For many new dog owners, bringing home a rescue dog is an exciting time, but it can also be quite stressful. From preparing your home for the arrival of your newest family member to helping them adjust to their new life, it’s a lot to consider. The following tips will help you integrate your new dog into the family successfully, setting you up for long-term success.
There are many misconceptions surrounding the world of animal rescue, the biggest being that all rescue dogs are somehow damaged or broken in some way.
The truth is that there are incredible dogs in shelters and rescue organizations across the country and around the world, waiting to be discovered and matched with the right family.
If you have recently been approved to adopt a rescue dog, congratulations!
You have taken the first step in an exciting journey. While there are going to be challenges and complications along the way, the love of your new pup is worth it.
The dog that you have now committed to will quickly become your best friend, therapist, teacher, cheerleader, and so much more.
For every obstacle you must overcome together, there will be many more great memories to fill your heart with joy.
The first few days after bringing home a rescue dog are important.
Below you will find a list of 12 tips to help you make this transition as safe and low-stress as possible for all involved.
Be Prepared for Bringing Home A Rescue Dog with These 12 Tips
Purchase All Necessities in Advance
When the day finally comes to bring your new dog home, you don’t want to be stressing out and focusing on the details.
To make this easier, take the time to prepare and purchase everything that you are going to need early on in advance including your new dog’s food, dishes, bed, toys, collar/leash, and identification.
Don’t stop there! After buying the supplies for your new dog, take the time to get it all set up and prepared to the best of your ability.
Have A ‘Safe Space’ Prepared
One important step in getting prepared is to create a dog-friendly safe space in your home. This is where your dog will be spending most of its time.
You can set aside a specific room that will be made fully accessible to your dog or block off a small part of the house.
The key is not to give your dog too much space in the beginning as this can be overwhelming.
Make use of baby/pet gates or playpens to block off doorways and objects that you would like to keep your dog away from.
You also want to carefully puppy-proof your home (especially this area), eliminating any risks including loose electrical cords, unsecured household cleaners, houseplants, or breakable objects.
Make the Crate a Positive Option
If you are crate training (which I highly recommend), place your dog’s crate in their safe space with the door open.
This will allow your dog to explore in and around the crate, becoming familiar with it.
You want your dog to ultimately see their crate as their refuge, a place that they can retreat to if they are feeling scared, anxious, or overwhelmed.
If there is a less active or busy area that they have access to, this would be the ideal location.
Create a comfortable sleeping space in the create by adding a soft blanket or sleeping pad inside.
For wire cages that are fully open and visible, consider draping a blanket or sheet overtop to provide your new dog with a sense of privacy and security when they are inside.
Not only does crate training arm you with the tools necessary to keep your pet safe while you’re away from the home, but it is also valuable for addressing separation anxiety, housebreaking a new puppy, and more.
Keep in mind that your dog’s crate is not a punishment and should not be used as such. Instead, you want it to be a positive and comforting thing in their lives.
If you do see your dog retreat to their crate, give them their space. This is the one place where they should be able to get away from everything else and feel secure that they will be left alone until they are ready to deal with people or other animals once again.
Ask About Your Dog’s Current Diet
Whether you plan on sticking with the food that your dog is currently eating or feel passionate about a specific dietary choice, switching your dog’s food too quickly could lead to problems.
Instead, you need to make the shift to a new food gradually over an extended period.
Ask the shelter or rescue organization what food your dog is currently eating so that you can pick up enough of this food to allow for a proper transition.
This is also a great opportunity to ask about any specific nutritional needs or allergies that you should be aware of moving forward.
Related: ‘12 Easy Ways to Save Money on Pet Food‘
Create A List of Emergency Information
You can do everything right, put all these tips into action, and still find yourself navigating an accident or emergency. That’s why they are called accidents!
While there is no magic way to guarantee that you will never experience an emergency, there are steps that you can take to ensure that you’re prepared to handle one properly if the situation arises.
Create a list of all emergency numbers that you may need including Pet Poison Control, your veterinarian, the closest emergency veterinary clinic (with an address), and an emergency contact at the shelter/rescue that you can reach out to if needed.
Print this list and hang it somewhere where it will be easy to find and reference, if needed.
Have Proper ID with You for Pick Up
The day that you pick up your new dog from the shelter or rescue organization, you need to bring proper identification with you.
While some rescues will provide you with a collar as part of the adoption fee, others require that you supply a collar or harness and leash to bring your dog home.
If you aren’t sure what your shelter or rescue will provide, reach out to them well in advance.
Your dog may be skittish or anxious from this big change. After all, they are leaving with someone new to head somewhere completely unknown.
For this reason, it’s not uncommon for dogs to try to escape or pull free in the beginning.
