Adopting a dog into your family is an exciting moment in life. From planning a meet and greet in the shelter to picking out the perfect plush new dog bed for their arrival home, it’s a moment you won’t forget. But what can you do to make them comfortable from their perspective? Sure, dog beds and toys help, but shelter dogs come with emotional extras, no matter how long they’ve been there. Making them feel welcome and safe is easy and with these three simple steps you’ll begin to see them settle in in no time.
1. Let them be them While it’s in our human nature to want to make a fuss over them, perhaps even having a surprise party when they arrive in their new home, it’s really a bit overwhelming for a creature without words. Dogs need the opportunity to explore their new surroundings in the way that they know best: sniffing and searching. Sniffing gives them information that helps their brain to determine how to perceive their new space. While it can be instinctual for us to want to watch their every move and assist the exploration, it’s best to give them a few minutes to safely explore, uninterrupted by us. Now, with that being said, you’ll need to make it a safe space by removing any hazards such as cleaners, human foods, swallow-able bits (coins, toys, etc.) from their access. A basket full of dog toys and chews just for them is a great way to point them in the right direction. By nature, dogs are natural chewers and will continue to enjoy doing so long after they’re done teething. Provide them safe chews and bones to help them satisfy this natural instinct.
2. Create routine Dogs thrive on routine. They love knowing that you’re as trustworthy as the sun that rises every day and that trust in you can be quickly developed by predictability. A routine is simple and can be easily customized to your lifestyle. They key is to do the same thing, at the same time, every day. For example:
Upon waking, go straight outside to let them empty the bladder and bowels. A good sniff around the yard helps to stretch out the gastrointestinal system and prep their bodies for the meal ahead.
When finished, head inside and prepare their breakfast. This can be made even more exciting by telling them “breakfast time!” as you head inside. You’ll be surprised at how quickly they know exactly what “breakfast” means, likely arriving at the bowl as you’re still kicking your shoes off.
Before handing the food over, ask them to sit. (Be patient as most shelter dogs are new to this kind of thing.) When they sit, you can give them the bowl. This helps to build in them patience and respect for the event.
A mid-day walk is a must. If you can’t do it, have a trusted pet sitter come by and get them out. Dogs need to explore. A tired dog is a happy and good dog. Coming home to a dog that’s been bored all day won’t be fun for you or them. Unlike a simple houseplant, they are super intelligent and need the ability to stay physically and mentally active throughout the day.
In the evening, take them out again for a potty exploration, and follow with “dinner time”: another word they’ll quickly pick up. Ask for a sit and kindly place the bowl near them, leaving them in peace to eat without threat.
3. Encouragement is key
It is far easier to encourage than discourage. No one likes constantly being told no; it’s uncomfortable. As your new dog settles into your life, find ways to tell them they’re doing good. “You’re such a good pup!” with soft, sweet pats or rubs as they sit at the door to go out, lay quietly on the rug by the couch, or chew on a toy while the family eats at the dinner table. Notice all of these good things and sing their praises. It’s another element to helping them understand what’s expected of them. And in time they’ll choose those things without thinking twice about it.