The First Days with Your Senior Dog

Senior dog

Congratulations on the new old dog in your life! Adding a new canine friend to your home is exciting and fulfilling, and when it's a senior dog somehow it's even more meaningful. Here are some tips to get started on the right paw:

First and foremost, go slowly and don't overdo it. This is not the time to invite everyone over to meet your new family member. While most senior dogs are amazingly adaptable, your new dog will appreciate some quiet time to get to know you and other household members (humans and other pets). Introduce the new dog to other pets in the household individually, especially if you have two or more other dogs. A walk in neutral territory away from your home is a great way to start the bonding process.

After the introductions and taking the new dog for a tour of the house and yard, settle down for some rest after all the "excitement." Sleep is good and chances are your new family member is exhausted. If you adopted your senior dog from a shelter, remember that he is coming from an extremely stressful and noisy place and in the quiet and safety of your home he may sleep almost continuously for the first few days to catch up. Unless there's an immediate need, save any stressful activities like bathing or visiting the vet until after these first days, when they've had a chance to rest and adjust.

Provide a safe spot for your dog. If he's already crate trained, his very own crate with a fluffy bed will be welcomed. A safe spot shouldn't be solitary confinement, so be sure you don't isolate the crate in a little-used utility room, where he will feel segregated and cut off from companionship and family activities. If your senior dog is not crate trained, don't force it now, but do place a bed in a quiet corner where he can feel safe. Even after they get comfortable, many dogs appreciate an open crate or special hiding spot that is "theirs." Your newly adopted senior dog may watch you like a hawk for the first few days. He is learning about you, so let him enjoy feeling safe while he learns the household sounds and routines. As he becomes more relaxed you'll find he wants to join you during your activities, and may readily follow the lead of any other dogs in the household. Until you're sure he's settling in, keeping him leashed outside (even in a fenced yard) is a good safety measure.

Go easy with the diet transition. If you're able to, get some of the food (or at least the brand name) that your senior dog was eating before you brought him home and use this to transition slowly to the food you want to feed. A sudden change to a new diet, especially from a poor quality diet to a high quality diet, can be very disruptive to the digestive system, so plan on mixing the old and the new foods together for at least a week, slowly using less and less of the old food. Mixing in a little plain cooked rice for the first few days is helpful to keep the food bland and gentle to the digestive tract. If your new dog is refusing to eat, don't go overboard to entice eating by switching foods abruptly to try something new and different, and resist adding rich table scraps to the food. A day or two without eating won't hurt and is a normal reaction to stress. A little fat-free chicken broth poured on the food could help with appetite enhancement. Talk to your vet (and the organization or person you adopted from) if the hunger strike goes on for more than a couple of days.

The first week is generally the time where your new dog is adjusting and adapting to your home, and his personality may seem dull or perhaps fearful. Give it time. Usually after this first transition week, the real dog starts to emerge. It's important to stay as neutral as possible during this transition time, stick to routine, and not coddle the dog overmuch. Depending on where he came from, and how much you know about his background, it's normal for a newly adopted dog to lay low for the first week or so, and not blossom until he begins to feel comfortable and trusts you. Too much babying during this time can actually reinforce undesirable behavior and even create bad behavior, as some dogs will learn to "work it" to their own advantage.

You will likely find that adopting a senior dog is one of the most rewarding things you've ever done. You've saved a life and provided a warm, safe home for an old dog in need, and he'll repay you with love and devotion for the rest of his days.