Introducing a New Dog to Your Home

You just got a new dog or a foster dog and you’re super excited.  Maybe the dog has had a tough life so far, maybe you’re not sure.  Either way, you’re super excited to have a new family member and you can’t wait to show him/her all of the affection you have.

STOP!  All that affection could create separation anxiety or cause your dog to get protective.

If no other animals in the house:

The first thing I do when I bring a dog into a house without other animals is give him/her freedom to explore. If there are other people in the house, we do a quick introduction of the people. The dog gets to smell everyone, maybe get a treat or two from each person.

At first, I’ll walk around the house with the dog (not really talking to the dog) just to make sure there are no potty accidents and they don’t start eating something they shouldn’t.  I usually just do a once over.

Then everyone leaves the dog alone.

I sit on the couch and do something unrelated to the dog. I don’t talk to the dog, pet the dog, or interact in any way (unless there is a behavioral or medical thing that needs to be addressed).  Essentially, I’m giving the dog freedom to continue to explore on his/her own and the opportunity to settle down on their own.

The first time your dog settles (lays down and looks relaxed), you can say “Good boy/girl”.  By speaking, your dog will likely get up. That’s okay.  Continue what you were doing and wait for them to settle again. Usually, if you get up, the dog will follow you, so I try to be sure I take in a new dog when I have the time to stay settled myself.

Settling is really important. Dogs can be nervous in a new environment.  They don’t really know what’s going on.  I think the most important thing to do with a new dog, is let them calm down and relax.  If your dog is panting, it could be a sign your dog is nervous.

When a dog is nervous, they may exhibit behaviors that they may not normally exhibit.  If you add people putting their hands in the dogs face, or trying to force the dog to play, it can be very overwhelming for the dog.

If other dogs in the house:

It’s extremely important to do proper introductions in a controlled environment. Introduce each dog slowly and individually. Don’t let all dogs out at once.  If possible, have the other dogs go out for a walk or to a dog park when you bring the new dog home. Let the new dog sniff the house without other animals.

Then, you can introduce the new dog to the other dogs one at a time.  If possible, I try to do introductions in an outside location that doesn’t have too many other distractions. This helps the dogs to focus on each other and not “this is my house.”

With both dogs on a leash, slowly walk towards each other.  Try to keep a loose leash.  But if the dog is pulling, try to control how quickly the dogs approach. Try to keep them from jumping on each other right away.  If you know a dog is a jumper, I usually have the jumper sit, I hold on to the collar and stay close to the ground with them.  Then I have the other dog slowly approach.

After they sniff each other a little, if they seem good, you can go for a short walk together, then go inside.

Since you don’t know how they will react to toys, bones and food around each other, pick up everything before the dogs are both in the house. Slowly introduce 1 item at a time to see if there is any resource guarding.

Why did I start doing this?

I took in a black lab years ago.  She was a 100% outside dog before I got her and she didn’t get much attention.  So when she got to my house, I kept her inside and loved on her all weekend.  We were both happy.When Monday came, I put her out back and went to work.  When I got home from work, I could hear her barking.  My neighbor was outside and worked from home so I asked if she was doing that all day.  He said, without a smile, “Yes.”

When Monday came, I put her out back and went to work.  When I got home from work, I could hear her barking from the driveway.  My neighbor was outside and worked from home so I asked if she was doing that all day.  He said, without a smile, “Yes.”

Now I felt worse. I created a separation anxiety situation because I didn’t let her out of my sight for the first 2 days I had her, then to her… I suddenly left.

That was 10 years ago and the first time I had to work on correcting separation anxiety.  Luckily, we figured it out within a week and she was good to go.

Resource Guarding People:

In my opinion, another reason to give your new dog space, in the beginning, is to try to prevent resource guarding. Some dogs get really protective of their people.  I find if the dog has more “doggy alone time” they don’t tend to become as much of a resource guarder towards people.

Don’t worry.

Just because you’re giving your dog “doggy alone time” doesn’t mean you won’t build a bond with your dog. You will still build a bond, perhaps even stronger, and definitely more appropriate bond.

