Bringing home a new dog for the holidays is a big adjustment for any family. But with a little preparation and patience, starting that everlasting bond with your canine companion can be a lot easier. “Today” pet contributor Tamar Geller gives tips on how to get adjusted to the new member of the family.
When you bring your new dog home, remember that initially he will be a bit disoriented. The dog doesn’t know you, your family or your home. It’s similar to when you start a new job. This adjustment period rarely lasts for more than two weeks. Here are a few things you’ll need to know to welcome the latest addition to your family.
Please be patient with your dog. Most of us have an idea of some ideal dog in our mind and when reality doesn’t match the dream, we can lose our patience. Just like building on the talent that a child has in sports, your dog needs to have a good coach in order to become that ideal dog.
Take your dog to the vet immediately
Take him to the vet right away to check that he’s healthy and to microchip him. The microchip is inserted with a needle in the back of his neck and is no big deal. This can be a lifesaver by helping you locate your dog in case he gets lost.
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Be consistent when training
Make sure that as his coach, you give him clear and consistent messages. Determine the dog rules and make sure that ALL family members are consistent with enforcing them — such as what rooms are okay for him to use, if he’s allowed on the furniture and where he’s allowed to sleep. The key is that any time you catch your dog in behavior you don’t like, use a disapproving tone of voice and then show him what you would like him to do instead. Do not hit or use physical abuse to correct your dog. This can cause him to become nervous aggressive, which means he could bite to defend himself.
Keep to a schedule
Dogs like routine. Have a schedule that he can get used to — when he gets fed, bathroom breaks, walks — and then stick to it.
Crates are a great way to house-train your dog. They should be a size that allows him to stand up, turn around and lay down, but no bigger. Because you’re teaching him to hold it, you don’t want it big enough for him to pee on one side and then lay down on the other. If you’re completely adverse to using one, consider a puppy play pen. One of my clients even used a small shower as the dog’s room — it was very easy to clean! To clean accidents, use paper towels to thoroughly absorb the liquid, then spray with a neutralizing cleanser.
Have the basics
Collar and leash
You’ll need a collar and leash before you bring your dog home. Puppies are constantly growing, so don’t invest in an expensive collar until they’re fully grown. Instead, purchase a simple, flat nylon collar that you can adjust or replace as he grows out of it. Periodically check to see if the collar is too small — you should be able to fit two fingers under the collar at all times. Small breeds should wear aharness when walking. Attaching the leash to a collar can put undo pressure on the neck and result in a collapsed trachea. If your new puppy is too small for even the smallest dog collar or harness, get one designed for a cat.
Get a four- or six-foot leash for walking. DO NOT use a retractable one, as this will teach him that the more he pulls on the leash, the more he is able to pull, simply reinforcing your dog’s pulling behavior when you walk.
I am against using a choke chain or prong collar, particularly when starting a new relationship with your dog. My personal opinion is that using this equipment causes pain that will not strengthen the loving relationship and may actually do just the opposite.
Food and water bowls
The best food and water bowls are Pyrex, glass or white ceramic that have been certified for human use — do not use plastic bowls. The problem with most ceramic dog bowls is that they are not regulated and may contain lead, which is potentially very harmful to dogs.
The best yummy treats should be used when your dog has gone to the bathroom outside. Generally speaking, give treats to reinforce your dog's good behavior. Try not to give your dog treats for free — for just being cute.
Exercise and games
Dogs learn through games, so don’t teach your dog biting games or games where he runs away from you. Games are also the way your dog will bond with you. He should think, “Wow, this person is really cool!” Games and exercise also help make sure your dog isn’t bored. Dogs come up with naughty behaviors — such as archeological digging in the yard, redecorating your house by chewing up the furniture or barking — to alleviate boredom.
Have at least five or six Kongs on hand since you don’t have to replace them as you do with other toys. You can make them interesting and different by stuffing them with a variety of treats, so it’s always new and exciting for your dog. And they’re dishwasher safe.
There’s a great plush toy you can play tug-of-war with called Dr. Noy’s that doesn’t have messy stuffing that your dog can choke on, and has a hidden compartment so that you can remove or replace the squeaker after your dog has “killed” the squeak (as most dogs do within seconds).
Greenies are great chew toys for dogs (and they also help freshen their breath). Just as you would with a teething baby, supervise your dog whenever they’re chewing on something in order to prevent choking. Take it away from them when it gets down to a stub. Get one as big as can comfortably fit in your dog’s mouth — the bigger the greenie, the more time your dog will spend enjoying it. Bully sticks and tennis balls, particularly the squeaky kind, are also great toys to keep your dog occupied.
Investing the time now to coach your dog and help him be the best dog he can be will only strengthen your bond. In time, you will come to the point when all you have to do to communicate with your dog is look at him a certain way, and he will know what you want. In turn, you will learn to read his looks and body language to know what he wants. If you follow this, I'm sure you will have a rewarding and beautiful relationship to look forward to.
For more information on the dogs you saw in Tamar's segment on the show, visit Animal & Care and Control of New York.
For information on animal protection, visit The Humane Society of the United States.
Tamar Geller is an animal behaviorist and founder of Southern California's first cage-free boarding and daycare center, the Loved Dog Company. Click to learn more.