The day you bring home your new dog is exciting, exhilarating, and more than a little bit scary. Whether your new dog is a puppy, young adult, or mature dog, you quickly realize how little you know your new best friend. Judging from the confused but affectionate expression on your dog’s face, she is feeling the same way. Well, here we are. Now what do we do? Bonding with your adopted dog will soon be as natural as loving her, but at the beginning there are things you can do to get to know each other while building trust, establishing boundaries, and working on basic communication.
It is important to take it slowly with your new dog, especially if she has come from an abusive or neglectful background. Even if your dog comes from a home where she has never been taught boundaries, and is bouncing off your walls and furniture, keep in mind that a traumatic experience with you now could hurt the trust before you can even build it.
Let your dog come to you. Many dogs require several days of sleep and rest before they even seem to notice the humans in the house. If you can imagine the sleep deprivation that a sensitive dog might experience in a shelter or crowded foster situation, this makes sense. Even puppies may take a few days to adjust to being without litter mates and their mother before looking to you for engagement. During these first few days, be a calm, warm, affectionate presence in your dog’s life. Even if you don’t intend to have your dog sleep in the same room as you, it may be a good idea to put her crate in your room for the first few nights, so that your new dog knows that you are still near her, and so that she can grow accustomed to your scent and associate it with peace and security.
When your dog does begin seeking you out, and especially if she is inviting play by offering toys or play bowing or mouth playing with you, it is time to start trying out some activities to actively bond with your dog.
Give and Take Games
When bonding with your adopted dog, it is important to identify and address any toy or food reactiveness, as well as preventing such problems, by playing give and take games. These games are simple, and work by teaching your dog that you always have something better, so there’s no point in guarding whatever she has. Give your dog a toy and let her play with it, then call her to you and present her with another toy. Make the new toy appealing and invite her to play with it. As soon as she drops the toy she has, take it, reward her, and give her the new toy. This is a great time to introduce commands like “bring it” and “drop it” as well. Practice the same technique with treats in return for kibble, juicy bones in exchange for bland ones, etc. The idea is to make sure your dog is comfortable with having possessions given and taken away.
Bath time is an important bonding process with your new dog. While dogs are inclined to hate getting wet and rubbed all over with disgusting smelling soap, they enjoy being pet, scratched, and gently handled by their human, and they love the frisky way they feel after a bath. Bath time is the perfect time to ease into touching your dog’s mouth, tail, feet, and other areas where she may normally be uncomfortable with being touched. Move slowly but confidently, and concentrate on gently scratching your dog in ways that relax her. Rubber tools with blunt nubs for working soap into the coat are also wonderful for massaging your dog into loving her bath. A successful bath builds trust in your dog that you can get her through an uncomfortable and even scary situation.
Come for Treats and Hide and Seek
Calling your dog and rewarding with treats is a wonderful way to build a recall, teach a name if it’s new, and associate yourself with yummy treats and happiness. Call your dog frequently and randomly to build an immediate response that will translate well to performing with outdoor distractions. Hide and Seek follows the same premise, except that you will hide before calling your dog. The excitement of seeking you out and getting the reward is more fulfilling for your dog than simply being called for a reward. It also encourages your dog to build up suspense and desire to find you so that the reward of your affection is more meaningful.
The first walks with your dog are the foundation for how you expect your dog to interact with the world. Use a securely fitting harness until you know how your new dog will react to the leash, and it may be wise to use a chest fitting harness or face halter if your dog is powerful and you worry about controlling her if she should bolt. Bring the treats your dog likes best to motivate her to focus on you, but anticipate her not caring about food in the excitement of being outdoors, especially if she has been pent up for some time. It is important that pulling, aggression or excessive barking at people or dogs, and fighting the leash are not tolerated.
Equally important when bonding with your adopted dig is that your dog feel confident and happy with her walk, not fearful of you and the leash. If your dog behaves in a way that is unacceptable, simply change direction. By changing direction, you take ownership of the walk, and indicate to your dog that you are not pleased with her behavior without hurting your relationship with her. Your walks with your dog may be full of twists and turns for awhile, but it will be worth it as your dog learns what is expected of her gently. If you have lots of problems with pulling, your dog probably needs more exercise. Run or bike with her, or take her somewhere she can run free until she can control herself on leash.
Enjoy getting to know your new dog. Treat her with patience and understanding consistently, and you will have a great best friend for years to come.