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12 Tips for Bringing Home A Rescue Dog

Black dog with greying around it's muzzle standing in a wire kennel.

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.

Related: ‘Which Interactive Dog Toys Are Right for Your Pup?

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.

A small brown brindle dog sitting on a raised dog bed with a blanket and dog toy.

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.

A black, brown and grey dog laying on a grey and tan carpet, hooked to a teal and brown leash.

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.

Related: ‘10+ Dog Toy Storage Ideas to Complement Any Décor

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)?

Black dog with greying around it's muzzle standing in a wire kennel.

Have you ever adopted a rescue dog? If so, what advice do you have for anyone bringing home a rescue dog?

About Author

Britt is a digital/social media marketer and the owner of The Social Alternative. When she’s not working, she enjoys spending her time with her ‘pack’ which includes her husband John, their 2 dogs Daviana and Indiana and their 2 cats Pippen and Jinx. A proud pet mom, she shares all her pet-related tips, tricks and funny pet antics on Shed Happens.

28 Comments

  • Jana Rade
    June 5, 2021 at 7:57 pm

    These are indispensable tips. Both times when we brought home a rescue dog, we already had one, so we already had everything needed. And so it happens that neither of them needed any transition–they seemed just happy to be there.

    Reply
    • Britt
      June 6, 2021 at 1:10 pm

      It can definitely work out that smoothly in some cases (although it’s far less common). I’m glad to hear that the process was so smooth for you with your pups! Both of ours had to go through some transition to settle into our home, but the effort is 110% worth it. We had to overcome some obstacles but the end result is two incredible dogs that are so full of love. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

      Reply
  • Ruth Epstein
    June 6, 2021 at 10:51 pm

    Great tips and I have always rescued, The only thing I do not believe in is crates, never knew they existed until I came to the States. I tell people who are rescuing with love and patience the puzzle will come together

    Reply
    • Britt
      June 8, 2021 at 7:24 am

      Crate training can be an incredibly valuable tool if done properly. That being said, one shouldn’t mistake just leaving your dog in a crate all day with actual crate training. When done right, the crate offers a safe ‘den’ that the pet can retreat to anytime that they want during the day. Additionally, it can help to keep dogs safe when you’re not home if they tend to get into things or be destructive. Both of our dogs were crate trained but they no longer use their crate today as they stay in their own room in our house. But it also helps to make them more comfortable if they do have to stay in a smaller kennel at the vet or travelling in a crate if it was necessary in the future.

      Reply
  • Beth
    June 7, 2021 at 11:07 am

    These are great tips for helping a rescue dog adjust to a new home! Theo met our other dogs outside and they got along well. It took some time before our cat trusted him, but they became good snuggle buddies.

    Reply
    • Britt
      June 8, 2021 at 7:21 am

      One of our cats came around to our boy Indy when he was added to the family faster than the other. While Pippen was a bit of a holdout, she did eventually embrace the addition of her new brother. I love watching how well all of our pets get along with one another.

      Reply
  • Sweet Purrfections
    June 7, 2021 at 11:12 am

    Excellent recommendations. I really like the advice of taking your dog for a “happy visit” to the veterinarian. Many of these same recommendations are also appropriate for new cats in your home.

    Reply
    • Britt
      June 8, 2021 at 7:20 am

      Yes, they apply to most animals that one might bring into the home. We had happy visits for all 4 of our pets when we switched to a new vet and it not only made the pets feel more comfortable, but it made me feel more comfortable too. I want to know that I can trust the person that I am building such an important working relationship with. I also want to know that my pets are comfortable with them.

      Reply
  • Sophie Harriet
    June 9, 2021 at 9:33 am

    I have a friend who adopted a rescue dog, and he definitely had a lot of issues. Luckily, my friend had a lot of patience and fully dedicated herself to caring for her dog and helping him to overcome his fears. Rescue dogs can be a challenge but it’s definitely worthwhile to adopt one if you are well prepared! Thank you for sharing these tips. x

    Reply
    • Britt
      June 9, 2021 at 11:33 am

      Some of them come with such horrific pasts, don’t they – When you stop and consider what they have been through, can you blame them for being scared and needing to rebuild that trust again? That being said, it’s such a beautiful way to make a difference.

      Reply
  • Rosie Ireland
    June 10, 2021 at 8:10 am

    I love that so many people now get rescues over new puppies. My friend is about to adopt a dog from Romania so I will share this post with her!

