Bringing Home a New Dog: A Guide on How to Introduce a (Furry) Family Member
Have you been social distancing your way into some serious loneliness? If so, you are not actually alone in feeling that way.
For many, the weird isolation and quarantine lifestyle of this past year has highlighted holes in mental-emotional support systems. As a result, many have realized what their lives have been missing — the wiggly, waggy love of a dog!
Ready to adopt?
Whether you visit a shelter or a responsible dog breeder — please do NOT support puppy mills — this might be a great time to go for dog adoption.
The reason is time. Introducing a new dog into your pack takes a lot of it!
If you are working from home, or just spending a lot of time there, your new dog will love getting to spend extra time with you as they become a loved and adored furry family member.
If this is you, CONGRATULATIONS and welcome to the club! We are overjoyed to report that during quarantine, many people have opened their hearts and homes by bringing home a new dog. Animal shelters and rescues around the world have seen a major uptick in adoption — in fact, some shelters are completely empty.
We’re HUGE rescue fans, so what a beautiful bit of news to report! In honor of all these doggy adoptions, we put together a (COVID-friendly) guide on how to introduce a new dog to your family.
Key canine considerations
Ok, so you think you’re ready to bring a new dog home. Cool! But you need to think twice BEFORE you head to the shelter or breeder website. Why?
There are many, many, many dogs out there in need of a forever home. Thinking ahead before bringing home a new dog ensures that you will find a great fit you can love and live with for life.
For your sake and for dog’s sake, don’t look at a sweet doggy photo and fall in love without forethought. Take your time and think about your lifestyle.
What sort of time and energy do you have to dedicate to your new pet? What are you really hoping for when getting a new dog?
Think about the type of dog that would best match you and your household. Do your research on breeds that have the characteristics you want, or just to be sure you won’t be taken by surprise when your dog grows big (or doesn't), or loves to fetch (or refuses to do so), or suddenly boxes when he plays. (Yes, boxers really do that, by the way.)
Things to consider before bringing a new dog home include:
Age. Do you want a sweet baby puppy you will train from scratch, or an older dog who knows a few things about life with humans?
Energy. Is your household quiet and sleepy or abounding with noise and hijinx? Do you want a dog to go running with you, or to snooze the day away with you?
Personality. Each dog is unique. Some are curious and outgoing, while others are shy. Some are jealous, others love everyone. What personality works for you?
Size. Tiny as a teacup to big as a pony — what size works? Look at your house, your yard, your furniture. Do you want to hold your dog on your lap — or just hold your dog’s head on your lap?
Maintenance. Bringing home a new dog involves adding a whole life to your household. All that age, energy, personality, and size comes with the need for stimulation, exercise, and more. Some breeds or sizes may be easier to handle than others.
Health issues. Introducing a new dog to your household means adding the need for healthcare. Some breeds have a higher risk for certain conditions. And if you adopt an older dog or a rescue with an iffy past, be prepared to handle any health issues that crop up.
Choose a veterinarian
Speaking of healthcare, when bringing home a new dog, you need to have a veterinarian you can call. Do your research before getting a new dog to find a practice you like, that’s convenient to your house, and that is taking on new dog patients. It’s a great idea to have a vet picked out in advance.
Just like a human kid, your pup will need check-ups and booster shots throughout their life. It’s important to find a vet you trust, and with whom you can form a partnership in keeping your dog healthy and happy.
Ask your friends and fellow pet families which veterinarians they use, and what they like about them. You’ll want a vet who can think outside of the lines when it comes to problem solving. Ask their opinions on diet and health, and whether they offer alternative therapies for various issues — think acupuncture, hydrotherapy, and physical therapy. Yes, for dogs!
Stock up on essentials
While wonderful and beautiful, bringing a new life into your family can be a little scary! You want to do everything right, and give this new family member the best experience possible. That puts a lot of pressure on you!
Take a deep breath, and consider what you should have ready in advance. Stocking up on essentials before bringing a new dog home can help relieve your nerves. Think through all aspects of dog-life to get your gear ready:
Sleepy time. You’ll want both a comfy dog bed and properly sized crate. Even if you don’t plan on using the crate all the time, it’s helpful to give your furry friend that safe feeling, knowing they have their own enclosed space.
Play time. Get some durable, enriching toys to engage your dog. Hard toys that can stand up to a lot of chewing can help sweep plaque from your dog’s mouth — ask for reccos at a good quality pet supply store.
