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San Diego Humane Society

Adopting: Helping a Dog Adjust to a New Home


Congratulations on adding a new dog to your family! We are thrilled you’ve chosen to adopt and are here to ensure you and your pet are set up for success as they transition into your home. It’s important to keep in mind this is a big change for your new pup, and you are still getting to know one another. While every pet is unique, it’s likely going to take some time for your adopted dog to settle in and recover from the stress of the shelter.

For perspective, studies show it takes 10 days for a dog’s stress hormones to come back to a normal level after being in the shelter for just two weeks. The “rule of 3s” is a general guide to show how long it may take your new dog to adjust to your home. It could take less or more time, depending on the individual, especially if your pup has been rehomed multiple times.


Invest in Your Trust Bank Account

If a friend you just met is hugging you tightly and walking you around to introduce you to all their friends, you might think they are a little strange — and it’s the same for your new pet! Your new dog may be perfectly fine with this after they know you well, but taking them to a pet store or dog park on the way home from the shelter is not the way to build trust and show them you understand how overwhelmed they may be. We know you’re excited to get out and about with your pet, but there will be plenty of time for that once they settle in. To help ease their transition, we want to keep it calm and simple at first. 

We need to do a lot of paying into the trust bank account with our new dog before we can make withdrawals. Withdrawals in this case include situations that could make your pet feel uncomfortable, like putting them into a carrier or crate, interacting with other dogs or kids in the home or bathing them right away. If you attempt any of these potentially stressful situations before you’ve built up trust with your new pet, it could leave a lasting impression on your dog and make them exhibit behavior they wouldn’t have if given the proper time to adjust. (Pro tip for bathing: You can use dry shampoo until they are comfortable enough to take a bath unless they have skin issues, then consult with a veterinarian first.)

The First Two Weeks

Remember, during your dog’s first two weeks in your home, they are still decompressing from the stress of the shelter and adjusting to their new life with you. To ease this transition period, we’ve provided eight tips that will help establish a trusting relationship between you and your new pet. 

1. Establish a routine for your dog’s daily activities

Create a daily routine and stick to it. This will help establish a sense of security because your dog knows what is coming next in their day. This routine might be something like: potty break, training, breakfast, walk, nap.

Your new dog doesn’t know what you expect of them, so help them understand by drawing a lot of attention to behavior you want to encourage. Keep treats or toys nearby in every room so you can reward their good choices throughout the day. Did they wait patiently while you ate dinner? They get a sprinkle of treats! Did they choose to relax near you while you watched TV? They get some play time! Try to reward them as much as you can for their desirable behavior, and ignore behaviors you don’t love, whenever possible. If we only tell them “No,” we’re not teaching them what we want them to do in that context.

Feed dogs separately so they can’t wander over to the other dog’s bowl. They will be interested in each other’s meals, which is perfectly natural. Food tends to be high-value for all species. But we don’t want any unnecessary conflict while they are still being introduced to each other. Always set them up for success, not a situation they can’t handle.

2. Maintain a peaceful home environment

Ask eager friends and family to let your new dog settle in for a few weeks before coming over to meet them, keeping the environment only to the people who live in your home. This helps your new dog more readily acclimate to the “normal” of your everyday routine and helps you get to know them and their social preferences.

If you have young children in the home, ensure they are calm around your new dog and supervise interactions 100% of the time. Show them how to appropriately touch and give your dog treats, and call out any body language signals indicating your dog is stressed.

When outside the home, keep your outings mellow and don’t greet neighbors and other dogs on leash. You and your new dog are just getting to know each other, and your new dog may not be comfortable with all people and situations. If you move too fast and your pup ends up in a situation where they feel uncomfortable or threatened, they may feel they have to defend themselves, putting yourself and others at risk.

3. Prioritize training at home before venturing elsewhere

Training classes and lessons are great to establish good habits right off the bat and we highly encourage you to attend them! However, we recommend waiting until your new dog has settled in for two weeks before attending them (one week for puppies). This ensures your new dog is healthy and a good candidate for in-person events, which is not the case for overly aroused or overly fearful dogs.

