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Whether you've adopted a new dog or taken in a foster, you'll need supplies to start your rescue off on the right paw.
We spoke with experts at two dog shelters and a dog trainer to come up with a list of the 21 essential supplies you need for a new dog.
Whether you've adopted your pet or are fostering them until a forever home can be found, it's important to set your dog up for success during their first days and weeks with you.
Dogs thrive on routine and predictability. Everything will be easier in the long run if you can prevent your dog from practicing unwanted behaviors in the beginning. Instead of giving your dog unsupervised access to the entire home on day one, set up a cozy space for them to safely relax using a baby gate, x-pen, or crate.
Most dogs will arrive at their new home with a bit of food from the shelter and a few other supplies. Before their arrival, pick up a harness and leash, as well as some tasty limited-ingredient treats, poop bags, food and water bowls, and toys. If your new dog is not housebroken, consider providing them with an indoor place to toilet, especially if they are puppies or seniors. Both are likely to have to urinate more frequently than other pups. If you're fostering, look for durable, versatile items that will last well into future fostering adventures.
Give your new pet time to adjust to their new home before purchasing any big-ticket items like a dog bed though. "I generally do not get a nice, pricey bed for a new dog in case they prefer another surface," said Pamela Wyman, a dog trainer with 15 years of experience and the owner of DogEvolve in Oakland, California. In general, "cheaper is better until you know your dog won't pee or poop [on it], chew it, or ignore it," she added.
Most importantly, go slow and don't be afraid to reach out for help. "Remember that dogs need time to come around. If you're struggling, reach out to a trainer, behaviorist, veterinary clinic, or even the shelter or rescue that you adopted [or are fostering] from," said Vanessa Hidden, outreach manager for Pets In Need in Palo Alto, California,
We consulted with both Wyman and Hidden to come up with our list of 21 things to have on hand when you bring home a new dog or foster. The expertise of Bunny Rosenberg, director of community engagement at Muttville Senior Dog Rescue in San Francisco, California, and my own experience as a professional dog trainer with almost a decade of experience have also helped guide our selections.
Here are 21 essentials to buy for a new dog, according to shelter staff and dog trainers:
A baby gate to separate your home into easy-to-manage spaces
When you first bring home a new pet or foster dog, a puppy-proofed confinement area is essential for promoting positive habits. Carefully put away anything you don't want to end up accidentally chewed or urinated on, including shoes, remote controls, and throw rugs. Wyman likes North States' Toddleroo gates which have a swinging door that is easy to open and close.
A sturdy crate for minimizing accidents and unwanted behaviors like chewing
If your new dog or foster has already been crate-trained, Wyman said the crate "will be instrumental in minimizing accidents and chewing" in your first days and weeks together. She likes Midwest Life Stages Double-Door Crates, which also have a built-in divider to adjust the crate size if you have brought home a young pup that is still growing. If your dog hasn't yet been crate-trained, don't expect them to be comfortable in a crate on day one. Instead, use baby gates or an x-pen to manage their access to the home while you desensitize them to the crate, if you choose.
For more options, read our guide to the best dog crates and learn how to crate train your dog.
A calming pheromone diffuser to decrease stress in the home
Research suggests that DAP, a synthetic pheromone that mimics the one produced by a nursing mother dog, can help to decrease a dog's stress, said Dr. Karen Sueda, a veterinary behaviorist at VCA West Los Angeles Animal Hospital when we spoke to her about how to calm dogs with anxiety. I like to have a DAP diffuser plugged into an outlet prior to a new dog's arrival in my home. Put the diffuser in the space your new dog is spending most of their time to help make them feel more comfortable and confident.
Absorbent pee pads to minimize accidents around the home
"Something I probably use with all of my fosters are pee pads," said Rosenberg. "I like the washable ones. Anytime I've used the disposable pads, they just kind of get ripped to shreds or make a mess. The washable ones are sturdier and tend to be larger." Pee pads are especially helpful for seniors who may have to go to the bathroom more often than younger dogs.
For more potty training ideas, see our guide to the best potty-training gear and learn how to potty train a puppy.
A natural shampoo for bathing
Wyman recommends giving new-to-you pups a bath with lots of suds, followed by a careful and thorough rinsing. She's a fan of Earthbath's soap-free shampoos. Whether you bathe your dog in a kitchen sink or bathtub, Wyman advises using lukewarm water and placing a mat or towel in the basin for your dog to stand on because a slippery floor can make bathing much more frightening.
A hardworking brush to remove excess fur and mats from long-haired dogs
"When a dog first comes home, you can expect [to need to do] basic grooming [for those] who have longer coats," said Hidden. At Pets In Need, they use the Furminator, as well as slicker brushes and other dematting tools.
Toothpaste made just for dogs
"It's always great when people want to brush their pet's teeth," said Hidden. "Don't get discouraged if teeth brushing doesn't go so well the first time around. It's going to take some getting used to, so make it tasty and fun for your pet." Starting with a spreadable food such as peanut butter or baby food can help teach your pup to love having their teeth brushed. When you are ready to transition to toothpaste, be sure to select a brand made specifically for dogs. "Human toothpaste is toxic so do your research," said Hidden.
A high-quality food to transition your dog to when they are ready
The stress of moving from shelter to foster or forever home commonly leads to gastrointestinal distress. To make your new pup's first days as easy as possible, Rosenberg recommends starting out a dog on a bland diet of home-cooked chicken and rice when possible. Otherwise, stick to the food the dog was eating at the shelter; most rescues will send dogs to their next home with a limited supply. When they're settled in, you can begin transitioning to another dog food if you wish. Look for limited-ingredient diets without a lot of fillers. If you will be feeding your dog wet food — something that seniors who have bad or missing teeth may require — Rosenberg recommends Natural Balance's canned dog foods. "They have lots of flavors, and in general, the dogs seem to really like it," said Rosenberg.
