Tips From a Force-Free Trainer When Bringing Home a New Dog
Step 6 of 15 in the Dogly New Pet Channel
with Ruby Leslie of WelfareForAnimals, Training Advocate

Bringing a new dog home is such a joyful experience, it seems a given that every part of that first day with your new rescue dog will be positive and happy naturally.

Making sure it is just that for your new dog facing all-new everything takes some extra care and focus on your part.

Remember that for you, it's all familiar and comfortable as you and your new family member launch into the start of a new life together. But not for your pup!

Okay, but tell me more...

Let's step back from the overall adjustment phases we talked about in the previous guide on the rule of 3 that included the first few weeks, even months, and zero in on Day One and the first few hours with your new pet.

What do we as pet parents need to think about and do to ease our new rescue dogs into their first day of the rest of their happy dog's life as family members?

Whether you're bringing home your own dog to forever be part of your family or a foster dog who will join your home and family temporarily on the way to his/her forever, the welcoming process is the same. Taking the steps below helps create first-day positive associations to you, the car, and your home for your new dog. A single negative event can create long-held fears - what we want to avoid by getting off to the most welcoming, comforting start!


How to make your dog’s first car ride home a good one

If a dog has been separated from whatever/whoever that's familiar, then placed in a car with little to no preparation with people the dog doesn’t yet have bonds with, of course, the car will be a scary place for many dogs.

Dogs respond differently but your dog's body language will tell you whether the car is no big deal or a nervous-making unknown for your dog. Preparation can make an enormous difference in helping your new dog feel comfortable and safe.

Plan ahead to make your car a comforting place.

Try this:

  • Place your dog's familiar towel or blanket in the car to help comfort your pup. (The rescue may be kind enough to loan or give you a favorite, broken-in blanket that smells like security to your former shelter dog.)
  • Use natural flower/herb essence sprays like Drama-Trauma or pheromone sprays such as Adaptil on the towel, even put some Drama-Trauma in your pup's water. Make sure your dog has not eaten.
  • To help your dog feel more emotionally secure you can wrap him or her in the blanket. If he or she whines or gets stressed, try gentle massage and play dog-calming music (classical usually is best).

Never force your dog into the car. Let him or her explore the car a bit and sit in it on their own. Give your dog lots of treats in the car, and be sure to reward calm behaviors with verbal praise.

Here's the step-by-step to building confidence in going into a car for somewhat anxious dogs:

  1. If your dog is anxious about the car, start off with a relaxing massage before you go to the car. Check out this series on dog massage for how to give your dog a massage. Use whatever motivates your dog to reduce anxiety - let there be a treat party of the highest reward values possible!
  2. Get near the car, treat your dog, calmly stroke your dog when near the car and then turn away.
  3. Only spend a few moments near the car, more is not better here. If your new dog won't take treats, then you’re too close before getting comfortable.
  4. When your dog is ready to move closer, start in small stages, a foot or less if necessary.
  5. Throw tasty treats on the ground in scatter feeds/sprinkles around the area. This in itself can be 1 session or take 10 minutes. The point is that your dog needs to feel safe to want to participate in the process and you need to go at your dog’s pace, NOT your pace. If your dog is stressed or anxious, you've lost all of your hard work so far.
  6. If there's space for your dog to move around near the car with the doors shut, open the doors with scatter feeds along the way and inside. Keep the doors open so your dog has choice and learns that the car isn’t a place to feel trapped.
  7. Let your dog investigate in the car as much as desired then begin again.
  8. Be prepared to take time to work up to walking near and around the car again; you can play the find it game near or around this area.
  9. Gently close one door and if your dog accepts food, close the other door.
  10. Feed your dog a few treats from the front of the car.
  11. Then let your dog out and go for a small sniffy walk and go into the car again. Close both doors gently, throw some treats into the back and begin.
  12. When in the car if your dog doesn't take treats then your pup is too stressed. Make sure you drive slowly and carefully to avoid your dog getting nauseated.
  13. If you have to drive long distances or your dog is showing extreme stress, stop and take small sniffy walks. It’s really important to let your dog sniff and then re-enter the car calmly and with a small scatter feed.


How to manage your arrival outside your home with your new dog

Who wouldn't love to have their new dog go straight into their home?! But instead you need to take it slow. Too much too quickly can create negative associations you don’t want. Be sure to get all other family members on board with the plan; consistency leads to predictability which leads to security and calm for your new dog.

What are the helpful tips to getting your new dog comfortable with the outside of your home?

