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Setting Your New Dog up for Success

Congratulations on adding a new member to your family! Bringing home a new dog is an exciting time for everyone in the home, but it can also be stressful for the pup. Consider the number of changes that have occurred in the dog’s life leading up to them entering your home; some dogs arrived as strays while others were recently uprooted from their previous lives before meeting you. It’s very common for them to need time, patience, and reassurance as they learn the ropes and adjust to this entirely new world they’re in.

It is important to prepare your home and family members to set your dog up for success and a minimally stressful transition. 

Recommended Supplies:

  • Food
  • Toys
  • Food/water dishes
  • Bed
  • Crate/dog-proof space
  • Leash
  • Collar
  • Enrichment items – Kongs, treat dispensing toys, snuffle mat, etc.

Decompression time

It’s crucial to give your dog time to decompress when first bringing them home. During this time, the dog is recovering from the stress of all the changes that have happened in their life and adjusting to their new home. Depending on the individual dog, their decompression time will vary. Allow several days to a few weeks for your dog to settle in. During these first few days or weeks, continue your dog’s new routine, keep home life calm and quiet, and provide mental and physical exercise. If there are other animals in the home, give your new dog and resident animals time to adjust before performing slow introductions. Though this is an exciting time for you and you may want to show your dog off to everyone, please refrain from doing so. You should not introduce your dog to new people, other family members outside of the household, nor friends in those first few days. You should also avoid taking your dog on unnecessary outings, such as the pet store or other busy environments. After your dog is given the opportunity to decompress, you can slowly begin introducing them to other resident animals and people outside of your family, and taking them on appropriate outings. Remember to always go slowly and watch your dog’s body language throughout all interactions and experiences for signs of stress. Below are guidelines on how to prepare your home and family for your new dog and provide your new dog with proper decompression time. 

Preparing for Your New Dog Before They Arrive

By preparing for your dog before they arrive, you will make the transition into your home less stressful for everyone involved, especially the dog.

The first step to preparing your home is setting up a safe space for your dog. This ideally will be a small, low-traffic, dog-proof room with a door. This room will serve as a space for your dog to stay when you are gone, as well as a comforting space for them to access if they want time away from the activity in the house. Many dogs will benefit from crate training and a crate can be placed in this room for confinement. This space should have all your dog’s needs met, including water, toys, food (during feeding times), toys, a bed, and enrichment items. This room is a safe space for your dog to spend time and decompress. This will be exceptionally important for fearful dogs or when bringing a dog into a multi-dog household where keeping two dogs physically separate will be necessary. 

In addition to setting up your new dog’s safe space, it is also important to dog-proof your house. This includes routinely picking up items left on the floor, such a clothing, shoes, toys, or anything else that you do not want your dog to chew. Any edible items on counter tops should be placed into drawers or cabinets, and you should clear any breakable items off of low surfaces such as coffee tables or book shelves. Determine if and where gates or barriers may be beneficial to limit your dog’s access when in the home. For example, blocking access to stairs or into a playroom where toys are unlikely to be picked up consistently. 

Another important aspect of dog guardianship is communication with your dog. Dogs communicate through body language, and understanding their physical cues will drastically improve your ability to support their needs. Even with history from a previous home or foster family, behavior changes in new environments and in response to new stimuli. Watching your dog’s body language during new encounters or introductions will allow you to feel confident in knowing if your dog is comfortable or if they are showing signs of stress and need a break from the interaction. See our resource on dog body language for more information.

Plan Mental and Physical Enrichment

Two important pieces of a dog’s daily life are mental and physical enrichment. Planning ahead on how you will provide your dog with both of these will help for a smooth transition. Mental enrichment items that encourage your dog to settle by engaging in calming, natural behavior (ex. frozen, stuffed Kongs) are a useful tool in helping them destress and relax. See our resource on enriching your dog’s life for details and ideas. 

Before bringing your dog home, have several enrichment items ready to go. For example, stuff several Kongs with a variety treats or dog-safe foods (ex. peanut butter, canned dog food, pumpkin, plain yogurt, etc.). This will allow you to provide your dog with an enrichment item right away when they arrive at your home, creating a more relaxing environment with which they’ll associate positive things. 

"Decompression walks” are a great tool allow your dog to stretch their legs and exercise their brains while engaging in natural behaviors. These walks are different than your average walk, as they are done using a long line, and in an environment where the dog is safe to choose where they go and explore the environment with their nose. See our resource on decompression walks for more information.

The Drive Home

When transporting your dog home, they should be secured in your car. This could mean using a crate or a doggy seat belt. If children are present, they should not be in the back seat alone with the dog. The dog may not be comfortable in a car and may be stressed or anxious with all the changes that have happened in their life. For this reason, it is important that a child is not next to the dog nor trying to hold or restrain the dog. 

