Dog Adoption – A Guide to the First 8 Weeks

Paws, Play, and Patience: A Guide to the First 8 Weeks of Dog Adoption

Welcoming a new four-legged friend into your life is a journey filled with joy, surprises, and lessons.

This delightful chapter calls for patience, understanding, and a heart brimming with love. With every wagging tail and excited yelp, your bond strengthens, taking you a step closer to lifelong companionship.

In the next 8 weeks, you will navigate through moments of learning, laughter, and lasting memories. Whether you are a seasoned pet parent or a first-time dog owner, this 8-week guide will walk you through every step of the exciting adventure that lies ahead.

We’ve also produced this general guide for you to print and use at home, click here to download the hi-resolution PDF.

So, let’s embark on this journey and set the foundation for a harmonious, happy life with your new furry family member.


We can’t stress enough that this is for general guidance only and does not replace the incredibly important information provided in the adoption pack from OAS or from your adoption shelter.


Week 1: The Exciting Journey Begins

Stepping into the first week with your new canine companion might feel like stepping into the unknown, but that’s where the excitement lies!

Here’s how you can make this week enjoyable and fulfilling for both of you:

  1. Walkies, but Short and Sweet: In this first week, keep your strolls limited to short, lead-bound walks. Your dog is still developing a bond with you and getting used to their new environment.
  2. Choose Your Walk Venues Wisely: Opt for quiet, open spaces where you can maintain good visibility. Steer clear of other dogs for now as lead-bound interactions can be overwhelming.
  3. Create a Safe Haven: If you’ve been told that your dog is accustomed to a crate, set one up. This will become their cosy retreat, a place where they can feel secure and comfortable.
  4. Keep Introductions Minimal: For now, your dog should only be acquainted with the members of your household. It’s not the right time for visitors or party-like introductions.
  5. Decode the Dog Language: Watch your dog closely to decipher its body language. This will help you understand if they are comfortable or stressed. Learn about calming signals in dogs and the ‘Ladder of Aggression’ to better understand their communication.
  6. Respect Their Boundaries: A growl is a dog’s way of communicating discomfort. Instead of punishing this behaviour, step back, reassess the situation, and think about how you can make your dog more comfortable.
  7. Minimise Alone Time: Avoid leaving your new companion alone for long periods. Gradually increase their alone time, starting with short intervals in a different room and gradually moving to brief exits from the house. Setting up a camera to observe their behaviour can be useful.
  8. Tag them for Safety: Ensure your dog wears a collar with an ID tag at all times, including your surname, address, and postcode, as legally required.
  9. Considerate Introductions: If there are other pets in the house, introduce them to your new dog in controlled, calm stages. Consult with OAS for advice on the best approach.
  10. Avoid Sensory Overload: In the early days, it’s crucial not to overwhelm your dog with too many new experiences, whether positive or negative.

Remember, rushing to training classes or the vet isn’t advised in this early phase. Your dog’s brain is busy processing their new surroundings and building trust in you. Vet visits should only be for immediate medical concerns. Embrace the journey, take it slow, and enjoy each moment of these foundational days. Your patience and understanding during this time will help your dog settle into their new home and build a strong bond with you.


Weeks 2 & 3: Charting the Course

As you journey into weeks 2 and 3 with your new furry friend, things are going to get more exciting! Here’s your guide to making these weeks fulfilling and fun:

  1. Walkies Graduation: Continue lead-bound walks, but it’s time to introduce recall tests. Start these within your house and garden. If you have access to an escape-proof, secure field, this can also be an ideal space for off-lead exercise and recall tests.
  2. Location, Location, Location: Keep choosing quiet, open places for your walks. Good visibility will ensure that you don’t run into other dogs, maintaining a peaceful and non-threatening environment.
  3. Meet and Greet: If your dog is comfortable around adults, introduce them to key family members. Children should still wait their turn. Make sure this interaction is calm and controlled.
    • Teach your dog to interact calmly with visitors by avoiding hallway encounters. Bring your guests into the garden or house, and ask them to sit before inviting your dog to say hello. Request your guests to let your dog approach them first.
    • Guests should stand to the side of your dog, stroke the dog’s shoulder nearest to them for a maximum of 3 seconds, and then stop. If your dog enjoyed it, they’d ask for more; if not, they might walk away. Keep these interactions short and ensure your dog has a safe zone to retreat to if needed.
    • While you entertain, give your dog a chew or a stuffed Kong to keep them occupied and calm.
  4. Building Independence: Continue to gradually increase your dog’s alone time. However, never leave your dog alone for longer than they can handle. Although the maximum recommended time is 4 hours, let your dog’s comfort be your guide.
  5. Making Memories: Have fun and enjoy each other’s company! Start teaching house rules and manners.
    • Go slow with complex obedience tasks, as your dog may still struggle with them. Instead, engage them in scent work – it’s calming, tiring, and fun for them!
    • Enjoy quiet cuddle times (if your dog likes them, not all do), play with toys, and work on getting a good response to your dog’s name and recall.
    • Remember, though, no roughhousing. While some dogs might enjoy it, others may panic. Plus, remember that a dog will always be stronger and have bigger teeth!