    Rosie

    Reply
    • Britt
      June 10, 2021 at 10:36 pm

      That’s beautiful to hear! I am sure that she is going to love the connection that she forms with her new pup. Pass on my congratulations!

      Reply
  • Shyla
    June 17, 2021 at 5:39 pm

    These are fabulous tips and as you know I am hoping to adopt a dog someday in the future. My son is quite a handful right now and we are waiting until we have enough time to dedicate to another animal besides my cat Bubby. I will certainly be referring to your tips for when we decide to adopt and bring home a rescue dog. We fully intend to support an animal from one of our local shelters. I am the type to want to help them all, but I know we will have to choose only one. Someday I would even like to volunteer there! Anyway, thanks for the lovely post with tons of great info as always.

    Reply
    • Britt
      June 18, 2021 at 11:01 am

      I’m glad to help. I wish that I could rescue them all too – if I had the money and the space, I would be all over that.

      Reply
  • Tiffany
    June 19, 2021 at 4:15 am

    I always feel like I learn so much when I come to your site, as I have never adopted a rescue dog, and never a pet dog as an adult but I like to learn about it because you never know. Even though it’s not in the plans to have a dog, life is crazy and I like that you are such a good resource about this 🙂

    Reply
    • Britt
      June 20, 2021 at 10:52 am

      Thank you! You’re right, you never know. Two of the pets in our home right now came at a time when we weren’t actively looking for new pets – but sometimes, when you know in the moment, you just know that it’s meant to be lol

      Reply
  • LuLu B
    June 23, 2021 at 5:35 am

    These are really great tips, Britt. Bringing a rescue dog into your family is a big responsibility but I’m sure it’s so incredibly rewarding. In my area, there are many dogs that are left abandoned on the side of the road and it really breaks my heart. I want to take one in so badly but I know what it takes to care for a dog and for now the timing isn’t right. Maybe someday! 🙂

    Reply
    • Britt
      June 24, 2021 at 2:39 pm

      I wish I could adopt ALL the dogs, but we only have so much space in our home and we’d have to win the lottery lol

      Reply
  • Arti
    June 24, 2021 at 1:16 am

    My husband has been thinking of adopting a rescued dog for so long. Thanks for this very informative post. This would prove beneficial for later. Saving this. 😊

    Reply
    • Britt
      June 24, 2021 at 2:39 pm

      I”m glad that you were able to come by this at a time that it can help! Rescue dogs make such incredible family members.

      Reply
  • Kelly Martin
    June 24, 2021 at 1:22 am

    I’m hoping to adopt a rescue dog sometime soon so I found this article really helpful. There’s so many things I hadn’t even considered, like asking about the dog’s current diet so you can feed them the same food that they’re used to. Also, having a collar and lead when you go to pick up the dog. Lots of things to get ready!

    Reply
    • Britt
      June 24, 2021 at 2:26 pm

      It’s often those fine details that we overlook in the planning phase, isn’t it?

      Reply
  • Seriah Sargenton
    June 24, 2021 at 8:03 am

    My parents adopted a rescue dog when I was younger and it was the best decision they’ve ever made. It did require lots of patience and love though.

    Reply
    • Britt
      June 24, 2021 at 2:26 pm

      They make such incredible pets. We are lucky enough to share our home right now with 2 rescue dogs and they are both so full of love.

      Reply
  • Lyosha
    June 25, 2021 at 9:11 am

    you made a great list! I’ll send it over to my friend if you don’t mind. They are going to adopt a dog soon (currently going around the places, looking for ‘the one’) it’s the best article I have see on pup’s basics

    Reply
    • Britt
      June 25, 2021 at 2:29 pm

      I’m glad to hear that you know someone that will benefit from it! I am always happy to know that I am helping other pet owners. Pass on my congratulations to your friend on this exciting step.

      Reply
  • Erica (The Prepping Wife)
    June 29, 2021 at 8:18 am

    I had no idea that a “happy visit” to the vet was even a thing! But what a wonderful idea to help both you and your dog. I can see a huge benefit from this.

    Reply
    • Britt
      June 29, 2021 at 2:16 pm

      Isn’t it a great idea? I’m not sure who started it, but I have seen more and more vets jumping on board with this idea. I love it!

      Reply

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