So you’ve just brought home a new dog! Congratulations!
The next 30 days will be filled with moments of absolute joy and a love so strong that it crosses the species barrier. But it won’t all be fun and games. The next 30 days will also test your patience and your wallet. There may be times when you question your choice or realize that you don’t know as much about dogs as you thought. And other times when you feel as if you’ve discovered your soul mate.
One thing is for certain: The next 30 days will be a wild ride. We’re here to help make the road a little less bumpy (and more enjoyable) with our ultimate guide to the first 30 days with your new dog. Buckle up and read on!
Day 1: Settling in
No matter where your dog was yesterday—a shelter, a foster home, with their mama and littermates—they’re likely to be pretty overwhelmed on their first day with you. It’s important to strike a balance by giving your dog plenty of support while allowing them the space they may need to feel comfortable.
Don’t overly “manhandle” (or in this case, pup-handle) your dog by restraining them with hugs or holding them (unless holding them is how they feel most safe).
Let your dog come to you to solicit attention. Arm yourself with treats and puzzle toys filled with high-value goodies like peanut butter and cream cheese to make them feel like this brand new home is about as awesome as they come.
On Day 1, it’s also important to have some measures in place to prevent your dog from unintentionally forming bad habits.
This is especially important for puppies and adolescents who know less about the world and have more energy to explore than their older, wiser counterparts.
- Using a baby gate or x-pen, set up a confinement space for your dog to go to when you can’t supervise.
- Pick up or put away anything within muzzle’s reach, including shoes, remote controls, and dirty laundry.
- Provide them with a comfortable space such as a dog bed or a pile of towels so that they can relax near humans
That last point is true even if you plan to allow your dog to lounge on the couch and sleep with you!
Give your new dog space and time to make choices that make them feel safe and comfortable.
Day 2: Introduce alone time
It’s time to introduce your dog to a simple fact of life: Sometimes they’ll have to be alone.
It’s important to begin working with your dog on alone time as quickly as possible so that you don’t set up the expectation that you’ll always be around. If you don’t, you may be setting your dog up to develop isolation distress or separation anxiety.
If you have the luxury of doing so, the ideal way to introduce your dog to being alone is to gradually increase the length of your absences over several days.
- Start with leaving the house for 5-10 minutes
- Later in the day, try 10-20 minutes
- Continue increasing the length of your absences over the following days up to 3 to 4 hours
After this, they should be ready for you to resume a regular schedule in which you may be gone all day for work.
If this is not an option for you (for example, if you have to go back to work a day or two after adopting your dog), it’s still important to do a quick version of introducing alone time by squeezing in several absences of 10 minutes to two or more hours.
Day 7: Learn new skills
After a week together, your pup is starting to settle in. While more fearful dogs may still be standoffish at this stage, more confident dogs are likely to begin exploring more and testing the limits of their new world, especially if they’re under the age of three.
This is a great time to begin teaching your pup basic manners and setting expectations when it comes to behavior inside and outside of the home. If you’ve never trained a dog before, it might make sense to start by signing up for a basic manners class at your local shelter or with a local dog care provider.
Be sure to look for positive-reinforcement training options. Trainers who talk about dominance or leadership, “being the alpha,” or “balanced” training are using methods of pain, fear, and intimidation that have not been scientifically proven to do anything except cause fear and aggression.
If you’d like to try your hand at training your pup on your own, check out our list of the best dog training books.
Day 14: Prepare for the vet and grooming
In the coming weeks, months, and years your dog will have to undergo regular vet visits and grooming. Many dogs fear both of these things so the earlier you can begin introducing them in a safe, positive environment, the better.
To prepare your pup for the vet, begin by helping them to become more comfortable with touching and holding sensitive parts of their body.
- Look inside their ears
- gently open their mouth
- hold their paws
- lift their tail
Each time you touch one of these bits, tell your dog “Yes!” and reward them with a treat.
It’s important not to push your dog beyond their comfort zone when performing these exercises. If you see any sign of discomfort, back off and try something less invasive or give your dog a break.
As long as you call ahead, most vets will allow your pup to make a special visit or two before their first medical exam in order to show them that the vet doesn’t have to be a scary place.
Playing games in the waiting room or letting them munch on a puzzle toy can help them to form a positive association with the vet.
Bring lots of high-value treats along for staff, vet assistants and techs, and any available doctors to offer to your dog when they meet.
Grooming can be approached with the same principles of desensitization-counterconditioning.
For example, to desensitize your dog to a brush, start by briefly touching it to their fur without actually brushing then say “Yes!” and reward them with a treat.
Repeat until they seem comfortable with this action, then move on to a short brush stroke followed by a “Yes!” and reward.
Bath-time desensitization can be made easier by spreading peanut butter on a licky mat or on the wall of the shower for them to focus on while the water runs.
Day 21: Meeting your dog’s developmental needs
Around three weeks after bringing them home, you’ll really start to see the full expression of your new dog’s personality. Often what people notice most around this time is that their pup has a lot more energy and is much more mischievous than they seemed on Day 1.
Now’s the time to take a second look at the mental and physical stimulation you’re providing for your pup.
- Are they getting enough exercise?
- Are you taking walks and playing with toys multiple times a day?
- Have you tried using a flirt pole, tug toys, soft squeaky toys, and balls or frisbees?
- Are you giving your dog regular opportunities to socialize with other dogs (if they like other dogs—not every dog does)?
- What about the opportunity to explore new neighborhoods, parks, or beaches?
At home, are you providing your dog with enrichment like puzzle toys, a sandbox for digging, meat-scented bubbles to snap at, and/or birds and squirrels to watch (live or on video)?
Are you regularly working with your dog on training games? Short sessions of just three to 10 minutes can go a long way towards not just teaching your dog new skills but keeping their minds sharp.
Day 30: Keep up the good work!
After a month together, you and your dog are well on your way to building trust and communication. Dogs thrive with routine and order so, if you haven’t yet, establish a schedule of things you want to do daily or weekly with your pup that includes walk times, feeding times, and training times.
Continue giving your dog plenty of opportunities to play (with toys, family members, or other dogs) and engage in mental stimulation (with training, puzzle toys/enrichment, or with sniffing safaris).
Here’s to the next 30 days!