Your adult dog’s transition from shelter to forever home is a doozy. While you prepared for a new addition to your family for weeks or months or even years, your dog only knows that they woke up one day and suddenly everything was different.
Every dog handles adoption a little differently. Some will be fearful and shut down, others will be thrilled beyond belief by their new digs. But no matter how they feel in their first week at home, there are a handful of things that can not only make their transition go more smoothly, but will set the whole family for a long, happy future together.
To help your dog make a smooth transition to their new home, it’s important to have a few essentials on hand before they walk through the door.
- Puzzle toys like a KONG that can be stuffed with food
- A harness, leash and poop bags. Choke collar, prong collar, e-collars and retractable (flexi) leashes are dangerous and should always be avoided.
- Kibble and treats. While some guardians may choose to feed their dogs dehydrated or raw foods, a high-quality kibble is fine for most dogs. Look for brands with whole ingredients and limited grain fillers. For treats, get a range of options including “high value” ones like human-grade chicken breast, cheese or baby food.
- A soft bed or mat (even an old blanket will do) that your dog can call its own.
- An X-pen or baby gate, especially for younger dogs or if you have other pets or kids in the home
A basic nylon or leather collar with ID tags can help keep your new dog safe from Day 1. If your pet hasn’t already been microchipped, your vet can do it in just a few seconds during your first visit.
While some adult dogs will enter their new home with impeccable outdoor potty skills, many will need help to understand that they should toilet outside. Communicate where it is and is not appropriate to go by:
- Rewarding your dog each time they do their business outside
- Catching your dog in the act of having an accident indoors and immediately bringing them outside to show them the correct location
- Supervising your dog so that they have fewer accidents indoors
- Setting up a potty schedule to help your pup catch on to the rules
One of the biggest mistakes people make when they first adopt a dog is taking time off work to bond. It’s not that the extra time is a bad thing – that’s actually a wonderful opportunity to get to know your new pet – it’s that those who are home during that first week often forget to leave their dog alone. If your dog spends their first week constantly in your presence, you are setting them up for an unwelcome surprise when the time comes to return to regular life. Teach your dog that being alone is part of regular life from Day 1 by leaving for short periods of time (maybe just 5-10 minutes at first) and gradually increasing their length over the following days.
Walks are an important way for dogs to experience the world and get to know their neighborhood. Get your dog out for walks as soon as possible, giving them ample opportunity to sniff. If your dog pulls on leash, try using a front-clip harness to make walks more comfortable for the both of you.
New dogs often need time and space to overcome the trauma of homelessness and the shelter system. Give your dog the chance to decompress by providing them with a space of their own in a quiet area of the home. Move slowly, especially when it comes to handling and training expectations, and provide them with support as they navigate their new life with you. It takes most adopted dogs around three weeks to come out of their shell and around three months to feel fully secure.
Although some dogs will be hesitant to play in the first weeks in their new home, others will be raring to go. Play not only provides mental and physical stimulation, it can relieve some of the stress of their transition out of the shelter. Experiment to find out what type of play your dog loves. Do they enjoy chasing a ball? What about tugging on a rope or eviscerating a squeaky toy? If your dog is fearful, try offering them puzzle toys stuffed with delicious treats to help them build their confidence.
Training your dog cues like sit, stay and come will help to improve your cross-species communication while providing your pup with important mental stimulation. Small group classes that teach the basics are available almost everywhere but if you suspect that either you or your dog will have trouble learning in that environment, consider hiring a private trainer, learning from training videos by a reputable trainer (e.g., Kikopup on YouTube), or picking up a training book. Look for guidance that is rewards-based and rooted in scientific methods. Avoid any trainer, class, video or book that advocates the use of pain, intimidation or “dominance.”
It’s always a good idea to take your new dog to the vet for a wellness check soon after they come home. In addition to checking for parasites and fleas, your vet may want to do bloodwork to get an overall picture of their health.
Keep itchy fleas and deadly heartworms at bay with a monthly topical or chewable parasite medication. Discuss your options with your vet during your wellness check.