5 Habits to Start Today to Make Your Adopted Dog Healthier and Happier

Blog Post

So, you just adopted a new family member. Congratulations! The first weeks and months with your new dog are an exciting, but also at times a challenging period. You will discover all about his likes and dislikes, which games and treats he enjoys – and perhaps also encounter some behavioral difficulties. 

Here are some ideas to make the first days, weeks and months with your pup as easy and joyful as possible and set you up for a happy life together!

#1 Routines Help!

Before your new dog found his way into your home, he went through a lot of changes. Moving from his first home to the shelter and then to you is a lot to process for the dog.

Creating routines that he can rely on will help him feel calmer and adjust quicker.

These routines can help dogs destress and settle into their new home. They can come in different ways: You could take your pup on a walk at the same time every day, or you do something as small as asking “who wants a treat?” and racing with him to a special treat container in your kitchen. The more predictable interactions you can craft for your pup, the better. He will soon start to know when you guys are doing what and will eagerly participate.

#2 Take it Easy

You may be excited to take your new dog and show him off to all your friends. Remember that he has a lot to learn and process after moving in with you. Chances are that he is not up for going to many different houses or having a dozen people come over.

Some dogs are social butterflies and will happily meet and greet any stranger from day one. Others require more time and space though. Let your dog guide you in how many people he wants to meet and how quickly you can introduce him to everyone in your life.

The risk of overwhelming your dog is real, and it might set him back in his process of settling in. A good rule of thumb is to give your dog a day of rest after any big outing (such as taking him along to a BBQ at a friend’s house).

#3 Sniffing – Canine Meditation

Dogs do not only have a great sense of smell – but they can also use sniffing to calm down as well! Just a couple minutes of sniffing noticeably lowers a dog’s heart rate and helps him relax. It is like a deep breathing exercise or meditation for dogs.

You should craft some sniffing time for your newly adopted dog every day. This can be in the form of taking him on a slow walk with lots of pauses for sniffing bushes, by giving him a snuffle mat with treats or by just scattering some food around the yard for him to find! 

Stressed out and anxious dogs often are not able to sniff for longer periods of time. If your dog cannot focus on sniffing for more than a minute or two, keep working on this to reduce his overall stress level. It is a skill that can be taught. The more time you invest into teaching your dog to sniff, the faster he will be able to use this doggy meditation technique to relax.

#4 Successful Training

As you are starting to teach your new dog new skills and tricks, make sure that he is always successful in your training sessions. As a professional dog trainer, the biggest mistake I see is that owners are not generous enough in their rewards and therefore their dogs are confused and unmotivated.

Keep in mind that your dog does not understand English and likely has no idea what you want if you tell him “Go lie down on your bed” or “Stop pulling on leash!”. Instead of using too many words, let the power of treats do the training for you. Use a lot of high-value rewards in your training sessions. These treats can be tiny – about the size of a pinkie fingernail – but you need to dish them out generously. You only get to make one first impression on your dog when it comes to training. Do not let that impression be that you are stingy and strict!

The more treats you give your dog, the faster he will learn. If you are worried about him gaining unwanted weight in the training process, simply feed him a bit less for his next meal after a training session.

#5 Skin Care

If you adopted a dog with a double coat or long hair, you need to establish a regular grooming routine right away. Letting hair become tangled and matted can quickly lead to health conditions such as sores, hotspots, or skin infections. Chances are that your newly adopted dog might not have had the best grooming care in the past. Now is the time to change that! 

Make a habit of brushing your dog at least twice a week. You can make this a happy and relaxing time for him. Sit down together, give him something to chew and brush him gently.

It is important that you move at your dog’s speed and do not use force during the grooming process. If you scare or intimidate your dog, he will be much more likely to become apprehensive about brushing and it will also negatively affect your bonding process. 

If you adopted a long-coated dog, you might also want to start making appointments with a local groomer to have your dog’s coat clipped regularly.

The Bottom Line

The first weeks and months with your newly adopted dog should be all about helping him settle in and establishing routines. 

Pay attention to your individual dog – he will let you know how much he can and wants to do and at which pace. Make sure to train him with a lot of treats and generous reinforcement. If you adopted a long-coated dog, you should also get on track with a grooming routine so that his hair stays free of mats and tangles.

For more information on training of your furry family member, please visit the Sacramento SPCA’s Behavior Resource Library or contact our Free Behavior Helpline.  

This article was written by guest blogger, Anne Handschack from SpiritDog Training.

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