How to Bring a Newly Adopted Dog Home

A few simple steps can help your shelter adoptee get off to a good start in her new home.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
5-minute read
Episode #46

Introduce Your New Dog to Your Friends and Family

I also recommend that during Dogalini’s first days and weeks with you, you introduce her to your friends and extended family. Have them pay low-key visits to your home and get acquainted with Dogalini there. That advice reflects my observations in working with territorially aggressive dogs. These dogs bark and lunge fiercely at strangers coming to their home, yet many of them respond with appropriate sociability and friendliness to people who visited the home and made friends early in the dog’s life or soon after the dog was adopted. I know of no studies on this subject. But I have a hunch that immediately after adoption, when a dog is learning what’s normal in his new environment, there may be a brief window of opportunity for socialization. If Dogalini does later prove territorial with respect to strangers-- well, the more of your friends and family don’t qualify as “strangers,” the easier your life will be, and the better your chances of successful behavior modification as well.

Start Reward-Based Training Right Away

I mentioned that any shelter dog has been through considerable stress. That awareness may tempt you to set no rules or boundaries during Dogalini’s first days and weeks with you. Bad move! Remember, this is the period when she’s learning how to get along in her new home--what works, what doesn’t, where the biscuits are kept. Start her off right by showing her that polite behavior earns dogs all the good stuff in life--dinner, walks, attention, butt scritches, and ball throws. Set aside at least some of Dogalini’s food ration every day for training.

Let me make it absolutely clear that I’m not telling you to take a grim and taskmasterish attitude to your dog. On the contrary! You’ll be watching Dogalini like a hawk so you can catch her doing things you like. Then you’ll quickly reward those desirable behaviors by giving Dogalini things she likes. If she happens to go lie quietly on her bed, toss her a treat. If you’re letting her out in the backyard to pee, take the opportunity to teach her to wait for permission to go out the door. Does she paw at you for attention? Get up and walk away, but make it your business to deliver ear mooshes and chest rubs when she sits next to you instead. The sits will crowd out the pawing, I guarantee it. And yes, you may reward pawing if that’s the attention-seeking behavior you prefer.

The more your dog sees you as a source of good things, the more attentive he will be to you, and the stronger your bond will grow.

Positive Training Strengthens Your Bond with Your Dog

Reward-based training of a newly adopted dog has so many benefits I get excited thinking of them all. You’re establishing good habits for a lifetime. And reward-based training is fun. If both you and Dogalini enjoy teaching and learning, you’re more likely to keep training, and she’s more eager to learn. The more your dog sees you as a source of good things, the more attentive he will be to you, and the stronger your bond will grow. Reward-based training even reduces stress. It’s well established that stress increases in chaotic, unpredictable situations--that’s as true for dogs as for humans. The dog whose household runs by clear rules and who knows how to get what he wants by means that delight his people instead of angering them is a happier, more confident dog.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).