When I first adopted my dog Ru, I was terrified. It was about a week between signing the adoption paper work and bringing her home, and I’m not sure I slept a wink. As overwhelmed and nervous as I was, Ru was terrified. She came home immediately after having her spay surgery, high on drugs, and extremely confused. Of course, that was a less than ideal way to bring her home, but I had little choice since the shelter she came from has such a low adoption and high kill rate, they don’t spay or neuter until the dog is actually adopted.
There were a lot of things I did right the first couple of weeks, but also a lot of things I could have done better. I have a much clearer idea now about what my first steps will be when I adopt another pup. Here’s the what to do when you adopt a new dog:
1. Microchip her and get a dog collar with multiple phone numbers
Before your new dog is bonded to you, knows its new name, and understands where it’s home is, there’s a much higher possibility she’ll get lost or get scared and take off. Microchips are a vital way to help your dog get home, since unlike collars they can’t be taken off, and there is 100% no reason to not do it. Collars are a great option if she just winds up a block or two away, so a neighbor can get her directly to you. I recommend including your address and two or three phone numbers in case the first phone can’t be reached.
2. Create a positive space in your house that’s all hers
As overwhelming as it is to bring home a new dog, for your pup it’s an even bigger deal. Her entire world has changed without warning, and she’ll probably be confused and nervous for the first month or two. Put a comfortable dog bed or crate in a corner that’s not too far out of the way, but isn’t in a high-traffic zone of the house. Ideally it will allow your pup to watch what’s going on and feel part of the family, without getting underfoot or overwhelmed by the amount of people around. Reward her there often with plenty of treats and bones!
3. Dog proof your entire home and accept their will be losses
When you bring home a puppy, it’s best to accept that nothing is off limits from the obvious shoes to the legs of wooden chairs. But even adult dogs might chew because they’re in a new environment where they don’t yet know the rules and are likely experiencing more anxiety than normal. Be proactive by keeping things off the floor and only leaving the pup alone for extended periods in rooms where there’s nothing at risk. Even still, you likely will lose a shoe or an earring. Don’t get too angry and keep in mind that it’s your responsibility, not your dog’s, to provide positive chew toys and keep items you want safe out of reach.
4. Immediately start rewarding good behavior and setting boundaries
Decide ahead of time what your dog will be allowed to do or not do, such as get on the furniture or spend hours licking the kitchen floor. Now is your chance to start fresh by setting ground rules, since your dog will just be confused if you switch the rules up when she’s six months old. Don’t let her get away with bad behavior (no matter how cute she is) and immediately begin rewarding the behavior you want to see with treats, such as coming when you call her name.
5. Take her to the vet for a check up and vaccines
Start your pup’s health off on the right foot by taking her to the vet within the first week. Before you go, make a list of your questions and concerns, such as any suspicious coughs or rashes, and bring any medical records the shelter, rescue organization, or breeder gave you. Just like with your doctor, always be honest with your vet about your dog’s lifestyle and behavior.
6. Sign up for a doggy training class
Ru and I started a training class about two weeks after I brought her home, and I credit it with a huge reason why the adoption was so successful. The trainer taught me how to talk to my dog, provided a positive space for us to work, and basically turned Ru from a wild handful I could barely control to a dog that loved to please me. You may think you are able to train your pup at home, but nothing beats learning advice from experts.
*For those of you thinking of adopting a dog, you might be interested in this older post of mine, “So You’re in Your 20s & Thinking About Adopting a Dog.”
Have you ever adopted a dog or puppy? What was your experience like?