7 Tips For Adopting a Rescue Dog and Surviving The First 7 Days

By Nicole Ayers

Are You Prepared to Adopt a Rescue Dog?

Dogs are irresistible companions and adopting your pup from a shelter saves a life.  Still, consider if you are ready to make the commitment to care for a dog’s every need throughout his entire life — up to 12 years.

From exercise and grooming to training and socializing, dogs need a minimum of one hour everyday for basic care. You’ll also need to learn your neighborhood’s rules for the types of dogs you can keep.

Rescue dogs can also come with behavioral or physical problems that you may only discover when bringing them home. In addition to the modest adoption fee, there are significant costs of owning a dog — be prepared to spend $1,400 to $4,300 per year on food, treats, travel, boarding, medicine, annual veterinarian checkups, grooming, training, supplies and accessories.

Day 1 – Prepare Your Home to Be Calm and Safe

Your rescue dog’s first day home is exciting but can also be stressful. He’s confused about his new surroundings, so try to limit his activity. Avoid overwhelming him with too many toys and family members at once. If possible, take children and pets out of the house for a few hours until your dog settles in. 

Day 2 – Introduce Your Dog to His Surroundings with Treats and Tricks

When your dog wakes up in their brand new home, allow them to come over to you if they want to. Spend the whole day with them to develop a positive bond between the two of you and any family members who will be a significant presence in their life. Try out a few tricks to see how much they already know. Take them on a walk on a leash to get them accustomed to their new neighborhood and walking routine. 

Day 3 – Create a Routine and Build Trust with Feeding, Potty Training, Commands and Playtime 

Positive training methods will help develop trust between you and your dog, rather than an alpha male approach. Allow your dog to explore more of your house, on a leash. Watch for a desire to mark or chew, making sure to never shout or use any kind of punishment.

Take the pressure off by encouraging family members or children in your home to avoid interacting with him until he approaches them first. This allows your dog to adjust to his new life in his own time without feeling overcrowded. Offer treats and chew toys for positive reinforcement. If at any point you’re unable to be with him, limit the area he has to explore to just one room or a crate.

Day 4 – Exercise Your Dog’s Mind and Body

Make an appointment with a Veterinarian for a checkup! Before you start any exercise program with your dog, have him checked by your veterinarian to make sure there’s no reason you can’t increase his activity level.

Dogs are creatures of habit and like to have a predictable routine to follow. Introduce a routine that helps him feel safe and secure by working in time for meals, training, rest periods and brain games to keep him mentally stimulated. You can use the crate to encourage periods of rest.

A good routine will help your dog settle in quickly while an inconsistent schedule can lead to anxiety, causing your dog to worry about what to expect next. Take your dog on longer walks where he passes people and other dogs. Watch for his reaction and avoid allowing him to interact with strangers too soon. 

Day 5 – Train Your Dog with Positive Reinforcement in Consistent, Short Sessions 

Allow your dog to spend most of his time in a general area with your family as you observe and make adjustments to your dog’s behavior around other people, pets and children. Always carry out your training in a distraction-free area, keeping sessions short, positive and frequent throughout the day.

Carefully watch your dog for signs of nervousness, expressions of dominance or guarding behaviors. Take longer walks, bringing your dog closer to people and introduce him to more crowded areas and places with distractions. This will help you gauge his reaction to various stimulus and get to know him better.

Day 6 – Establish Yourself as the Alpha while Teaching Your Dog Basic Obedience 

Increase your dogs freedom to explore more of your house while keeping a close eye on him. Restrict him only to areas that are dog proof, keeping him our of hallways and bedrooms. Watch to see how your dog’s personality is revealed as he interacts more with your family members, other pets and becomes more comfortable in his new home. While out on walks, you can start allowing your dog to sniff and rub noses with other dogs so long as he’s being a good boy.

Day 7 – Socialize Your Dog with an Obedience Class, other People and Animals

While there’s still a lot to learn about your dog and mistakes will be made, he should feel like part of the family by the end of the first week. Remember you are working with a rescue dog that may already have obstacles to overcome.

Avoid making assumptions about your dog’s behavior. Just because he doesn’t mark or chew on your furniture doesn’t mean he won’t when you let him roam freely through the house.

You can remove the restricted area and move the crate to it’s designated spot. If you find it useful due to behavioral issues with socializing or chewing, keep the crate in your general area longer. Remember to leave him crated when you’re away from home and at night. If you have a setback, just repeat a step, be patient and watchful and continue working on your bond with your dog.

Bond with Your Dog to Enhance Your Relationship

Adopting a rescue dog is a lot of work and it may take anywhere from a week to several months for your pup to get comfortable in his new home. Always speak to him in a calm or cheerful tone so he respects your leadership. Keep your dog mentally and physically active with regular walks, runs and new tricks so he doesn’t get bored.

