Prepare Your Home and Family for a Dog

Dogs can bring a lot of love and joy. But they’ll need a little time to adjust to your home and family.

“Some go through this transition very quickly,” says Fiia Jokela, a veterinarian and owner of Chicagoland Veterinary Behavior Consultants. “It may take weeks or months. Depending on the dog’s history, it might even be longer.”

Here are some steps you can take to help your dog settle in.

Buy Supplies

Of course, you’ll need to have fresh water and plenty of food. But stock up on some other things, too:

  • Food and water bowls
  • Toys your dog can’t swallow
  • ID collar and fixed-length leash
  • Body harness
  • Comfy dog bed

If your dog came from a shelter or foster home, “ask for some things the dog is familiar with, like the blanket it was laying on,” says Julie Dorsey-Oskerka, president of A Sound Beginning, a Chicago-based behavior training program that uses positive reinforcement to help dogs learn and feel safe in a new home.

Get a Crate

This is a safe place for your dog to sleep or hang out.They should be able to stand up and turn around without their body touching the sides or top.

“If that dog has to bend even a little bit, the crate is too small,” Dorsey-Oskerka says. “When that dog is lying down, their legs [should] stick out without touching.” 

You can get a crate with your dog’s full size in mind -- they reach adulthood around their first birthday. Block off extra space so the crate isn’t too roomy.

Tammy Schmitt, DVM, a veterinarian and owner at Animal Hospital of McHenry, IL, says to pay attention to where you place the crate and what you put in it. “You want a quiet, soothing environment,” she says. “Have a special toy or a treat that they only get when they’re in the crate to make it a positive experience.”

Dog-Proof Your House

Remove or secure anything that can fall over or break. And don’t leave out food or make meals right next to your new pup. “A lot of times, people will adopt a dog and complain that they’re a counter-surfer,” Dorsey-Oskerka says. “Well, when you first get the dog, make sure you’re not leaving a fresh loaf of bread on the kitchen counter.”

And give your dog clear boundaries. You don’t want them figuring things out on their own. Use indoor barriers, such as baby gates, to block off areas where you don’t want them to go. Maybe invest in a tall gate, Dorsey-Oskerka says, because “even the little buggers can climb.” 


Set Up a Doggy Safe Space

Create a place where your dog can relax and retreat. Experts agree its best to link this spot to positive training. In other words, “only good things happen in this area,” Dorsey-Oskerka says. 

In their safe space, your dog might:

  • Take naps
  • Eat and drink
  • Get treats for good behavior
  • Play with toys
  • Listen to music
  • Avoid other pets or people

Make sure its somewhere your furry friend can get to easily. “It’s always important that a dog knows they have an escape route, and they can get to a safe place,” Jokela says.

Make a Bathroom Plan

Puppies need to relieve themselves often, sometimes every 2 to 3 hours, says Lauren McClaughry, an associate veterinarian at McKillip Animal Hospital in Chicago.

If you’re not on board for lots of puppy pee breaks, McClaughry says to consider adopting a housetrained dog. Older dogs might be good to go once they learn how to tell you they need to go out, she says. Though it might take them a day or two to figure out which door leads them to the bathroom. 

Adult dogs don’t pee as much as puppies. But they still need to go out several times a day. “While some dogs may be able to hold it during the workday, I would recommend a midday bathroom break,” McClaughry says. “A dog walker or doggy daycare may be options to look into if someone’s not able to come home on a lunch break.” 

You can train some dogs to use a puppy pee pad or turf. “If you have a deck, there are services that’ll bring you sod every so often,” Jokela says. “You can have the dog feel like it’s going outside.”

Learn Dog Body Language

Adults and kids should know if a pup doesn’t feel safe. To the untrained eye, Jokela says, these signs can be subtle or even cute. “But we have to realize the dog is saying, ‘Im a little bit worried here.’”

She says to give your dog some space if they start to do the following:

  • Flick their tongue
  • Lick their lips
  • Move their ears back
  • Walk backward
  • Furrow their brow
  • Start to pant when it’s not hot
  • Turn their head to the side
  • Lift one paw in the air
  • Tuck their tail

To learn more, ask your vet or talk to a certified dog behaviorist about what to watch for.


Get Kids Involved

Children and dogs can form strong bonds. But first, you need to make sure your child knows how to act around your new pet. Jokela says you always want to let the dog approach your child, not the other way around. “It always needs to be the dog’s choice,” she says. 

Kids can be a big help when it comes to feeding a pup. But they shouldn’t bother the dog during mealtime. Instead, have your child pour food in a bowl while the dog is outside of the room. “But then you put it down and allow the dog to come,” Schmitt says.

And whether you get a puppy or an adult dog, never leave a young child alone with a new animal.

Prepare Other Pets

Your old and new dog might be able to meet in a controlled way. “We introduce the dogs in a safe manner, at a distance,” Dorsey-Oskerka says. “We’re not just going to let the dogs go up nose-to-nose and say, ‘Hey, how are you?’”

Sometimes, your dogs won’t be able to get to know each other first. Or maybe you have a cat. In those cases, let your animals get to know each other slowly. “Allow that dog time to be able to breathe and settle in,” Dorsey-Oskerka says.

Go Slow

Pay attention to your pets body language and behavior. That’ll give you clues about their comfort level. But Dorsey-Oskerka says there are some things you might want to hold back on for the first week or so. That might include the following:

  • Long car rides
  • Mile-long walks
  • Trips to the dog park
  • Beach swims
  • Lots of hugs and kisses, especially from strangers
  • Play dates with other dogs

“Our basic advice is just to take it slow,” Dorsey Oskerka says. I know that’s the hardest part for people because theyre so happy to have a dog and they just want to share that experience with everybody. We just need to understand that not all dogs can handle that. Some dogs can. You can take them from the shelter and bring them home and theyre buddies with everyone. But we cant assume that when we start.”

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on July 15, 2021


Photo Credit: Sladic / Getty Images


Fiia Jokela, DVM; resident, American College of Veterinary Behaviorists; owner, Chicagoland Veterinary Behavior Consultants.

Julie Dorsey-Oskerka, president, A Sound Beginning.

Tammy Schmitt, DVM, veterinarian; owner, Animal Hospital of McHenry.

Lauren McClaughry, DVM, associate veterinarian, McKillip Animal Hospital, Chicago.

American Kennel Club: “Preparing for a New Puppy,” “How to Potty Train Puppies: A Comprehensive Guide for Success.”

The Humane Society of the United States: “How to make your dog feel comfortable in a new home,” “Crate training 101.”

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