It's not uncommon for people to make a few mistakes after adopting a dog, usually during that first month where everything is new and you're both still adjusting. It's easy to get caught up in the excitement, and start to expect too much of your dog, or realize that you have no idea what you're doing, and feel a bit overwhelmed as a result. And that's OK.
As long as you have the basics down, you'll definitely learn as you go along, and your dog will surely adjust. But it never hurts to prepare yourself, know exactly what you're getting into, and try to plan ahead. "The first month is the getting-to-know-you period," Mike Ritland, K9 expert, author, and founder of Team Dog Online, tells Bustle. "However, [it] sets the tone. You're getting to know the dog's temperament and ways, while the dog is getting used to its home ... its new owners. The way you start is the way you finish in terms of dog training and management." So the sooner you can set off on the right foot, the better.
It's also important to be prepared for things to not go your way. "If you end up with a dog that's difficult, it's never too late to make necessary changes for the dog to become your best friend through reinforcement and ongoing training techniques." Oftentimes, it's necessary to take your new BFF to puppy classes, or obedience training. You might also want to reach out to your veterinarian for some tips and tricks, so you can make sure you don't make some of these mistakes during the first month, after you bring home your dog.
1. Trying To Do Too Much Too Soon
Even though it's exciting to have a new dog in your life, don't try to drag them along to all your social activities, or expert them to be instantly down to visit everyone in your life.
"Let your dog adjust before bringing [them] to the backyard barbecue," Kayla Fratt, an associate certified dog behavior consultant at Journey Dog Training, tells Bustle. This is especially true for dogs that have been through a lot in their old life and need time to trust you and relax, before venturing out into the world.
2. Going Straight To The Pet Store
Similarly, don't make the mistake of taking your dog on errands that first day. "So many people adopt a shelter dog and bring it straight to [the pet store]," Fratt says. And while that's understandable — because you're probably looking forward to buying dog dogs, and creating a life together — it's important to wait.
"Just let your dog adjust," Fratt says. Usually this involves going straight home and letting them get used to their new surroundings.
3. Not Setting Aside Enough Time To Bond
Plenty of people expect to bond with their dog right away. But it can take time and effort. So, if you can, it may be a good idea to adjust your schedule or take time off from work, so that you can be home with them.
"Owners should assure the have time to take care of the dog, assure their dog's needs are met, and carefully observe the dog in the first month," Ritland says. That way, you can get to know each other, and your dog will learn to trust you — which are all part of the bonding process.
4. Waiting To Train Them
In order for your dog to be well-behaved — and to keep them safe — you should start teaching five basic commands from day one: sit, stay, down, heel, and recall.
"These five behaviors are the foundation of dog management and training," says Ritland. "Owners should carefully observe their dog's behavior and work to teaching them these must-have behaviors — if the dog is not trained already."
There are plenty of videos online, that you can find with a quick Google search. But it might also be be a good idea to take your dog to a local obedience class or puppy class, and learn directly from an expert.
5. Not Having The Right Food
Turns out, all dog foods are not one in the same. There are different kinds based on your dog's weight, size, temperament, etc. So it's important to do your research beforehand, and then decide on a schedule. "Owners should set a proactive and healthy feeding regime or schedule for their dogs from day one," Ritland says. And if you aren't sure what to do, don't be afraid to ask your vet for help.
6. Failing To Correct Bad Behavior
While you might not want to reprimand a scared or nervous dog the moment you get them home, it is important to correct bad behavior so that your dog doesn't run amok all over your apartment, or learn that it's "OK" to be bad.
"When it comes to dog behavior such as incessant barking, leash pulling, aggressive behavior, jumping, and other ... issues, owners tend to ignore or don't know how to manage it," Ritland says. "Owners should nip bad dog behavior in the bud through clear communication and other techniques." Again, dog classes can come in handy here.
7. Introducing Them Immediately To Other Pets
Let's say you have another dog or a cat at home. While you'll obviously need to get them used to each other eventually, don't make the mistake of shoving them together immediately.
"People have this (crazy-to-me) habit of tossing their dog and cat in the same room on day one and expecting them to 'just figure it out,'" says Fratt. "They rarely do, and this sets people up for enormous headaches later. Repairing relationships between pets is always harder than doing it right the first time around."
