Bringing home your new pet

Bringing a new pet into your home can be a wonderful experience. Your new family member will need your patience and understanding during this transition. Please remember that your new companion has been through many new experiences lately.

Bringing your pet home

Once your new companion is home it may take him or her a few days to settle in and adjust, and for you to see their true personality shine through. It is possible your pet has never seen inside a house before, or not had a lot of experience in a loving home. Keep this in mind as you introduce your pet to new people and new things. Sometimes new things can be scary for them. We suggest that it may take the first week with you to adjust and get to know your family. Try not to overwhelm them with a lot of new people and new situations in the first few days. If it seems to be taking longer, or if your new pet seems more than unusually stressed, there are some strategies that can help.

  • Establishing an area, which is enclosed and quiet, where they can hide undisturbed. This may mean supervising children or other pets away from the “safe house”.
  • Pheromones – Feliway for cats or Adaptil for dogs – can help relieve the stress.
  • Thundershirts can be helpful for any dog which is stressed, fearful or anxious.
  • You can buy stuffed toys with the sound of beating hearts, some people use clocks or stuffed toys to replicate the feel of the litter mates when dealing with puppies or kittens.

Establishing a Relationship with your Veterinarian

It is important for both you and your new family member to establish a relationship with a veterinarian. Most animals will require a second vaccination to be fully vaccinated. The details will be found on your adoption papers: please read these carefully as they detail when the next vet treatment is due.

It is a good time to go over preventive care such as heart worm, intestinal worm, flea and tick prevention.

It is a good idea to try and make your vet visits a positive experience by bringing along your dog’s favourite treats. They work best if your pet has not been fed recently. It is also a good time to get your pet used to travelling. See Cat and kitten care / 4 tips to get your cat to the Vet

Please bring ALL the paperwork with you when you come for your check-up and vaccination. For more information on puppies, visit Dogs and puppy care / Puppy care. For kittens please see Cat and kitten care / Kitten care

Pet Insurance Information

While you are covered for the first 2 weeks for infectious diseases by the RSPCA guarantee, accidents do occur. There is a FREE 4 week insurance given to all puppies and kittens when they come for a vaccination. This will not cover pre-existing conditions.

Changing Diet

While at the shelter your new pet has been eating Hill’s Science Diet. It is a premium quality pet food. However, if you plan on changing to a different food, it is important to mix the old food in with the new food, and switch over slowly to avoid stomach upset. Start by mixing 3/4 old food with 1/4 new food, then 1/2 old food 1/2 new food, then 1/4 old food, 3/4 new food until you are switched over to the new food completely.


Socialisation and Handling

Puppies have a window of socialisation where they are most open to being exposed to new experiences, people, and objects. This window of socialisation is generally from 8 weeks to 16 weeks of age. It is important to take advantage of this window to help you dog become a well adjusted adult, fostering as many positive experiences during this sensitive period as possible.

We recommend attending some puppy pre-school class. Our classes are held on Tuesday nights, 6 pm – 7 pm. They are a great time to get on-going advice about any issues you might have. They also start the basic commands such as sit, down, stay and come.

Try to think of as many things as you can that your dog may be exposed to over his/her lifetime, some examples are: stairs, umbrellas, winter coats, hats, gloves, men with beards, hooded sweatshirts, people of different ages and races, crutches, wheel chairs, walkers…

The more exposure, the better – but always have high value food rewards on hand to help your dog associate these new and potentially frightening things/ experiences with something positive.

If your puppy seems nervous, don’t push him/her to get too close to what they are afraid of – instead, let them approach on their own terms. Encourage them and feed them as they make positive progress. You are your dog’s advocate and guardian, stick up for them if you need to, they aren’t always understood when they try to use their body language to express their feelings.

Also take this time to get your dog used to all different kinds of handling – make it fun! Feed them while you touch their paws, press on their toes (as would be done during a nail trim), look in their mouths, play with their ears, etc. This will make vet visits, and giving medications if needed in the future, less scary and more routine.


Don’t despair if your dog is older than 16 weeks – there is a well adjusted, happy life in their future too if you are willing to work with them a little. Helping them adjust to new things, or scary things, isn’t all that different from what you would do with a puppy during the socialisation period, it just may take a little more time and patience.

