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Forever Home: Now What?

Be an informed adopter and make your new dog’s entry into your world as pleasurable and stress-free as possible.

By Nomi Berger

Establish yourself with a veterinarian if you are a first-time dog owner before bringing your new dog home, or register your new dog with your established vet. Then apply for all of the appropriate licenses, etc., required in your area. If you get your dog license at the RAPS City of Richmond Animal Shelter, a portion of your fee is reinvested directly into RAPS’ programs.

Remember that a dog’s true personality may not reveal itself until he or she has been with you for several weeks.

Therefore, these first few weeks require an atmosphere of calm and patience, not of anger or punishment.

Knowing your new dog’s established schedules for meals, pottying, walking and exercise beforehand are essential to maintaining his or her sense of continuity.

Once you arrive home, bring your new dog to his or her designated pottying place.

Spend time allowing your new dog to get accustomed to the place, and if he or she potties, reward him or her with warm praise and a treat or two.

Repeat this as an exercise (whether your dog potties or not) to reinforce it, but be prepared for accidents. Even a housebroken dog will be nervous in, and curious about, new surroundings.

Your new dog may also pant or pace excessively, suffer from stomach upsets or have no appetite at all due to the sudden changes in their life.

If you already own a dog, you know how he or she behaves around other dogs. What you DON’T know is how is how they will react to your new dog. Some may adapt easily to sharing their space, while others may not.

It’s important then to introduce them on neutral ground – outside your home. Both dogs should be leashed and allowed to sniff each other. If one of them urinates, let the other dog sniff the puddle, as urine tells dogs a great deal about one another.

If any tension (growling or bared teeth) develops between the dogs, separate them immediately and wait for them to calm down. If you have more than one dog, introduce the friendliest one first so as not to overwhelm your new dog.

With your new dog garnering most of the attention, it’s important to spend extra quality time with your existing dog(s) to keep them from feeling excluded.

Give your new dog the same food that he or she ate before. If you want to switch brands, wait a week. Begin by adding one part new food to three parts of the old for several days. Then add half new to half old for several more days, followed by one part old to three parts new until it’s all new food and the transition is complete.

After 30 minutes, remove the food whether it’s been eaten or not. Do not allow your new dog to “graze.”

Learn the commands your new dog already knows and don’t attempt to teach them any new ones for a while.

Walk your new dog slowly through your home allowing him or her plenty of time to sniff around and become familiar with all of its sights and smells.

If needed, teach your new dog proper house manners from the start — calmly and patiently. Reward good behavior with praise and treats for positive reinforcement.

Introduce your new dog to the other members of your household one by one. Unless you know that the dog enjoys approaching new people, instruct everyone to sit, silent and still, on a couch or chair and ignore the dog. Allow your new dog to approach them, sniffing, whether it takes several seconds or several minutes. Only when the dog is relaxed should people begin to pet them lightly and gently.

Children in particular should be closely supervised to ensure that they follow these same guidelines.

Show your new dog their place to sleep and place a few treats around the area as added incentives.

Give your new dog some quiet, alone time to get used to the space while you remain in the room for reassurance.

For the first few days, remain calm and quiet around your new dog, allowing them to settle in comfortably while you become familiar with their likes and dislikes, quirks and habits.

If you want to change your new dog’s name, begin by saying the new name and giving him or her an especially good treat (chicken often works well) or a belly rub. This will teach your new dog to love the sound the name and respond to it. Repeating this numerous times a day will speed up the process. (Most dogs learn a new name within a few weeks, some after only a few sessions).

Limit your new dog’s activities to your home, potty and exercise areas, keeping away from neighbors and other dogs, public places and dog parks.

Invite a relative, friend or neighbour over, one at a time, and introduce your new dog to them. Hand them treats and tell them to be calm and gentle in their approach and touch – unless, of course, your new dog happily but calmly approaches them first.

Before answering the door, however, know where your new dog is and ensure that he or she cannot bolt once the door opens. If your new dog isn’t already trained to “sit” and “stay,” put on their lead before opening the door. And if the dog becomes overly excited around visitors, warn them ahead of time to ignore the dog (no eye contact, talk or touch) until he or she settles down.

Begin the routine you want to establish (according to your own lifestyle) for your new dog’s pottying, eating, walking, playing and alone times, and maintain it — calmly but firmly.

Initial resistance is to be expected, but remain firm – without impatience or anger – while your new dog gradually becomes accustomed to his or her new schedule.

To make the process as pleasant and reassuring as possible, spend quality time with your new dog, stroking them or brushing their coat, while talking gently and soothingly to strengthen the bond and trust between you.

Gradually accustom your new dog to being alone by leaving your home briefly then returning, repeating this several times over a period of a day or two and gradually increasing the alone time from a few minutes to a half-hour to an hour. This way he or she won’t feel abandoned. When you return, walk in calmly and don’t fuss over your dog until he or she has settled down.

If your new dog whines or cries, don’t cuddle or console them. It only reinforces this behavior. Instead give them attention and praise for good behavior, such as resting quietly or chewing on a toy instead. And treats always work wonders.

Slowly begin introducing your new dog to your neighbors and other dogs, closely monitoring reactions, especially towards the dogs.

Allow your neighbors to familiarize themselves with your new dog so that they can easily recognize him or her in the event that the dog ever gets loose or goes missing.

Bring your new dog to the vet, to introduce them to each other, to address any health or behavioral concerns you may have, and to get a new rabies certificate.

Take your new dog with you in the car to as many places as possible. This will help both with their socialization and in NOT associating car rides with possibly traumatic visits to the vet or groomer.

For any behavioral issues you can’t resolve on your own, ask your vet for the name of a professional to help you.

Most importantly, remember that making your new dog the newest member of your family is a process, with frustrating steps back and fulfilling steps forward.

Remember too that patience, although sometimes difficult, is vital, and that consistency is the key.

Your reward? A long, loving and happy life with your new dog, and the satisfaction of knowing that you have saved his or her life.

Nomi Berger is the bestselling author of seven novels, one work of non-fiction, two volumes of poetry, and hundreds of articles. She lives in Toronto with her adopted Maltese, Mini, and has been writing as a volunteer for animal rescue groups in Canada and the U.S.A. since 2013.