Bringing home a new dog - 5 tips

Adopting a new dog or puppy is an exciting experience, but also a challenging one, since there are lots of things to learn for the dog. We are convinced that the video below can be of great help for a smooth start of your dog’s first days in his new family.

This video is made by Ian Stone, a US-based dog trainer and owner of Simpawtico Dog Training. He does not dictate THE best way to bring home a new dog, but encourages you to think about which strategy works best for your situation. Even for the more experienced dog owners, this video might contain some useful tips!

And 2 bonus tips:

  • YouTube

Have a look at the YouTube channel of Simpawtico Dog Training, it has lots of great videos!

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Check out the Learning-section on the website of Simpawtico Dog Training, with articles, step-by-step instructions on specific skills or behavioral problems, and background info on dog training strategies.

For  those of you who prefer to read instead of watch the video, the text can be found below. It is quite a long read, but believe us: it is definetely worth it.

“A dog’s first week at home can set the tone that will make or break you. My top 5 things you should work on first are coming up.

Bringing home a new dog creates a lot of challenges. Whether you are getting a new puppy or you are adopting an older dog from a shelter or a rescue, that first week is a crucial period that sets the tone, in some cases, for the rest of their lives. As some of you know, we just adopted a new dog ourselves and I thought documenting how we approached this process would be helpful to all of you. 

This is Olive. She is a two-year-old Boston Terrier. She was first picked up as a stray by animal control in the next city over. When her original owner was located, he was kind of like: “Whatever, I don’t have time for her anyways,” and signed her over to the city. Soon she was put up for adoption. My wife saw her on the shelter’s Facebook page and we went down to take a look. Well, that was pretty much it. We took her home that same day. Olive was underweight and undernourished. She’d had puppies at some point, she was not spayed, but thanks to the shelter she was up to date on her shots. We changed her name to Olive, so we knew that she wouldn’t know her new name right away. Which is just as well, because she didn’t seem to respond to her original name either. In fact, she didn’t seem to know much of anything, which tells me that she probably had very little support or training at home.

One of the first things we did with Olive was to put our main focus on the routines and procedures in our home. Management in that first week is the most important thing you can do for any new dog. Most people want to start off by teaching behaviors or even tricks to their new dog, or to do fun things together. Please believe me, that is a waste of valuable time right now. For a new dog, focusing on structure and procedures and practicing those until they become routines is essential to your dog’s long-term success. Otherwise, chronic bad behavior causes people to send them back into the shelter system, or return puppies to the breeder. And it is not their fault. If a dog misbehaves in your home, it is your fault.

You can not reasonably expect the dog to enter your home and magically know what your expectations are. And if you plan is to simply punish them until they figure it out, that is the worst thing you can do. Home must be a safe and protected environment where a dog can come to learn without fear. And I am telling you right now that the number one problem with dog behavior is not discipline, it is management. It is the lack of procedures and routines.

It stands to reason then that before you try to teach them what you want, YOU had better know what you want. So to start off, you need to sit down with the family and think about all of the procedures and routines you will need to make the house run smoothly with the dog and then come up with a management plan to make it happen.

 

The golden rules here are:

  • The more structure there is, the more successful your dog will be.

  • The clearer the instructions, the higher the achievement rate will be.

 

With Olive we picked five big goals to focus on in her first week.

  • Potty

  • Food

  • Night time

  • Home alone

  • Around the house

 

Let’s take a look at each of these.

Going potty

For a new dog of any age, potty training is absolutely paramount. It is one of the most common problem people complain about.

Imagine if you walked into a building in a foreign country and none of the bathrooms were marked. You would not know where to go, you would not be able to ask anyone where to go and the longer you had to wait, the more desperate you would get. You might even get to where you did some radical things to relieve yourself.

We must communicate to the dog where to go potty and we have to engineer the space and their life so that it is almost impossible to mess it up. Then we reinforce the heck out of it.

 

The best way to approach this with a newly adopted dog is similar to how we do it with a puppy:

  • Use confinement strategically

  • Take them out at regular intervals

    • same place every time

    • when they get up in the morning

    • when you come home

    • within 15-20 minutes after mealtimes

  • Praise and reward lavishly when they do their business outside

  • Keep them supervised and do your best not to let there be mistakes, as this will compromise your training

  • But if there are mistakes, realize that they are still learning and don’t get too worked up. Do not punish mistakes. Clean it up and move on.

 

For Olive, we made a concerted effort between the two of us to make the first week as error free as possible. That meant that Olive was under constant supervision. She was not allowed to go out of sight and rooms were closed when we were not in there with her. She was also confined when we were not at home. We took her out many times during the day, always to the same spot and waited with her. Being two years old, the job was admittedly easier than it would have been with a puppy, but that does not mean that we did not have to stay vigilant and try to read her signs. Our other dogs helped in this process too. Even though they were both potty pros already, we praised them in front of her when they went and you could really see her paying attention. Soon this meant when we called everybody for potty time, it did not take long until she was running right out with them and even asking to go out in the morning if she was the first one up.

Food: where, when and how do we get meals?

As you have no doubt heard me say before, I am a huge advocate of routine, timed feedings. Free feeding is just shooting yourself in the foot in so many ways, especially with a new dog. So for Olive, just as with the other dogs, she was fed twice a day at approximately the same times, in the same place, in the same order, in the same way, every single time. Because of the consistency of the routine, it only took a couple of days for her to figure it out completely. Whereas on the first few times, she would dive into Dexter’s food and try to get in there. With some gentle, but consistent feedback and positive reinforcement, she quickly learned to hang out and wait for her bowl. She knew it was coming, she knew where to wait for it and there was no need to get silly.

