Adopting a dog is a wonderful thing, but bringing home a rescue dog requires a little understanding, a lot of patience, plenty of time, and buckets of love. Here are a few suggestions to make the process easier on you both.
Before you pick up your new dog, you’ll need to make sure you have a few things. Don’t go overboard at this point. You can pick up additional items as needed or wanted in the coming weeks. Necessities are:
- Collar – Ask the shelter staff to measure your adopted pet’s neck. If this measurement is at the end of the range for a collar, go up one size. (For example, if the collar is 18” to 22”, and the neck measurement is 21.5”, choose the next size up.) Collars should be snug, but you should be able to put two fingers comfortably between the collar and the neck.
- Leash – Standard webbed or leather leash. Do NOT buy a retractable leash – these prevent you from having control of your dog, and can be dangerous to children and the pet. See this article for a more detailed explanation. Best length, in my opinion, is 6 feet – long enough so that your pet can explore, but short enough so it’s easy to bring her under control.
- Dog Dishes – Both water and food bowls. Obviously, on the smaller side for small dogs, the larger side for the bigger ones. Check out the post “12 Best Pet Bowls” for ideas for different types of bowls available.
- Dog Bed or Blanket – A bed specifically made for dogs is not a necessity as most dogs are fine with curling up on an old blanket on the floor. Of course, if your new pet will sleep in a crate, you’ll need something soft to put inside. That being said, there are a lot of cute dog beds available for purchase now or later.
- Dog Food – If you’ve never had a dog before, ask friends or the shelter what they suggest. Also, no matter what your choice, purchase some of the dog food the shelter uses and gradually mix with what you intend to feed over the course of a week or 10 days. Too abrupt a change will give your pet diarrhea, which is NOT a pleasant way to start your lives together.
WHAT TO DO DURING THE FIRST 24 HOURS
Depending on the dog you’ve chosen, the first day can be stressful and a little less than fun for either of you. Shy dogs will often huddle in a corner, refusing to eat or drink. You may have to get these guys out to potty without waiting for them to ask. Hyper dogs may run through the house investigating, and knocking things over in their enthusiasm. Many dogs, even those who are house broken, will seem to forget all their training and mark, either from fear, or the desire to mark everything as their own.
Remember, calm is the key.
THINGS TO AVOID WHEN BRINGING HOME A RESCUE DOG
There are a few things to avoid in the first days with a rescue dog:
- Never take your new dog on a walk away from your home during the first weeks. Remember, you are just another stop along what may have been a long string of temporary stops in his life. Your home isn’t his, yet, and won’t be for a while. Since this is the case, taking your new pet on a long walk risks permanent loss if they should happen to get away. Wait a few weeks, or even a few months, before you go to a dog park, or on a stroll away from home. Start with short walks with your house always in his sight.
- Don’t leave your new dog alone in the house for the first 3 or 4 days. That isn’t to say that the same person needs to remain home all the time, but there should always be someone there to encourage bonding with the family. Try to adopt at a time where one or more of you can take a few vacation days to acclimate the pup. Or, if someone in the house works from home, make sure they take frequent breaks to interact with the dog.
THE FIRST 24 HOURS AFTER BRINGING HOME A RESCUE DOG
Many dogs will react in the following ways during their first day home:
- They’ll stake out a place in the home where they feel secure. With my shy dog, it was a Grandfather Clock in the corner. The regular beat seemed to soothe her, and she refused (except for the potty breaks I insisted on), to leave its side. This is okay for the first few days. Make sure your new pet is drinking – if she isn’t eating, it’s not a major problem for a day or two. As she gets more accustomed to her surroundings, her appetite will pick up. Remember, eating and defecating puts your dog into a position of vulnerability – she’ll relax as time goes on.
- Want to be left alone. A new dog in your home is not used to the sights, smells, and noises that you take for granted yet. Make sure your dog is in an area where he can see, smell, and hear everything. But do not force him to interact, yet. A dog who was previously kept as an outdoor-only animal may be terrified of the television, or startled by a phone ringing or a toilet flushing. Even dogs who have only known life inside a home need to get accustomed to the newness. Let your dog come to you if he wants attention – don’t force it on him. Curiosity will bring your dog out to investigate eventually – let him set the time table.
