Bringing a Rescue Dog Home: Tips for Living with Your New Shelter Dog

Most dogs in shelters are even-tempered, healthy animals that make excellent pets.
Most dogs in shelters are even-tempered, healthy animals that make excellent pets. | Source

Rescuing a shelter dog has the potential to be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. In many instances, these dogs have at least some training, have the benefit of some life experience, and never forget that you rescued them. However, especially in the first days or weeks after adoption, you can expect a few challenges with your new pet.

Dealing with the unknown

When a puppy is purchased from a breeder, its entire life has been meticulously documented. You know their genetic background, personal and family history, veterinary records, and the environment to which they’re accustomed. In a lot of cases, you won’t have this with a rescue dog. This uncertain history is the point you must keep in mind when your dog is adjusting to his or her new home.

Nearly all rescue dogs have had at least one previous home. Sadly, a number of them have had multiple previous homes. Not only has the dog had to deal with the different environments and people in each of these homes, it’s just come from a shelter environment. Picture being taken from your home and thrown into a cell. You don’t know why you’re there, why your family doesn’t come take you home, or how long you’ll be there. It would take you a while to adjust when some stranger gets you out of there, too. Your dog has to learn all about what it means to be a good house dog again, if they were ever properly taught in the first place.

Finally, you probably don’t know what kind of treatment the dog has received in the past. Maybe a past home beat the dog for chewing things hours after the fact, or let their children climb on him or torment him mercilessly. The first few weeks will require careful monitoring for triggers, and you must be ready to offer your dog support in situations that make him nervous.

Introduction to the home environment

The key to success with your new rescue dog is to take it slow. Make sure the house is as quiet as possible when your dog first comes home, as it’s likely to be scared. Unless you spent a lot of time with the dog prior to adoption, it probably hasn’t bonded to you yet, and doesn’t know that you can comfort and help the dog in scary situations.

If you have children, make sure they know that this is a big step for the dog, so it might not want to play right away. Carefully supervise their introduction. Instruct your children to use a soft voice, approach deliberately but slowly, and wait for the dog to relax and wag its tail before trying to pet it. Very young children who won’t understand this might have to wait a few hours or a couple of days to meet the new dog, giving your pet a chance to relax and feel more ready for additional new situations.

Limit the number of guests you have in your home during the first few days. Your dog already has plenty to adjust to, and may behave aggressively out of character with additional stressors. This is the primary reason it’s a very bad idea to bring a new pet home during the holidays, regardless of where it’s from. Pick a time when you can devote a lot of time to a new pet for its introduction to the home.

Introduction to other pets in the house

Shelters will usually provide information about how the dog is with other dogs, cats, and children. While they use the best information available to them, don’t just take their word for it. Introductions should still be made in a closely controlled environment for the sake of all involved. Your existing pets may see the new one as an intruder, even if they met it at the shelter or rescue and got along fine. The new dog may feel threatened by these other pets and lash out.

Consider keeping a screen or safety gate between the new dog and existing pets for the initial introduction, or get someone to help so that all animals involved are restrained in case they need to be pulled apart. This allows each to sit back and consider the other, and then make advances toward each other on their own time. When all animals seem relaxed, they can be allowed within touching distance, and then gradually given more freedom. Don’t be surprised if it takes a few days for your pets to warm up to each other, and make sure you monitor the situation for a while to preclude potential injury.

Learning the ropes

Remember that each dog, no matter how well trained, may perceive new environments differently. A perfectly house trained dog in one home may not yet understand where it should do its business in a new home. Be ready for a few accidents. Should one occur, calmly escort your dog to the appropriate place. Old methods of spanking a dog or rubbing its nose in its own waste are harmful, don’t teach the dog anything, and may cause the confused dog to lash out at its attacker. Take the dog outside every hour or so until it learns that that’s the safe place to go.

Show your new dog its food, water, and bed. It has never been here before, so it won’t know automatically. Every dog needs a safe area where it can get away from stressors and unwind. This might be a kennel or crate, or a small room dedicated to the dog’s care items. Your dog doesn’t know what’s safe to chew, or what furniture it’s allowed to climb on. Keep the dog on a leash so that you can gently guide it into appropriate behaviors during the first few days or couple of weeks. Once it learns the ropes, it can safely roam wherever you wish to allow it access.

The most important part of bringing a rescue dog home is time. Just give it time to adjust to the new home, people, and rules. It’s unfair to expect it to know everything right away. Most shelters and rescues will offer a relatively long trial period while you see if your dog fits with the family. Use these tips, and at least give the dog that much time, even if you suspect it’s not a good fit. Your dog may take 2-3 weeks to fully settle in, and to bond to you as its new human. What you see in the first few days most likely isn’t what you can expect after the dog claims you and its new home.

Tips for working with shelter dogs -- great information for both volunteers and prospective adopters

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Comments 3 comments

Stacie L profile image

Stacie L 7 years ago

I think it's very important to adopt rescue dogs and other animals.They need a home more and make the best pets!

:)


allpetsdeb 6 years ago

Rescue animals are great and they are so appreciative of the second (or third) chance.


wychic profile image

wychic 3 years ago from Sheridan, Wyoming Author

Totally agree! I have two rescues now, and have worked with hundreds. There are so many misconceptions about these dogs, and so many people who miss out on some really awesome animals because they think there must be something wrong with them. Even though I personally adopt what my husband refers to as "basket cases," even my dogs turned into great companions with some patience and training. There are homeless animals out there for every level of pet experience, and they will reward you many times over for giving them a home.

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