Young man hugging staffie dog


So you have found your new family member and the time has come to bring them home! Whilst this can be an extremely exciting time, it can also be a bit nerve-wracking for both the humans wondering how their new furry friend will settle in and for your new addition finding their paws in their new environment and adapting to your family routine. 

Dog behaviourist, Suzi Walsh, has set out some guidance on navigating this early time with your new companion.


Before you bring your new pet home: 


Before bringing your new pet home, there are some essentials you will need to have ready for them, or may already have if you previously had a pet. Some suggestions depending on if you are bringing home a dog or cat include:

  • A good bed and crate (if applicable) that is suitable for your pet’s size
  • Food and water bowls
  • Good quality food and treats (some of this food may be provided by the rescue or breeder that you are homing your pet from to keep their diet consistent and minimise the risk of an upset stomach)
  • A lead, collar and harness 
  • An ID tag with your contact number
  • Toys and chews including a scratching post for cats 
  • Toilet essentials including a litter box, litter & scoop for cats, poo bags and maybe puppy pads for dogs
  • A dog/cat carrier
  • Grooming supplies if needed 
  • Lots of space on your mobile phone for all the photos you will take of your new bestie!


These items can be easily found in a good pet shop or online.


It is recommended to do a spot of ‘pet-proofing’ before your new arrival sets paw in the door. You can pet-proof your home by removing potential hazards like toxic plants, chemicals, and small objects that could be swallowed. Take up any rugs or items that could easily be damaged or broken by a new pet until they have settled in and you can trust that those items will be left untouched. 


Whilst you will hopefully never need it, it is advisable to take out pet insurance for your new addition as early as possible and this can be done in advance of bringing your pet home. It is easy to become distracted by a new four-legged friend so anything you can do to organise yourself beforehand makes life that little bit easier! 


Another important step will be to register your new pet with your chosen vet and pre-book an appointment to go and visit them for a general health check and to get any vaccinations or treatments that may be due. You should have a good idea of any vaccinations or treatments your pet has already had from the rescue or breeder that you homed them from and when any further vaccinations or treatments may be required. It can be helpful to make a list of questions you would like to ask your vet before attending your appointment. 


Bringing your new pet home:


Bringing your new pet home can be daunting and you will likely have many expectations of what the experience will be like. Understand that whether you have purchased a new puppy or kitten or adopted from a rescue this will be the first time that they will be in your home; it may be overwhelming and will take time for everyone (human and animal) to adjust and settle into a new routine. Generally, it is wise to follow the Rule of 3: 

  • 3 days for your new pet to decompress, 
  • 3 weeks for them to adapt to a new routine and 
  • 3 months for them to settle in 


This timeframe will allow you to manage your expectations and understand the needs of your new pet a little more. 


Dog holding soft toy in his mouth and looking up Collecting your pet:


As part of collecting your pet, ensure that any microchip details are transferred over to you as the new owner and that your contact details are correct. Similarly, if you are homing a dog registered with the Irish Kennel Club you will need the paperwork to transfer them into your name as owner. 


If possible, arrange to collect your pet in the early morning. This allows you to settle your new pet in during daylight hours so that your pet can acclimate to your home before nightfall. This allows you to ensure that your pet learns not only to become familiar with you but also that they will have already eaten and can be shown where the best place to toilet is. 


Again where possible, ask your breeder or rescue centre to avoid feeding your new pet at least two hours before they travel with you in a car. This may be the first time your pet travels in a car so it can be overwhelming for them and not eating so soon before a journey can help to avoid car sickness. 


Where relevant, ensure that you have an appropriate carrier to bring your pet home in and it is advisable that you bring an additional person with you to help with the transport or to reassure a new pet that may become stressed. It can help to play some relaxing music in the car at a low volume. 


If you are travelling with a young puppy for more than two or three hours you will also have to factor in a stop along the way to allow your new pet to urinate. Your puppy will likely let you know that they need to go to the toilet because they may whine and/or become unsettled. 