Easy-to-clean bowls for food and water that won't spook sensitive dogs
Select durable dog bowls for food and water that are easy to clean and have a nonslip bottom. Stainless steel is a good option for most dogs, but in my experience, shy or less confident dogs may have trouble at first with the shiny surface and the tinny ring the bowl makes when tags bump against it. For these dogs, a ceramic bowl with a nonslip bottom may be a better option.
Soft, tasty pill pockets for hiding medication
Many foster dogs and new adoptions come home while still on a course of medication for underlying medical issues. Pill pockets make it easy to give your pup their daily dosage, according to Rosenberg. "They're a really high-value treat, and they're also really soft," she said. This is especially helpful for a dog who may be awaiting dental care.
Single-ingredient treats that won't upset stressed-out tummies
"With a new dog, I prefer a treat that is very bland. Single-ingredient treats such as dehydrated or freeze-dried chicken, turkey, beef, or sweet potato are great," said Wyman. "Very small pieces — you can break them up — are all you need to create a good association and/or reinforce behavior." Hidden agreed: "At Pets In Need, we love freeze-dried meat for training treats."
A simple collar for holding ID tags
Most rescues send home new adoptions and fosters with a collar to hold their identification tags, but if you want a new one, stick to a simple, durable design with a sturdy buckle. This style collar shouldn't be used for walking a dog in its first weeks in a new home. For that, our experts prefer a harness or a martingale-style collar, which are much harder for Houdini dogs to escape.
Whatever you choose, Hidden recommends taking caution. "We always recommend folks avoid the use of aversive tools like prong collars, shock collars, and chain slips," she said. "Methods that include dominance and alpha-beta theories are outdated and have been found to not only be ineffective but can also cause long-term trauma and behavioral issues."
A secure, versatile harness that will work for a variety of dogs without restricting movement
Both Hidden and Wyman recommend harnesses that are able to clip to the leash at the chest for use with dogs who have just left the rescue. "Our favorite is the Freedom Harness," said Hidden. "It has front and back clips for the leash and buckles behind each shoulder. For dogs who spook easily, these are pretty tough to slip out of when fitted correctly."
A low-cost but sturdy 4- to 6-foot long nylon leash
A durable but affordable 4- to 6-foot nylon leash is ideal for walking any dog, and it's especially nice for a new pup or foster. In their first days or weeks, some dogs prefer to avoid being caught or handled. An inexpensive, lightweight leash hanging from a dog's harness can make it easier to catch them inside the home, Wyman explained. When you're ready to graduate to something of higher quality, she recommends going with a nice leather leash, like a half-inch leather leash.
A durable long line for dogs who love to romp and play at the park but don't have a reliable recall yet
For dogs who don't yet reliably come when called, a long line can keep them safe while giving them the room to run. I like the Signature K9 Biothane Long Line which is super strong, weatherproof, and won't get tangled as your dog plays.
Biodegradable poop bags for cleaning up messes
There are plenty of waste bag brands that will get the job done, but both Hidden and Wyman prefer compostable versions. "I like the green Earth Rated ones. [They're] biodegradable and sturdy enough not to rip easily," said Wyman. Although not as easy to use as waste bags, Pooch Paper offers an even more eco-friendly option for cleaning up after your dog.
A cozy blanket to snuggle up to
Since Wyman recommends waiting until you know your pet better before purchasing an expensive bed, consider getting a cozy machine-washable blanket instead. Not only can it double as a floor or crate mat, but it's something warm for your pup to snuggle up in. "I would say prioritizing a really soft blanket is probably one of the better things you can do when you're bringing a new dog into your home," said Rosenberg. And even though she primarily fosters and adopts chihuahuas, she believes that bigger blankets are best.
A food puzzle toy to work your dog's brain
Puzzle toys like the Kong Classic provide dogs with something fun to do while tapping into their genetic desire to scavenge and disembowel. "Kongs are great because you can fill them with peanut butter or cream cheese and give your dog a mental stimulus while they snack," said Rosenberg. These toys are high on the list of necessities at Pets In Need, too. "We always recommend having a Kong on hand," said Hidden.
A snuffle mat to encourage a shy dog to come out of their shell
Sometimes even dogs who are inherently exuberant will be shy and tentative during their first days and weeks in a new home. It may take these dogs some time to play with toys or more complex food puzzles like the Kong, but a snuffle mat can provide enrichment in a nonthreatening way. "We love snuffle mats for these guys," said Hidden. "It gets shy dogs up, moving around, exploring their environment, and using their nose."
A flirt pole for play and training
For dogs who have a lot of energy and drive, Wyman favors flirt poles. Like an extra-large cat wand, flirt poles are great for games of chase and can help to teach a dog basic skills. "There are so many fun videos online about how to get your dog really tired [using a flirt pole] and it's a great opportunity to teach 'drop' as part of that game," said Wyman.
A soft toy that squeaks and crinkles for maximum fun
For seniors, Rosenberg really likes softer toys that have both a loud squeak and crinkle material inside. "It hits all those auditory things for a dog," she said. Wyman is a fan of the Kong brand for plush squeakers for dogs of any age, but she warned that supervision is important since any dog toy can be dissected.
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