Bringing home a new member of the family is a big deal. When it comes to dogs, first impressions will dictate how the new family member fits in and adjusts to his or her new home. Whether a puppy or an adult dog, there are a few important things to consider to make the transition as smooth and comfortable as possible.
We’ve asked Erin Kramer, a Sacramento, California-based professionally certified dog trainer, instructor, and canine behavior modification specialist for her advice. From working with service and therapy dogs to training police K9s to training and handling dogs for TV and film, Kramer has a wealth of experience in many different areas of dog training — and that includes how to introduce dogs to a new home.
"As a professional trainer I often get asked the question, when should I start training my new dog/puppy? My answer is always the same ... that is whether you mean to or not, we are always training our dog," says Kramer. "Making the training a conscious and thoughtful system right away ensures that your dog will understand what behaviors are acceptable, how to earn rewards from you, and in general create a good system of communication between the dog and handler/s."
Here are the six most important things to do when bringing home a new dog, according to Kramer, a certified dog trainer whose helpful tips we'll be sharing more of in the future.
The first step before bringing home your new dog or puppy is to ensure that your home and yard is prepared to house your new family member appropriately. Remember that dogs do not have the value system that we do of “right” and “wrong.”
How your new dog meets his or her new family members (human and otherwise) is critical to how well they will integrate. Don’t rush an introduction! Let your dog determine at what pace he meets new family members and, when possible, use treats to make an extra positive experience. If you are introducing a new dog to existing family dogs, start by taking everyone on a walk so that they can build a pack bond without having any rude behavior and as an added bonus they will be more relaxed from just having exercised when they do officially meet.
To make the introduction as smooth as possible, pick up common triggers like high-value toys, bones, food bowls, etc., so that there is nothing to fight over while they first are feeling each other out. In the end, remember that you are in charge of the introduction. If one dog is showing he is uncomfortable, don’t be afraid to calmly step in and help the other dog to back away and give a little space. Doing so sets up the dogs to be respectful and friendly.
Beyond initial introduction of family members, another important element that needs to be introduced are household rules. Prior to bringing home your new canine family member, decide as a family what the rules will be and how they will be enforced. I frequently ask clients to post a rule list on their fridge or in a central location so that all adults are on the same page. Consistency is key!
Keep in mind that dogs cannot distinguish between not jumping up on furniture or you when they are muddy or when you are dressed up to go out, so take time to think about what rules you want in place all the time, not just as certain times or when the dog is a young, adorable puppy. A 12-week-old lab pup is wonderful to have jump up and give you a kiss; at 2 years old, it’s not nearly as cute!
Crate and potty training
Don't underestimate the power of the crate for training. (Photo: jinxmcc/flickr)
Utilizing a crate for both household rule training and potty training can be an extremely valuable asset when used properly. Make a positive association for your dog by feeding and offering treats/bones in the crate. Give your dog short periods of time in the crate to relax and provide warm, comfortable bedding (unless you have a destructive chewer). It’s always a little stressful for dogs to be in a new environment so some whining or barking should be expected. They key is to ensure you don’t unconsciously reward this behavior by paying attention to your dog or letting them out of their crate when they bark. Instead ignore them, wait for them to quiet down and then let them out.
Most dogs learn quickly to relax in their crate and even enjoy spending time in it. While your new dog is learning household rules like not chewing on furniture or picking up the kids’ toys, the crate gives you a safe space to park them when you aren’t there to actively watch them. For potty training, the crate employs a dog’s natural instinct to not soil their own space and thus gives you the ability to potty training effectively. If you are having trouble getting your dog to settle in the crate or to potty outside, may be time to consult a professional (and qualified) dog trainer.
One of the best and most basic concepts you can put into effect when bringing a dog home is the system of “earning real life rewards.” Real life rewards are anything that your dog sees as valuable. It’s important to consider different types of these rewards, from tummy rubs to treats, walks to getting a ride in the car, tug of war to getting to romp in the back yard. Whatever your dog values is a real life reward!
Once you have an idea of all the things that are reward to your dog, start making him or her earn those things from good behavior. For example, if Fido wants to come snuggle on the couch, make him or her sit briefly first. Training in this manner avoids the pitfalls of treat bribery and being heavy-handed but instead teaches your dog that the humans control access to all the things that they love! This style of training also sets a great foundation for off-leash control.
Every day is training day when you have a dog. (Photo: chase_elliot/flickr)
When bringing home your new dog, remember that with every interaction, you are training your dog! So be aware of your actions and take a moment to consider things from your dog’s point of view. If he barks at the back door and you let him out, understand that you have trained him to bark. For this reason obedience training is a really critical part of having a dog. Training does more than teach just commands (which is important all by itself) but it also teaches a system of communication, how rewards are accessed, that paying attention to the humans is beneficial, and strengthens the bond between dog and handler.
With just a little forward planning and effort early on, bringing home your new dog can be a joy that sets him up for a lifetime of harmonious living for all family members.
Stay tuned for more great advice from Erin Kramer on important, and often confusing, aspects of dog ownership.