Now, in our home, we don’t expect sit-stays or anything like that. We do expect it to be mannerly and we don’t tolerate stupid hijinks, but it is overall pretty laidback and relaxed. We do, however, fill the food bowls on the table and place them on the floor in the same order, as I said, every morning and every night. Food bowls always go down Dexter – Darwin – Olive. Always.

Those of you who enjoy a more rigid routine with more steps and higher expectations: great, knock yourselves out. And honestly, there are dogs out there who need that level of detail in their routines, due to their high energy and drive. These are dogs that will need sit-stays for example before they can eat and so on.

The point I am trying to make here it that however you do it, it needs to be outlined, it needs to be shared with everyone in the house and it needs to be executed that way every time.

Routines are the backbone of good behavior.

Night time

You have got to spend some time thinking about night time too.

  • Does your dog sleep in the crate? Or in a doggy bed? Or a human bed?

    • Where is that located? Do they sleep in your room? Do they sleep on your bed? With one of your kids? What

  • What time is bed time?

  • And if they are on the bed, what are the rules?

    • Do they move if you ask them to?

 

By asking these questions we would know for example that if your dog is going to sleep in a crate, then you know you’d better make sure that crate training is squared away too, and devote some time to that. Don’t just stuff the dog in there and hope for the best. Be pro-active to make every part of the process as successful as possible.

In our home, the dogs sleep on the bed with us. This actually went pretty smoothly, despite a little problem with chewing on the blankets, I’ll address in the next video. However, if Olive had been a new puppy, I would have opted to have her sleep in a crate for the first few months, so we could work on other important puppy skills. Puppies always need way more structure in their lives than an adult dog does.

Here is a side note tip for you along those lines: most people screw up their puppy because they do the structuring backwards. They start with very little structure, then they run into potty training and behavior problems, so then they try to gradually introduce more structure to patch the problems. This is totally ass-backwards. Puppies should start with a hyper structured life and graduate to a increasing autonomy as they get older and better.

Home alone

  • Where is your dog kept while you are gone?

    • In a crate? In a pen? In a specific room? Do they have free range of the house?

  • Do they have sufficient things to do to keep them busy?

  • Have you trained them to occupy themselves?

 

In our case, all the dogs are crated in the basement while we are away. Dexter and Darwin just cruise right in without any trouble. Olive needed a little coaxing, but seemed to accept it. This was also helpful to make sure her potty training was on target. If we’d left her alone loose, the probability of a mistake would have been very high. Honestly, her biggest hurdle was the basement stairs. She was initially very timid on them, now she is comfortable enough that she flies down them into the basement with the other dogs.

Around the house

  • How do we enter and exit the house?

  • Is the dog allowed on the furniture?

    • Are there certain pieces of furniture that the dog is allowed on?

  • Do they have a bed in certain rooms?

  • Where are the toys kept?

    • What toys are free access and what toys are restricted access?

  • How do we interact with different family members, including other pets?

    • What provisions have you made to help your other pets adjust?

 

This extends to outside the home as well:

  • How does the dog enter and exit the property?

  • How does the dog enter and exit the car?

    • Where does the dog ride in the car?

    • Are they in a crate or are they seat belted in with a harness?

  • What parts of the yard are they allowed in?

  • How should they behave while the kids are outside playing?

  • What are the boundaries of their property?

One example that my wife and I are ironclad on is which door we go in and out of. We have a front door and a back door. Dogs are very location specific and do not generalize well, so a routine can program them to look at things a certain way. My dogs have never, ever even one time entered or exited through the front door. I don’t want them to consider it a viable exit, because there is a road just ten yards away. Consequently, Dexter and Darwin just won’t go through it. I can come and go, and I’m sure under the right circumstances they’d go through it if I asked, but that five seconds or so of hesitation as they contemplate and then check in with me could be the instant I need to interrupt with a life-saving command. In this vein, Olive will learn this too. Being as how her original owner mentioned that she had a habit of getting out, I want to teach her to forget about that front door.

Recap

So, you may notice in this first week that we didn’t really focus on individual behaviors much, like sit or come or stay. These are still important, but in my mind, it is much more important that first week to really focus primarily on the management. Focusing on the management also helps you identify what behaviors are the most important to teach first.

Many people what they think are the first ones they should teach, they spend tons of time on sit and down and stay and come, because every dog should know those, and then the dogs runs wild around the house. They also waste much of that first time doing fun tricks like shake and roll over, which, while entertaining, are both completely useless. You know how many shelter dogs can shake? All of them. But maybe, if they had been properly taught how to co-exist in a human household, they’d still be there.

By putting your emphasis on the management, you can swiftly identify the weak points and get these down first. For example, I had mentioned before that some people expect a sit-stay before the food goes down. For a high energy and high drive dog, that’s great. Then teaching sit and a stay in the spot where the food goes down is one of the first things you teach. That is much more impactful than just doing random sits and stays in the living room, just because. Put it to work immediately, so you can enjoy a functioning and happy household as soon as possible. As I also mentioned in Olive’s case, working on getting comfortable with the stairs was something we needed to square away soon. This was more important to our management plan that a stay or even a sit for right now.

Knowing what our end goals were, allowed us to prioritize the training pieces we needed and use time as efficiently as possible.

Please understand that you will not get perfection the first week, but you will be laying a solid foundation to grow on and as you move on to teaching more and more things to your dog, you’ll have established a practical framework for them to make sense of those things. Sits and stays and things like that will take on a greater meaning, because they are being used in a real-world context. Don’t teach sit and down and stay so that you can use them at random times to try and control the dog, use them as steps to complete in sensible routines that keep your home running smoothly.

Little Olive still has plenty to learn, but she is already figuring out her place and bonding with our little family. We’ll keep you in the loop with more videos as we progress with her.”

Ian Stone, CPDT-KA, MAT

Simpawtico Dog Training

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