Introducing a New Dog Into the Home

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray
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In an earlier blog post, we addressed choosing the right dog for your family and homestead and to be sure the potential new addition would also choose you, including the traits to look for when choosing the new family member. Assuming the choice has been made and the rescue dog and new family are compatible, what comes next? It is time to bring the new family member into the home but it is best to be prepared ahead of time. Before you bring the dog home, it will need its own food bowl, water dish, leash, collar or harness, and a bed to sleep on that will be its own.

Create a safe area. If you have a fenced backyard, it should be inspected to make sure there are no gaps the dog can get out through. It should be high enough so the dog can’t jump the fence. You also want it high enough so other animals can’t jump into your yard. Our fence is 6’ high specifically to keep predators out. The home should also be made dog proof and safe for the new addition.

Predators come in all forms. We walk our dogs on a 6’ leash to be sure they are safely close to us. In our 23 years here in the mountains, we have not had a serious close encounter in spite of the fact we have numerous predators around. When we see a predator, we cautiously head the other way to avoid conflict. Incidentally, bears mostly graze on the wild grasses we have and the cats have abundant deer and elk so they are not attracted by a human walking large dogs. From our experience, there are more predators in and around more populated areas than found in remote living. We have found wild animals to actually be far more respectful than many of the two legged variety.

Go for the first walk. When it is time to actually bring the new canine member home, it is a good idea to take this new member for a walk first to allow them to expel some of that pent up energy. If they will be joining other canine family members they should be introduced away from the home one at a time. Having two or three other dogs greet the new member can throw that new dog into a full panic. Even though they may have met at the rescue or shelter and done well, it can be totally different when they are thrust into a new home environment.

Introduce the “pack” one member at a time. This method has worked for us for many years. The way we introduce the new dog into our pack is at a distance of roughly 100 yards from the cabin. We bring the current dogs one at a time to meet the new member. We watch carefully for any sign of aggression/dominance and if there is any, we quickly separate the dogs and let them try again once they have calmed down. When they have all met, and it goes well, we then take the new family member and our other dogs for a short walk together and bring them back home together.

Bring into the house slowly. When back home, leave their leashes on and allow them to wander around the backyard to relieve themselves if needed. We then take the new addition into the cabin first and then allow the other dogs in. The new dog will in all likelihood sniff everything as they explore the cabin. We are close by to avoid bathroom mistakes which is why we give them ample time to go outside before they come into the cabin. Males may tend to want to mark their new territory which invites the other males to respond. We want them to do any marking outside.

Give time to adjust and relax. Now that the new member has been introduced safely and successfully, it is time to give the new pack member time to familiarize and adjust to their new environment. While it is tempting to give the new member lots of attention, remember this is all new to them and they need space to adjust. Excess attention can also make other pack members jealous. We assume a calm and easy going posture and let the new member explore on their own. We discourage play as that can easily lead to dominance issues and we want the new addition to realize we are the alphas and not the other pack members.

Recognize varying times to adjust. It can take a few days or weeks for the new member to adjust to our routine and perhaps longer to fully adjust to their new environment. That depends on the dog and we allow ample time for the adjustment period. It took Ruby (see photo) almost 11 months to adjust fully and to be comfortable enough for her wonderful personality to emerge. Being deaf extended her adjustment so keeping a consistent daily routine was especially important for her. Other new canine members have taken from three days to three months. Lucy, who is only 1½, adjusted quickly but her initial introduction had some challenges.

Exercise patience and understanding. Lucy was terrified when she was brought home and when she was taken out of the car, we put her on an expandable leash so she would not feel cornered. She ran around ears back, tail between her legs, eyes wide; however,  our two senior dogs, Bozwell and Ruby, gave her distance remaining calm. Lucy soon took their lead and calmed down and gradually they engaged and sniffed each other. They gave her plenty of space until she was fully calm and they could safely interact. After a level of tranquility was established, we followed the above mentioned routine and now have three very well adjusted and compatible fur family members. It was an education watching the senior dogs calmly transform Lucy into a calm state and then welcome her home as one of the pack.

Bruce McElmurray homesteads at high elevation in the Southern Rockies with his wife, Carol. For more on their mountain lifestyle and their observances of animals coupled with their strange behavior, visit Bruce’s personal blog site atBruce Carol Cabin. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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