New Dog Owner: Start Off On the Right Paw




Very often by the time, a new dog owner calls me for help they've already created some really bad habits with their dog(s). Most of these habits could have been easily avoided if they followed some of my simple ‘new dog success' tips.


Most bad habits could have be easily avoided if you followed some of my simple ‘new dog success' tips.


Dog getting petted.

It's pretty easy to make crucial mistakes when you have a sweet, adorable, cute, puppy staring you down. It's almost as if that puppy knows how to use their cuteness to get there way, am I right?

Let me point out some crucial tips I want you to know about so you can transition this furry companion into your home with ease and most importantly, success! After all, prevention is far more effective, affordable and takes less time than correction and trying to undo lots of mistakes and bad habits you (accidentally) created.

It's Never Too Early to Start Training

First, it is never too early to start training your dog. You do not have to wait weeks or months to teach your dog manners, and cues like “sit”, “down” or “leave it”. Typically we start training the day we pick up and bring home our 8-10 week old puppies. Yes, you read that right…the day of adoption!

Mini chihuahua
Mini chihuahua

It all starts with the car ride home. Here's where they first mistake begins. Most people want to bring their new dog home on their lap. They want to love it, hold it, and snuggle it the whole way home but you're actually missing out on one the most important car ride/ training sessions there is. The initial car ride home should include the puppy in the crate. The reason for this is that the car ride typically will lull a puppy to sleep making their first experience away from their littermates and mother not only a pleasant one but a relaxing one…most importantly in a crate.

You want the first experience in the crate to be very positive since that is where they will sleep their first night away from their former family (Do not bring your new puppy into bed with you the first night). In addition, the crate is like a car seat we use for infants and toddlers. It's designed to keep the child safe in the event you have to stop fast or are in an accident.

Use the Crate
Dog in a crate
Dog in a crate

The second most common mistake new dog owners make is avoiding the use of a crate. A crate is designed to keep a dog, whether puppy or adult dog, safe and out of trouble while they transition into a new home. It is not cruel to put a dog in a crate. We put children in pack-n-plays and cribs all the time to keep them safe and confined when we can not watch them 100% of the time or when they need to sleep. The same rules apply to our brand new dog as well. Dogs naturally try to seek out a safe quiet place to rest or go when they feel unsafe, anxious or overwhelmed. When you properly crate train your dog they will go to their crate without any hesitation. If you need help crate training your dog check out this mini-lesson.

Your new dog is like a stranger in your home.


They need to earn your trust before you start to let your guard down. Until your new dog learns all the guidelines you have for them they need to have restricted access to things that could get them into trouble. Blocking off rooms and using a crate will help you restrict their access to places they shouldn't be just yet. In addition using a crate immensely helps with potty training your dog.

That first night home for your new dog can be overwhelming so you want to make sure it goes smoothly. Don't fall into the temptation of bringing your dog into bed with you. The bed, along with furniture, has to be earned and brand new puppies do not know how to earn access to the coveted couch or bed just yet. That comes with training. I am not a trainer that says “no furniture” but I am a trainer that always says “nothing in life is free” and “dogs must learn to earn all things they want”.

Puppy Proofing

The third thing I see quite often when I go to a new clients home is the lack of puppy proofing. Usually, the call comes in that they can't get the dog to stop destructive chewing and they are peeing all over all the carpets. When I get to the house I see that they have all sorts of household items out at the pDog chewing destructivelyuppy's level, enticing them to chew on, tug at, and tear apart. When you puppy proof your home make sure everything and anything that can be chewed is picked up and put away. This includes electrical cords, knick-knacks, important papers, electronics and every piece of clothing and shoe you can think of.

DO not leave anything out that you don't want to be destroyed. Even though your 8-week old puppy might not be too active when you bring them home I guarantee in the coming weeks their energy level and curiosity will increase immensely! This is also why we restrict access to all but one room at a time. When the dog has learned how to go potty outside and is only chewing on their appropriate toys, they can earn an additional room. Remember one room at a time, don't overwhelm your new dog with access to the entire home all at once.

Firm and Fair

The fourth thing I see is lack of guidance and structure from the beginning When you leave your dog to choose to make up their own rules you are asking for trouble. You should be a more firm and fair, in the beginning, to set the tone and give the dog some guidelines to follow, otherwise, they will be confused as to the rules of your home and what they should and shouldn't be doing. So many people think they don't need to set any rules in place for their sweet innocent 8-week old puppy but then when that puppy hits the 3-month or the 6-month mark and they are starting to get a little more independent and pushy the owners start to panic.

I always try to teach my students that whatever cute but naughty behavior they let go now is only going to be 10 times worse by the time the dog hits the 6-month mark. That's a pretty common age of dogs brought into shelters because owners couldn't handle the rowdy, unruly naughty behaviors. They didn't start training the dog from day one or they were very lax with rules for the dog from the get-go. Set rules and start training right from the beginning. It will be easier for you to start from the beginning than to try to establish rules after you already allowed your dog to do something you now don't want them to do.

You Can Only Go Forward

The last no-no, and quite popular “oops” is overcompensating for the mistreatment of a rescued dog or feeling bad for the dog's past living situation and limiting the rules for them. You can only go forward with a dog, you can not take what happened to them in the past and try to “make it up” to them. Dog's live in the now and although they may have had a rough go to start with; you limiting their rules or structure is actually doing them more harm than good. These dogs didn't have any guidance in the past, they didn't have someone teaching them right from wrong so more than likely when the previous owner was mistreating them it was because they were angry with the dogs' behavior.

The previous owner didn't take the time to teach them what their puppy should and shouldn't be doing, you need to do that for them now. You need to teach them how to be successful in a home environment and that requires the right guidance, consistency, and exercise, otherwise, the dog will always be in a state of worry or confusion. (Make sure to seek out the professional help of an Animal Behaviorist (not just a trainer) when you're working with a dog that has fear, aggression, guarding or any other behavioral issues arising from their past situations.)


If you want to start off on the right paw make sure to follow these five tips so you can have the dog of your dreams:

1) Bring your new dog home in a crate not on your lap

2) Use a crate to keep your dog safe and while you're working on potty training

3) Don't forget to puppy proof your home and remove all temptations from your new dog's line of sight (and mouth!)

4) Set ground rules and guidelines from the beginning and start training the day you bring your dog home

5) Don't throw rules out the window just because your rescued dog had a rough start, they are with you now and need the help they should have gotten in the beginning so create structure for them (this includes rules, training and tons of praise for jobs well done (and treats since they probably received little to none previously)

Bringing home a new dog, whether puppy or adult dog, is one of the most rewarding experiences. Setting yourself and your dog up for success from the beginning will be even more rewarding as your dog grows and matures. Make sure to follow these and our other training tips found on our blog to help you train your dream dog!


What are you hoping for when you bring your new dog home for the first time?

About the trainer 

Michele Lennon

After spending 20 years helping families with their dogs face to face as a professional dog trainer, Michele realized that so much of what she knows could be shared with families everywhere - in a way that actually works. People sometimes think their dog is just SUPER difficult because the advice they’ve gotten was incomplete, confusing or just wrong. So she set out to help. Michele loves training dogs because of the impact that it has on the families she gets to help.  The peace and joy they get from being able to enjoy their dog LISTENING. Besides teaching classes, helping private clients and running seminars, Michele is also a foodie and fantasizes about being a food critic or secret shopper for restaurants.  Talk to her about food and your instant best friends.

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