When you arrive home with your new pet the first thing you should do with a dog is to bring them immediately out to the garden or area you wish them to toilet in and give them a few minutes to settle and relieve themselves. If you are bringing home a cat or kitten, place them in a quiet room with a litter tray and sit on the floor with them, leaving them undisturbed for about 30 minutes to an hour. 


Within the first hour of your pet arriving home you should provide both food and water to your dog or cat with no pressure on them to eat from your hand or even at all. You may find that your pet is not yet relaxed enough to eat any food for the first twenty-four hours. 


Setting up a designated area with a comfortable bed or crate will help give your pet a space that they can retreat to if they feel overwhelmed and it is advised to limit your new pet to relatively small areas of your house so that the space is easier to manage. Over time you can give your pet more access to your home once you feel comfortable that they are safe and secure. 


Although the temptation can be to invite around the whole family, half the neighbours and all your friends to meet your new adorable addition, avoid overwhelming them with new people during their early stages of settling in. 


Introducing your new pet to children: 


If there are children in your home, it is essential to approach this introduction with patience. Depending on the previous experience of the children with having a pet it may be beneficial to begin by explaining the responsibilities of pet ownership to the children, emphasising the importance of gentle and respectful interactions. 


Encourage the children to participate in preparing the home for the new pet to create a sense of shared responsibility. Creating a dedicated space for the pet, equipped with cosy bedding and toys will not only provide comfort but also allow the child to observe the animal from afar. Encourage gentle interaction, explaining that the pet may be feeling uncertain or anxious initially; teaching empathy is crucial here. 


As time progresses, guide your child in approaching the new addition gradually, instructing them on effective ways of interacting safely and respectfully. Incorporating games such as fetch or hide-and-seek for dogs or playing with a toy such as a feather stick for a cat can help build trust and develop bonds while ensuring both parties feel secure in each other’s presence. Supervise the interactions closely, providing guidance on appropriate ways to pet and play with the new family member


Dog looking in through window at catIntroducing your new pet to existing pets:


Introducing a new pet to existing pets requires careful planning and patience to ensure a smooth transition. If you have adopted a pet from a rescue, you may already have had a pet meet-and-greet, particularly in the case of introducing another dog to an existing family dog or dogs in order to assess if they are likely to be compatible to live together. 


Whether you’re bringing in a new cat, dog, or another type of pet, here are some general guidelines to follow:

  • Before bringing the new pet home, set up a separate area with all the essentials (food, water, litter box, bedding, etc.). This allows the new pet to acclimate gradually without direct contact with the existing pets. 
  • Allow the pets to become familiar with each other’s scents before any face-to-face interactions. Swap bedding or toys between the new and existing pets. 
  • After a few days of separate spaces, allow the pets to see each other through a barrier, such as a baby gate or a cracked door. This helps them get used to the sight of each other without direct contact.
  • Allow the new pet to explore the rest of the house while the existing pets explore the new pet’s space. This further helps in exchanging scents and creating a more familiar environment.
  • When you feel it’s time for direct interaction, have short, supervised meetings. Keep all dogs on their leads and use carriers or controlled environments for cats and other small animals ensuring to observe their behaviour closely.
  • Gradually increase the duration and frequency of their interactions as they become more comfortable with each other. Watch for signs of stress or aggression and be prepared to separate them if needed. 


The key to a successful introduction is patience. Each pet may take a different amount of time to adjust, and forcing interactions can lead to stress and conflicts.


Top tips for settling in your rescue pet: 


Whilst all rescue pets, all pets for that matter, are different, below are some top tips for settling in a rescue pet. The team at the rescue will also provide you with more information and guidance on your pet’s personality and needs from the time they have spent with them. 

  • Quiet Introduction: Keep the initial introduction calm and low-key. Allow your pet to explore their new environment at their own pace.
  • Safe Space: Provide a quiet and secure space where your new pet can retreat if they feel overwhelmed. This could be a separate room with their essentials.
  • Gradual Exploration: Allow your pet to explore the rest of the house gradually. Supervise their interactions with other pets and family members.
  • Bonding Time: Spend time bonding with your pet. Use soft voices, gentle petting, and offer treats to create positive associations.
  • Routine and Predictability: Establish a consistent routine for feeding, playtime, walks, and bathroom breaks. Predictability helps them feel secure.
  • Patience and Observation: Be patient and observant. Pay attention to your pet’s body language and behaviour to understand their comfort level.


