Adopting a rescue dog is an act of kindness that can bring so much joy — and so much work — into your life. Often, rescue dogs are older. If you adopt an adult dog, you’ll need to contend with its history and any fears or habits it learned before you brought it home.
Many rescue dogs change their behavior considerably as they adjust to their new home. They may become affectionate, playful, or stubborn. Some dogs may exhibit previously unseen territoriality once they feel a home is theirs. If you’re bringing home a rescue dog, the following advice can help make sure the transition is smooth and your new family member has as easy a time with the adjustment as possible.
How to prepare to bring home a rescue dog
An essential thing to remember about getting a rescue dog is that you are teaching the dog that it’s safe and valued. You’ll want to give some thought to the physical space of your home. Individual dogs have different personalities and different needs. For example, some dogs chew to relieve stress, so don’t leave your belongings lying around until you know each other better. As your rescue acclimates and you get a read on what makes him tick, you’ll understand how to make your home more pet-friendly.
Important considerations for adopting a rescue dog
When you bring home a shelter dog, they won’t know your house rules and may have had very different ones before. Or they may have never had any rules. Some shelter dogs have never lived inside at all. They may need a while to understand what you expect from them. In the first days, try to spend as much time together as possible, but don’t force the dog to engage until it’s comfortable. Just sitting together may be a lot for some rescues to handle. Spending time together on the dog’s terms and establishing a routine will help build trust, but both will take time.
Dogs get stressed too. Do your best to help prevent or manage your new dog’s stress levels. Keep visitors to a minimum in the first few days and focus on how to acclimate your rescue dog to its new home. Stress affects dogs in very different ways. They may shake or shiver, hide, or even vomit from nerves. Give them their space and use a calm, soothing voice to speak to them. These reactions aren’t their fault, and if stress is the cause, yelling can make it worse.
Reward good behavior
Getting a rescue dog often means spending extra time on basic obedience than getting a puppy with an uncomplicated history. Understanding your dog’s behavior will make it easier to teach the house rules. Try different things to find what motivates your dog most: treats, attention, affection, or play. If you find your rescue is food-motivated, look for small treats for training. Using small treats allows you to reward your dog frequently without risking weight gain or teaching bad pet eating habits.
Don’t rush walks
When you take walks after bringing your rescue dog home, you can build their confidence by letting them sniff and explore. Smelling is a dog’s primary way of gathering information about the world, so if you don’t let them stop and sniff, they don’t get a chance to make sense of their new environment.
Don’t punish growling
Growling is a vital communication tool for a dog and a way to avoid fights. When your dog growls, it tells you it’s anxious or feels threatened. For example, a rescue dog that growls when you get close to its bowl might be worried about you taking its food. When something like that happens, it’s a sign that you may need to improve your dog’s attitude through training. If you teach a dog not to growl at all, you can end up with a dog that stays quiet until it panics and resorts to violence.
Whether your rescue is your first pet, you’re adding a second dog, or you’re planning on introducing your dog to a cat, you may want to consider pet insurance. Like human health insurance, pet insurance can help pay for your dog’s medical expenses. Before you get your dog home, learn about how pet insurance works, to decide if it’s right for you.