It’s so exciting to bring home a new dog or puppy! Hopefully you’ve been planning this addition for some time and are prepared for all the changes that will occur in your life now that you have a new family member.
The 3-3-3 Rule of bringing a new dog home
As exciting as it is for you, remember that your new dog doesn’t know they’ve got a new family. From your dog’s perspective they’re in a strange environment, with people who are strangers to them, and they’ve lost everything that was familiar to them. It will take a while to settle in.
A really common rule of adopting a dog and bringing them into your house is called the 3-3-3 rule. What it states is that for 3 days after you bring your dog into your house, the dog is feeling a little bit nervous and overwhelmed. It takes three weeks for your dog to feel settled in and comfortable. And it takes 3 months for your dog to fully bond and form a trust with their new family.
Getting your new dog off to a good start
The first week is not the time to start trying to train obedience behaviors. This is the time to establish a routine, work on house training, condition your dog to feel comfortable in the crate if you're choosing to use a crate. Animals do not learn well if they are stressed. Teaching your dog things like sit, coming when called, and stay can wait until your dog is a little bit more settled in. Think of the first week with your new dog as their orientation week to get started in your house on the right paw.
Whatever rules you plan on implementing for your dog, start them now. If you don't want your dog in certain rooms at the house, put baby gates up to prevent access. If your dog won't be allowed on the furniture, don't let your dog on the furniture. Sending mixed messages is stressful.
When you bring your dog home, the first thing you should do is give a tour of your house. That sounds funny, I know! But if you want your dog to know which door to use to go outside, they're going to need to know where that location is.
So, show your dog the things that your dog needs to know. Where the location of the water dish is, location of the door out of the house where they'll go through to go potty and take them outside into the yard if you have one, show your dog the sleeping area, and where their toys are located.
Just because your dog was house trained in a previous household, doesn't mean that it will seamlessly transfer over into your house. Assume that your dog isn't house trained, and take them out frequently for potty breaks, giving treats right after elimination.
Also don't assume that your dog is not going to chew on your belongings. At this stage your dog doesn't know the house rules, and may not understand that there are items that are legal to chew on, and things that are illegal to chew on.
Put anything movable out of reach, just as you would if you had a toddler walking around your house. Make sure that you are supervising the dog closely, and if you see chewing on items you don't want to be chewed, interrupt and redirect to a toy.
Also make sure that you are praising and rewarding any interaction with appropriate toys. If a dog gets attention for chewing on their own toys, they are more likely to choose those to chew on.
New home stress for a dog
Think about how you feel when you are a guest at somebody's house. It doesn't feel like home, you may be a little bit anxious about that new environment, and you may not sleep as well as you do in your own bed. This is how your dog is feeling.
As exciting as it is for you to have a new family member, remember that your dog does not know you. You are a stranger! Give your dog some time and space to feel more comfortable in their new home. If your dog chooses to engage with you, then you should certainly reciprocate. But if your dog seems to want their own space, you should give it to them.
Children in particular should be supervised with any dog, but especially with a dog that is unknown to your family. Instruct your children to leave your dog alone and allow the dog to come to them. If the dog is interested in interacting with the children that should be the dog’s choice. Children should never be allowed to hug and kiss dogs as most dogs do not like that type of affection, but it is particularly risky with an unknown dog who maybe frightened or uncomfortable with that type of engagement. Until you get to know the dog better, err on the side of caution.
Because going to a new family can be overwhelming and stressful, resist the impulse to invite friends and neighbors out right away to meet the new dog. You don't want to add any more stress to your dog's integration into your household then is necessary.
When dogs are stressed they may not eat. If your dog does not seem hungry the first couple of days, don't worry or assume that your dog isn't food motivated. It could just be the stress of coming to a new environment.
They also may seem a little bit more lethargic. Remember that you are not seeing the dog as they behave normally. What you may assume is a low energy dog, may turn out to be an energetic dog once the stress diminishes.
Hopefully when you first get your dog you'll have a few days at home that you can spend with your dog. This is an excellent time to start getting your dog used to being left alone. You can do this by integrating very short absences throughout the day.
If you need to leave, your dog needs to be confined to a chew proofed room or crate. Do not leave your dog alone without conditioning their space first, as it can cause anxiety and stress.
Adding a dog to a home with other pets
If you have other pets in the home, keep them separated for a day or two with baby gates or pens. It's stressful enough for existing pets to accept a new member of the family, and for the new dog to settle in, without having them directly engage one-on-one.
To introduce dogs together, the best way is to take them on a walk. This gets them on neutral ground, and it gives them options as far as interacting or avoidance. You will need two people for this, one to handle each dog. Have one person take a dog outside and wait until the other person can bring the second dog outside. Going slowly in the introduction gives a better chance of creating a good relationship with the dogs.
Start by walking parallel to each other and give them some space, with one person and dog on opposite sides of the street. Gradually over the space of the walk you can start getting closer and closer to the other person with the other dog. Keep your eye on body language of both dogs. You want interest, but not reactivity. If one dog starts to bark or growl at the other, they may need more space, and you may need to do the introduction over the course of several walks.
It can also be a great idea for each handler to have treats and reinforce the dog anytime they look over at the other dog. This helps to condition the dog to feel good about the other dog’s presence, and builds some good will while they’re still at a distance from each other. Do not use food once you start to get closer to the other dog and handler to avoid food guarding.
The first time the dogs are close enough to meet keep the leashes loose and give them just 15 seconds to engage with each other, and then call the dog away. Avoid using the leash to pull the dogs apart if at all possible since tension on the leash can cause some dogs to react. Assuming this short meeting goes well, walk for a way parallel for a while, and repeat the meeting, allowing it to go longer.
It's not uncommon for the existing dog to be bent out of shape when a new dog is introduced into the family. The 3-3-3 rule works for your current dog as well. It may take a few weeks for the dogs to form a bond and get along well together.
If you're introducing a cat, I would start by having the dog on leash and allow the cat to come and go as wanted. This will prevent the dog from being able to chase, and will make the cat feel safer.
If the dog does seem to want to chase the cat, you will have some training work ahead of you. You'll need to find a way to prevent your dog from practicing the chasing, and teach your dog to be calm around the cat. This may require that you hire a trainer to work with you one on one in your house.
Bringing a puppy home
If you're bringing home a young puppy, you should allow that puppy to sleep in your bedroom for the first few weeks. Remember that the puppy has spent their entire life sleeping with their litter mates and mother. Sleeping in your bedroom with you will make them feel more comfortable.
An additional advantage is that you can hear them stir in the middle of the night and take them out to go potty. This is important because very young puppies typically cannot hold their bladder for an entire night time.
Taking the time to allow your dog to acclimate to your family, the change in environment and new schedule will help your dog by reducing stress. The absence of pressure will also give your dog a chance to build a bond with your family, so that hopefully you’ll have many enjoyable years with your new dog.