Adopting a new dog is exciting, exhilarating, and rewarding. But with a new dog also comes uncertainty. What will your dog be like? Will he be a good match for your household? Will she be everything you had hoped for? Frankly, bringing a new dog into the home can be stressful for you and your family, even if it was greatly anticipated. Suddenly your normal routine is compounded by the energy and needs of the new family member. Everyone will go through an adjustment — dogs and people alike. How can you ensure that you and your new dog will settle into a long happy life together?
Have Realistic Expectations
In the first 2-3 weeks, behavior issues often come up that people aren’t prepared for and don’t know how to deal with. Understanding this can help you get through this adjustment period with the least stress and most success. How long the adjustment period will last and what it will be like depends ‐ on the dog, on you, and on your environment. Every dog is different. The process can take days, weeks or months, but in the end, having a comfortable and happy dog is definitely worth the effort. Truthfully, some dogs settle in with few problems. Many dogs are even on their best behavior — a “honeymoon” period — for the first several days or weeks. They may experience stress, but they deal with it by being cautious and responsive. Other dogs may deal with the uncertainty of being in a new home with more obvious stress responses, such as:
- Pacing and other overactive behavior;
- Relapsing in reliable house training;
- Attaching to one person in the family, but being very shy of others;
- Mouthing people, jumping up on them, barking, and chewing;
- Trying to escape;
Don’t panic if your new dog behaves in a less than desirable manner. In spite of the initial stress response, over the course of a few weeks your dog will almost certainly settle in and become a wonderful companion. What happens in those first few days or weeks is not necessarily indicative of what life with the dog will be like long-term. But how you handle the stress response will certainly affect the long-term outcome! There is a LOT you can do to make the transition easier. By being aware, modifying and redirecting any unwanted actions from the start, you can help your new dog become a good citizen.
Being Prepared is Key
1. Have basic supplies – food, bowls, collar & leash, bed, and toys – already on hand. Click here for a handy checklist of recommended items for your new Rat Terrier.
2. Set up a confinement area, a place your dog will stay when you cannot provide supervision. Recognize that the dog will be new to your environment, and giving him too much freedom too soon can set him up to make behavior mistakes. Giving him a safe, confined place to be when he is not being supervised will allow for a gradual and successful transition. The confinement area should be where he gets his meals and his favorite toys, ideally in the same part of the home that you spend time together. A crate works well, but you can also use baby gates or an exercise pen to section off a small safe section of your home.
3. Involve the whole family in deciding what the rules and routines will be, and help your dog learn those rules from the very first day. Will he be allowed on the furniture? Where will he sleep? What treats can he have, and when? Providing structure helps a dog learn the house rules and helps him feel safe.
4. Don’t be surprised if your new dog does some “naughty” things in his first few weeks in your home. Be patient while he learns the rules. Help him out by limiting his opportunities to do the wrong thing. For example, keep your counters free of food, keep garbage cans securely closed, don’t put food items or wrappers into wastebaskets, and put away unused pillows and cushions.
5. Determine a set feeding regimen, with two controlled-portion meals per day at specified times. (See our Rattie Weight page to help ensure you have appropriate feeding goals.)
6. If at all possible, allow extra time in your schedule to help your dog adjust. At minimum, bring your dog home before a weekend so you can spend extra time helping him settle in. Ideally take a few extra days or a week off from work.
Be Careful with Introductions
1. When introducing your dog to his new home, leave the leash on him. This makes it easier to stop any unwanted behavior or to get control of the dog if he is very skittish or scared.
2. Be calm. Talk to him gently while moving through your home. Let him investigate at his own pace.
3. Take him outside and spend time with him exploring the yard. Keep him on leash so that he will stay near you and you can continue to talk to him and demonstrate that you are in control of the premises. Praise him if he potties. After a half hour or so, take him to his safe area and let him rest there for 20-30 minutes.
4. Introductions to children should be done very slowly, gradually increasing the time they are together over the period of a week or so. Young children can easily overwhelm a dog with their volume and activity level, and a stressful experience on the first day can set a negative tone for the future, so keep initial meetings brief and very closely supervised. Never leave young children alone with a dog until you are confident you know the dog’s temperament. Do not allow children to grab at the dog, put their faces in the dog’s face, or blow on him. After a few days, allow the children to sit down and feed the dog Cheerios or small treats. First place the treats on the floor and let the dog pick them up; then put the treat on the flat of the hand and offer it to the dog very gently.
5. As tempting as it will be to “show off” your new Rattie to friends, neighbors, and extended family, resist the urge to do that in the first few days. It will be less confusing and far less stressful for the dog to get to know his new family a little bit before having to deal with even more strangers.
6. Similarly, resist the urge to take your dog to the pet supply store during the transition period. Chances are he will not be excited at all the dog “stuff” as much as he will be confused and overstimulated by all the sights, sounds, and smells. Shopping carts, automatic doors, other dogs, and PA announcements can make even a confident dog nervous, and if he hasn’t yet learned to trust you and look to you for leadership, he is likely to be overwhelmed, panicked, or terrified. Give him time and space to settle in and bond with you before he is exposed to the world.
7. Refrain from hugging or kissing your new dog for a few days. To a human, a hug is affection and symbolizes love, but for a dog, a hug is not love at all; a hug symbolizes dominance and invasion of space. By hugging your dog, you would be invading his space, wrapping your body on top of his before he has gotten the chance to know you or figure out his place in this new household. Even if the dog does not seem to mind your hugs and kisses, you must properly ease your dog into his new life by refraining from your human affection until you communicate some key rules and boundaries. This will lessen the stress level for the dog and possibly prevent a bite due to a lack of human-canine communication.