These weeks are all about establishing trust and understanding. Take your time, be patient, and before you know it, you’ll be inseparable companions. Remember, it’s not just about training your dog; it’s about getting to know them and growing together. Enjoy these early days, they’ll be over before you know it!


Weeks 4 & 5: Continuing the Journey

Now that you’re a few weeks into your journey with your new best friend, it’s time to step things up a notch. Here’s your roadmap for weeks 4 and 5:

  1. Stretching the Lead: If you feel comfortable, begin using a long lead or extendable lead to further work on recall. Remember to learn how to use it safely, and ensure your dog learns to follow you, slow down, or stop when asked. This marks a significant progression in your walks and your bond with your new pal.
  2. Expanding the Circle: If your dog is ready, you might start introducing them to more friends, still in a controlled and calm manner. This is another way to enhance their socialisation skills and help them feel more comfortable around others.
  3. Meeting Doggy Friends: Now is the time to consider introducing your dog to other known dogs outside of the house only. We recommend at least 5 – 10 meetings before bringing the other dog into your home.
    • Start with parallel walking on a lead with a calm, confident, older dog. If introductions go well, you could consider hiring a secure field for off-lead playtime.
    • If your dog is uncomfortable around others, this step may take a longer time. You may need months of work and assistance from the Sanctuary’s behaviourist. Always put your dog’s comfort and safety first.
  4. Food Bowl Trust: It’s essential to ensure that your dog is comfortable with people around their food bowl. Do not take the bowl away from them.
    • As they’re finishing their meal, add some more food to their bowl. Make this a practice with every meal, so they learn that people approaching their food bowl means more deliciousness is on the way. This practice will help them associate you being around their food bowl with positive experiences.
    • If your dog is a known resource guarder, do not attempt this without professional help. Always contact the Sanctuary for guidance in such cases.

Remember, these are your weeks of growing together. Mistakes will be made, and patience will be tested, but in the end, it’s all about the love and bond you are building with your new companion. Every dog is unique, so let your furry friend’s comfort and personality guide your journey. Let’s make these weeks count!


Week 6: Navigating the Path

Welcome to week 6 of your journey with your newfound companion! Here’s your guide for this critical week:

  1. Urban Explorations: If your dog seems confident, try walking around quiet streets for a slow, sniffy walk. Reward them for calm behaviour when passing people, other dogs, wheelie bins, roadworks, bin lorries, etc. If your dog seems to struggle with these, it’s okay. Stop for now, and ask for professional help from the Sanctuary.
  2. Home Sweet Home: If your dog’s meetings with known dogs have been going well, it’s time to invite their canine friends over. Meet them for a walk first and then come into the house together. Keep the visit to around 20 minutes and never leave them unattended. If play gets too much, put both on leads and help them calm down.
  3. Recall Reinforcement: Keep your dog on a long lead if your recall isn’t 100%. It’s all about safety first.
  4. Expanding the Circle: If you’re satisfied with your dog’s interaction with known dogs, consider meeting other dogs. Keep the long lead on them to manage interactions. Quick sniffs are fine, but always ensure they’re comfortable. Remember, not all dogs are good at meeting other dogs on a lead.


Weeks 7 & 8: Growing Together

As you and your dog continue to understand and adapt to each other, weeks 7 and 8 will present more growth opportunities:

  1. Problem-Solving: Work on anything you’ve noticed your dog finds hard. Remember, you can always reach out to OAS for help if you’re struggling.
  2. Training Classes: Now might be the right time to consider joining a training class or introducing your dog to a fun dog sport. A one-to-one session with a trainer can help assess your dog’s ability and responses before diving into group settings.
  3. Behaviour Plans: If your dog has a behavioural problem, you should ideally be in close contact with the Sanctuary and the OAS behaviourist. Together, you can develop a behaviour plan tailored for your dog.


Remember, these are only guidelines. Every dog is unique, and it’s essential to adjust the pace based on your dog’s comfort and progress. If you notice reactions that you weren’t expecting, don’t hesitate to reach out to us immediately for advice and help. If your dog is reactive or has a behavioural issue, please do not try to tackle it alone.

Always feel free to seek help from the start from OAS. Your journey with your new companion is about patience, understanding, and, above all, love.

Keep up the great work!