First night with your pet:


The first night with a new pet can be both exciting and challenging as you and your pet start to adjust to each other. Here are some tips to help make the first night a positive experience:

  • Create a Comfortable Space: Set up a cosy and quiet area for your pet to sleep. This could be a designated bed, crate, or a soft blanket in a secure space.
  • Introduce the Sleeping Area: Gently introduce your pet to their sleeping area and encourage them to explore it at their own pace. Place a familiar item, like a blanket or toy, in their sleeping area to provide comfort.
  • Stay Calm and Reassuring: Spend some quiet time with your pet, speaking softly and gentle petting can help them relax. Avoid overwhelming them with too much attention. Let them come to you.
  • Establish a Routine: Begin establishing a bedtime routine. This could include a short play session, a bathroom break, and then settling down for the night. If you have adopted an adult dog then you might even bring them for an evening walk before winding down for the evening. Try to avoid feeding your new dog too late in the evening so that they will have time to defecate before going to sleep. 
  • Leave a Night Light On: A dim night light can help your pet see their surroundings and feel more secure, especially if they are in a new environment. You can leave your dog with a safe size-appropriate chew that they can use for comfort throughout the night. 
  • Be Prepared for Whining or Meowing: Some pets may vocalise during their first night due to stress or unfamiliarity. Be patient and avoid scolding. Remember your pet is crying because they are likely a little scared to be left alone, this might be the first time they are experiencing sleep in isolation. It is recommended that you try to stay up late on the first night of your pet’s arrival so the period of time they are alone is short. 
  • Stay Nearby: If possible, place your pet’s sleeping area near your bed or where you are sleeping for the first their first night. This proximity can be reassuring for them. Your pet just needs to feel safe and the first night in a brand new home can be very overwhelming.


PetMatch Two Cents:I spent the first few nights on the sofa beside Hugo to help him settle when he first came home and then graduated to using a baby monitor so I could hear if he was anxious or agitated which can be very useful….In Hugo’s case the only one who was anxious was me because he was sleeping so quietly I was up and down checking that the monitor wasn’t broken! 😁


First week with your pet:


The first week with a new pet is a crucial time for building trust, establishing routines, and helping your pet feel comfortable in their new home. Here’s what you can generally expect during the first week:

  • Adjustment Period: It’s common for pets to be a bit shy or nervous during the first few days. Give them time and space to acclimate to their new surroundings. However this shouldn’t be the case with a puppy sourced from a good breeder, that puppy should be confident and content in any new environment. 
  • Exploration and Curiosity: Expect your pet to explore their new environment. Allow them to investigate, but monitor them to ensure their safety.
  • Establishing Routines: Stick to a consistent feeding schedule. Regular meals help your pet feel secure. Always ensure your pet has plenty of opportunities to feed you don’t want to make their meals a scarce resource for your pet but instead something that they never have to become stressed about. 
  • Bathroom Breaks: Establish a routine for bathroom breaks, especially for dogs. Puppies may need more frequent outings.
  • Socialisation & Introduction to Family Members: Allow your pet to meet all family members gradually. Make introductions calm and positive.
  • Bonding Time: Spend quality time bonding with your pet through play, gentle petting, and positive interactions.
  • Observing Behaviour: Pay attention to your pet’s body language and behaviour to understand their needs and preferences.
  • Vet Visit: Schedule a visit to the veterinarian for a health check-up, vaccinations, and discussions about preventive care.
  • Sleeping Habits: Help your pet establish a comfortable sleeping routine. This may involve finding their favourite sleeping spot.
  • Positive Reinforcement: Use positive reinforcement to reward good behaviour and encourage a positive association with their new environment.
  • Handling Stress or Anxiety: Some pets may exhibit stress or anxiety. Provide a calm environment, use calming products if necessary, and consult with your veterinarian if issues persist.


Every pet is unique and the adjustment period can vary. Pay attention to your pet’s individual needs, and tailor your approach accordingly. With patience, love, and consistent care, your new pet will likely become a happy and well-adjusted member of your family.


