The first day you bring home a new dog is exciting, especially if this is your first dog. I’ve learned so much about dogs since Sora and have completely changed how I behave around my dogs, especially during those first few weeks.
As exciting as the new family addition is, remember that your dog is likely scared or overwhelmed and still sees you as a stranger.
In addition to dog proofing the house and buying gear like leashes, food bowls, and toys, I believe that the most important way you can set the stage for the rest of your time together is to implement the following guidelines the moment you walk through the door.
17 Essential Tips for Creating Good Behavior After You Bring Home a New Dog
After working with various trainers, learning from friends and professionals on Instagram, and watching YouTube videos, I have completely changed how I view my relationship with my dogs.
Some of these guidelines may feel difficult or restrictive, but I’ve found that it increases our bond. My dog learns to trust me and looks to me as a leader by the rules and structure I set and I can reward them with earned affection that doesn’t lead to misbehavior down the line.
Give these a try and see if you notice a difference between the dogs you’ve had before in your life or even the dogs you see out in the world. If you want a well-behaved dog, then these are the steps to take.
1. Establish Rules
Dogs love structure. WIthout it, they will create their own rules, which leads to destructive behaviors such as garbage raiding, chewing items they’re not supposed to, and developing guarding behaviors.
Limit access to privileges like the furniture and bed over the first several weeks. This will help create a healthy relationship between you and your dog. Eventually, you can introduce these spaces by permission.
2. Hire a Trainer
Before I had even met Sitka, I knew that I would get in touch with a trainer soon after I brought him home. I had been researching and following trainers for a long time on Instagram and knew what kind of training I wanted to use as well as a list of potential trainers soon after I brought him home.
The first time I hired a trainer, I felt like a failure. I had read books and studied training videos on YouTube. I was sure training my wild child would be a piece of cake. It wasn’t.
Rather than spend years feeling frustrated with your dog and not being able to do the activities you want to do together, do yourself a favor and get started with training from the start.
3. Learn Your Dog’s Language
In addition to understanding dog body language, take the time to really learn what your own dog is saying through their different barks, tail flicks, and head perks.
Taking the time to learn your dog’s language will build the trust between you and your dog because you’ll learn when to remove them from situations if you see that they are uncomfortable.
Knowing their individual nuances and sounds will also alert you when they are about to reach their threshold.
4. Go for Structured Walks
One of the most important skills my trainer taught me in our first lesson was the art of the structured walk He showed me how to completely change my idea of what it means to go for a walk with Sitka.
What is a structured walk?
- No sniffing and marking everything in sight
- Continuous movement, especially around triggers
- Human directs full attention on the dog – no music, no phones, no chatting with friends
- No meeting other dogs
- Walking in a heel position with a loose leash
- 90% structure, 10% freedom. Your dog may sniff and pee on release.
Instead of thinking of a walk in terms of a route or distance, I began to think of it in terms of time. We’d set a timer for 20 minutes, and if all we did was walk up and down the same street during that time, then that was our walk.
Those with highly reactive or overly excited dogs, may need to perform these walks inside your home until your dog can exit the door calmly.
This seemingly small adjustment in the way we walked made a huge difference in Sitka’s behavior and reactivity.
5. Socialize Your Dog the Right Way
When you head out on your structured walks or venture out and about, pay close attention to all of the things that cause your dog’s ears to perk, growl, bark, or pant. These are stimuli that make your dog feel anxious or reactive.
Keep a detailed list of everything you see and then spend time working on desensitization to these scary things. Here are a few common triggers for dogs:
- Loud roads
- Delivery trucks
- People in hats
- Other dogs
- Other people
Truly socializing a dog means to expose them to a variety of noises, objects, and experiences so that they can learn that these things are nothing to fear.
We tend to think of socialization as playing with as many dogs and people as possible, which, as I’ve explained here and elsewhere on the blog, is asking for a reactive dog.
6. Use a Leash in the House
Leashes aren’t just for the outdoors! They are great to use inside the house, especially if you have a puppy or have brought a new dog home.
Training starts indoors, which is a very boring location for your dog! You want to begin where there are few distractions and using a leash indoors will better prepare them for the outdoor world.
7. Crate Train
Crates provide a space for your dog to relax (even when you’re home), go when you’re doing scary house chores (like vacuuming), and prepare them for veterinary stays or boarding when you leave on vacation. Most importantly, crates keep them safe when you have to leave them alone and prevents separation anxiety.
I have heard too many stories of dogs escaping (including being struck and killed by cars) or eating food and items that have no business in a dog’s belly, resulting in death or thousands of dollars of veterinary bills. Crates prevent this.
One friend started crate training her dog after she felt bad about keeping him in the crate and so kept him in the bathroom. He decided to chew the toilet supply line and flooded her apartment. His middle name is now Flood.
8. Teach Place
I had never heard of the place command until just a few years ago, but it has now become one of the most important obedience skills I’ve taught my dogs.
Place teaches your dog to chill. Yes, even your really hyper active, super energetic dog.
It allows you to get work done at home without your dog getting into things. You can have a phone meeting without worrying about what your dog is doing.
You can enjoy a beer with friends at a brewery without having to constantly manage your dog.
You can paddle board without constantly teetering back and forth trying not to fall in the water (though, that will do wonders for your abs).
