Bringing a new dog into your pack requires planning. Luckily, this is something that most people do -- except maybe in the case of bringing in a stray off the street. Before you adopt the dog, you probably have at least a food and treats, bowls for food and water, a dog bed, a leash and collar, and maybe some toys.
If you've been very conscientious, you've probably already arranged for the first vet appointment, and maybe you've even talked to the entire household to establish rules about the dog like who does the feeding and walking, where the dog is and isn't allowed, and so on.
The big day comes when you pick up the dog. Everybody is excited and happy as you drive home, and you all come bounding up the walk, throw open the front door and let the dog off-leash and inside...
And you've just planted the seed for a lot of future issues. In human terms, you've unleashed a juvenile delinquent.
Home sweet home
In order to have a well-balanced dog, we have to teach her the house rules, and set boundaries and limitations from the get-go. The message you send your dog the moment she enters your home for the first time is critical, because it immediately establishes the ground rules in your dog's mind. If you just let her run in the door, the message is, "Here! Everything is yours, and you can do whatever you want."
By opening that door, you have told your dog, "There are no rules, boundaries or limitations." You know where that goes: She eats shoes, won't be housebroken, constantly begs, climbs on the furniture, jumps on people... And then you visit my website, trying to find out what is "wrong" with your new dog!
The process of bringing your new dog into the home for the first time should be very deliberate and specific. Here are the eight essential steps:
1. Remain calm
When you pick the dog up, everyone must remain calm. It can be tempting to greet the new family member with excitement, but this is not the time to do it. Accept the dog into your space, but do not give more than a minimum of attention or affection yet. You're about to remove the dog from a place that's become familiar and take her to somewhere entirely new. And remember: This step must remain in effect through the entire process.
2. Take a long walk
When you get home, keep your dog on the leash, because you're now going to go on a long walk through her new neighborhood. This serves two purposes: It will help drain her excess energy and bring her to a calm state, and it will get her used to the new smells, sights, and sounds.
3. Introduce your home
After the walk, keep your dog on the leash for a proper introduction to the new pack den -- your house, apartment, condo, etc. Bring the dog to the front door, but do not let her enter first. If you can, get her to sit or lie down as you open the door. Then, you enter first, not allowing her to follow until you invite her in.
4. Take the tour
Once inside, keep your dog on the leash and lead her from room to room. Do not let her sniff or wander around. Use the leash to keep her at your side. Spend a few minutes in each room before moving on to the next, and make sure each time you go first into the next room. Every door is an opportunity to establish your leadership; you go first, the dog waits your invitation to enter or exit. Be consistent! Do not let the dog follow you into the next room until you give permission. If you have a backyard, patio, or other outside area, treat it the same way.
5. No touch, no talk, no eye contact
During the tour, don't speak and use only body language or simple sounds, like "Tsch!" or a finger snap, to communicate or correct. Your dog is overwhelmed right now, so the less stimulation, the better. This will help keep her focused on you.
6. The feeding area
Once you've completed the tour, bring the dog to the place where the food and water will be and offer a reward with some water and a few bits of food, but not a whole bowl yet; your dog is still on her leash, remember?
7. The dog's bedroom
Likewise, if you have a special place you'd like the dog to stay when she needs to be out of the way of household activities, take her there. This is where you can finally let her off-leash. That place can be where her bed is, or a spot in the corner of the living room where you want her to lie, or her crate. By letting her off the leash here, you are telling her, "This is yours." Don't be surprised if she immediately decides to settle down and ignore the family for a while. This doesn't mean she hates her new home. It means that she has found her place in it.
8. Exude calm-assertive energy
Once you've completed the above process, establish yourself as the Pack Leader by going through the rest of your day exuding calm-assertive energy. Everyone in the household should ignore the dog. You can acknowledge the dog if she joins you, of course, but don't go overboard with affection yet. Just as you're still getting used to her in the house, she's getting used to being in her new house. You've gone a long way already toward teaching her that this is your territory and you make the rules. Now, she's going to observe so she can figure out what the rules are, and who's who in her new pack.
If you've gone through these eight steps, you will have claimed your territory, allowed your dog into it, and established who the Pack Leaders are.
Stay calm and assertive!