It is important to be ready and know what to expect when adopting rescue dogs, or any dogs really. Understand that these new dogs will be going through a sensory overload and be very overwhelmed, whether they are coming from a shelter or foster home. The first few days are incredibly special and critical for your dogs well-being. They will not know what you want from them, so it is key to make sure you and your family are prepared with a lot of structure to make the transition as seamless as possible.
Before bringing your dog home:
Can you afford adopting rescue dogs?
First things first, make sure you are financially able to take on adopting rescue dogs. Rescues may have a lot of unexpected medical expenses from their potentially unknown life history or lineage. So, you will be paying for dog food (probably good quality food), accessories (toys, crates, leashes, etc.), annual vaccinations and vet bills, plus any other unexpected medical bills. Chances are, you will put nothing before your dog and go above and beyond in taking care of them; so be ready for your bank account to take a hit. Think about it like raising a child, and children are hella expensive. Check out our blog on tips for buying a dog in Canada for more information.
Organize a family meeting to establishing structure.
Sit down with your family (do this step even if you live alone) and make sure you take the time to clearly think through how you will establish rules with your dog. Write down the vocabulary that you will use in training your dog (i.e.: sit, stay, heel, come, no bark, good stay, etc.). Make sure everyone is very clear on the language to use with your new dog so as to avoid any confusion of what your expectations for them are.
Set up where your dog will spend their time.
Furthermore, dogs thrive with strict rules and structure. Make sure that you have an area in your home for your dog to spend most of its time during the transition period; often kitchens are best (or places sans carpet) because even the most house broken dogs will have accidents in new environments. Get on your hands and knees and look around to see what might be choking hazards or destroyed by curious/stressed out dog teeth. Remember, your dog doesn’t chew things to spite you — if they are chewing things it is because they don’t know better. Remove all things that are easily chewed from their area and don’t be scared to discipline them if they start to chew on things.
If you plan on crate training your dog, have the crate already there and ready. The crate you choose should be big enough that your dog can stand and completely turn around in. However, you don’t want it so big that the dog will feel comfortable relieving themselves inside it. Also, make sure there is a clean water bowl (with fresh water) and the food that the dog is used to eating is ready to go. It would be a good idea to have some toys and maybe a blanket so that it is more comfortable.
Changing the diet of your new dog:
Find out prior to adopting rescue dogs which food they are being given while at the shelter or foster home. Buy some of that food, as well as the food that you want to transition to. For a couple days, do one-part new food, and three-parts old food; move to half old food and half new food; lastly, three-parts new food and one-part old food; you will then be able to transition the dog completely to the new food, without causing much gastric distress.
The First Day:
The drive home:
Make sure that your dog is safe on the drive home — have a leash, collar, and ID tag ready for when you go pick them up. Oftentimes, when adopting rescue dogs, they will be very nervous after a car ride, so in case they accidentally get loose in the transition between the car and the home — they will have an ID; hopefully, though, the situation will be avoided by having a good quality leash and collar.
Once you have the new dog at home, take them to the area where they will be routinely going to the bathroom. Understand that they may still have accidents. Stay out there with your dog as long as it takes for them to relieve themselves. Once they are done, bring them into their place. If they seem very anxious, allow them to go into the crate until they calm down (while you are home, always have the crate door open so they can go in and out as they feel necessary). Your dog may seem perfectly okay and just curious, if so, just let them sniff around; supervise them exploring, but don’t hover over them, as that will be a cause for anxiety. If you have them in the kitchen, just sit at the table while they explore the kitchen.
Make sure to keep the fussing over them to a minimum. If you have children or other pets, have the introductions happen slowly. For children, make them sit still and let the dog come to them. The children may put their hand palm up so the dog can sniff their hands, but don’t let them reach at the dog to pet them, that is a recipe for a bite to happen. Teach the children not to poke or prod at the dog, and really, just take it very slow and calm. For pets, same thing, have the introductions happen slowly and if you sense any anxiousness, remove the pets from each other until everyone is calm.
Start the schedule:
You will want to start the pre-planned feeding, toilet, and play/exercise schedule immediately. The sooner that the dog can get comfortable with the new structure, the better. And make sure that the schedule you have made is realistic so that you can follow it religiously. Allow your dog to have brief periods of family time as well as solitary confinement. If your dog goes into the crate themselves, let them be. You don’t want too much excitement too soon. Taking this slowly will allow you to bond one-on-one and develop a solid foundation of trust.
The following weeks:
Oftentimes, people say they don’t start to see their dog’s true personality for a couple of weeks after adopting rescue dogs. Be patient.
Training has no finish line.
Understand that training your dog does not have a finish line. Be patient with your bud in the beginning as they learn what your expectations are. Once they get the hang of the language you use and seem like they are starting to understand — don’t stop. You will need to continue to enforce this good behaviour so that it becomes habitual. Over time it will be easier, of course, but in the beginning, the key to successful training is consistency! This also means sticking to that original schedule you planned out. See, this is why I said to make sure it is realistic to follow. If you need to change the schedule (you will probably need to), take things slow! Don’t completely change everything about it at once.
Introduction to other dogs
Before you take your dog to group training classes or to the dog park, take your pal to the vet. It is incredibly important for yours and all other dogs’ health that your dog has all of its vaccinations and is healthy. Once you are cleared to be around other dogs, make sure you pay attention to your dog’s body language. Your dog should be having fun at the dog park, and not fearful of the other dogs; this may take time if they aren’t comfortable being around a lot of dogs. Try and only go at off-peak hours for the first little while, and be around your dog for some comfort.
What to expect when adopting rescue dogs: summary
Ultimately, the best piece of advice that we can give is to not fuss over the dog and stare at them. Seriously, put yourself in your dog’s shoes. That may sound weird, but think about it. You get taken by a new family, they put you in a scary contraption that moves, they put you in a home that smells a lot different than what you are comfortable with, they use words you’re not sure what they mean, and to top it all off, they stare at you while you eat and drink and pee and sleep. How terribly uncomfortable would that be?!
Make sure the dog has everything it needs, everything is doggie-safe, and they have a safe space to “escape” when it all becomes too much. You should then be able to just ignore the dog. Don’t completely ignore the poor thing, but seriously, just go about your business and your new dog will figure out how they fit into your life organically.
With time, your dog will love you as much as (probably more than) you love them. Just take it slow, it is not a race.