Regardless of your dog’s past, his new life starts the day you bring him home. What he needs most is for you to limit his stress, while increasing reassuring structure in the form of routines, training and confinement. Offering daily stress-release outlets, in the form of play, exercise, toys and fun training is key at all times but downright critical for a newly adopted dog from any source: shelter, breeder, pet store.
Bring your new friend home during a relatively calm time (not during the holidays, for example). Keep things as quiet as you can. The first week is not the time to introduce him to the Boy Scout Troop or all your neighbors. Remember, he has no clue as to who you are or how you will behave. Give him time to settle into his new life.
On a more basic level, feed him whatever he has been eating. If you don’t know his diet, choose a name-brand dog food and mix it half and half with cooked white rice (not the instant kind). This will limit diarrhea, which is something both he and you will appreciate.
Being social animals, dogs fare best when there is order in their group. Order is demonstrated through clear, calm leadership. Simple things really – having him “Sit” before you open the door, having him “Wait” when you let him out of his crate, practicing “Leave It” a few times each day. These little things go a long way to making your new dog feel secure and comfortable.
Few things help an anxious dog like a routine. The more routine, the better. A biscuit before bed, a walk first thing in the morning, a little romp during commercials – make up routines. Figure out ways you can make his world make sense to him; he’d thank you if he could.
Build Your Relationship
At this point, what you teach is less important than how you teach it. Teach him tricks, work on his manners, start domesticating your new dog. Do what thrills you both. Think, “This animal wants to please me; it is my job to show him how.” And when he doesn’t, know that it is because he does not understand, not that he is being “difficult.” Such an attitude is an enormous gift to anyone, but particularly sweet to a dog who is a stranger in a strange land and, if adopted, may have already experienced confusion – or worse – at the hands of a human. What he needs now is a bond – a stable, reliable bond. And that has to come from you.
Give him a room of his own. Many adopted dogs thrive on a confinement schedule partly because it limits their decisions. When in the crate (or in ”his room”) all is well. Sensible confinement also prevents stress-related behaviors like chewing or housebreaking mistakes (and limits the problem if one happens). If your dog has trouble with confinement, read Re-Crate Training: Helping Crate Hating Dog.
Play & Exercise & Toys
Joy is an important addition to a dog’s life (and yours). Cultivate it where you can. Daily exercise and romps go a long way toward lessening stress, building attachment and having a happy, well-behaved dog.