6 steps to helping your new rescue dog settle in

Rescue dogs often come from situations of neglect and abuse, so may have trouble adjusting to adoption. These tips will help your new friend feel more secure as he gets used to living with you.

Rescue dogs often know little beyond neglect, loneliness and abuse. Giving them loving and supportive forever homes after all they’ve suffered is wonderful. But realize that it may take time – along with preparation and patience on your part – to help a rescue dog adapt to his new circumstances. With the following suggestions, you’ll help your new friend adjust more comfortably and easily.

1. Acquire the necessary supplies

Before your new dog sets foot in your home, gather some essential supplies:

  • Comfortable bedding: A snug, safe resting area is important; a clean, soft comforter can be just as welcoming as a fancy dog bed.
  • Food and water bowls: Make sure these are located in a quiet, easily accessible spot.
  • Harness: A harness eliminates the harmful tracheal pressure caused by a traditional collar. This can be especially important if your new rescue pulls or demonstrates reactivity.
  • Sturdy 4’ to 6’ leash: Avoid retractable leashes — they can snap, tangle or unspool, causing flight or injury.
  • Comfortable collar: A collar displaying your dog’s ID is vital in case he happens to escape.
  • First aid kit: Include gauze bandage, natural ointment, scissors, a thermometer and eye dropper. Natural calming remedies such as flower essences are also important.
  • Phone numbers: Keep contact numbers for your vet and local emergency pet clinic handy.
  • High quality dog food: More on this later.

2. Evaluate your space

Consider your home’s floor plan. Where will your dog spend the most time? Will he be allowed on the bed or sofa? Are certain rooms off-limits? When you need to go out, where will he stay? Determining these answers will help you start training your dog in a clear, consistent manner.

Your rescue dog may sometimes need to retreat if he’s feeling overwhelmed, so create at least one quiet “safe zone”, preferably in a lower-traffic area. Include soft bedding and a few toys. Whenever your dog ventures into this area, reward and praise him to create positive associations. “Some rescue dogs feel safe in a small, confined space; while others do not,” adds Michelle Lenz, animal care manager at Chicagoland’s Naperville Area Humane Society. If your dog falls into the former camp, consider an appropriately-sized pet crate or kennel. Line it with a soft blanket or towel, and keep the door propped open.

3. “Dog-proof” your home

Move or eliminate poisonous plants. Store canine-toxic foods like chocolate, alcohol, coffee, raisins and grapes far out of reach. Keep medicines, cleaning chemicals and antifreeze well-secured. Remember that some rescue dogs tend toward reactivity; fenced outdoor spaces can keep him safe and secure. Many behaviorists feel that public dog parks aren’t a good idea until you’ve developed a very clear sense of how your dog responds to other animals.

4. Pay attention to diet

Most shelters don’t have the funding to buy high quality pet food, so you will probably need to change your new dog’s diet. Making a sudden switch can often trigger tummy troubles or loose stools, however. Ask your shelter or rescue contact which food the dog has been eating. When changing his food, do so very gradually, and make sure the new diet is the highest quality you can afford, without corn, artificial additives or by-products. Start by mixing the new food with the old in a roughly 1:4 ratio, respectively, and slowly shift the proportions over two to three weeks.

5. Be prepared to change your schedule

Once you’ve welcomed your new friend, try to keep your schedule clear for a bit so you can spend plenty of quality time with him. “Having a couple of days to spend with your dog is ideal,” says Michelle. “It’s also wise to avoid taking any trips shortly after you adopt.” Likewise, resist the urge to stage a noisy meet-and-greet with friends until your dog feels more comfortable.

Even if your rescue is supposedly housebroken, be ready for a few accidents. Remain positive and encouraging. Each time your pooch eliminates outdoors, reward and praise him. If you catch him eliminating inside, hurry him outdoors to finish, then pour on the praise once again. Shape new behaviors by rewarding what you want.

6. Stay positive and patient

Many trainers stress a positive attitude as a cardinal rule. “Punishment can make a dog fearful — and it opens the door to other problems, such as aggression and escalating anxiety,” says Michelle. “It’s important to take things slowly, and not overstimulate your dog.” Conversely, don’t feel the need to smother him. Allow him some time to get the lay of the land. “It’s especially important to have patience,” adds Michelle.

7. Consider the dog’s background

Many adopters view the process of taking in a rescue dog from their own perspective only, which includes feelings of affection and anticipation.

However, the rescue dog may have come from a background of pain, cruelty and punishment. Once rescued, he’ll have spent time in an unfamiliar shelter surrounded by new scents, incessant barking, and the anxious energy of other animals.

So it’s not surprising that he may not be as happy and excited about being adopted into your home as you are. To the dog, it’s just another scary change. The people are new and the surroundings are foreign. Almost any rescue dog is bound to feel apprehensive in this situation.

The first days after adopting a rescue are crucial. You’ll be establishing a foundation that will begin shaping his new life. The steps in this article will help make this homecoming process less stressful for you and your new dog.