Outdoor time. Be sure you have a collar and tag with your dogchild’s name as well as your address and phone number. You’ll also need a right-length leash — and it’s nice to have two.
Training time. You might need puppy pads if your new baby isn’t potty trained. You’ll also want some healthy, small treats you can use for rewards when sweet baby sits on command.
Feeding time. Be sure you get some of the food your new pet was eating before you got them so you can gently transition them to a healthy, whole foods diet. A handy sampler pack from A Pup Above can help you see which fresh food flavors your sweet pup likes best.
Taking time to settle in
Introducing a dog to a whole new house with new faces and smells and textures can be overwhelming for any pup. Don’t judge too quickly about what your dog will be like, or jump to quick conclusions about how things are working out. Reserve judgement and allow time for your new dog to get comfortable.
Bringing home a puppy. Most puppies are very physical. They will have come from a very busy, rough-and-tumble life with their litter-mates. They may feel lonely, and may cry in the night. Puppies will benefit from both active play as well as quiet, close contact.
Be sure to hold your puppy and let them know they are safe and loved. Strategies like a hot water bottle in the bed or crate, and something to chew in a pinch, can help ease nighttime blues.
Bringing home an older dog. While to a puppy everything is new and surprising, an older dog will have more attachment to the life they led before they joined your household. Consider that bringing home a new dog who is older will be a big change for them, and change, while often good, can be scary.
Remember to speak in calm, assuring tones, and ask their foster family or rescue worker what sort of contact the dog is comfortable with. As you get to know your dog, they will get to know you. You’ll know your dog’s comfort levels, and work on closer contact.
If a dog hasn’t been hugged and held tight since puppyhood, they may not be used to such close contact, and it could add stress. Learn to read your dog’s stress levels (P.S. they will always read yours for cues on how they should act) and slowly work on introducing your new dog to more contact.
Make a training routine
All dogs, just like people, do well with some semblance of a routine. Routine helps your dog know what to expect and know how to behave in certain situations. Training your pup to react well in a variety of situations is ideal!
No matter the age of your dog, it’s a great idea to connect with a trainer, even if only to cover the basics to help you and your pup gain confidence together. (Of course, the current COVID situation may make connecting with a trainer a little trickier.) Luckily, there are plenty of certified, experienced trainers and programs to follow with just a click of a button!
Do your research before getting a new dog and try some different, positive reinforcement approaches to training. Then, stick with the one that works best for you. Committing to regular blocks of training time is a great way to connect with your dog, and keep you both busy.
Put socialization on the agenda
Socialization is extremely important for dogs of all ages, so remember to socialize your dog as safely and as well as you can - even during quarantine. While people can’t be within six-feet of one another right now, dogs can still visit with other dog pals. As you’re comfortable, follow training guidelines and common sense for how to introduce a new dog to other pups.
Speaking of socialization, getting your pup used to some healthy alone time is important, too. When stay-at-home orders are lifted, and it is safe for people to interact normally again, you probably won’t be able to bring your dog with you everywhere — though you’ll want to!
It’s healthy for everyone to have some alone time, and goodness knows a pup needs to rest after lots of play. So even while in quarantine, attempt to accustom your pup to regular times when they can adjust to being alone. This will be a great step towards lessening separation anxiety behaviors and building confidence in your dog.
Start creating small periods of time where they are alone with an activity, like a safe, food-stuffed puzzle toy. Leave them alone in small increments like 10 minutes to start. You don’t have to leave the house to accomplish this, just head to another room to check your email or watch a quick TV show.
If your pup does well with this, slowly start introducing your new dog to more alone time. This will help boost their confidence, and you’ll be rewarded with the happiest of tail wags when you return!
Most of all, have fun
Remember, what a new dog needs most is your time and your love. Observe your dog to see what makes them feel more or less comfortable. Do what you can to increase the comfortable and ease the uncomfortable.
For example, if your dog is reactive to loud noises — don’t despair that they will be just as reactive forever. Once they are used to your household, your dog’s reactions will be less severe. For now, try to minimize loud sounds and reassure your dog if and when they happen.
When bringing home a new dog, take it step-by-step and focus on good sleep, good play, and good food like A Pup Above. Maintaining routines together will be a healthy and great way to encourage and strengthen your bond — both in pandemic, and beyond.