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How To Introduce An Adopted Dog To The Family

By Kayla Fratt

Bringing home an adopted dog is a time of wonder, fun and serious adjustment! You, your family and your new dog are all going through a lot of big changes. Properly introducing your newly adopted dog to your family can help set everyone up for success down the line.

It’s best if everyone meets your adopted dog before the pup comes home. Most shelters and rescues will allow you to do a meet-and-greet with the whole family because they want your new pup to succeed in the home! They will often allow you to bring your other dogs in for the meet-and-greet as well, although your cat will have to stay home. 

In most cases, the shelter or rescue will help facilitate introductions. They know the dog best and probably have a protocol that works for them — so follow their lead! But if decision making falls on your shoulders, here are some suggestions.

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Where to do introductions: With the pandemic going on, some shelters and rescues may not allow you to bring the whole family in for a meet-and-greet. It’s hard to maintain social distancing in an adoption consultation room with a family of six! Ask to meet the dog outdoors in a play yard or on a walk and see if they can make accommodations.

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Ask to meet the dog outdoors in a play yard or on a walk and see if they can make accommodations… Make sure that wherever you choose to go is relatively quiet and very secure.

If you simply can’t bring the whole family in for the introduction, make do with what you can. Rather than overwhelming your dog in a small space, find an outdoor area for the meet-and-greet. Make sure that wherever you choose to go is relatively quiet and very secure. Don’t let your new dog off-leash for a meet-and-greet in a local baseball diamond where your dog could slip out the dugout, for example. 

Who to do introductions with: Rather than crowding your new dog with the extended family, let your dog meet the family over the course of a few days or weeks. Prioritize immediate family members and roommates.

How to do introductions: Whether you’re introducing your adopted dog to the family at the shelter or in the backyard, the process will look similar.

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You can do some treat scatters on the ground where your dog sniffs out a handful of treats in the grass. This will help reduce jumping. As your new dog settles in and seems a bit more relaxed, your family can kneel down to greet them.

  • If your new dog is exuberant and excited: prioritize somewhere large and plan to keep your dog moving. These sorts of dogs do best with activity-based introductions where they can focus on moving and sniffing rather than just jumping at your son’s face over and over again. Take the dog for a walk where everyone keeps moving until the dog relaxes a bit, even if you’re just walking in circles in a park. You can do some treat scatters on the ground where your dog sniffs out a handful of treats in the grass. This will help reduce jumping. As your new dog settles in and seems a bit more relaxed, your family can kneel down to greet them. Avoid bending over them, as this can be intimidating and may leave your nose vulnerable to a painful bonk if the dog jumps! If your dog gets overly excited, simply start moving again. These dogs are also likely to ping-pong between people. Take extra care with small children who could be knocked over by a dog ricocheting around!

  • If your new dog is shy and skittish: go slow and let the dog approach your family. Have some treats ready but don’t demand that your dog eat them from your hand. Instead, toss them gently behind your dog so that they can turn around, eat the treats and then decide if they want to approach you again. Keep your side or back to the dog if they seem really nervous and just drop a happy little trail of treats. In most cases, the dog will warm up in no time! 

  • If your new dog is in the middle: take it easy! Plan on meeting somewhere neutral and bring some treats. Let your dog take them from people’s hands and let him solicit petting (or not). If he jumps, simply turn away. If he shies away from your bearded husband, give him some extra treats. 

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Keep your side or back to the dog if they seem really nervous and just drop a happy little trail of treats. In most cases, the dog will warm up in no time!

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Generally, it’s best to keep the first few days pretty low-key for your new dog. They’ve just been through several huge changes and will likely need at least a few days of really solid sleep. They probably weren’t sleeping well at the shelter and overall just need some time to decompress. Give them a quiet, comfy place to sleep: a squishy bed in a covered crate will do the trick, even if you don’t close the crate door. Avoid having guests over or taking your new dog on trips around town. If you do need to run some errands or have someone over, try to keep interactions brief and positive. Your dog will let you know if they truly want to meet your guests — don’t push it or stress out if they’d rather have extra space for the first few weeks.

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Give them a quiet, comfy place to sleep: a squishy bed in a covered crate will do the trick, even if you don’t close the crate door. Avoid having guests over or taking your new dog on trips around town.

Try to take some family walks in nature and give your dog lots of treats for good behavior. It’s ok if he’s a bit pudgy right now — you can focus on weight loss once he’s settled in behaviorally! Especially focus on having the family members that your dog is a bit nervous around give the treats. If your dog is too nervous to eat from their hands, have them simply drop treats behind them for the dog to come nibble. Treats behind the family member are less intimidating than trying to convince your dog to take treats from the “paws” of a “monster.”

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Especially focus on having the family members that your dog is a bit nervous around give the treats. If your dog is too nervous to eat from their hands, have them simply drop treats behind them for the dog to come nibble.

On the flip side, if your dog displays some aggression towards a family member, you’ll want to get help from a trainer right away. Your shelter or rescue may have one on staff or a local partner. If not, check the IAABC and CPDT trainer locators for a trainer nearby. 

While you wait for your first appointment, consider having the family member participate in parallel walks with your dog. They can simply walk on the opposite side of the street or sidewalk (whichever distance is more comfortable for your dog) and reward your dog from looking away from the family member in question. This approach is shown in this video below, although it’s demonstrated with a dog instead of a human!

Most of the time, this process should go pretty smoothly. We’ve bred dogs for thousands of years to be our companions so they tend to be pretty good at it! However, some shelter dogs have genetic or behavioral histories that make this a bit more challenging. If you’re really feeling stuck with your adopted dog and their introductions to your family, don’t hesitate to reach out to a qualified trainer for help. It’s better to get help quickly and resolve a budding problem than to wait until you need a full-blown veterinary behaviorist due to a serious issue.

Enjoy your new pup as much as they will enjoy their new life with you!


Check out this related article, How To Socialize Your Puppy At Home During The COVID-19 Lockdown.


Kayla Fratt is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant and the owner of Journey Dog Training. She’s passionate about helping owners prevent and treat behavior problems in their pets. She also works as a conservation detection dog trainer with her border collies in Missoula, Montana. She’s an avid runner, cross-country skier and a budding agility competitor.

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