Arriving Home

All family members should be calm, speak softly, and remain low key during the dog’s arrival and throughout the first few days. This is an exciting time and we understandably want to spend lots of time engaging with our new arrival, but it is important to allow them time to decompress and adjust to their new home with minimal noise, activity, and chaos. This means giving your dog ample time to relax and adjust to the home before showing them off to family, friends, and other animals. Again, this decompression time can vary from days to weeks depending on your dog. 

Upon arriving home, take your dog to a potty area to see if they need to relieve themselves. Allow them to sniff the environment and move around the area at their own pace. Even if your dog does relieve themselves during this time, be prepared for accidents. Coming into a new home with new people, new smells, and new sounds can throw even the most diligently housebroken dog off-track, so be ready just in case. See our resource on housetraining for details on that process. 

Once your dog has had a chance to go potty, allow them to explore the yard on a loose leash, leaving slack as much as possible to avoid creating any tension, then move indoors to do the same inside the home. If there are other animals in the home, keep them in a secure space during this process. See our introduction resources for more information on introducing your dog to other animals in the home. Remember, it is important to allow your new dog and resident animals both time to decompress and adjust to the new changes before performing slow introductions. Be sure to have gates in place and selected doors closed during this first walk through. After your dog settles in, you can allow access to more of your home. This could take days to weeks depending on your dog’s comfort level. If your dog is showing signs of stress or discomfort, move them directly into their safe space. Give them a high-value enrichment item and time to decompress. This will begin to build up their association with the safe space as a place for them to settle. Some dogs will prefer to be entirely alone, while others will benefit from you sitting quietly in the room with them while they engage with their enrichment item. Bring a book or headphones to occupy you, and resist the urge to watch your dog; stay focused on your own “enrichment item” and only engage with them if they approach you, keeping even those interactions very minimal and subdued. For the especially shy animals, we may be tempted to express our excitement when they finally approach, but it’s important to stay still and quiet, let them sniff you, and only pet them if they settle in next to you or nudge you for attention. Follow your dog’s body language. 

Even beyond the initial arrival period, always give your dog the choice of whether or not to interact with humans or other animals. If your dog is not approaching or soliciting attention, do not approach them to pet or interact and stop others from doing so. Giving dogs choices of who, when, and how they interact decreases their stress and creates positive relationships. 

Starting a Routine

Your new dog has experienced many changes, and setting up a routine will help to make life more predictable and therefore decrease their stress level. When considering your schedule, plan out their mealtimes, bathroom breaks, mental enrichment, and daily physical exercise. Keeping the routine consistent, especially during the first few weeks, is very important. This allows your dog to start predicting what will happen each day, automatically reducing their confusion and giving them the comfort of knowing what comes next.

Using Your Dog’s Safe Space

During the first few days, the amount of time your dog will spend in their safe space depends on the individual dog’s comfort and the events occurring in the home. The goal is for them to enjoy this space and build lots of positive associations with it. You can work towards this by giving them enrichment items in the space and slowly leaving them in there for longer periods. If the dog is showing signs of stress, slow down your process. This space should not be a place utilized for punishment nor should you only utilize it when they’re left alone for long stretches of time; again, they should find this place comforting and fun, not somewhere they are bored, stressed, or scared. Throughout your dog’s life, this safe space will be a useful management tool, such as during parties and gatherings, or when you bring home another animal down the road and temporary separation is necessary. If you choose to utilize a crate, see our crate training resource for details on that process.


Introducing your new dog to other animals and people is an important step, and one that requires prior planning and patience. Remember, behavior changes in new environments and with new stimuli. Your dog may have a history of being successful living with other dogs, kids, cats, etc., but it is still important that you follow a slow introduction process, as your dog may react differently to every new interaction. See our resources on dog-to-dog introductions, dog-to-cat introductions, and dog-to-human introductions for details on the process. 


Training is an important aspect of a dog’s life. We ask dogs to adapt to living in our homes and follow our rules, but these rules are completely arbitrary to them and usually outside of the scope of natural canine behavior. It is important to tell dogs what we would like them to do and not get upset if they don’t act as we expect them to. 

By training your dog, you are showing them what behaviors you want them to do and providing reinforcement for those behaviors. This not only sets the dog up for success in your home, but also helps to build a positive relationship between the two of you. In addition to teaching helpful behaviors for everyday life, teaching your dog new skills will also stimulate their brain and provide additional mental enrichment. It is important that training does not start until your dog has decompressed and adjusted to your home. Give them a chance to return to a calm state before teaching them new cues and skills. 

Visit to learn more about training classes and resources offered at the Wisconsin Humane Society. You can also read more about clicker training to start practicing positive reinforcement techniques on your own. Stay patient, persistent, and enjoy the ride – they’ll adjust before you know it!