Bringing home a new dog can be one of the most exciting days of your life. Your mind is filled with visions of future walks, trips to the park, and the awesome prospect of a new snuggle buddy (as Andrea refers to our dogs). Despite all of the fun that is bound to take place it can also be a very stressful time for you and even more so for your dog. For those of you who didn’t already know, we recently added a new dog to our home and I wanted to share with you a couple of tips that helped make the transition a little easier on us. It’s amazing how the simple little things we do can make a huge difference.
My inspiration for writing this comes from a young couple that I recently had the opportunity to work with. They called me because their dog Flash (a lab mix) had developed some major behavioral issues when they moved into their new home. This scenario is pretty similar to when we bring home a new dog. Even though the people were the same, everything else was foreign to Flash. The couple thought that since Flash had been accustomed to sleeping in the laundry room his whole life that there wouldn’t be any problem with him sleeping in the laundry room in their new home. They heard Flash doing a little whining when they went to bed, but figured he would get over it.
Sadly in the morning they woke up and Flash had caused over two thousand dollars in damage to their brand new home. The damage wasn’t the worst part though. As soon as the door opened Flash was out of the room like a… well as you can guess by his name he’s pretty fast. They took Flash outside to let him use the restroom in hopes that he would calm down. Flash went to the bathroom, but as he was being led back to the house he began crying, pulling away from the leash, and absolutely refused to go back in. They eventually coaxed him into the garage, but were unable to get him further than that. Flash’s entire disposition had changed. He stayed curled in a ball in the corner of the garage for three days, that’s when they called me. We employed some of the tricks that I’m going to share in this article and they were happy to see the effects quickly reversed. I’m positive that had these steps been applied before Flash was brought into the new house he would’ve never gone through the extreme behavioral swing that he did.
This is just a basic outline of SOME of the things you can do to make the transition easier. Some dogs will need more help (like Flash), and of course some dogs might be pretty comfortable in just about any situation. Even if a dog seems super relaxed and laid back in his old home, I try to at least take these steps as a precaution so that I can be sure to be running and playing with my new dog as soon as possible.
Step One: Diet
You’ll want to get in contact with the breeder or previous owner and figure out what kind of food they are currently feeding the dog, how much they are feeding, and at what times of the day, and then get everything you need to replicate this at your house. The move is going to be stressful enough as it is, and that stress can cause a churning stomach. If you throw in an entirely different diet you could end up with a dog that doesn’t want to eat or cleaning up some major messes due to an upset stomach.
If you have any trouble finding the food brand that your dog was fed previously make sure you ask the owner for a zip lock bag full to get you through the first couple days. You can easily get your dog used to the brand you want by gradually mixing in the new food after the second day and progressively adding more each feeding.
You can take the diet precautions a step further and bring a couple empty milk jugs with you to fill with water at the previous owner’s home. Then when you get home you can get the dog gradually accustomed to your water in the same way that I mentioned with the food. This isn’t always necessary, but I do like to take this step with young puppies who have probably never drank any other water than what was at the home. With adult or juvenile dogs I usually ask if the dog has much of a history of diarrhea and if the answer is yes, I’ll go ahead and bring the jugs to fill up (I’ll do anything to avoid diarrhea with my dogs).
|Mazey with one of her "Pacifiers"|
Step Two: Toy Time
One thing I’ve noticed about some of the best breeders I’ve met is that they are always willing to go the extra mile to make sure the transition is smooth. Some go as far as to send home a favorite toy with each puppy, and I think this is a huge help. Zane (my dog) is getting up there in years a little bit. He’s spent the night in countless hotel rooms with me, he’s been out camping, we frequently go back to visit my parents, etc. and despite all of these travels even he has a hard time settling into a new place until I bring out one of his favorite toys. Think of it as a pacifier for your puppy. A good used toy is something they enjoy, they’re familiar with, and it can really give them that extra comfort of knowing that not everything in their world has just been ripped away.
If the previous owner doesn’t have any toys that they are willing to send along then buy a couple and drop them off a couple days before you go to pick up the dog. If you are buying from a breeder who isn’t willing to help you out with this then you may also want to question the quality of breeder that they are. If they aren’t willing to take this extra step it could be a red flag.
Step Three: Familiarity
You can give yourself a huge head start in the bonding process by introducing yourself to the dog before you’ve even set foot on the old owner’s property. There are a few things you can do so that when you show up you aren’t a complete stranger to the dog. Dogs use their noses constantly. Have you ever noticed that when two dogs meet each other they can spend a solid chunk of time standing completely still just sniffing each other? There is a lot going on here that we don’t see or fully understand. What we do know is that dogs have an amazing ability to recognize familiar scents and associate them with certain feelings. Zane is a great example of this. If you blind fold him and take him to the veterinarian’s office he won’t need to see a thing, but he’ll still start wagging his tail and acting like a puppy as soon as our tires hit the pavement of that parking lot. He knows that this is the place where he sits in a room and a few people come in and pet him, everybody talks really nice to him, and yeah maybe they poke and prod a bit, but the treats far outweigh any momentary discomfort.
So how can you take advantage of that amazing smelling ability in your future dog? My favorite thing to do is take an old sweatshirt and sleep in it for a few nights. Then I put it in a box and have it rush delivered to the previous owners house (or drop it off if they live close). I ask them to wrap my puppy up in the sweatshirt for some cuddle time, give the dog a treat every time it’s exposed to the sweatshirt, praise it and give it lots of attention whenever it’s sleeping on the sweatshirt, or just anything they can think of to get the puppy to think that the sweatshirt is associated with happy, warm, fuzzy feelings! Then when I show up and I start loving on them they realize that there is something familiar about me and I feel like the bond gets stronger faster.
These are some really basic steps that can have a huge impact on those first few days and even weeks when you bring home your new dog. Everybody wants to form a great bond with their dog. You don’t want to have to spend a bunch of time trying to get your dog to like you when you could be out in the yard playing and having fun.
This list isn’t comprehensive and every dog is different. Please feel free to give me a call, send me an email, or use the contact page on our website: www.TopDogProfessionalTraining.com if you feel like you need a little bit of help with that exciting prospect of bringing home a new dog.