Within a couple of hours of getting my new foster dog, he is already settling, in his crate of all places, on his own.  And so starts the beginning of crate training!

Once your dog has settled down.

After I notice the new dog has settled down for a bit, maybe 10 – 20 mins. I’ll take the dog for a walk.  Don’t worry to much about jumping or pulling on the leash at this point. Each area will be addressed.  If the dog is pulling excessively, keep the walk on the shorter side.

When you are back from the walk, grab a toy and try to play with the dog. Play for as long as you or the dog wants. Once you’re done playing, repeat the steps above to have the dog settle.

Try to get a long settle in. Maybe an hour or so. Enough for the dog to take a nap. Again, you’ll likely have to be settled to so you don’t disturb the dog.

When you’re ready, before you get up and disturb the dog, call the dog to you.  This can start your next interaction with him/her.  You can play, walk, pet… interact in any way you want.

Continue to alternate through periods of interacting with your dog and having your dog settle.  Once the dog seems comfortable in the home and can relax, we’ll start training in other areas.

How to Pick a Dog Professional

Any one can call themselves a dog trainer.  There is no National Certification to be a dog sitter or dog trainer. Anyone can (and will) call themselves a dog trainer even if they have never taken 1 class on dog training. I know because I did it!

When I first started dog sitting, I also said I was a dog trainer because I would, in fact, teach your dog basic behaviors such as walking nicely on a leash or how to sit. I was even teaching a foster dog to open the fridge!

There are plenty of videos and books out there to self-teach yourself, but how you are you supposed to tell the difference when everyone qualifies themselves as “Dog Trainer”?

It wasn’t until I went through an actual program for dog training, that I realize how much more there is to dog training.

If you read the previous blog post about Why I Became a Dog Trainer, you’ll know I made mistakes picking a Dog Trainer for the first time.

Don’t make the same mistakes I made.  Below are some questions that you can ask potential dog professionals so you don’t leave your dog in the wrong hands:

  1. How long have you been working with dogs?
  2. Where did you learn how to train dogs?
  3. Describe the experience you have with my specific breed.  Or what are some specifics related to my breed?
  4. What tactics do you use to train?  And why did you choose these tactics over another?
  5. What do you do if my dog doesn’t respond to what you’re asking?
  6. How long will you train my dog per day?
  7. How can you tell if my dog is making progress?
  8. How long will it take my dog to learn XYX?

Most Importantlymeet the specific people who will interact with your dog.  Trust your instincts.

Great, you have the questions. Now what?

Read how I answer these questions and some watch-outs to look for in others responses:

How long have you been working with dogs?

I grew up with dogs but it wasn’t until I started fostering dogs in 2004 that I started to learn how to formally train them.  I fostered many different breeds and work with a local rescue to help other foster parents train their dogs. In addition, I started dog sitting in 2012, which I have since expanded to Professional Dog Training.

Where did you learn how to train dogs?

I started to learn how to dog train by taking classes with a local rescue organization and I paid for agility lessons for my dog. In the beginning, I watched a lot of videos and read about it. When I decided to take my training to the next level, I became a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner (KPA CTP).

Watch-out – There is nothing wrong with self-taught. But self-taught people should still be able to refer you to a book, video or technique they use. Trial and error with the dogs is not enough in my opinion. 

Describe the experience you have with my specific breed.  Or what are some specifics related to my breed?

Obviously, this answer will vary.  You’ll want to look up some basic information about your dog’s breed so you can tell if the professional you are speaking with is familiar.  Research your breed here.

What tactics do you use to train?  And why did you choose these tactics over another?

Positive Reinforcement, Click Training.  After extensive research, I determined this training method was the best. Many scientific studies have been conducted to prove that dogs who are clicker trained using Positive Reinforcement, learn faster and remember longer.  The science is a continuation of B.F. Skinner and Pavlov’s work.

The click is exactly the same every time, eliminating confusion that can be caused when you use your voice alone.

Watch-out – Regardless of the methods a person uses, you want to see they have done research into other ways to train. If the professional is not open to at least knowing what’s out there, your dog might get trained but it might not be the most effective or rewarding way to do it.