If you're worried about your pets getting along, talk with your vet or a dog trainer. They can give you tips on introducing your pets, helping them smooth over conflicts, and learning to live together in peace.
8. Expecting Perfection From Day One
It can be understandably upsetting to triumphantly return home with your adopted dog, only to be met with chaos and bad behavior. But keep in mind that that's all part of the learning process.
"Whether you’ve got a brand-new puppy or a shelter dog, your new dog needs to do some adjusting," Fratt says. "Expect chewed sneakers and potty accidents — be patient and avoid punishment. Focus on showing your dog how to abide by the rules of the house, setting [them] up for success, and building your relationship."
9. Not Offering Enough Treats
To aide in the training and bonding process, be liberal with the treats. "Feed your dog by hand if you must," Fratt says. "Show your new dog that you’re an awesome person to be around by playing some fun training games or just working on basic obedience." If you can keep that up for the first month and beyond, you'll have a much better relationship with your pet.
10. Letting Them Run Free
While you may want to have your dog by your side, there are so many benefits to crate training them — especially if they aren't yet house trained. "Your crate should be large enough for your pet to stand up, lay down, and turn around comfortable," Nicole Ellis, pet expert and certified dog trainer with Rover.com, tells Bustle. "Each time you take your pet out of the crate, run them outside to see if they need to go potty. When your dog does go potty be sure to reward with lots of verbal praise... and some yummy treats."
11. Being Inconsistent
Dogs love routine, so the more consistent you can be with your training — and your schedule in general — the better. "Consistency is key," Ellis says. "Make sure every family member that is interacting knows the rules and expectations — and stick with them. The first month is important for laying out the rules and nailing them down."
12. Forgetting To Dog-Proof Your Home
Even if your apartment seems dog-proofed, it's important to give it once over and make sure it's truly safe. "As a general precaution, put anything you value or anything that’s a chewing or choking hazard out of reach when you’re not around," says Trevor Chapman, a farmers insurance spokesperson for Farmers Insurance and Pets Best.
Also, remember to remove or cover electrical cords so your dog won't chew them, close your toilet bowl so they can't drink the toilet cleaning solution, remove toxic plants from your home and yard, and store away other toxic chemicals. It may seem like overkill, but it's always better to be safe than sorry.
13. Giving Them Scraps From The Table
It may feel like NBD, but "some common human foods are dangerous and downright deadly to dogs," Chapman says. So don't mistake the mistake of giving your dog scraps, no matter how much they beg, or how cute they look doing so.
"The best-known problem food is probably chocolate, but other possibly toxic foods include avocados, grapes and raisins, macadamia nuts, onions, garlic and coffee." If your dog happens to ingest any of these, take them to the vet right away.
14. Letting Them Sleep Wherever They Want
Again — and this is especially true for anxious dogs — you'll want to create a safe space for them, and stick to it. "Providing a sheltered, safe space for your pet, such as a crate, provides a comforting place for dogs to hide," pet behaviorist Jessa Paschke, of Mars Petcare, tells Bustle. So even though they want to sleep your bed (and you'd really like that, too) it's usually best to crate them for the night.
You can also up the ante by giving an anxious dog others soothing things, such as calming music, to help your dog adjust. "Calming music that is specifically designed for dogs, and essential oils such as lavender and vetiver can also help aid an anxious pup," Paschke says. "Many pet stores also carry safe over the counter calming supplements containing chamomile tea, which can help promote calm feelings."
15. Expecting Them To Be Or Act A Certain Way
If you adopt a certain breed, you might arrive home expecting your dog to act a certain way, or be exactly your old dog. But that's hardly ever the case. "Every dog is a unique individual," pet safety expert Denise Fleck tells Bustle. "You can follow some breed guidelines and determine energy levels to a certain degree by age, but don't adopt a dog expecting [them] to be a clone of a past beloved pet. You're setting yourself up for disappointment and frustration and sadness for your new canine pal who won't be able to meet your preconceived expectations. Let the dog blossom into [their] own personality with love and guidelines from you."
That first month as a new dog owner can be an exhausting and confusing period, but it will pass. As long as you stick to a schedule, bond with your dog, train them, and give them everything they need, you two will be best friends in no time.