Make sure that the identification tag is secured on the dog before stepping out of the shelter or rescue organization.
Additionally, you can use a harness and collar or two collars with two separate leashes to prevent escape if your dog does happen to pull free from one of the options.
Secure Your Dog During Transport
Make the trip home a safe one by properly securing your dog in your vehicle for the drive home. How to do so will depend on the dog.
If you choose to use a carrier or crate, make sure that you choose one that has been crash-tested. Secure the carrier in your car seat using the seatbelt to keep it from being thrown in the event of an accident.
Alternatively, there are seatbelts specifically designed for dogs. Like the crates, you want to research and purchase something that is crash tested for optimal safety.
We stress the importance of buckling up for people and children. Don’t forget your dog’s safety.
Allow Time for Your Dog to Adjust
When you first bring home a new dog, you may be tempted to fixate completely on the dog, giving them all the love and attention that you have been wanting to give them since finding out that you were approved to adopt.
However, your dog will likely not be ready to jump straight to that stage of your life together.
The move from a shelter, rescue or foster home to their new forever home is an overwhelming and anxiety-ridden time for your dog.
They are suddenly surrounded by a new location, new people, new smells, new sounds, and more.
In the beginning, the best thing that you can do for your new dog is to give them time to process, decompress and adjust to their new home.
Let your dog come to you when they are ready.
If this is your first rescue dog, I highly recommend learning about the ‘3-3-3 Rule’. This is a guideline for how long it will take the average rescue dog to adjust to its new home.
This guideline breaks down roughly what you can expect from your dog in the first 3 days, 3 weeks, and 3 months.
Introduce the Appropriate Bathroom Spot
When you get home, one of the first places that you should introduce your dog to is the place that you wish them to use for relieving themselves.
There will likely be accidents early during this transition, especially if you are bringing home a puppy and working through the housebreaking process. The stress and anxiety of this big change can lead to accidents from even well-trained dogs.
You can’t be upset with your dog for not using their designated bathroom spot if you don’t show them where it is…
During this initial introduction to the space, give your dog some time to explore the space and go to the bathroom, if needed.
If you do see your dog, use their bathroom spot, be sure to praise them. If not, try again in an hour.
Create a Schedule and Stick to It
Most dogs thrive best in a structured environment where they know when to expect their meals, when they will generally go to bed, and what hours they can expect you to be away from the house.
To help your dog adjust to ‘regular life’ in your home quicker, you should start implementing this schedule right away.
This means sticking with mealtimes, regular bathroom breaks, playtime, and more.
Be sure to include both family time to bond with your dog as well as periods of ‘down time’ or solitary confinement to help normalize being separated when needed.
By sticking to a schedule, you are showing your dog exactly what they can expect from one moment to the next, easing a lot of the anxiety that comes with the unknown.
Take Your Time with Introductions
If you have pets or children at home, introducing your new dog to the family is going to be a process. Avoid throwing them in with everyone on day one.
Forcing your new dog into a situation where they are overwhelmed and surrounded by strange people/animals can cause severe anxiety and even create a negative situation leading to a bite or other physical harm.
Instead, you want to take your time introducing them to your new family one at a time over an extended period.
If you are a multi-pet household, keep your pets separated during this process, allowing for short, supervised, and controlled introductions.
Don’t be afraid to use leashes and baby gates as needed to ensure that everyone involved is safe.
The secret to success is to allow your pets to dictate the speed at which this whole process moves forward.
When you are introducing pets or children, watch for the reactions of all involved.
If you see that all parties are comfortable, you can continue to move forward. However, if you notice even one pet hesitating or acting anxious, take your time.
Remember that this isn’t a race! A little extra time spent now will help you to create a happy, well-adjusted household for years to come.
In addition to carefully introducing your new dog to your children, you also need to ensure that your children understand how to properly treat a dog.
Far too many dog bites occur because of children pushing their family dog too far.
This includes climbing on the dog, pulling their fur, poking at a dog, grabbing onto their tail or paws, or simply ignoring the warning signs.
Plan A ‘Happy Visit’ with Your Veterinarian
After you see that your dog is starting to adjust to your household, it’s time to introduce their new veterinarian into the mix.
Many vets offer ‘happy visits’ where you can bring the dog by just to familiarize themselves with the vet’s office and meet the staff on a happy note.
This is a great way to reduce the stress that often comes with vet appointments.
Depending on your vet, they may do a quick check over the dog at this time, or they may simply offer your pets some treats and a little of their time to start building their trust.
The relationship with your veterinarian is one that is going to be incredibly important throughout your dog’s life. Why not start it off on the right foot (or paw)?
Have you ever adopted a rescue dog? If so, what advice do you have for anyone bringing home a rescue dog?