First month with your pet:


The first month with a new pet is important for building a strong bond, embedding routines, and ensuring your pet is growing more secure and comfortable in their new home. This period typically involves the following: 

  • Continued Adjustment: Your pet may still be adjusting to their new environment. Be patient and continue providing a calm and reassuring atmosphere.
  • Routine Development: Continue to establish and maintain a consistent daily routine for feeding, bathroom breaks, playtime, and sleep.
  • Socialisation: Gradually expose your pet to different people, places, and experiences to help them become well-socialised. This is especially important for puppies and kittens who need consistent socialisation to ensure they develop into confident and content pets.  
  • Training Sessions: Start with some simple basic training. Focus on exercises like sit, stay, and recall. Positive reinforcement is key to successful training, reward your dog with treats, praise or play to encourage a relationship built on trust and understanding. A good exercise to start with your cat is hand targeting, this teaches any animal to be more comfortable with hands coming towards them. This helps them learn that hands reaching out to them aren’t scary and helps to ensure an otherwise fearful pet can be handled and touched when needed. 
  • Veterinary Care: Ensure you are following up with any necessary vaccinations or health care requirements recommended by your veterinarian. Keep an eye on your pet’s weight and take note of anything unusual so that you can check with your veterinarian if there is a need for concern. 
  • Grooming Routine: Start getting your pet used to grooming routines. Brush their coat regularly, trim nails as needed, and attend to any specific grooming needs based on their breed. If you don’t have the confidence needed to groom your own pet make sure you enlist the help of a qualified professional to help you.
  • Identification: Ensure your pet’s identification is in place. Double-check that their collar has an ID tag with your contact information. If applicable, double-check that the microchip information for your pet is correct.
  • Playtime and Bonding: Engage in interactive play to strengthen the bond with your pet. Discover their favourite toys and activities. Try to enjoy at least 10 minutes of playtime a day with your pet.
  • Exploration and Safe Spaces: Allow your pet to explore your home at their own pace. Ensure they have access to safe and comfortable spaces where they can retreat when needed.
  • Positive Reinforcements: Reinforce positive behaviour consistently. This will help shape your pet’s understanding of what is expected and build their confidence. Reward them for calm behaviour and engage with them when they are behaving appropriately. Try to discourage unwanted behaviour by redirecting their attention to activities that you would like them to do. 
  • Off-Lead Exercise (Dogs): For the first month or so it is best to restrict your dog’s walks to on-lead or to safe enclosed spaces. Practise recall exercises on lead with and without distractions until you are confident that your dog is highly likely to come back to you when you call them. Never let your dog off lead in an unfamiliar environment or close to roads, wildlife areas or livestock. 
  • Outdoor Access (Cats): Cats can take a little while to become familiar with new surroundings and the associated smells and scents. Depending on whether you have adopted an indoor or outdoor cat (or a cat that is both), they may need some time to get familiar with their surroundings so that when they do go outside they will be able to find their way back to their new home easily. 


Patience and consistency are key during the first month. Every pet has their own personality and individual needs that you are discovering over this period.  Enjoy the process of getting to know your new companion and creating a lasting bond.


Like any change to an established routine, introducing a new pet into the family will likely come with an adjustment and settling-in period for everybody so knowing this and being prepared for it can be a great way to help navigate the early stages and set you on the path to happy ever after.


Suzi Walsh is an expert dog behaviourist and trainer with an Honours Degree in Zoology and Masters in Applied Animal Welfare and Behaviour. Suzi has worked professionally as a dog behaviour consultant for the past 16 years. She is a founding member of the Irish Veterinary Behaviour Association and is passionate about improving the lives of dogs in Ireland. As well as working with dogs who have behavioural problems Suzi also teaches puppy classes and gives workshops, courses and seminars to pet parents and other professionals in the industry as well as working as an expert assessor when things go wrong. Suzi has previously worked for Dogs Trust Ireland and with the Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind as a supervisor and has also worked with the veterinary department of Dublin Zoo on a nutritional research project for captive wild animals.

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