Most instances of “aggression” in dogs are actually caused by fear. When dogs are pushed to or past their “threshold” (the point where they feel threatened enough to act out in order to protect themselves or resources they deem valuable), is when we most often see aggressive behaviour. Threshold distances and reactions vary from dog to dog, just as it would in a human. (You may be perfectly fine seeing a spider from a foot away, but your best friend may run screaming or swat at it.)

Once we have determined where the dog’s threshold is, we do our best to avoid it. Instead, we slowly introduce the dog to the thing that makes it anxious by feeding treats and retreating if we see signs of stress (to be listed later). In this way we change the dog’s mindset: “Seeing other dogs while on leash means I get food! And, when I start to feel nervous, my human lets me move away and get more space so I feel comfortable again! Seeing other dogs (kids, men with beards, vacuum cleaners, etc.) isn’t so bad after all!”

Putting some time in to help our dogs feel more at ease in the world and learn to trust us is time well spent and will only increase your bond with your new best friend.

While there are many training methods available, it is important to make sure that you find the trainer/training class that uses positive reinforcement to train your dog. Dogs and other animals learn in the same basic manner that people do, and positive reinforcement is scientifically proven to be the best way to teach any living being. Not only do the dogs learn quickly, they enjoy learning, and it also helps build the bond between dog and human.

A quick note on some basic learning theory terms:

  1. Positive reinforcement, by definition, is adding something desirable to increase the occurrence of a specific behavior. We use whatever motivates the dog, whether it be food, a tennis ball, or praise, to reinforce behaviours that we like, and want the dog to repeat.
  2. Negative punishment, by definition, is taking away something desirable to decrease the occurrence of a specific behaviour. We ignore, or remove our attention from the dog when it behaves in a way that it not desirable. This decreases the behaviours that we don’t like, without physically punishing the dog, or having to use physical force.
  3. Positive Punishment, by definition, is the addition of a stimulus that causes pain or is unpleasant in some way, as a method to stop a dog from repeating a certain behaviour.

While positive punishment can seem like a “quick fix”, it is not as helpful in changing behaviour because while they now know what you DON’T want them to do, they have no idea what they should do instead, and will often repeat the same behaviour again even though they will be punished for it. Also, often over time, more and more physical force is often needed to get the same results. This type of training can be damaging to both the dog and to the relationship between dog and human.

Recommendations and References for Basic Training Issues

House Training:

Today’s preferred method of house training is crate training. A crate used for house training should be just large enough for the dog to stand up, turn around and lie down in. Dogs typically won’t soil in the same area that they sleep.

Training pads and papers are not recommended as this sends a mixed signal: it’s okay to go to the bathroom in the house “sometimes”. It is best to send a clear message.

Keep a close eye on your dog/puppy in the house, if they start sniffing around looking for a place to void, take them outside. When they do go to the bathroom outside praise them excitedly and feed them a treat. They frequently want to go about half an hour after a meal. So make sure you keep an eye out then.

If they have an accident in the house, whoops! There is not much you can do about it after the fact. But, if you catch them in the act, you can make a loud noise to disrupt them and promptly bring him/her outside. Praise them as described above if they finish what they started inside, outside.

The umbilical method is a handy way to make sure your dog doesn’t go out of sight to go the bathroom when you are not paying attention. Use their leash to attach them to your belt loop or keep them attached to your chair.

Puppy Biting and Chewing:

Teething puppies will be nippy, and they will chew on various objects. Puppies play and wrestle with their mouths. While this is normal behaviour, those sharp puppy teeth can be painful!

Some ways to deal with puppy biting:

  1. Make a yelping noise if they nibble too hard. This is how puppies signal to each other that a bite is too rough, and most puppies respond quite well, and will remove their mouths when they hear it.
  2. Holding still – a moving target is more fun than one that doesn’t respond. While this can be difficult to do, it is effective.
  3. If standing still is not an option, remove yourself from the room the puppy is in. They will learn that rough play makes their person disappear. This is a way of using negative reinforcement to change the behavior. An alternative is to remove the puppy. Just as young children sometimes get over tired and act up, puppies do as well, and sometimes guiding them quietly to their crates for a time out and a nap is the best course of action.
  4. Other options are redirecting the play, instead of wrestling, get a ball and play fetch, or give the dog an appropriate chew toy such as a frozen Kong or bully stick.