So you’ve decided you’d like to introduce a dog into your family and have settled on a rescue dog. Congratulations! Adopting a rescue can be a tough transition, so check out these helpful tips for surviving the first seven days with your new rescue.
By adopting, you are giving a new lease on life to a dog that may have been mistreated in the past but is still deserving of a loving, stable home.
There are many benefits to adopting a rescue dog, but they will also need a lot of rehabilitating and maybe even re-naming.
The first week is a really important time to establish good routines, create a safe and loving space for your new dog, and make a bond that will last for years to come.
The first few days need to be approached with care and intention to make sure that the foundation of your new family dynamic is set correctly for everyone, including your new dog.
Preparing To Bring Your Dog Home
Before you bring your new rescue dog home, you’ll need to make sure your house is completely puppy-proof. This means looking out for anything that could be dangerous to them and either removing it or making it safe.
Have a think about the things that are accessible to them; kids’ toys, household chemicals and any wires or electrical equipment.
You’ll also need to do the same in your garden – make sure there are no gaps in the fence and be aware of plants that could be dangerous for your new dog.
After you have made sure your house is safe, you’ll need to buy all the equipment you need for your dog. As a bare minimum, you’ll need a bed, food and bowls, a collar, leash, some toys and a crate.
Read through this checklist to make sure that you have everything you need to get started.
Day 1: Bringing Your Dog Home
The first day will be full of a lot of firsts for you and your dog. Before you go to collect your dog, make sure you have a safe space set up for them at home. If you’re collecting them in the car, think about a safe way to transport them home too.
Don’t go overboard on the first day. Keep everything as minimal as possible. Try to create a calm environment for your dog.
Avoid introducing too many new toys or family members to them all at once. If possible, take children and other pets out of the house for the first few hours while your dog settles in.
Try and minimize the amount of space they have to explore to just a couple of rooms, so they don’t feel unnecessarily overwhelmed. After the first few hours, you can introduce your family members to your new dog nice and slowly.
Wait until they are calm and relaxed, and let your dog meet them one by one. Always allow the dog to go up to new people and pets if and when they want to.
For the first night, you should ensure that they sleep wherever their designated sleeping place will be. Perhaps it’ll be in a crate downstairs, or maybe at the foot of your bed in a basket.
Don’t forget to take them out to go to the bathroom before bedtime, and make sure they are comfortable.
Don’t be surprised if your dog whimpers throughout the night, this is normal behaviour for a dog who is scared and in a new place.
When your dog whimpers, gently reach over and give them a little stroke for the first couple of times in an attempt to calm them down. If this doesn’t work, you will likely have to ignore the behaviour until they learn to self-soothe and relax.
Day 2: Get to Know Each Other
Day two is the first day your dog will wake up in their brand new home. Day two should be spent getting to know your dog and allowing them to get to know you.
Keep the space that they are allowed to explore limited to just a few rooms for the second day too, they already have a lot of new experiences to process so don’t overwhelm them.
If you work, it would be great to take the first few days off so you can spend this time getting to know your dog and helping them adjust to their new life.
If possible, you should spend the whole day with them. Allow them to come over to you if they’d like to. Try out a few tricks to see how much they might already know (or not know).
Take them for a walk to let them get accustomed to the neighbourhood and usual walking routine. Make sure you keep them on a leash while you’re getting to know them and their behaviours.
These first few days are vital in establishing a positive bond between the two of you, and other family members if they will also be a significant presence in your new dog’s life.
Day 3: Develop Trust
On the third day, you can start to expand the amount of space they have to explore in the house.
You will still need to keep a very close eye on them, and at any point that you can’t be with them, limit the area they have to explore to just one room, or even better, a crate or ex-pen.
If there are children or other pets in the home, encourage them not to approach the dog, unless she comes over to them for attention.
This will ensure that your dog doesn’t feel overcrowded and can adjust to their new life in their own time, without any pressure.
To develop trust between you both, never shout or use any kind of punishment. Dogs respond well to positive training methods rather than an alpha male approach.
Day 4: Start to Create a Routine
Now that your dog is beginning to trust you and you know them a little better, you can start to introduce a routine that will help to ensure they feel safe and secure.
For their routine, you’ll need to work in meals, walks, time for training, rest periods and brain games, which will keep them mentally stimulated.
You can use a crate to encourage periods of rest. A good routine will help your dog to settle in quickly; an inconsistent daily routine can lead to anxiety in your dog as they will be worrying about what to expect next.
