This last weekend’s Clear the Shelters event was an all-hands-on deck kind of day; we had dozens of staff and volunteers making good use of their match-making skills to find homes for 98 pets. Yes, you read that right. We were able to send 98 pets to new loving homes with excited animal lovers. (Insert many exclamation points here.)
It was such an awesome day. There are many great reasons to adopt pets from shelters like ours – but one great advantage is that our team of match-makers do more than just help you find your perfect pet companion, but they are also well trained in helping new pet owners get off on the right foot, introducing their pet to new surroundings, establishing routines, and getting acquainted with other members of the family.
Since I listened to adoptions counselors handing out great advice all day, I figured I’d pass a little of that wisdom on to readers! Here are some basics to get you started when you decide to adopt a pet for the first time. Even if you’re a veteran pet owner, these are still a great reminder:
Set the stage before your new pet comes home:
- Stock up on swag – Stop by our Shelter Shop or local pet store to buy everything you need, such as a leash, collar, ID tag, crate or gates (if needed), bed, bowls, food, treats, toys, grooming supplies, waste bags, and enzymatic cleaner.
- Dog-Proof your house by looking for and removing hazardous items and valuable items that the dog could chew.
- Staging – Determine where the pet’s crate, bed, and bowls will be placed. Decide where food, treats, and supplies will be stored. Determine the house rules for the dog and make sure all family members know what they are.
- Think through routines and how your pet will fit into it. Decide what the dog’s schedule will be for walks, play, training, feeding, and potty time and who will be responsible.
The First Day:
- Determine ahead of time where the dog will ride on the way home. Ideally it’s great to have two people for that first drive home; one to drive and the other to pay attention to the dog. Bring towels just in case the dog gets car sick.
- Bring the dog straight home – try not to run errands on the way.
- Keep it chill. Your new pet needs some time to get used to you and the rest of your family first, as well as get to know their new surroundings. There are lots of places to explore, new smells, and a completely new routine. So it’s best to limit visitors for the first few days so that your new dog isn’t overwhelmed.
- When you arrive home let the dog sniff around the yard or outdoor area near your home on a leash. Bring your dog to your designated potty spot and reward the dog with a treat for going there.
- Introduce your dog to your family members outside, one at a time. Keep it calm and low-key. Let the dog be the one to approach, sniff and drive the interaction. Offering a treat can help the dog to associate family members with good things(food!). No hugging, kissing, picking up, staring at, or patting on the top of the head during the initial introduction. You probably don’t enjoy strangers coming up to you and hugging or kissing you – your new pet probably doesn’t either.
- Stay close to home initially. No major excursions. You need to learn your new dog’s behavior before you can predict how it will respond to different environments.
- Bring your dog into the house on a leash and give them a tour. Try keeping the mood calm and relaxed and redirect any chewing or grabbing of objects with a “leave-it” and offering an appropriate toy.
- Bring your new dog outside often. Pets don’t generalize as well as we do, so even though your dog may have been house trained in its previous home, your dog needs to learn your house rules, which includes a house training refresher.
- Make sure your new pet gets ample “quiet time” so they can acclimate to the new surroundings. Be observant of their responses and go at the dog’s pace.
- If you have a resident dog(s), have the initial meeting outside (one dog at a time if you have several). Don’t rush it. Keep the leashes loose with no tension. Make sure they meet in a food-free, toy-free zone. Don’t leave them alone together until you are absolutely sure it is safe to do so. Watch and manage all interactions between the dogs initially. When walking the dogs a different person should walk each dog.
- If you have a resident cat(s), keep the cat secure until you know how the dog will react to it. Use doors, gates, and leashes to prevent contact initially. Make sure the cat has escape options. Keep initial encounters brief. Manage all interactions.
Establish Daily Routines:
- Sleeping- Initially the crate or bed should be in the room you would like the dog to sleep in eventually. The area should be safe, dog-proofed, easily cleaned, cozy and quiet, with familiar scents. Don’t put your new dog in an uninhabited area like the garage or basement. That’s just mean.
- Feeding- Check with your vet about what the recommended food and amounts should be for your dog based on breed, size, age, activity level, and health. If you have more than one dog, I recommend feeding them in separate areas to avoid any food guarding issues.
- Walks– Keep the walks short at first (5-10 minutes) until you get to know your new dog’s behavior and how it responds to different stimuli. Avoid interaction with other dogs and unfamiliar people until you and your dog are comfortable.
- Toys are fun! Use of the crate and appropriate toys are great ways to keep your new dog out of trouble. Chew toys are a great way to direct your dog’s attention to appropriate toys, and away from objects that you don’t want your dog to destroy.
- Prevent separation anxiety– Use the crate and a toy in combination with leaving for short periods and coming back several times a day, starting with your first day with your new dog. Don’t make a big fuss of coming or going.
Here’s the bottom line – always remember to manage your dog’s environment from the beginning so that you set them up to succeed. In other words, prevent inappropriate behavior from happening so you won’t have to correct it.
Photo Caption: Knuckles the first dog to find his new home during our Clear the Shelters adoption event on Saturday, August 17.