While waiting to attend formal training lessons, do some basic training at home and begin teaching manners if you notice your new dog is doing something like jumping up on a counter. Always use treats or toys to redirect unwanted behavior instead of punishers like spray bottles to help build your relationship and establish a positive association with training. We have many classes available to help with this, in-person and online, as well as many training resources on our YouTube channel.

4. Set boundaries during playtime and avoid overly stimulating activities

If you have dogs already living in the home, only let your resident dogs and your new dog play together for up to 20 minutes at a time and supervise these interactions. Being able to separate the animals and give them alone time will help keep their excitement levels down and ensure no one is getting hurt or picked on. Keep leashes on and keep the leashes loose so the dogs can use their natural body language. Leashes also help you lead one dog away (a puppy for example) if a play session becomes too rough. End things on a positive note and give the dogs time to process the playtime. Additionally, squeaky toys and balls can cause high arousal in a new dog which can lead to unwanted behaviors. Opt for calmer options, such as chews and enrichment toys. 

5. Choose calm exercise activities

Keep exercise low-intensity. A few options include training, sniffing around for treats in the yard or visiting a quiet park and walking very slowly so your dog can sniff at their leisure. At home, try hiding food around the yard or furniture for them to find. Provide lots of outlets for sniffing, as it helps them relieve stress and provides mental stimulation — 20 minutes of sniffing is comparable to 60 minutes of a traditional walk. It’s important that they not only have physical exercise but also that they are mentally stimulated, so they don’t begin finding things to do out of boredom.

Your new dog should have at least two enrichment activities per day. This can be a stuffed Kong, a cardboard box with treats inside (close up the box so they have to figure out how to open it) or a rolled towel with kibble hidden inside. Performing natural behaviors, such as licking, sniffing, foraging or digging helps to meet your new dog’s basic needs, which can prevent behavior challenges related to unmet needs. Think of ways you can recreate these natural behaviors in your home, and cycle through puzzles and activities to keep things fresh. 

6. Learn to recognize and understand your dog’s body language

It’s important to be able to recognize when your dog is uncomfortable with an interaction or situation so you can remove them or whatever they find stressful (such as a sound, stranger, child or object). Here are some visual examples of dogs showing signs of fear, anxiety or stress.

7. Allow your dog to initiate contact and interaction

When we meet a new dog who we don’t know well, it helps if we give them the opportunity to come to us before we reach into their space. They may be uncomfortable being approached head-on, with direct eye contact or with reaching hands. If we give them a minute and just hang out near them, we can allow them to enter our space and show us how they would like to be touched. Many dogs will rub a certain part of their body up against you, and that is often where they would like to be touched. Become a student of your new dog and study how they tend to enjoy being approached or touched. If they move away, don’t pursue them. This builds trust between you, as they know they can rely on you to touch or interact with them in a way they are comfortable with, and that you won’t push the issue if they have had enough.

8. Provide lots of downtime for relaxation and rest

Provide a dark and quiet space for them to rest during the day (use white noise if needed). They should be napping four to six hours during the day. If they can’t settle down, try taking toys away and keep them in a single space, like a kitchen or exercise pen. You can help them transition into nap time with chews or a stuffed Kong toy to help self-soothe if they need it.

Behavior Helpline: Contact Our Behavior Team

For behavior questions, please contact our Behavior Helpline either by calling 619-299-7012, ext. 2244, emailing or filling out our Ask a Trainer form. San Diego Humane Society adopters can fill out the Post Adoption Consultation form to schedule their troubleshooting session. We aim to respond within seven days, but responses may take up to two weeks. Thank you for your patience!

Note: Due to the potential for serious injury, canine and feline aggression are best handled by a professional who specializes in aggressive behaviors. Because phone or email counseling is inadequate for addressing serious behavior concerns, we ask that you contact a qualified professional for help. Please refer to the list of behavior resources here.

Questions About Public Classes

San Diego Humane Society offers training classes and resources to address a variety of needs for companion animals.

Our training philosophy is based on the behavioral science concepts of positive reinforcement. Training your pet using these concepts will not only help them learn new behaviors more quickly, but it will also strengthen the bond you share.

Please visit our website for a current schedule of training classes or call 619-279-5961. 

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