  • At all times keep your dog on a leash. Make sure you take a brief walk around the front yard doing treat/food sprinkles throughout or just letting your dog sniff everything to his/her heart's content, never forcing movement or jerking on the leash. You can also do a scatter feed to help your dog feel at home outside.
  • Let your dog smell your front yard and back yard and sniff throughout.
  • If your dog pees or poops, immediately mark and reward by dropping a treat on the ground in front of him/her to help begin potty training for outside.
  • When your dog is done with outdoor discovery, and showing interest in the indoors, it’s time to go inside.

Note if you already have other dogs in your family:

Dog-to-dog introductions matter to start dog sibling relationships on a positive foundation. Learn how to introduce your other dog and start their relationship positively here.

How to set up your arrival inside your home with your new pup

You love your home and it feels like yours, but walking into your home is a new experience for your newly adopted dog. You need to take it slow.

What are the steps to help your new dog feel at home inside?

  • Make sure there are multiple dog bowls around your home because dogs who are stressed drink and pee more (be ready for potential accidents).
  • You can pre-arrange to have dog food all over the ground or just have food on you and do sprinkles/scatter feeds as you walk throughout your home.
  • Praise your dog for check-ins, sniffs, or interactions with you.
  • Put lots of dog treats or a chew toy on your dog's bed so your dog settles in.
  • If you are comfortable handling your dog, after settling, take off the leash, but if not let your dog walk around for a bit, work on handling, and take off the leash then as you don’t want to force the interaction.
  • At all times speak calmly and use long gentle strokes.
  • Whenever your dog comes to you, reward him/her profusely for the interaction; you're teaching your dog to trust you and building good associations.


How to support your new dog during the first night at home

Your pup is in a strange new environment. Awkwardness, fear, or anxiety may be present during the first night and you need to be ready for it. Here's how:

Try this:

  • Your dog may cry or not be able to settle, so a chew toy or a bone can help settling in.
  • Leave an old piece of clothing in the dog bed to help your pup familiarize to your smell and feel comforted.
  • Preferably leave a dog bed next to your bed in your room or let your dog sleep on your bed if you both want - a nice way to increase your bond.
  • Where your dog will sleep at night is your choice, but you need to be consistent about what's allowed.
  • You can also encourage sleep by doing canine massage, if your dog accepts gentle handling. Check out more on dog massage here.


Potty training

If your dog has been living in kennels at a shelter, with a previous owner that didn't teach potty training, in an apartment where pee pads were used, or is anxious or scared, your pup may regress in becoming house trained. It happens. Clean it with an enzymatic spray, follow the steps below and don't make a fuss.

Steps to house-training your new dog:

  • As soon as you arrive at your home let your dog sniff in the garden and when they take a potty break mark and treat.
  • Take your dog to your back yard every 3 hours give or take and repeat mark and reward each time he/she goes.
  • Always take your dog outside as soon as possible after waking from a nap, after playtime, first thing in the morning, and after each meal. If you have an adult dog, after the first few days or week you can slowly reduce this but this is a good rule of thumb to use until your dog starts to settle.
  • If your dog looks restless and circles, this is a signal your dog needs to go out.
  • Walk near your dog when you go into your back yard together, not by the door or other side of the garden. It’s important that you’re nearby so you can mark and treat when your dog goes outside successfully!
  • Don’t ever scold your dog if there's an “accident” indoors - your dog won’t make the association with the accident and doing something wrong, it will only make him or her fearful of you and think doing it behind your back is a better idea.
  • If accidents happen, your dog isn’t being naughty, your dog is learning!

If you need help potty training your new puppy or revisiting potty training your adult dog, ask any questions in the Community discussion or check out this guide on potty training here.


Bringing a new dog into your home is incredibly exciting, but at this point, you may still be a new person to your dog. Your home is certainly a new, unfamiliar environment to your dog and to help him/her adjust you need to create positive associations to prepare everyone for their new life together.

By taking these steps, you will help your dog enormously to learn this is a dependable, safe sanctuary with you.

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Next up in the New Pet Channel on Dogly

Now that you know what to do on the first day when bringing home a new dog, continue on to the next guide to learn how to have a successful first month with your new dog.

If you have any questions about acclimating your new dog as a happy member of your family, just ask in the community discussion in the New Pet Channel.

Or if you ever need more personalized dog training guidance, please reach out!

Ruby Leslie of WelfareForAnimals

Training Advocate
Dogly loves Ruby because she brings her rescue experiences to our dogs - to increase our bond, decrease behavior issues.

Ruby guides you

New Dogs - Manners - Enrichment - Reactivity - Barking - Walking

Ruby is certified

Low Stress Handling - Fear Free Veterinary Professional - Fear Free Shelters - Shelter Welfare - Enrichment - & Canine Behaviour