What do you do if my dog doesn’t respond to what you’re asking?

The first time, nothing.  Positive Reinforcement only rewards correct responses and ignores incorrect responses.  If your dog continues to not respond, that is a sign that I need to relook at my training. Likely, I need to break the training down into a smaller, easier step for your dog to understand.  I will also look at the environment where your dog is not responding.  If possible, I move your dog into a more distracting free area so your dog has a better chance to succeed at training.

Watch-out – Pushing on the dog to ‘show’ your dog what to do or tugging on a leash can cause your dog to dislike training, therefore, making the behavior less reliable. 

How long will you train my dog per day?

It depends on your dog. We will break training into 2-5 minute sessions and conduct several throughout the day.  It’s best to end training on a positive note, so if your dog is getting tired, we don’t keep going just to fill 30 minutes. It’s better to mix breaks into the training and it’s most important to watch to see what your dog needs.

Watch-out – Long training sessions are exhausting for dogs new to training and they don’t get as much out of it.  The length of training can be extended for dogs who are more experienced.  Also, certain breeds can handle longer training better. Watch out for any answers that aren’t “I watch your dog and stop when your dog needs to stop.”

How can you tell if my dog is making progress?

We measure the rate of reinforcement.  Meaning we count the number of correct responses in a given 2-minute training session. Your dog is making progress if the rate of reinforcement is going up for a particular behavior.  Keep in mind, as you add distractions or make the behavior more difficult, you’ll see a temporary drop in the rate of reinforcement, but it should begin to increase again.

How long will it take my dog to learn XYX?

It depends. Every dog learns at a different pace and has a different history of reinforcement (positive or negative).  It’s best to meet the dogs in person before any estimates can be made.

Watch-out – Be leery of trainers who guarantee they can get any dog to the same final outcome in a set period of time. 

Why I became a Dog Trainer

I was out of options. My regular dog sitter was not available and I didn’t have a back-up.  I had a pit bull at the time so I couldn’t leave her with just anyone even though she was extremely friendly.

I decided to take her to a local board and train. I thought I might as well do a little training if she’s going to be in a boarding place.

It wasn’t very long after I got home that realized I made a mistake.

My dog just wasn’t happy.  She would just glare at me. A glare I had never seen from her before.  And it got worse anytime I did something the trainer had told me to do.

Within a few hours, I quickly threw out all of the advice the trainer gave me and showered my dog with just love and fun.  I needed my happy go lucky dog back!

Things started to get better at home and I was able to go back to how I was training her before the board and train.  But something was still off. Out in public, she started barking at golden retrievers. It took a couple of times before I realized it golden retriever specific.  She had never had a problem with dogs before. She loved playing with everyone!

It got to point where one time she went as far as pulling me off my feet because a golden was near her. I was able to hold on to her and got her out of that situation very quickly.

Then I frantically went to work looking for information about what happened and how I could fix it.

I was about to give up.  There was so much contradicting information out there that I just couldn’t figure out who was right or what I should do.

Then, I found a book called, “Click to Calm” by Emma Parsons.  The introduction talked about her struggles with her dog Ben, oddly enough, a Golden Retriever.  I related to every word she wrote.  And when I read she had a solution, I couldn’t help but look into it further.

Then I learned about Clicker Training.  Specifically taught by Karen Pryor Academy.  Once I found Emma, it seemed like everything I read afterward keep leading me back to Karen Pryor Academy.

I couldn’t trust anyone else to train my dog after what happened the first time, so I decided to train her myself.

And so, I enrolled in the Karen Pryor Professional Dog Trainer program.

I’m happy to report that my dog, Bella, successfully completed the course with me and since starting clicker training, has not reacted to golden retrievers.  Even so, I ensure she is only put in situations she can handle and proper dog introductions are made when she meets a new dog.

She walks nicely on a leash, doesn’t jump on company, gives me her attention when I ask, and even licks her lips when I say yummy!  

Even more importantly, Bella actually enjoys training now!

The angry glare has been replaced with a tail wagging full of excitement.  That makes for a happy dog and a happy you!