Day 1 at home with your new rescue dog
This is our third article in a series around how to help your new rescue dog settle happily into your home. If you haven’t yet, feel free to go back and read the previous articles:
- Overview on how to help your rescue dog settle in
- What to do before you bring your rescue dog home
In this article, we cover how to help your dog feel at ease when they come into your home for the first time.
Coming into the house
When you first arrive home, put your dog on a lead and walk them around the property to sniff and get their bearings. Take them to the toileting area first and spend a bit of time there to give your dog a chance to go after being in the car. Reward calm behaviour with treats (I would recommend using a clicker).
When you come inside, do a walk around of the main living area that your dog will spend most time in, then put them in a crate. A crate is a den-like space for a dog – small, warm and enclosed – and it makes them feel safe, which is a good way to start in this new location. The crate should contain a soft, comfortable bed space and a water bowl. If your dog isn’t house trained, any space not covered by the bed should be covered in newspaper and there should be easy access to an external door if possible. Being right next to a dog door that goes out to a secure yard is even better! We have a blog on housetraining here if you need some support with this.
Aim to keep things in the house calm and quiet for the first few days. This is a big change for your dog so try not to overwhelm them or give them any frights. Give your dog plenty of time to rest in the crate and OF COURSE, plenty of love and cuddles. This is not the time to invite the extended family around to meet your new dog, keep things as calm and settled as possible.
Some dogs may have toilet accidents in a new place. If this is happening, calmly take your dog outside if you catch them toileting inside, restrict their access to easy-to-clean areas of the home, and consider going back to the basics of house training until it’s sorted. Any accidents, clean up with a solution of 1/4 white vinegar to 3/4 water to neutralise the urine smell so it doesn’t keep attracting them back to the same spots again and again. Do not punish your dog for toileting inside, just calmly take them outside, clean up messes thoroughly and consider if you need to take your dog outside more proactively and restrict your dog’s free access to certain areas in the house while you’re getting house training sorted. We have a blog on housetraining here if you need some support with this.
Introductions to the family
At first, I would suggest you bring your dog into a quiet household to enable them to get used to the new situation before being introduced to the rest of the family – particularly if you have kids and they didn’t meet at the rescue centre, as they can be a bit unpredictable and scary to a dog that is in a new situation. Introduce family members one at a time, and ask each person to exhibit non-threatening behaviour. This means they should crouch down, turn slightly sideways, they should not stare and they should call the dog to them rather than approaching the dog full on, using a clicker and treats throughout the meet and greet. When the dog approaches, patting them under the chin and on the chest area is best to begin with. Your dog may be immediately comfortable with the whole family, but every dog is different and some need to take it a bit more slowly, so start gently just in case. Click and reward your dog as it meets each new family member, and ask the family members to give the dog treats too. Don’t allow kids to be all over the dog to begin with as this could be overwhelming – once introductions are done, pop the dog away in a quiet room if they don’t seem perfectly relaxed and confident.
Introducing other pets
If you have other pets in your house, you also want to ensure these relationships get off to a good start!
When introducing your new dog to other dogs, ideally start by encouraging an ‘inguinal greet’. This is the dog’s version of a handshake, and involves the dogs sniffing each others groin and backside areas. You want to present your first dog’s backside to your new family member – do this by holding your first dog between your legs with their back end facing the new dog. Once the new dog has sniffed the area, let your first dog turn around and sniff your new dog too. Click and reward both dogs continuously throughout this process to establish a positive association. If you have multiple dogs, do this with each dog one at a time.
Taking your dogs for a walk together helps to foster pro-social behaviours too.
Be aware when you’re feeding both dogs for the first time that there aren’t any issues – you should separate them for dinner until you’re sure they’ll be alright together. Also be wary around your first dog’s toys to ensure there are no resource guarding issues. Try to ensure that life stays as consistent as possible for your first dog, make sure you give both dogs equal attention.
If you have a cat, first make sure you ask the rescue organisation staff about your dog’s sociability with cats. Either way, I recommend you start by putting your cat in a crate in a living area. Bring your new dog into the room, and click and reward them for calm and nice behaviour. Let your dog sniff around the cat’s crate, continuing to click and reward if they are non-vocal and not lunging, barking or growling at the cat. When you feel both animals are comfortable, you can let your cat out of the crate (but keep your dog on the lead initially) and continue to click and reward. Be careful handling the cat as it may be scared and possibly become aggressive to you too.
