How to: Safely Bring Home a Rescue or Shelter Dog

Adopting a rescue cat or dog is a big responsibility. You aren’t just adding to your family; you are quite literally saving a life. Rescues and shelters across the nation have many wonderful dogs and cats (and plenty of other critters), and any one of them can be the perfect addition to your household. However, shelter pets come from various backgrounds and have had an array of experiences — some positive, but some also traumatic.
When you bring a rescue pet into your home, you need understand the impact their past life has had on their emotions, behavior and mental state. Dogs in particular will need structure, routine and leadership — and they’ll be looking to you to provide it. Cats, though often more independent and flexible, also need to know that your house comes with a set of rules. Proving this structure from the very beginning makes the transition from the shelter to your home quicker, smoother and more rewarding for everyone involved.

Understand the First Days are Stressful

When was the last time your life changed dramatically? Maybe you moved to a new city, changed careers or had a kid? You new pet’s life is making similar leaps, and they will need space and time to adjust. It’s not uncommon for rescue pets to come from a bad situation — neglect, abuse, trauma — and they will bring that baggage with them. That’s why it is essential you recognize that the first few days will be scary and uncertain for them… and you.

At first, consider limiting your rescue pet to one room or area. Setting up baby gates in doorways is a great way to let them become familiar with their new environment’s sights and sounds, but maintain their own safe, private area. Go in and spend some time helping them to become more comfortable with toys, treats and, if they are open to it, cuddles.
Speaking of cuddles, don’t be surprised if your new friend is shy and wary. Don’t force anything, but be a calming, gentle and consistent presence. For this reason — the unpredictable behavior aspect — your rescue pet should not be left alone with your other pets until you have monitored their interactions for a period of time. Make sure they get along, or at least tolerate each other, before leaving them alone for any length of time.

For the first few days, limit visitors in your house so your pet has time to get comfortable with their new family. When guests do come over, be sure they know the ground rules. Socializing a rescue pet is very important, so ask for their help with whatever you are currently working on.  If you’re trying to get a dog to stop jumping, be sure your guests know how to interact with your pooch when he propels himself.

Our rescue pets have been given vaccinations and have already been spayed or neutered prior to adoption. It is important that your dog sees a veterinarian soon after adoption, a trip to the vet can be scary thing. Take a week to get them as calm and comfortable with you as possible. Get them in the car for a ride and, if you adopted a dog, take them for a few walks so they are used to leaving the house with you. And remember — treats! Reward all behavior you want to see repeated.

Don’t be alarmed or too angry about house training accidents. Even if you’ve adopted an adult rescue animal, being in a new territory and establishing a new routine means accidents will happen. If your new pet is excited, anxious or scared, he or she could go to the bathroom unexpectedly. This isn’t something they should be punished for, but it is behavior you need to correct so it doesn’t become a habit. Punishing them might make the animal think going to the bathroom is the bad behavior, not that they did it in the house. They might even become afraid of you. That’s why praising and rewarding when they do the right behavior is the best way to train. If accidents are frequent for a rescue dog, you may consider crate training.