So you’ve decided to adopt a dog from a shelter – congratulations! You and your dog are about to embark on a new life journey together, and you probably want to start things off on the right paw. Since coming to a new home can be confusing and scary for rescue dogs, we’ve put together some tips to help make the transition as smooth as possible.
Prepare For Your Dog’s Arrival
It’s important to prepare your home for your dog’s arrival. Gather the necessary basics like waste bags, bowls, a harness, a leash, a bed, a crate. Toys are always important as well and we love the boredom buster type from the brand Kong, squeaky and stuffed toys are always great as well. Determine where your dog’s bed, crate, and bowls will be and set them up. Think through your family’s schedule and when you’ll fit in walks, playtime, training, and feeding. Get your whole family on the same page so everyone knows what their responsibilities are and when they should do them. As part of this planning phase, come up with a vocabulary list of what you want to teach your dog and go over it as a family. This will help prevent confusion and help your dog learn his commands more quickly.
Once you have the basics set up, dog-proof your house. Many new dog owners use baby gates to give their new family member a safe space to explore. Tape loose electrical cords to baseboards and remove houseplants, rugs, and fragile items from the area your dog will spend time in. Make sure household chemicals are securely stored and no valuables are in danger of being chewed. It may be helpful to go through your house on your hands and knees to see things from your dog’s perspective.
Once you’ve dog-proofed your house, make up an ID tag with your phone number on it. This will provide an extra level of security during the car ride home and first few days with your dog. Now, all that’s left is picking up your new furry family member! Try to plan your pickup over the weekend or during a time where you’ll be home often.
The First Day
Once you pick up your dog, secure him in your vehicle. Some dogs are scared of car rides, so traveling in a crate may be comforting. It can also be helpful to bring a second person who can sit with the dog on your way home. Bring towels in case your dog gets car sick or has an accident, and try to avoid running errands on the way home.
Once you get home, take your dog right to your backyard or wherever you expect him to do his business. Keep him on-leash and spend some time in this area to help him acclimate. Although this trick may not completely avoid accidents, it will help your dog start to learn when and where he should go to the bathroom.
Once you take your dog inside, monitor his behavior and redirect when needed for behaviors like chewing or jumping onto the furniture. Manners training should start immediately – it’s much easier to properly train your dog from the start than it is to correct bad behaviors in a few weeks.
From the first day, start your schedule of feeding, housebreaking, play, exercise, and quiet time. Even though it may be difficult, your dog needs a balance of play time and alone time. Giving your dog brief periods of solitary confinement (whether in their crate or in a blocked-off part of the house) will help your dog acclimate to spending time on their own and prevent separation anxiety. When you leave the house for short trips, give your dog a toy to play with. Treat toys, like a Kong filled with peanut butter, can keep dogs occupied and ease their anxiety while you’re gone.
It can be overwhelming for a shelter dog to be constantly pet, hugged, or kissed. If you have children in the home, make sure they know how to approach and interact with your dog, and discuss why it’s important to let the dog have alone time. If you have other pets, consider separating them for the first 24 hours, even if your pet is very friendly. When you choose to introduce them, do it in a toy-free and food-free zone with both animals on a leash. Don’t leave the animals home alone together until you’re absolutely sure they’ll be okay together.
Before you leave the shelter, ask what and when your dog was fed. To prevent gastric distress, it’s good to keep your dog on a similar schedule for the first few days in his new home.
The Following Weeks
Within the first week or so of adopting your dog, visit the veterinarian, even if the dog was issued a clean bill of health by the shelter. Visiting the vet ensures you’re aware of any medical issues the shelter may have missed and ensures your dog is up to date on their necessary vaccinations. If you want to switch your dog over to a new food, slowly transition them over the period of a week. Start by giving them one part new food and three parts old food for a few days. Then, move to half of each for a couple days. Finally, move to three parts new food and one part old food before completely transitioning them to the new food.
Most dog owners say their dog’s true personality didn’t come out until the first several weeks after adoption. Once you’ve started to learn what your dog is like, it’s time to take him to the dog park and/or training classes. Pay close attention to your dog’s body language to see if he’s having a good time, and watch out for signs that he’s afraid of or bullying other dogs. If you encounter any behavior issues you’re not sure how to handle, ask your vet to recommend a trainer who uses positive reinforcement techniques.
Most of all, be patient with your dog. After all, they’re in a new environment, with new people, and learning a new routine. Keeping to a schedule and having consistent expectations will help your dog adjust more quickly. If your entire family has consistent rules, your dog will better understand what you expect from him and what he can expect from you. Remember, don’t let your dog get away with things because you feel bad for him or because he’s new. It is your job to provide boundaries for him and help him fit into his new home.
Bringing a dog home from a shelter requires patience, understanding, and love. By following these tips, you’ll be well on your way to bonding with your dog and having a well-adjusted new family member.