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Tips for introducing a rescue dog to its new home

Rescue dogs may have come from a home-like environment in a small rescue, but most likely they came from a traditional shelter environment. The shelter is the closest thing to a canine prison.
Rescue dogs may have come from a home-like environment in a small rescue, but most likely they came from a traditional shelter environment. The shelter is the closest thing to a canine prison.
Jonesy22, Wikimedia Commons

Rescue dogs are extremely rewarding pets, but they are almost completely unknown when they’re first brought into a new home. While care should be taken for every dog that’s settled into a new home, a rescue dog should always have a calm and well-controlled environment. They may have limited reports from shelter staff, but otherwise the dog’s history and personality are not usually known. If the shelter got the information about the dog from its previous owner, there’s also the chance that they didn’t tell the whole truth. While this should not discourage anyone from adopting a dog, it’s something every adopter should be aware of in the first weeks the dog lives in its new home.

Be prepared to give the dog plenty of time

Chances are, the new rescue dog has had at least one other home. It has had to adjust to many different environments and different sets of rules. At the shelter, the dog was in the canine version of prison and must now remember how to be a good house dog. If the animal has been abused or otherwise mishandled in the past, or just not introduced to common household events, its responses may be unpredictable at first. Never take anything for granted, but be aware that it usually takes about two weeks before the dog trusts its new home enough to relax and show its true personality.

A rescue dog’s first introductions are critical

Make sure the house is quiet when the dog first comes home. Pick a time when guests are not expected and no holidays are looming to adopt the dog. Children will undoubtedly be excited at the prospect of a new dog, but they need to understand that it’s a living thing that needs space and time. Closely observe their introduction and interactions with the dog, and give the dog plenty of opportunity to get away in case it needs to be left alone. Even dogs that were very outgoing in the shelter may be shy and reserved in an unfamiliar environment.

Shelter staff usually advises adopters on whether or not a new dog gets along with other animals. Even if the dog is considered dog safe and cat safe, never simply release them all in the same room. An existing dog may feel that there is an intruder, or the new dog may feel like it’s under attack. Even the friendliest of dogs may have prey drive kick in if a cat flares, hisses, or runs away at the sight of the unfamiliar dog. Both new and existing animals must be restrained at the introduction, and should be separated whenever they’re not closely supervised for the first few days.

Don’t expect a rescue dog to know house rules

Even well-mannered dogs can’t be expected to understand the rules and a new home immediately. For instance, a dog may have known that it was not allowed in the kitchen of its last home, or that it couldn’t jump up on the table. A dog associates that rule with a very specific place or object, and likely will not see the connection with the kitchen or table in a new home. Patience and training are always necessary with any new dog. This may extend to house training and other basic essentials as well. Crate the dog whenever it won’t be directly supervised until it knows all the rules so that it can have constructive corrections whenever it does something it’s not supposed to do.

Show the dog where its food and water are offered. If there are already dogs in the house, feed the new dog at a separate time or with a divider to ensure that none of the animals exhibit food aggression.

The most important part of bringing a rescue dog home is to give it time to adjust. Hundreds of dogs are returned to the shelter within the first 24 to 48 hours, often due to behavior problems. The people who return these dogs obviously do not understand how to properly settle them into their new home, or what’s realistic to expect for an animal in entirely new surroundings. Resolve to give a dog no less than a week before making a judgment on its character and behavior. Given a good introduction and an appropriate amount of time, most dogs can find their own special place in a new family.

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