Bringing a new dog home is a joyful and exciting time. Unfortunately, we've all heard stories of this happy time being spoiled by an accident, such as the dog getting loose or injured. When your new dog comes home, he doesn't know the "rules" yet and doesn't realize that he belongs with you. You don't know him either, or what kind of risky situations he might get into until you can teach him manners and expectations. We recently adopted Jack, and he brought a few behaviors that we hadn't encountered with our dogs of many years, who were settled and knew the routine. Luckily we were on our toes and had a safe transition into our home. Here are some tips on precautions to keep your new family member safe.
While you are full of excitement about your new dog, he has possibly experienced stressful events and surroundings. Jack lived in a shelter for three weeks after his owner died and the family surrendered him. Here he is in the shelter kennel showing stress with ears back, looking away, closed mouth, and muscle tension on his brow. Coming home with us meant more changes, with unfamiliar people. Be patient with your new dog who might be confused and anxious. Preparing for the unexpected can keep your dog safe.
Sometimes things go wrong on the ride home. A skittish dog might slip out of a loose collar as you approach the car. Be prepared with equipment for safely walking your dog such as a securely fitting collar or harness and 6-foot leash. It's ideal for your dog to have identification tags with your contact information. New dogs can be anxious during the ride and might have had little training on being calm in the car. Dogs who aren't accustomed to car rides might jump in the front seat and interfere with the driver or jump out of an open window. Some safety precautions include having someone in the backseat with the dog to hold the leash and entertain him with treats, confining him to a crate, or using a car harness for dogs. Keep the windows closed or only slightly open, and put on the child safety lock so your dog can't inadvertently roll the window down.
Outdoor safety at home.
When you arrive at home, walk your dog around in the backyard on leash and observe his behavior. Look for signs that your dog might try to escape. Jack was very focused on fence exits! We'd also read from the owner surrender paperwork that he would run away from home and wander the neighborhood. Does your new dog nudge the fence gate, jump on the fence, or paw at the dirt along the base of the fence? Are there objects he could use to get some height to jump the fence, such as a wood pile? Do you have lattice work that could be climbed? Walking around the yard with your dog will give you useful information, but even if he ignores the fence, it's a good practice to keep him on leash or closely supervised initially. It will take time for him to learn that he lives with you and to pay attention on cue while in the backyard.
Your new dog can get into trouble indoors too before he's learned limits and calm behavior. Keep a drag line (a leash with the handle cut off so it doesn't catch on things) attached to his collar to guide him away from problem situations. Limit his access to a dog-proofed area of the home or closely supervise him so he can't chew electrical cords or consume toxic plants or chemicals. Is he interested in table tops or trash cans? Keep counters clear and trash cans behind closed doors. Pick up tempting chewies like leather shoes and especially be aware of toxic items such as sugar-free gum with xylitol.
Practice brief absences from your dog prior to leaving him alone for even an hour. Not only do you want to get your dog accustomed to alone time gradually, but you also want to know how anxious your dog will be and what he does when left alone. If you are using a crate when leaving your dog alone, research positive methods of gradually introducing the crate, such as these recommendations from Karen Pryor's Clicker Training site.
With some preparation and patience, your new dog can become a family member smoothly and safely. For additional information, we recommend Love Has No Age Limit: Welcoming an Adopted Dog into Your Home by Patricia McConnell and Karen London and Best Friends Animal Society Dogs Resources.