Canine Q & A: Bringing Home Your New Best Friend

This week for Canine Q & A we asked our friend Crystal over at Ruff House: What is the biggest mistake owners make when bringing home a new dog?

“I am going to give you the “BLUF” or the Bottom Line Up Front: The biggest mistake many dog owners make when bringing home a new dog is giving the dog too much freedom too soon.

Animal shelters are very stressful and regardless of how long a dog is there they will experience a lot of stress. They may have just been abandoned by their family or brought in as a stray animal into this new environment. One with lots of strange noises, barking, strangers, different feeding times, lack of exercise and exposed to aggressive dogs. It is no less stressful for a puppy from a breeder that has recently been taken away from its mother and littermates. So, here they are, in your home, you’re excited, your kids are excited and what you have is a dog or puppy that is already pretty stressed in a new and also stress-inducing environment. Then you let them off leash and let them cruise around your house with no direction, guidance or limitations. The dog has no idea where they are, how long they are staying and where they can go to feel safe.

Allowing your new dog to free roam your house, check out all the rooms on their own can cause the dog to just pace around the house because they don’t know where to go and calmly relax or settle as I like to call it. This often leads to an “accident” in the house because they don’t know where it’s appropriate to pee and they certainly don’t know which door takes them out to the right place to go to potty. In addition to that, the pacing causes increased heart rate, blood pressure and overall, more stress.

So, a best first step when bringing that new dog or puppy inside your home is to do it on leash. Start by leading them to the area of the house that you will want them to spend most of their time. Ideally, you will have placed and assembled their crate before they even come to the house. From there, take them outside to go potty so they learn what door they need to go to, to do their business. Crate training will give them a safe place to go and relax, help with housebreaking and prevent any destructive behavior.

It’s best to remain on a routine and be consistent as possible with your new dog. Dogs thrive on routine and they are more relaxed when they know what’s going to happen next and they don’t have to guess when they’re going to be fed or go outside to go pee and poop. So feed them around the same time every day, take them out frequently (every 1–2 hours) at first to help them with housebreaking. Additionally, you should take them out for daily walks to help burn energy and de-stress. So in the beginning have them on leash tethered to you while you’re in the house. Keep them within your sight, in an exercise pen, or in their crate to prevent them from pacing around, soiling, or destroying items in your house. As the weeks progress you can start to lead them into different rooms so they get use to where things are. As they become comfortable in your home (the time frame will vary with every dog) and with their new routine then you can start to give them more freedom. This will teach them to look to you for guidance rather than acting on their impulses.

So going through some simple steps like those above, will provide your new best friend an environment in which to find peace. And within a short amount of time they will bring great joy to you and your family.” —Crystal Blaker, Ruff House Dog Training

I couldn’t agree more with Crystal’s response and have to admit that I’ve been guilty of making this mistake in the past, back when I simply didn’t know any better. So many undesirable behaviors can occur when a dog is given too much freedom and no direction—from annoyances like chewing on furniture and having accidents in the house, to more serious incidents like snapping at children or fighting with resident dogs. Structure and decompression time are essential for a dog to adjust to a new environment—if more dogs were given a slower and more controlled adjustment period, fewer would end up returned to the shelter so soon after adoption.