Check with the rescue organisation what food they were feeding your dog before you adopted them. If you don’t plan on feeding the same brand, slowly swap out the old food with the new food over a couple of weeks. Start by mixing 20% new food with 80% old food for a few days, then gradually increase the amount of new food and decrease the amount of old food. This will help to prevent any tummy upsets from a changing diet! They will do best staying on the diet they had at the rescue organisation for at least a while.
Start training from Day 1
From the moment you bring your dog into your home, you should begin positive reinforcement training – this means rewarding your dog for behaviour you want to see, either using a clicker to click and reward your dog, or with praise and pats. Food is the strongest motivator so I suggest using this generously in the early days (keeping in mind not to overfeed by removing training treats from the overall diet). I’m not just talking about formal training sessions, you are “training” all the time simply through giving your dog the reward of attention, contact or food. Make sure your dog is doing what you want before you give these rewards!
Also be careful not to inadvertently reward your dog for behaviour you DON’T want continuing e.g. barking, jumping up on you etc. It’s tempting to let your new dog do whatever they want in the first few days because you want to lavish them with love, but it’s easier and less stressful for everyone if you make the house rules and boundaries clear from the get-go. If you don’t want your dog to sleep on your bed, never let them on your bed. If you don’t want your dog to jump on you or anyone else, don’t reward them for jumping on you by patting them when they do and DO click and reward them when all their feet are on the ground. If you don’t want your dog to pull on the lead, don’t release them from the lead while they’re pulling.
Using a clicker to click and reward positive behaviour will make training heaps faster and more effective, I highly recommend you get one! You can also use the clicker to teach your dogs all of the essential basic commands – Come, Heel, Stay, Sit, Down, Wait, Leave It etc.
Remember that positive training helps to build a strong bond between you and your dog – it’s engaging, stimulating and fun for your dog to do training in which they’re rewarded with yummy treats! Also, when your dog learns that you are a source of all the good things in life, they will be attentive to you and look to you for direction.
One of the most important training techniques you can do is my unique Joining Up technique. This helps you bond with your dog strongly, and teaches your dog to focus on you and look to you for direction, which makes teaching all of the other key behaviours and commands much easier too! You can learn how to do this in this blog here.
The first night
The first night can be tough. If you’re using a crate, hopefully you’ve introduced it earlier in the day with lots of treats. Take your dog out to the toilet before bed, then pop them in their crate with a chew bone or stuffed Kong to help them settle initially. Some dogs will settle more easily in a covered crate, with something warm to snuggle, a piece of your worn clothing or a blanket from their bed at the rescue organisation, and the radio or TV playing at a low volume.
Leave your dog to go to sleep. If they whine, bark or vocalise in any way, I suggest you ignore it. It’s going to be tough if that happens on the first night, but you don’t want your dog to learn that barking or vocalising brings you to them or gets them out of the crate as otherwise this behaviour will ramp up even further and can become a problem. Tough it out if you can, usually your dog will settle eventually and it will get less and less as the nights go on. I find most dogs settle within 3 nights if you don’t reinforce vocalisations.
Always wait until your dog is quiet before you let them out of the crate, even just 3 seconds to begin with and building up to 30 seconds.
If your dog is highly distressed and will not settle down, you can opt for a gentler approach though it will take a bit more time. For example, have your dog’s crate beside your bed and when your dog is settled and sleeping through the night, gradually move it 1 metre each night away from your bed and into their final sleeping spot. Or you can sleep beside your dog’s crate in the living area, then gradually move your mattress away from the crate each night once they’ve settled down.
If your pup or dog needs to be toileted in the night, don’t speak or engage when you let them out. Just straight to the grass then straight back into the crate.
Remember that your dog may have been through some significant changes in their life. They may have been in unpleasant and unloving circumstances before they went to the rescue organisation. We aren’t perfect and neither are our dogs, so be patient with them, allow them to make mistakes, and give them heaps of love and attention for desired behaviours. They will certainly love you back wholeheartedly! It may take them a couple of weeks to properly settle into your home.
More info on helping you settle in your rescue dog…
Below is the link to the next blog article in this series on helping you settle in your new rescue dog.
Set up a routine
Concerning or challenging behaviours
Here’s a few more handy sources of information if you want to go deeper.
- Clicker Training 101: A beginner’s guide
- How to train your dog effectively
- Which training treats to use
- Training a dog that’s not food motivated
- Using social facilitation to train your dog
- Joining Up – a great technique for bonding and teaching your dog to focus on you!
- What to do if an aggressive dog approaches your dog
- Calming an overexcited pup
- Puppy biting & nipping
- How to house train your puppy
- Safe socialisation for puppies in the vaccination period
- Treating separation anxiety
- Treating Hyperactivity
- Preventing sound phobias
- Teaching your dog to stop jumping up