Dogs like to have a predictable routine, especially those dogs that have been in a shelter and haven’t had the best start to their life.
Day 5: Begin Training
It can be challenging to train a rescue dog because the likelihood is that they’ll be bringing a lifetime of bad habits with them.
You’ll need to have lots of patience and an abundance of treats and toys!
Try not to expect too much from your dog in the first few weeks, they’ll need to build up their level of trust in you before they start to want to please you.
Start off with basic obedience training such as sit. Always carry out any training in an area free from distraction. Make the session positive, and never shout or get cross. Keep the sessions short but frequent throughout the day.
Day 6: A Visit to the Vets
Ideally, you will have already found a vet before bringing your dog home. The shelter might even be able to offer suggestions of a veterinarian in the local area.
Your dog will need a checkup within the first week of your bringing them into your home. This can be quite a stressful experience for your dog, as the clinical environment might remind them of the rescue center, which they used to live in.
To prepare your new pet for this visit, you can take a look at your dog’s ears, mouth and paws at home to get them used to this type of interaction.
It might help to just have a visit to the vets as a social call, and perhaps give him a treat while you’re inside chatting to the vet. Then leave and return a few days later for her checkup.
Your vet might be able to offer help on their diet and nutrition and recommended exercises as well as tend to any medical needs which they might have.
Day 7: Dealing With Destructive Behaviors
Now that your new dog has had a few days to settle in, you might start to see some destructive behaviours coming out.
Many dogs that come from rescue or shelters will have behaviour problems stemming from fear and anxiety about their previous experiences.
It’s even possible that the reason they ended up in a rescue center was that their previous owner wasn’t well equipped enough to train them adequately.
Some of the most common behaviours you may see can include; “accidents” in the house, chewing, excessive barking, pulling on the leash, jumping up, no recall and sometimes even aggression.
Each of these things will need careful retraining, but here are some quick tips for each one.
Accidents in the house
If your rescue dog isn’t house trained, you’ll need to treat them very much like a puppy and retrain them. Watch your dog constantly and look out for any signs that they have to pee. Sniffing, whining and circling are all signs that they might need to go.
Take them outside immediately if you spot any of these signs. It will also help to stick to a regular feeding schedule and frequently take them out to use the bathroom.
Don’t get angry with them, or scold them, always try to stay positive, even when there are accidents.
If your new dog is still having accidents after the first few weeks despite a consistent effort to house train them, take them to a vet to check for any medical reasons behind this.
Any destructive behaviours, such as chewing, need to be positively redirected. If you spot them chewing the leg of a chair, give them an appropriate toy instead. Don’t leave things on the floor that they can chew and puppy-proof your house.
If your dog is barking a lot, there is usually a reason behind the barking. Your dog might bark if they are lonely, bored, not getting enough attention, stressed or feel the need to protect the house.
You’ll need to figure out which one of these behaviours is the root cause and then tackle that reason. For example, if your dog is bored, you can try to mentally stimulate them more and play brain games such as a treasure hunt or hide and seek.
Pulling on the leash
To train your dog to walk patiently alongside you, treat training is often the best method. Each time your dog is walking, how you want them to, reward them with a treat.
If they are struggling with this concept, standstill each time he tries to pull, and when he stops pulling, reward him. For more tips on loose-leash training, check out How to Stop Your Dog From Pulling on Leash.
If your dog tries to jump up at you, ignore him and turn your back. Without any attention, they should soon tire of this behaviour.
Practice introductions often, and reward them when they approach correctly.
Depending on the level of aggression, you might need to seek professional guidance from a dog trainer. If they bite or snap at you, growl or snarl or do anything that makes you feel afraid, then it is an excellent time to seek help.
The longer the behaviour is allowed to go on, the harder it will be to fix it. Your dog is only reacting out of fear or anxiety, so a trainer can help you isolate the issue and find safe ways to help your dog feel at ease.
One Week Onward
It can take up to six months for your rescue dog to fully settle into your home and their new life, so don’t be disappointed if, after the first week, they aren’t perfectly behaved and fitting in well.
Getting a rescue dog is a huge commitment, and you should be prepared to invest a lot of time and love into your dog.
Have you struggled to acclimate your new rescue into your home? Share your rescue stories, successes, and tips with us in the comments below!
Posted by John Woods
This article was written by John Woods, the founder of My Pet’s Name. John has had two rescue dogs himself, and also has plenty of experience in training and rehabilitating rescue dogs.