Congratulations on adopting your new family member. Your environment with new relationships is the right time to set up a structure with rules and boundaries. This is the time when you lay down the ground rules that establish the role your dog has in the family (pack). Whether they are 2 months or 8 years the first few weeks are key to setting them up to succeed. It may seem like more work at first, but it'll pay dividends later when you and your dog are a lot happier and maybe even the envy of the neighborhood.
Setting up a routine and schedule are key; for example don’t take a week off from work, spending 24/7 with your dog and then the next week return to work leaving them alone for the first time. They may develop separation anxiety. It’s better to build things incrementally getting them used to the schedule you have. Here are four rules to get you started:
#1 Rule: Start slow. Build a foundation to work off by teaching your dog basic commands like: sit (stand facing him and give the command while raising the treat from your dogs eye level), stay (use a boundary like an entrance to a room, give the command while facing them), let’s go (use this command to release your dog from the stay or to encourage them to move on if they are lagging behind), come (is a recall, have your dog come to you and receive a treat as their reward) and leave it (if they are focusing on trying to get at something you don't want them to).
You are now teaching your dog by commands and building a relationship where you are in charge as their leader, they are also building trust in you to follow your lead.
Don't do the training for too long, neither of you want to get frustrated and it’s best to leave training on a positive note, 10 minutes a few times a day at first for training exercises is enough.
Use treats at first to teach the specific commands, when you give a treat or affection you are rewarding what your dog is thinking or doing, be it wanted or unwanted behavior.
Tone matters, be assertive but calm, ambiguity breeds confusion and be aware of body language; Your dog is far more likely to come to you if you are crouched down with inviting energy.
#2 Rule: Start off small. Dogs are often opportunists. In a new environment they may look for things to take advantage of. It’s better to have them earn their freedom around the house by adding new things into their life, rather than taking things away. For example, In the house your dog is more likely to exhibit a behavior like chewing in a room unattended.
Set up areas they have access to in the house, where they sleep, and where they'll be when left alone - be it a crate, a room, or gated off in a kitchen or hallway.
Leave your dog there while you are at home, for short 10 minute periods, building up time until they can be trusted, when they display no issues.
This also helps with possible separation anxiety. As your dog gets used to being on their own, there by stopping you from becoming his security blanket. In addition, this helps with house breaking as they become less likely to relieve themselves in their confined sleep area. However, only verbally correct your dog with a firm “no” if you catch them eliminating, then take them outside. Do not try and 'show it' to them after the fact. Your dog may seem remorseful, that’s only them picking up on your tone not connecting the dots of where to eliminate.
#3 Rule: Get to know your dog. It’s important to learn how your dog fits in with your lifestyle such as their exercise requirements, meeting new people, walking on the leash, and their excitement level in certain scenarios. Also consider what part of your behavior may manifest in them; if your dog jumps up at you do they get attention? If the answer is 'yes' then they were rewarded for that unwanted behavior. The foundation you have been working on gives you important credibility with them, now they will trust and listen to you. It’s also important to understand your dogs personality so that you can manage it, rather than trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. In some instances this may mean avoid meeting dogs on a walks, not going to dog parks, putting them away when the plumber is over or keeping your dog on a leash to control their energy when friends are around.
As you get to know your dog try and correct their thoughts before their actions, timing is key. For example, a firm 'leave it' as they are about to grab your shoe, rather than having to wrestle it away from them turning it into a game where you are competing with each other.
Dogs will focus on one thing at a time so you can redirect them from one thing to another, for example they may be staring at the dog across the street ready to bark and you can give them the 'come' command to recall them back to you for a treat instead of focusing on that dog.
Feeding your dog on a schedule and not ‘free feeding’ them will also help you know when they will need to go to the bathroom, whilst also being part of their routine.
#4 Rule: Have realistic expectations. I sometimes hear people say, “Well our last dog didn't do that”; try saying that to your new girlfriend about your ex. This is a new dog with their own personality.
A tired dog is a good dog. The mental foundation training we discussed should be coupled with physically exercise, this will leave your dog calm, relaxed, and therefore behaving in a desirable manner. You are giving them a job as all dogs were bred to do, if you don’t they will often find their own job, such as chewing, digging, barking, or being territorial.
As your new dog becomes dialed in with you and your realistic expectations you build credibility with them as their leader, manifesting in a calm and well behaved dog. Your dog will learn by association, for example if a treat means, ‘sit and be calm,’ that’s what they'll do, so be aware what state of mind you are rewarding. Let them earn more freedom around the house as they gradually settles into their new routine and training, setting them up to succeed. Learn your dogs triggers for certain behaviors for example if you pick up your keys does your dog start to get anxious you're leaving? If so give them a different connection to the keys by picking them up and moving them to another area. Remember it’s always better to say "I could have done that sooner “ rather than “oops I tried that too soon.”
Be patient in your approach, be consistent in your training and enjoy welcoming your new family member to your pack. Thank you for adopting.