As a foster carer of greyhounds and someone who has adopted two retired greyhounds, we are very experienced in settling new dogs into our home. We’ve had dogs who walked straight in like they just knew what was expected, to those that were so timid and shy they wouldn’t come within 5 metres of us. We’ve had high strung dogs, scared dogs and bouncy dogs. But with each one we have learned something new but how we help them relax in has remained consistent. This article will give you tips on how to transition a new dog into your home.

Adopting a dog from a shelter gives us the good feels. We are giving a dog a second, sometimes third or fourth chance at a happy life with a family. But getting them established into your family takes a little work, just like adopting a puppy!

A lot of people assume that because they are adopting an adult dog they will be perfect! No behaviour problems, fully toilet trained and know exactly what they need to do to ‘be a good dog.’ Some dogs do slot in beautifully, but there are a large number of dogs that don’t. They toilet inside, they jump all over you and don’t listen to you. This can be very frustrating for many and for some dogs this means a trip back to the shelter because it was ‘too hard’

Set them up for success

There are things you can do to set your new dog up for success, with the first one being to lower your expectations of the dog’s behaviour. Don’t expect them to be perfect, expect them to make a mistake or two with you there to guide them through and show them the right thing to do.

Ask lots of questions of the adoption group

Some adoption groups have lots of information about a dog’s history, but most don’t. However, they can tell you what they have observed of the dog while in the shelter or in a foster home. Knowing things like their routine, cues they know like sit, drop, bed, stay, knowing what food they are eating and times of meals and if they’ve been in foster care, where they slept can go a long way to transitioning them to your home life.

When we send a foster hound off to a new family they get a document from me that tells them all they need to know about their hound. Below is an example of what I provide. If you didn’t get answers to these questions, get back in touch with the group and ask them. Adoption groups want their dogs to be successful in their new home and are more than happy to answer questions, even after adoption.

Example handover notes for adpoters

This is an example of the information I provide to new adopters and can be used as a guide of what you should know about your new dog

Agreed family rules

One of the things that can make your newly adopted dog fail is inconsistency in house rules! Imagine you go to a new workplace and 3 people in your new team tell you 3 different things about office etiquette. Would you be totally confused about what is expected of you? This is how a dog can feel if the family is NOT on the same page with house rules.

‘Mum lets me on the couch but dad is yelling at me to get off?’ ‘But the kids let me up on their bed and now I’m being sent outside? What is going on?!’

As a family sit down and write down the list of rules. Here is a guide on some of the things you should decide:
1. Is the dog allowed on the furniture when ever they feel like it? Or is it by invitation only?
2. Where is the dog going to sleep? Inside or outside?
3. If they are inside, will it be in someone’s bedroom or in a crate or in the laundry?
4. Where will the dog be when you are out or at work? Inside or outside?
5. Will the dog have to sit before getting any food?
6. Will the dog be allowed to jump up on you when you first get home? Think about this one very carefully because this can become a habit to get attention all the time and guests may not like a jumping dog!
7. Will the dog be allowed to hang around at the table during meals? Do you want a begging dog staring at you?
8. Will the dog get table scraps? If yes, will it be straight from your plate during dinner or as a reward later for being polite and staying away?
9. Will the dog be allowed to follow you into the kitchen and lie at your feet while you are cooking?
10. Will your dog have access to the whole house, or just certain areas?

When you’ve agreed on the rules, pin them up in a place where everyone will see them as a reminder to help your new dog be ‘a good dog’.

Toilet training

Most people assume that because they have adopted an adult dog that they will be fully toilet trained and never toilet in the home. Some dogs are great, but others not so much so the best thing to do is go back to basics, like training a puppy.

Make sure you take them out on lead:
1. When you first get home. Dogs usually toilet after travel and you are starting to show them where you want them to go.
2. After your dog has woken from sleep
3. After they have had a big play
4. After they have had their meals
5. Before bed time at night
6. First thing in the morning when they wake up
7. Every hour or two in the first day or two
When you are toilet training any dog follow these simple steps:
1. Always have them on lead
2. Don’t talk to them or play with them. You need to be boring like a tree!
3. Continue walking around the yard until they go. Movement helps get things going
4. As they are starting to toilet, put a word on it like “toilet” or “wee time” etc. This is the start of teaching them a toilet cue
5. When they are just finishing, praise them with “good boy” or “good girl”. You don’t want to do this too early in the process because it could distract them from what they are doing!
6. Once they are finished they are free to roam about

The more a dog toilets in the same place, the more they will be drawn to that same area. Adult dogs, unless they have a medical condition will pick up the toilet training very quickly but it is still worth spending a couple days back in basics to make sure they know for sure where they need to go. And continuing taking them out if they spend a lot of their day inside.

Unwanted behaviour

We’ve had calls for dog training from families who have had their new dog for 2 or 3 days. They called because their dog wasn’t listening to them, was jumping on them and pulling their arm out on a walk.

My advice to each of these families is the same, give them 2 weeks. Start using food rewards and ask them for some basic behaviours like sit or drop and reward a lot! Use verbal corrections like “no” or “ahh ahh” when they are doing something you don’t like. If in 2 weeks your dog is still not listening to you, then we’ll start training. Do date, when I touch base with those families 2 weeks later, they tell me that the dog is listening and behaving much better.

If your new dog is exhibiting unwanted behaviours after the first couple weeks at home then call a trainer for help or enrol in group classes. Just give them time in the beginning to figure it out.

Get in touch if you need help settling in your new rescue dog.