- Seek out their crate. This is for dogs who have been previously crate-trained. These pups may not want to leave the crate, even for food and walks. Of course, you’ll have to get them outside to potty on a regular basis, but make this as stress-free as possible, and allow them to return to their crate, if they want, as soon as you bring them in. Again, eventually they will want to explore – no need to rush this.
None of the above may apply if you’ve been lucky enough to adopt a dog who was always part of a loving family. Still, remember that even these guys will be missing their previous owners, and may try to return to them. Keep them close to home and on a secure leash until they’ve obviously become part of your family pack.
HOW TO INTRODUCE A NEW DOG TO YOUR HOME
As time passes – for some dogs, hours, for some, weeks – your dog will want to explore the home. Now is the time to set boundaries. If you don’t want your new pet on the furniture, you will have to be diligent about making her get down every time she gets up. If there are certain rooms she is to stay out of, get a baby gate and actively discourage entry.
WHERE DOES YOUR RESCUE DOG SLEEP?
I am a firm believer in dogs sleeping in the bedroom with at least one member of the family. Remember, dogs are pack animals, and sleeping apart from the pack is unnatural for them. Whether they sleep on your bed, or on the floor in one of their own, is entirely up to you. As with other furniture, this is the time to show your dog the rules of your home. Remember, it’s harder to change the rules than enforce them from the very beginning.
If your pet has been too frightened to leave his spot, as soon as he does it’s time to introduce him to his sleeping place. If you haven’t bought a dog bed, no worries, an old blanket on the floor will be fine. If he’s sleeping on your bed, you’ll have to decide what is most comfortable for you, and make sure he stays there. (A side note – I’ve found the smaller the dog, the more room they tend to take up. It defies the laws of physics, but there it is.)
Of course, if your rescue dog has already been crate trained to sleep, please continue using this method. If possible, place the crate in your bedroom – this will still constitute sleeping with the pack and provide your pet with reassurance.
HOW TO HANDLE VISITORS TO THE HOME
Bringing home a rescue dog and acclimating her to your home and family is the first step. Teaching her how to react to strangers in the home may take a little more time. Since calm is the key for the first few weeks, limit, or eliminate altogether, visitors during this time.
When it’s time to welcome non-family members, below are a few suggestions:
- Gregarious, outgoing dogs will need to be taught not to jump up on visitors, not to knock you over on the way to answer the doorbell, and not to demand attention constantly.
- Shyer dogs, or those who have lived outdoors most of their lives, will need reassurance that strangers you invite into your home do not mean bad things. Some may hide (I had one who did this for years), some may bark incessantly, and some may growl or lunge.
Should any signs of aggression become apparent in these encounters, involve a professional dog trainer immediately. Each family has its own tolerance for bad behavior, but dangerous behavior, or behavior that could escalate to the danger zone should be corrected by a professional as soon as possible. Look for a positive reinforcement trainer in your area, and ask your friends, or on your local Facebook page for recommendations. You will have to commit some money and plenty of time – a trainer will work with you both. Training without the owner present only teaches the dog to listen to the trainer.
If you have other pets, please use separate areas for feeding them. Even animals who get along can get into tiffs (or outright fights) if forced to compete for food. When I had three dogs, one ate on the back deck, one ate in the kitchen, and the other had her meals in the bedroom with the door closed. The closest they ever came to a full-blown dog fight (rather than just irritated grumbling), was when two of them were left in a small space together with the food preparation visible. So, respect their need for solitude when eating.
Don’t take your new dog to the vet in the first couple of weeks, unless there is a medical necessity for it. A get-to-know you visit can be scheduled once the pet is more comfortable with you and in the home. If you don’t currently have a vet, see How To Choose A Veterinarian here.
QUESTIONS ABOUT BRINGING HOME A RESCUE DOG
Unless you’ve adopted from your local government animal control where the staff is overworked, please feel free to call the shelter or rescue where you got your pet with questions. Believe me, they would much rather spend as much time as necessary on the phone with you than have the pet returned to the shelter. And most are very knowledgeable about things like training, feeding, and any other issues that may arise.
Above all, enjoy your rescue dog. The bond that will grow between you with time makes the extra effort at the beginning all worthwhile. And you can be proud knowing you have not only saved your rescue dog, but also freed up space at your rescue so that they can rescue another one.