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Adopting A Rescue Dog – Arriving Home

dog and man shake hands on porch

So you have decided to adopt a rescue dog, congratulations! This is only the first step in a successful journey of pet adoption. Here are some tips to help the transition as you bring this new member of the family home.

Adjustment time:  Your new dog is coming into a new environment with sights, sounds and smells that will be new to him.  He may appear anxious and shy, hiding under or behind furniture or staying in one room.  He may show a decreased appetite or elimination habits for a few days.  This is normal and may take a few days to a few weeks, depending on the dog, to resolve.  Be certain to show patience and understanding during this period.  Do not force him into a situation where he is not comfortable.

No trigger stacking:  A trigger is anything that can cause anxiety.  Let your new dog settle in and introduce things slowly.  Do not try to do everything in the first week.  Don’t have all your friends over in the first week to meet the new family member. Avoid parks and other public places initially.  Once he is settled, then invite people over.  Do not introduce him to more than one or two new people per day.  When guests come over let them know the rules and how to greet him. 

Separation anxiety:  This can be a somewhat common behavioral issue with rescue dogs that have been abandoned previously or poorly socialized.  Leaving the music or television on when you leave or using food puzzles to keep him occupied while alone may help.  Steadily and slowly work up to longer and longer times to leave him alone, so he learns that you will come home every time.  In some cases of separation anxiety, especially if it is destructive, consider using anti-anxiety medication early on to preventing it from escalating.

Restrict access initially:  While your rescue dog may have been house trained previously, it does not mean that he understands the rules of your home.  Initially it is best to crate train him or keep him restricted to part of your home.  It is easier to restrict early and then grant more access later as it is earned.

Children:  Children should not be left unsupervised with a new rescue or shelter dog.  Children are small, loud, quick moving and unpredictable, and cannot always recognize when a dog wants to be left alone or is nervous.  Lack of recognition of warning signs by children is one of the main causes of bites. For dogs that show signs of aggression, it is best to seek professional help early.

Win trust:  For most rescue dogs you may not know their previous history.  It will take time to establish trust and a bond.  Some may have been mistreated or neglected in the past and you will need to go slow and be cautious in your approach early on.  Provide food and praise in a calm voice.  Cuddle time, as allowed, will go a long way.  Trust takes time and patience.

Dog proof the house:  If it is around, they will find it.  Go through the entire house and look for anything that remotely looks like a dog toy.  Consider getting down at his level to look for possible dangers.  Shoes left on the floor, dirty laundry (especially socks and undergarments) and garbage are particularly attractive to dogs.

Establish a schedule:  Feed and walk your new dog in the same place and at the same time each day.  Signal these events with the same key words.  Having a routine is a good way to integrate your new dog into the family and provide a sense of stability.

Your dog’s “me” time:  Your new dog will need some alone time to settle into his surroundings and establish some of his own habits and routines.  Resist the urge to smother him with constant attention in the first few days and weeks.  Respect his space and give everyone time to earn trust.

Veterinary visit:  You new dog should have a health exam in the first week of coming to his new home.  While this may seem counterintuitive to reducing stress, it is the one exception.  A veterinarian can evaluate your new dog for any health issues that may affect his ability to adjust and settle into his new life.  In addition, he can help assess personality and evaluate any medical history that the rescue or shelter may have provided.  Be certain to bring all medical records with you and get all your questions answered.

Training and exercise:  Once your new friend has settled in and feels comfortable with you and his new home, consider a training class and increased exercise.  A training class will give you and your dog a new way to bond on neutral territory as well as interact with other people and dogs in a safe environment.  Be certain he is getting at least 30 minutes of exercise a day.  This should be interactive exercise.  Go for a walk, play fetch or hide and seek.  Dogs left outside alone can get into trouble and be destructive.