place where he feels secure and happy.  Puppies should not be left in a crate for more hours than their age in months (e.g. 2 hours for a 2 month old pup, 4 hours for a 4 month old), and no dog should stay in a crate for more than 8 hours.

Decide what your house rules are, and be prepared to start teaching them from day 1.

If you want your dog to sit quietly when people come to the house, don’t encourage him to jump up at people when he is a puppy, instead make a habit of praising and petting him when he is being calm.

Make sure everyone in the house knows the rules.  The dog needs to get consistent information from all members of the household.

No teeth on people.  Most puppies will nip in play, and it is never cute.  With any dog, regardless of age, as soon his teeth touch human skin, the person should say a loud, sharp “Ow!” and immediately stop playing with the dog, and ignore him.  If necessary, they should leave the room for a minute or two.  That way, the dog will learn that using teeth always stops the fun.  For an adult dog, when you return to him, start by asking him to sit, then praise him for doing that.  Any praise or play needs to be associated with something he did right.

Dogs should not be allowed up on furniture (chairs, sofas, beds, etc.).  Once your dog is fully trained, you can choose to invite your dog up on furniture when you want.  Until he is fully trained, he needs to stay on he floor – the high places belong to the leaders of his pack – the humans.  This is especially important if you have young children.

As soon as your new dog comes home, take him around the house so he gets to explore everywhere.  If there are places he is not to go, this is the time to tell him that – let him approach, then correct him (“Uh-uh” or “No” followed by moving him back to the right place).  If he starts to go potty, it is an excellent time to start that training.  There are two parts to potty training – praise when he goes in the right place, and correction (“Uh-uh” or “No” followed by taking him to the right place) when he tries to go in the wrong place.  No matter what you think you see, correcting him for something he did hours ago or even minutes ago does not teach him anything.

From day 1, do not encourage your dog to look for food at the table or in the kitchen.  Any time that someone feeds him scraps while they are eating or preparing food will cause him to beg or try to grab food in those places later.

Set a schedule for when you will feed your dog.  This is especially important for housetraining, because dogs and puppies will need to go potty shortly after eating (as well as after excitement and exercise, sleeping, etc.).  So your feeding time should be set when you have 15 minutes for the dog to eat, then 30 minutes to make sure he has had the chance to go potty.  For this reason, it is not fair to leave food out for the dog, and have him decide when he is hungry.

Set time aside for exercise.  Your dog will not exercise himself, and walking on a leash is an excellent way for your dog to learn that you are his pack leader.  Dogs need to get one or two walks a day for their mental and physical health.  (Puppies should not go on walks in the street, park or other common areas until they have had all their puppy shots – until then, you need to play with them in your house and yard, or at the homes of friends with dogs you know are healthy.)  A tired dog is a well-behaved dog!!!

Start to train your dog as soon as possible.  Even a young pup can learn to sit on cue, and will learn to come to you in the house when called.  Be generous with praise and rewards (rewards can be petting or play or toys or treats).

Watch your dog for anxieties.

Part of getting to know your dog is understanding his emotional baggage and limitations.  Some dogs are scared of men, or children, or sticks, or water, or being alone, or thunderstorms…the list goes on and on.  For most fears, your response should be the same – don’t reinforce the fear by rushing to comfort the dog, just stay calm and cheerful, remove the dog from the thing he was scared of, and engage him in playing or obedience work.  You want to send the message that everything is normal.  Some fears, like fear of people or other dogs that results in aggression, need professional help.

Keep a diary.

Some of the things a new dog or puppy does may seem overwhelming.  Try to keep a diary of the first few days – what happened, what went right and what went wrong, and what changed.  If your dog has housetraining issues, you will be able to see if it is getting better or not, and what changes may have triggered problems.  If the new puppy cries all night the first night, and less the second, and so on, you will be able to see the progress you are making.  This will be a big help if you have to call in a trainer later on for a behavior problem.  The first things the trainer will ask are:-

  • When did this start?
  • Did it start suddenly or was it a gradual change?
  • Did anything change that might have caused it?


You brought this dog home for a reason.  Enjoy the experience of learning about your dog, teaching him about you, and learning to communicate.

Written by eurekapaws

March 27, 2009 at 12:19 pm

Posted in New Adoptions

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