So you’re adopting a rescue dog? That’s great news! You’ve probably thought all about the physical things that your new family member will need, their bed, food, bowls, a lead, and some toys.
You should have already found a vet, dog-proofed your home, chosen any restricted areas, and perhaps you’ve thought about renaming your dog too, but what about how to help them settle in and feel safe?
When you bring your new rescue dog home, the first week is critical in ensuring that they settle into family life successfully.
Here are some top tips for ensuring your dog has a stress-free transition from the rescue center to its new home.
Day one: Bringing your rescue dog home
Bringing your new dog home is probably a memory that will last for a lifetime, both for you and the dog so try to plan for as a positive experience as possible.
You should already be prepared and have their space set up before they come home. This area should be somewhere quiet, not in the central living area, but also not too far away from you all.
If you have an area close to your main living space that can be separated using a baby gate, this is ideal. This provides them with a space of their own where they can observe you can get to know you, and interact with the family on their own terms.
If you plan on crate training your rescue dog, you can leave the crate in this area. The crate should be large enough for them to stand up and turn around.
You should also leave a bowl of water and toys in this area to have plenty to occupy their minds.
When you first bring your dog home, remember that less is more. You shouldn’t crowd them, give them space, and create a nice relaxing environment.
Keep young children or other pets away from their designated area for the first few hours to allow them to settle in, and give attention when they come to seek it out.
They may cry or whine on their first night, and it can be scary settling into a new space which lots of new sights and smells.
Day two: Get to know each other
Today is the day you can introduce them to younger members of the family and any other pets you might have. Take this part slowly.
Allow one family member to be introduced at a time and give the rescue dog space if they walk away. Ideally, you should make sure they can always get back to their own private space.
Allow your dog to get to know their new surroundings and feel comfortable with you all. By this point, you should still be limiting the area of your home that you let fido in so they don’t feel too overwhelmed.
Day three: Develop trust
You obviously know that this is their new forever home, but your rescue dog does not. You need to spend the first few days developing their trust in you so that they can feel comfortable and begin to understand they won’t be moved again.
When you are training your new dog, make sure that you only ever use positive reinforcement. Never use force or get angry with your dog. This will help them to learn to trust you.
For example, if a dog starts displaying chewing behaviors, distract them with a toy that they can chew rather than shout at them or punish them.
Day four: Start building a routine
Now that your new rescue dog is starting to develop trust in you and feel more comfortable, you can start to implement a routine.
This will help them predict what will happen and when and will help them settle in quickly.
Most dogs need a minimum of two walks per day, once in the morning and once in the evening, so aim to do this at the same time so your dog can look forward to their walks.
One of the best benefits of rescuing a dog is that they are usually potty trained, so you won’t need to spend weeks using puppy training pads and teaching them where to pee!
If you can stick to a regular pattern, this will help your dog fully settle into its new life.
Day five: Visit the vet
Hopefully, before you brought your rescue dog home, you found a local vet. Most rescue centers will have carried out basic checks on all their dogs too, but it’s important to visit your own vet so your dog can get used to them.
Have your own veterinarian do their own checks, and make sure the dog is microchipped and up-to-date with all their vaccinations.
Day six: Increase your rescue dog’s freedom
Once your rescue dog has built up a level of trust in you, and you are beginning to get to know them more, you’ll be able to give them more freedom.
This can start with allowing them access to the rest of your house (minus any restricted areas) and beginning to let them off-leash in the garden to work on their recall.
Day seven: Identify destructive behaviors
After a week, you should begin to spot any behaviors that might arise that aren’t desirable. This is because your dog is now feeling comfortable to be themselves, but you’ll need to nip these in the bud as soon as possible.
If you spot them chewing furniture, guide them away with a chew toy and allow them to chew on that.
If they are begging at the table, jumping up on the couch, or digging in your yard, don’t allow them to continue those behaviors because you want them to feel at home.
Your rescue dog will thank you for making the boundaries clear in the long run!
Make the most of your first week with your rescue dog
Hopefully, you’ll now understand just how important the first week is in caring for your new rescue dog. Your main aim is to help them feel safe within your home and around all your family members so that they can trust you.
Remember, many dogs that have been in rescue shelters haven’t come from a loving family, so it may take a bit of time to build that trust up and show them that you love them, but it is certainly worth it!
David Woods has been an animal lover for as long as he can remember and is the founder of My Pets Name. He has two degrees and studied Applied Animal Behavior and Animal Welfare. He is also a member of the Dog Writers Association of America.