The more consistent you are with sticking to a routine, positive reinforcement, snuggling training and playing fun games together, the sooner you’ll have a loving canine member of your family!

Find the best rescue dog for your lifestyle! Puppies need to be toilet trained, fed more frequently than adult dogs and learn basic obedience commands. Not ready to invest the time, resources and love into raising a dog up from puppyhood? While young adult dogs may bring some bad habits with them, they may have previous training that allow them to better adjust to your family’s lifestyle with regular feeding, grooming and exercise. If you’re simply looking for companionship, elderly dogs are a good choice — just keep in mind they may only be with you for a short time and have more medical expenses.

Common Issues for the first 24 hours:

Barking – From day one, barking is a common form of anxious behavior in rescue dogs. He could be barking for many reasons such as loneliness, boredom, stress, needing attention or to protect his new home. If your dog is barking a lot, redirect his attention to a mentally stimulating activity or play treasure hunting games with him.

Excessive Fear – Some rescue dogs may hide, pee out of fear, show signs of depression, whine, try to escape, or avoid being touched. This is often caused by neglect, abusive experiences with previous owners, isolation with no opportunities to socialize with people or homelessness. Be patient and gentle with your dog while working on his fear issues so can learn to trust you. Watch your dog’s bog language to understand what’s most frightening to him  and seek out a behavioral professional if the issues are severe.

Destructive Chewing – Chewing on objects is a normal way that puppies and dogs explore their surroundings, keep their jaws strong, clean their teeth and relieve boredom, anxiety or frustration. For young pups, chewing also relieves pain from teething. If you spot your dog chewing valuable belongings or furniture, redirect him to a toy such as Kong, rawhide, or durable marrow or synthetic bones. You can also spray vinegar or something else that tastes bad on items you want him to avoid.

Accidents – Expect a few accidents as your dog adjusts to his new environment. Confining your dog using indoor dog gates or pens can keep him from sneaking off to go potty around your house. Watch him closely to spot signs that they need to pee such as sniffing, circling or whining. Take your dog outside immediately if he’s showing these signs and after he plays, eats and drinks. Stick to a regular feeding schedule with a bathroom break every few hours. 

Aggression – While aggression is the most common and serious issues in rescue dogs, it’s often caused by poor parenting from a previous owner. If your dog shows signs of aggressive behavior, this may signal that he’s afraid or cranky. Dog’s usually show aggression when feeling cornered or trapped but don’t coddle him, or else you’ll be inadvertently rewarding bad behavior. If they bite you, snarl, growl or do anything that makes you or your family afraid, seek professional guidance from a dog trainer who can help you identify what’s causing the behavior, and find safe ways to alleviate the issue.

Pulling on the Leash – Dogs love to be outside, so it’s common for them to want to run and explore all of the exciting sights, smells, sounds and other stimuli around them. Use treats to teach your dog to walk patiently beside you on a leash. If he continues to pull, stop immediately and stand still until the leash relaxes. When the leash is relaxed and your dog either turns around to focus on you or steps back to walk by your side, reward him with a treat and proceed with the walk.

Jumping Up – If your dog is jumping up at you, he’s excited and looking for human attention to release this energy through play. Although jumping up is natural for dogs, it’s also inappropriate greeting behavior that you must prevent because it can become harmful. Be silent and turn your back on him with your arms across your chest until he has all four of his paws on the floor. Once he does this, calmly turn around to greet him with petting.Teach your dog an alternative way to approach you and other people such as sit/stay or finding a toy, and reward him when he greets you correctly.

Introduce Your New Dog to Your Old Dog on a Collar in Neutral Territory 

If you have other pets, keep them separated for the first 24 hours before introducing your rescue dog. For cat parents, give your cat their own separate room that your dog cannot access. Rotate your dog and cat’s confinement to give each one plenty of time to safely meet face to face and pickup the other pet’s scent. For dog parents, introduce your resident dog to your new dog in neutral outdoor territory with both on a leash. 

Teach Your Children How to Safely Interact with Your Dog

If you have children, never leave them alone with your dog. Teach your children how to approach and interact with the dog without overwhelming him. Children must learn to recognize when the dog wants to be left alone, while learning to avoid startling or hugging him while he’s sleeping. 

Allow Your Dog to Sleep In or Near Your Bedroom During the Night

Giving your dog a designated sleeping area in or near your bedroom will make sure you’re close by if he needs you during the night. Consider using a crate to keep your dog safe and and from wandering around, making potty accidents or destroying valuables while you’re sleeping.

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