8. Do introductions on neutral territory. It is usually best to introduce your new dog to your current dogs outside in a neutral location so that your resident dog is less likely to view the newcomer as a territorial intruder. Each dog should be leashed and handled by a separate person. Allow time to see each other but not get too close. Don’t insist that they be close friends right away if either is reluctant.If all is calm, allow them to do all the sniffing and dancing around needed to check each other out. Encourage them to take turns sniffing back ends rather than letting them face-to-face right away.
9. Use positive reinforcement. From the first meeting, help both dogs experience “good things” when they are in each other’s presence. As they sniff each other, talk to them in a happy, friendly tone of voice. After a few moments, redirect the dogs’ attention to you give each a treat in return for obeying a simple command. Take the dogs for a walk and let them sniff and investigate each other at intervals. Continue with the “happy talk,” food rewards, and simple commands.
10. Be aware of body posture. The “play bow,” where one dog will crouch with front legs on the ground and hind end in the air, is an invitation to play and a posture that usually elicits friendly behavior from the other dog. Watch carefully for body postures that indicate an aggressive response, including hair standing up on one dog’s back, teeth-baring, deep growls, a stiff-legged gait, or a prolonged stare. If you see such postures, interrupt the interaction immediately by calmly getting each dog interested in something else. Both handlers can call their dogs to them, have them sit or down, and reward each with a treat, which should prevent the situation from escalating into aggression. Then try letting the dogs interact again, but this time for a shorter period and/or at a greater distance from each other.
12. When the dogs seem to be tolerating each other’s presence without fearful or aggressive responses, take them home. But keep your new dog on a leash while around your current dog for the first several days. It is not at all unusual for dogs to be snarly or growly with each other upon first meeting; they will almost always work out their relationship in that unique doggie fashion and become best friends (or at least tolerant of each other) within a few days.
13. If you have more than one resident dog in your home, introduce the new dog to the resident dogs one at a time. Two or more resident dogs may have a tendency to “gang up” on the newcomer.
14. Keep stress to a minimum for the first few days or weeks. Keep in mind that just the act of moving into a new home is stressful for most dogs — not to mention the stress he may have experienced before coming into your home. It can take several days or longer for the dog’s stress hormones to return to normal levels once he feels safe and calm. Remember that you will have this dog for the rest of his life; there is no rush!
Start Basic Training
1. Start a housetraining routine right away. Even if your dog was housetrained in his foster home, simply being in a new environment can mean that he will not understand when and where he is to go now. Just as you would with a puppy, set up a routine, confine your dog when you cannot supervise, take him out on a regular schedule, and praise or reward him for going in the right place.
2. Within just a few hours of bringing your new dog home, get him used to short absences. Take him for a short walk or bathroom break. Then introduce him to his confinement area (with a great chew bone or a stuffed Kong) and leave him there for a few minutes. Throughout the first few days, leave your dog alone in his confinement area for several minutes at a time. Vary the time you leave him from 30 seconds to 20 minutes. Start by leaving him in the confinement area for a few minutes while you are home, and gradually build up to leaving him for 10 to 20 minutes or so while you leave the house. By keeping your absences short, matter of fact, and pleasant, your dog will learn that being alone in the new home is safe. You can also make your departure a good thing for your dog by giving him a food-filled Kong each time you leave him.
3. Basic training — sit, down, stay, come, and walking on a leash — can begin the day you bring your dog home. This can help dogs understand that you will be taking care of them, and that they are safe. It will also help build confidence. For many dogs, training games will help them de-stress and settle in quicker. Some dogs, however, will be “shut down” at first and may have a hard time learning a new behavior or even doing something they already know. Don’t worry if your dog is not as responsive at first as you might like. If your dog seems reluctant, just make training games very easy, fun, and rewarding. You can begin by simply hand feeding a portion of his meals to help him learn to trust you. Use only positive training methods.
4. Although training right away is beneficial, wait a few weeks before taking your dog to a class if he is stressed at all. If you need help right away, consider having a trainer come to your home instead of starting a class. Waiting to start a class until your dog has settled a little, and you have had time to bond can help you both get the most from the experience.
5. All dogs have behavior quirks or issues. When you get an adult dog, you may suddenly be facing an unexpected behavior issue that feels alarming or overwhelming. By being alert to any issues your new dog may have, you will also be able to address them as soon as they arise, before they become a habit. Dogs can be very impressionable in a new environment, especially the first time they try a behavior. Setting your dog up for success, rewarding the behaviors you want and redirecting those you don’t want from the first day home, can make a huge difference in the long run.
6. Be patient with your new dog. Imagine what your emotional state might be like if you were suddenly plucked from your current life (leaving everything you know and love behind), put into a shelter environment where you were forced to live with noise and uncertainty, then suddenly placed in a new family where you not only don’t know anyone, but you don’t know the rules or speak the language. Give him the best start possible in his new home. And remember, with time and patience, everyone will settle in.
7. If a negative behavior persists after the first couple of weeks, despite your best efforts, don’t ignore it. The time to seek help with a behavioral issue is before that issue becomes overwhelming and infuriating for you. Remember that the dog is not trying to displease you. Your ability to first understand the behavior and then work in a positive way to change that behavior is strongest if you start before frustration and resentment debilitate you. There are lots of on-line resources dealing with a variety of behavior issues. See New Rattitude’s Resources page for some suggestions. New Rattitude adopters may also call on our Behavior Modification Team, a group of experienced dog trainers who can work with you to come up with a customized training program.