You decided to adopt a rescue dog, congratulations! For this beautiful gesture to be followed by a great arrival at home, here are some tips and information to consider.
It always is a mix of joy, fear and excitement to bring a dog back home, especially when you have your heart set on offering him a better life that the one he lived until now.
Before taking him home, make sure that your home is dog proof.
Don’t expect him to be perfect and to understand all the house’s rules in 48 hours! It’s mission impossible and it would be putting a lot of pressure on him.
You can buy/make him a small park big enough, where you can set up his water, his bed, toys and where he can move, turn around… This way, you allow him to have his own space, where he will feel safe. You can use baby gates, for example.
The first days are very important to connect with your new dog. Adopt positive reinforcement methods, based on understanding and kindness. To understand why this is an important choice to make, I invite you to read this article.
Have some treats with you, something really appetizing, to make him want to stay near you and reward every behavior you want to reinforce (lying on his bed, watching the cat without running after him, going to the door to ask to go outside, peeing outside, letting a bike pass without barking…), or to reassure him in case of momentary stress. Talk to him with a lot of kindness so that your voice is a link between him and you, to tell him that what he’s doing is great, that you’re very satisfied with him. Discover which is his favourite toy...
Many tools that will be useful to calmly and respectfully educate him.
Remember: if you’re very happy with his arrival in your home, your dog, however, hasn’t understood that you’re his Human for life, yet, and that this house is now his too. It takes time to adjust, even more for a rescue dog, who comes with sometimes no fun baggage and his/her own traumas.
He might appear very shy, hide and avoid you, or he might stick to you like glue and be overjoyed. You’ll need to accept his reaction and adopt a good attitude, that allows him to calmly relax.
Your goal: each experience has to be positive, so that the adaptation is optimal.
It all starts as soon as he gets in the car. You have to be ready! Protect your seats in case he isn’t used to be in a car, make sure he stays calm, maybe take a chewing bone to keep him busy.
This is it! Time for him to discover his new home! On a leash, show him the outdoors first: the garden, the street, so that he can relax a bit. Give him time to relieve himself, by leading him where you want him to do it and praising him when it’s done. He will start integrating that this is where he can relieve himself, and it’s very important.
Then take him inside and show him around the house, still on a leash so you can handle your dog and prevent problems. It’s important to go for that stroll in peace while orally positivizing every discovery. If he sniffs your plant without trying to eat the leaves, congratulate him (it’s exactly what we want, isn’t it?). Keeping him on a leash allows you to not run after him shouting « no », « eh », « stoooop » and inspect the damage. Anticipation is the key!
– If you already have a dog at home: introduce them outside, on a loose leash, even if they’ve already seen each other at the shelter or somewhere else. Don’t leave them face to face, let them move a little. Go for a walk in the neighborhood for a while before going back home with the newcomer, while the other dog stays in the garden or keeps walking. Your first dog needs to accept the new one, and the new dog needs to understand that he/she wasn’t here first. It isn’t a question of dominance but of respect!
– If you have a cat: keep your dog on a leash and allow your cat to discover this newcomer in a safe place for him and from where he can escape. A baby gate at the bottom of the staircase, a cat scratching post high enough so that he can take refuge there and observe without risk… Don’t hold him in your arms, don’t put him in a kennel.
– In both cases:
By letting them meet and live their first days without problem, you’re giving them the chance to have a beautiful relationship.
Keep a leash on your dog the first day, so that you can catch him if necessary, even inside it’s important!
Don’t let him have access to the whole house, close the doors, to keep an eye on him, limit the risk of bad behavior. Open bit by bit, after several days without problem.
Limiting his space the first days can be very reassuring for a dog, especially if you have to leave him alone. He will feel less lost and safer.
By establishing his main living place near you, you allow him to establish his comfort zone there and that this is where you the most of time in the house.
3 days, 3 weeks, 3 months.
Even if you’ve had dogs and have a good knowledge, your dog, like you, is unique. It’s important to learn to know him.
Pay attention to him : it’s important to see what triggers a reaction from him, what he seems to like, what seems to bother him… His body language is very meaningful, learn how to interpret it. Observe his behaviours, postures…
He probably will discover things that seem normal to you. The TV, the lawn mower, kids shouting, the dishwasher making noise… Remember to reassure him about these discoveries, so that he associates them to something positive.
Have you ever heard about calming signals? They are a part of animal communication and every dog owner should know and respect them. I suggest you to read this article.
It’s up to you to try to understand your dog before asking him to understand you. What is he saying to you in his dog language? What emotion is he expressing by behaving such and such way? Once you’ve understood him, you can have an adapted reaction, offer him something else or reassure him if necessary…
By answering his needs, you will allow him to open up, make sure that he is mentally and physically satisfied. This article will help you to understand his needs. Establish a routine so that your dog has a framework. Take him out regularly, feed him regularly and preferably outside of his bowl.
After the first 48 hours, it’s important to start setting the house rules. Even if his little eyes full of love or fear make you want to give in, remember that the limits need to be clearly but positively set, for his well-being and yours.
Don’t think « He is going to sleep on my bed the first week » if you don’t want him to do it later. It will be even harder for him, after that, to integrate your new rule. « One day I’m fed at the table, the next day I’m told off because I’m begging. Where’s the logic in that? » And he’s right, there is none…
Not knowing when he’s allowed or not is troubling for him. If you change your mind from one day to the next, he will be confused and it will lead to stress. Which is far from ideal, especially for a dog from a rescue center.
A dog needs love and compassion as much as a living environment that makes him feel safe.
He needs to understand how you work, what is allowed, what isn’t, and if it’s all clear, he’ll understand and you will then have established a stable relationship with him.
With love, patience and a good understanding of what’s going on in his head, you’ll develop a very strong and unique connection with your dog.
Sometimes, your love and patience, aren’t enough to make certain traumas disappear, causing behavior problems. Don’t hesitate to ask for help to a dog trainor or a behaviorist, before the situation gets worse or you’re completely overwhelmed.
Taking dog training lessons, based on positive methods, can also be very useful, especially if it’s your first dog.
Shelters sometimes work with professionals offering a free session or at a reduced price, to help you make sure everything goes well. That’s what I used to do for Landerneau’s rescue center (29, France), where I volunteered several times a week.
By putting into practice all these advice and with all your good will to offer the good life he deserves to your new companion, you’re ready for a wonderful adventure!