Life in Your Home

When you bring home a new dog or puppy, it’s all about the love. It’s tempting to forget all the basics as you look in those beautiful eyes – things like slow introductions to family members, setting a clear schedule for meals and elimination and introducing your new buddy to your house. The trouble with skipping important steps is that a new dog comes to your home like a foreigner comes to a new country. She doesn’t know the language or rules. She has her own set of rules. They were given to her by her canine parents, and they make perfect sense to her. The confusion goes double for rescued dogs. They usually didn’t understand – or weren’t understood by – their first home. Here are some tips to help make your new family member feel at home in your household more quickly:

1. Establish a private space that “belongs” to the dog – for sleeping and all meals, as well as times when you aren’t at home. We recommend you set up a comfortable crate with an exercise pen around it. Be sure the dog’s space is near the main family activity so he can watch the action and feel he’s with you – but that he isn’t directly in it. This space should always be respected by children and visitors as the “dog’s space,” and he should be left alone when eating and sleeping. If the dog isn’t crate trained already, leave the crate door open and let the dog learn to go inside on his own. If you toss a few good treats or a stuffed, frozen Kong inside the crate AFTER he goes inside, he’ll learn that going in the crate is truly wonderful. If you’re sure he’s not uncomfortable (i.e., not hungry, doesn’t have to go potty), you can ignore any “requests” for attention – he’ll learn to be quiet and relaxed. Pro tip: If you look at him, talk to him or get annoyed with him for whining or barking, he’ll whine MORE. Ignore him, and tell the kids to ignore him too. If he has terrible anxiety when he’s in the crate, enlarge his space to part of a room. Baby gates can be helpful.

2. Feed the dog all of her meals inside the crate. Check with your veterinarian about the best food(s) for your dog, and the amounts. If your dog hasn’t finished her meal in about 10 minutes, pick up the remainder. To prevent resource guarding, trade the food dish for two or three delicious, moist treats – toss the treats in the crate, and while she’s eating them, gently remove the dish. If the dog shows any signs of guarding her food or toys, contact your veterinarian or trainer right away. NEVER remove food from a dog who is “protecting” her dish. And NEVER punish or scold a growling dog.

3. Establish a routine for meals, potty and bedtimes. Dogs adapt best when they have a solid schedule. It takes at least a couple of weeks for a new dog to understand your schedule, and up to six months for a rescue dog to feel truly comfortable that she’s got a permanent home. Before six months, she may seem “normal” to you, but remember that she is still uncertain. Introduce new things, people, places to her gently. Be patient and understanding. Use a calm and happy voice with her. And when she’s being calm – lying on the floor patiently, being quiet – reward her by dropping a small, yummy treat on the floor for him occasionally. Rewards like this reinforce the calm behavior, and you’ll see more of it.

4. Make introductions to other pets, especially other Akitas, s-l-o-w-l-y and carefully. The worst way to bring any new dog into your home is to allow close interactions with the other residents too quickly. Speedy introductions to family members, and especially other household pets, can set relations up for permanent trouble. Akitas are smart and don’t forget a fight. And too much freedom for an untrained dog, or puppy, leads to bad choices – like counter-surfing, inappropriate elimination and inappropriate chewing. Provide gradual and safe introductions to people, animals and places allow your Akita to become comfortable in his new space. Follow MARS’ guidelines. Don’t cut corners by trying to hurry the settling-in period. It always takes a new household member many weeks (MARS believes up to 6 months) to feel truly at home in your house. Similarly, it takes current residents time and many brief, happy exposures to accept a new pet. One “oops, they were fine together yesterday” mistake by optimistic humans can mean the difference between animals who bond beautifully and those who become permanent enemies.

5. Teach children in your Akita’s life to be kind and responsible. Kids under 5 years of age can’t be expected to control themselves around a dog. They need adult supervision at all times. And dogs shouldn’t be expected to take whatever kids can dish out. Your Akita, like your children, needs respect and kindness from every household member. Common sense protections for both sides are the responsibility of the adults in the household. Older children can be very helpful to training and socializing your Akita, but first you need to teach them about safe and kind greetings and behavior. Watch this video for an example. Doggone Safe is another helpful resource. Remember:

  • NEVER reprimand your dog when she’s around children, no matter what. If she is agitated in any way, safely and cheerfully stop the activity that’s causing distress. If you scold, you are teaching her that when children are present, she gets in trouble. She’ll soon learn to resent the children!
  • NEVER EVER reprimand a growling dog. If you do, you’re teaching her to stop warning you when she’s nearly ready to bite. Dogs have no words to tell us how they’re feeling, and when they are getting too stressed, they ALWAYS give early warning signals using body language. But most people, children and adults, miss them. If you only learn one thing from this website, learn this, as it could save a life: Growling is your dog’s last defense after many warnings. She is screaming to you that she needs more space. That she needs your support. She is scared, and if she doesn’t get relief from what’s worrying her, her last choice is to bite. So if your dog is growling at children, she needs YOU give her help by stopping their advances! Help her, and always supervise children around dogs.

6. Hire a qualified trainer, one with certifications, when you need help with behavior issues or want to teach your dog some basics. Get more information on training and finding a good trainer. MARS agrees with Jean Donaldson, the well-respected trainer and author that “modern dog training is no longer this scary business of yanking dogs around or ‘dominating’ them. Modern dog training is based on strong underlying science and should be fun and safe – never scary or painful – for both the dog and owner.”