9. Slow Down
Sitka is an eager dog. He enthusiastically jumps into the car, learns new tricks while performing old ones before I ask, he’ll rush out the door and jump out of the car if I were to allow him. Since I want to practice calm behavior, I slow everything down.
I make him wait in a sit at thresholds. He has to sit and wait until I invite him up into the car. He may not exit the car without a release cue.
When I see him starting to become animated at another dog, person, or squirrel up ahead, I slow our walk. I do the same when he is trying to run away from scary things like the garbage truck or mail truck.
Slowing down shows them that you are in control. It also interrupts their thought process and keeps the focus on you.
10. Hand Feed
Hand feeding not only offers the opportunity to train your dog, it also teaches them that good things come from you.
Hand feeding also:
- Builds trust between you and your dog. They can’t live without food, so they literally need you to survive.
- Prevents resource guarding
- Teaches impulse control
- Prevents eating too fast
- Prevents overeating
11. Avoid Dog Parks
But how will you ever socialize your dog without a dog park?! (See #5 for the answer)
Dog parks are the last place you want to take your new dog to socialize with other dogs. Rather, they are a great place to take your dog if you want them to get into a fight, learn poor behaviors, and develop fears and anxiety.
- Dog parks are unnatural settings for new dogs to meet
- Dogs with pent up energy will engage in rude behaviors
- There is no structure
- Energies among dogs are severely mismatched
- You are trusting strangers that their dogs interact well with other dogs
- High likelihood dog will learn poor behavior from other dogs
- Most dog owners won’t understand dog body language, which can lead to fights
But where is an apartment dweller supposed to exercise their dog?! (see #4 for the answer)
Dog parks can also harbor diseases. You have no idea whether someone’s dog is vaccinated, has kennel cough, canine distemper or another communicable disease. They are especially dangerous for puppies under a year old.
12. No On-Leash Greetings
SImilar to dog park settings, on-leash greetings are not natural ways for dogs to meet one another. Further, allowing your dog to go up to any and every dog can create leash reactivity and other unwanted behaviors.
Leashes are great tools for walking your dog, but they cause a lot of problems when it comes to meeting other dogs.
- They take away a dog’s ability to leave a situation if they feel uncomfortable. With only six feet of space to flee, it leaves your dog with only the option to fight.
- They foster leash reactivity. Your dog learns that lunging and barking create space between other dogs.
- Dogs sniff butts to greet. Leashes encourage face-to-face greetings, which dogs view as threatening.
Dogs don’t need to meet hundreds of dogs in order to become “socialized.” They need several positive interactions with calm dogs in structured settings.
Instead, arrange a structured dog walk with a friend who has a calm dog. Start with a lot of space between the two dogs, gradually decreasing the space as the dogs feel comfortable.
Walk in a single file and allow one dog to sniff the rear of the lead dog for a moment, switching places to give the other dog the same opportunity.
I explain in more detail in this post about introducing your nervous dog to other dogs.
13. Rethink How You Play with Toys
Does your dog go through their toys in a matter of seconds? Even the ones designed for super chewers?
Sitka is a super chewer. If I gave him a toy to just chew on, he’d destroy it and my bank account would have a lot less money. I live pretty minimally and don’t have a lot of toys for Sitka, which means that I also want them to last.
What I do have are several high quality toys that I use with purpose. Frisbee is a job. Sitka has to earn every toss by performing a trick or obedience skill. We play for a specified amount of time and then the toy is put away.
I use toys as a training and engagement tool with my dogs. When they have the freedom to access them whenever they please, it devalues the reward.
If you can’t get outside for whatever reason, toys are a great way to provide mental stimulation for your dog.
14. Facilitate Controlled Greetings with New People
Your friends really won’t enjoy this one, but this is crucial to curb unwanted behaviors and prevent your dog from feeling even more overwhelmed than they already are.
New friends can be both overly exciting and overwhelming to a dog. In order to foster calm interactions with new people, keep your new dog tethered to your waist, in their crate, or tethered in place and ask your friends to ignore your dog.
Since you’re also still getting to know your dog, keeping your dog away from new people keeps your friend safe. Sitka nearly broke the nose of the first person I let him (and I knew better, I swear!), hours after bringing him home.
15. Treat Your Dog as a Blank Slate
Those of us who adopt tend to make up stories about our dogs that can determine the relationship we have with them. We make assumptions about abuse, neglect, and other circumstances that led to the behaviors they display today.
Forget about the stories and work with the dog you have as you have them. Stories create excuses for allowing behaviors.
16. Don’t Go Overboard with the Affection
You’ll naturally want to smother your new dog with affection once you bring them home. Resist the urge. You are still a stranger to them and you don’t know them either.
Your dog may not enjoy being pet, hugged, and squeezed. Stay away from their face especially as you learn what they like and don’t like. Give them some space and let them tell you when they seek affection.
17. Set them Up for Success
Friends and family don’t often understand why I am so strict about allowing greetings with Sitka, or why I don’t allow him to go up to other dogs. They view me putting him in place or keeping him on leash in their home as restrictive.
Yet, at the same time, they comment on how well behaved he is. They are amazed that he doesn’t bark or wander around when we’re on a phone call. They ask me how I do it.
I set him up for success. If I don’t allow him to do the behaviors I don’t want, then he won’t do them. I don’t allow him to sit at the door and watch the squirrels unless he has proven that he can do so calmly.
I aim to never put him in a situation where I will have to correct him because I want to boost his confidence and the likelihood of success.