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Advice on Bringing Home a Rescue Dog

Adopting a rescue dog is a wonderful and rewarding experience, and we applaud you for giving a dog a second chance in life. These tips written by the team at Bow Wow Meow Pet Insurance aim to help make the entry of your newly adopted dog into your life and home as easy as possible.

What should you expect...

Most people won’t know much about their rescue dog’s past before they came to the shelter. A dog’s behaviour in a shelter environment can be quite different from how he will behave once he is settled into his new home. Staying in a shelter for longer periods (two months or more) could also have a profound impact on a dog’s behaviour.

The first period is like entering into a new relationship. Over the next few weeks and months you will discover new things about your rescue dog almost daily
You will learn your dog’s likes and dislikes, what he fears and what he loves. You will soon find out what level of training your rescue dog has had and how well he has been socialised (or not!). It takes time to truly get to know each other, so be patient with your rescue dog and yourself on this journey.

Following is a guide to help you through the first few weeks of your new rescue dog’s arrival.

Preparing your home before your dog's arrival

Providing your new dog with as much structure as possible and being clear about certain things beforehand will make the transition from shelter to home as smooth as possible.

  • Where will your dog be allowed, and what are the no-go zones? Is the bedroom off limits? Then close the door. Are certain areas restricted for your dog? Use a baby gate to block these areas off. 
  • Do you want your dog to sleep in a designated area? We recommend that you set it up before his arrival and start the routine from day one. 
  • Set up your dog’s ‘feeding station’ – think about where his food and water will go. 
  • Is your fencing dog proof? Make sure your fencing is stable and secure, some dogs can be real escape artists. 
  • Involve the family and agree on family/ household responsibilities: who will be the dog walker, who will feed the dog, who will clean up his mess and who will be the one training your new rescue dog. 
  • You also want to doggy proof your house and move anything out of the way that you don’t want your dog to get hold off: remove plants, rugs and breakables, put loose cables away and store household cleaners and medication out of your dog’s reach. 

Having all necessary items at home when your dog arrives is very handy: you need a Pet ID Tag, a collar and a 6-foot long leash, food, water and food bowls, a crate and bedding, and of course some toys. 
An Adaptil collar or spray can help relax your dog if he/she struggles settling in. Ask your vet for advice on how to use it. 

It’s a good idea to carry treats on you in a bumbag or treat pouch any time your dog is around you – this way you can reward him for good behaviours on the spot. 

Training Tip: Did you know that dogs need to be rewarded in under 3 seconds to be able to understand what they are getting rewarded for? 

The day you pick up your rescue dog

It is best to bring your dog home at a time when you can spend a few days at home with him: either take a week off work or choose a long weekend. That way you can keep an eye on your new rescue dog while he learns the house rules, and settling in will be a lot easier. 

Conner (7) picking up his new brother, Malinois Porthos, from the shelter in 2014 

When picking up your rescue dog, we recommend you bring someone who can drive the car while you comfort your dog. Your dog should be harnessed or in a crate for safe transport home. Bring a nice chew treat if you are on your own as this will make the drive more enjoyable for your dog. 
Take your time when you get the dog in the car, let him sniff first and get used to the new area before you take off.

Before you enter the house with your new rescue dog, take him for a 30-40 minute walk. Give him a chance to wee to avoid immediate accidents once you get home. A walk is also a nice way to bond and will burn off some energy.  

Have some treats on you to reward your dog when he has done something well, this will also help to establish a line of communication with your new furry friend.

Ask the shelter/ foster carer about the rescue dog’s feeding schedule and try and replicate your dog’s feeding schedule for the first few days to avoid gastric stress. We suggest you also ask them for details on his routine at the shelter. Changing his food will need to be done slowly over the course of a week

Dogs have very sensitive stomachs and moving to a new home can be stressful for them.

When you enter the house

Keep your dog on leash when first entering the house. Show him around the house, inside and outside. Show him where food and water are, and put a tiny bit of food in the bowl. Let him sniff and take things slowly, at his own pace. 

Keeping your dog on leash will provide guidance and help you to intervene before any accidents happen. Finish the stroll through your house with a toilet break and reward your dog for doing his business outside. 

If you have other pets in your house, you want to introduce them in a controlled, calm and respectful manner. Here are a few tips on how to introduce pets. 

Take it easy on your new family member for the first few days. Moving can be stressful for him. Before you invite guests over, wait a couple of days so your dog has time to settle in. Introductions to children should be done in a calm manner from both sides, without a lot of excitement. You don’t want to overwhelm your rescue dog.

The first few days

To avoid accidents of any kinds and manage your new dog, we recommend limiting his access to one room or area if you can’t supervise him. 

Start leaving your dog alone for short periods of time, e.g. when you take the bins out or get the mail. Then leave him alone at home and go for a short walk. Gradually increase the alone time. Getting your dog used to alone time will help to avoid separation anxiety. If your dog whines or barks, wait for him to be quiet before you return inside. 

Be prepared for some house training accidents. Even if your dog has been house trained before, being in the shelter may have taught him something else. 

Before leaving your new dog alone with existing pets, you will need to monitor and control their interactions for a period of time.

Rescued dog Porthos sleeping under the desk
on his first day at home
When rescuing a dog, you often don’t know much about your dog’s past experiences. 

Your dog may be scared of things because of poor socialisation during puppyhood, or he may not have been taught certain things or be used to different commands than yours. 

Be patient and forgiving if things don’t go the way you would have expected.

Dogs prefer a structured life: establishing routines around meal and play times, walks, toileting, sleeping, training etc should be done from day one. Start reward-based training right away – it helps bonding and establishes communication with your new friend.

The next few weeks

The first few weeks are often like a honeymoon period in which you get to know each other. It is important to give your dog as much structure as possible and set up schedules and routines so your dog knows what you expect from him and what he can expect from you.

When all vaccinations are complete, you can start taking your dog to group training classes and/or dog parks (find out more on dog vaccination schedules and costs). 

You can start off with a leashed walk in the dog park. Watch your dog’s body language closely when introducing him to other dogs – you want to make sure your dog isn’t fearful or a dog park bully. Have friends and family come over for some low-key visits

Your dog will get used to meeting strangers in your house and get to know new people. If you come across any behavioural issues you are not familiar with, seek help from a dog trainer or behaviourist.

In Summary

The adoption of a rescue dog is usually a very rewarding experience. The history of your dog in most cases will be unknown so be patient with yourself and your new dog. The first few weeks are often a honeymoon period during which you will get to know each other. Keep track of any changes that come up, and don’t hesitate to seek professional help if any issues arise.

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