We can all agree that first impressions are a big deal in life. Whether we’re meeting our partner’s family, or interviewing for a new job, the stakes are high and we take it seriously. People fail to realize though that when it comes to meeting their new dog it could be make or break. Whether you just bought a puppy or adopted a rescue, that first day is crucial to setting up your relationship…so seriously, don’t f*ck it up!
Dogs are extremely in tune with energy. They pick up on the tiniest things. I always tell my clients that the first week of owning your new dog they are studying you, observing and assessing your every move, your routines, what you do and how you do it. And what are we typically doing that first week? Constantly fussing over the new dog. Is she happy? Is she comfortable? Does she love me yet?
Needless to say, we surrender all power to the puppy. Instead of embodying calm confidence and making a dog feel safe and secure, we create chaos and excitement. We parade the dog around and invite everyone we know over to come and celebrate the newest addition. This is not only overwhelming to a dog of any age, it’s confusing, intimidating, and down right rude. We are inviting complete strangers over to add to the excitement and infringe on the dog’s intimate space, insisting they hold the dog, pet the dog, talk to the dog, and play with the dog.
Don’t see why it’s such a big deal? Well, imagine yourself in the dog’s shoes. Let’s say you just traveled somewhere you’ve never been before, by yourself and you get picked up by strangers who take you to their home. They are shouting at you in a different language, you don’t understand them, or why they are constantly touching you, and have invited over many people to do the same thing….oh and your naked. That’s the life of a dog!
Now compare that to the experience a brand new puppy would have just left a calm, quiet room, where her mother protects her and her siblings. There are clear rules: when to eat, sleep and play. There are boundaries of where they can and cannot go. There are even limits to how intensely they can play with their litter-mates. There is order in their pack which creates a sense of peace, and their mom is a clear leader for them. She is calm and assertive.
See how completely opposite that is to the life we introduce them to?
All my dogs have been rescues from other countries and I try my absolute best to ensure that they feel safe in their new environment and know the expectations from the start. They may have come from stressful situations, so the easiest way for me to gain their trust and respect is to first show them trust and respect. I make sure to spend one on one time with the dog so we can learn about each other and in the house they have their own space to be left alone. I do not force relationships at the start. It’s like dating, you have to keep some distance to feel each other out at the beginning and then you can grow closer. Most people put all their cards on the table, not allowing the dog room to breathe. That would be like telling someone you love them on a first date as well as listing all your insecurities, deepest secrets and fears and expecting them not to think you’re crazy. That person would take what they wanted and then leave. A dog doesn’t have that luxury. So the dog walks in, takes a step back that first week to assess the environment and everyone in the pack and if there is unbalanced energy and zero structure, that dog will assume no one is in control and therefore take the leadership role.
So if you don’t want to mess up the first day, here’s what you absolutely SHOULD NOT do
- Never pet your dog when they are doing a behaviour you do not want. So if it’s barking, jumping, whimpering, or what have you, resist, otherwise you are training your dog to do just that. You get what you pet. So always ask yourself first, how does the dog feel before you pet them.
- Don’t let your dog walk all over you…literally. You absolutely must establish boundaries around yourself. Don’t allow the dog to jump on you, lean on you or push you around physically. Dogs only do that to to people and things they don’t respect. Be sure to claim your space and ask your dog to move away from you unless invited in.
- Your dog can never pull you on leash. Plain and simple, if the dog is in front they are the leader and you are the follower. Always ensure your dog is walking beside or behind you. This is always easier when you use a proper training tool and start the walk calmly without excitement. If you struggle with this step be sure to contact a trainer who can help or check out my blogs on walking.
So what should you do day 1? My advice to you is simple. Go slow. Be patient. Speak less, listen more. Be a source of calmness not excitement. Give the dog down time to be alone – no one likes to fussed over 24/7. Be clear about rules from day 1. You can always lighten up on rules later, but it’s much harder to be more strict if you’ve already been super relaxed on rules. And that’s why you should never f-up day one!
Good luck…and don’t f*ck it up!