Dog adoption tips: preparing your home and helping your dog settle in

It’s official! You’ve chosen your new best friend and you are about to become the proud owner of a rescue dog! Moving into a new home can be quite overwhelming for a dog, so before you bring them home, consider what preparations you can make to help him or her settle in.

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Preparing your home

Take a walk around your home and identify potential hazards. Your existing dog may not be a chewer, but your new dog might be!

Look for trailing wires, children’s toys, or shoes left lying around. Check your yard for poisonous plants, gaps, or weak points in the fence, and check the latches on the gates!

Ensure you have purchased everything you will need before your new dog comes home. This may include:

  • Collar, tag and leash
  • A harness
  • Dog food and treats
  • Food and water bowls
  • Toys
  • Interactive food toys
  • Dog beds
  • Crates, room dividers and/ or stair gates

You will need to create a safe space for your new dog (and for any pets you already have). In their safe space, your dog should have everything they need.

It should be in a quiet (but not isolated) area of the house where they can observe and get used to household routines while still feeling safe.

Preparing other pets for the arrival of a new dog

Bringing a new dog home can be unsettling for dogs and cats that you already have. Ensure each pet has its own safe space so that it does not have to be in contact with the new dog until they all feel comfortable.

Use room dividers, stair gates and crates to create safe spaces and ensure your existing pets are used to using their safe spaces before the new dog arrives home.

Cats will need places up high where they can escape and observe the new addition. They may prefer to spend time upstairs, so ensure you fit a stair gate so the dog cannot follow them.

Scent swapping can be a useful way to accustom pets to each other’s scent. Before your new dog comes home, ask if you can bring home a blanket they have slept on so that your existing pets can get used to their smell.

Take blankets from your own pets’ beds and ask if they can be left in your new dog’s kennel. If possible, do this a few times until the dogs and cats are used to the scent of each other.

Preparing children for the arrival of a new dog

Children will undoubtedly be excited about the arrival of their new dog. Involve them in the planning and preparation and allow them to help choose beds, leashes, and collars.

If your children are old enough to understand, explain to them that the dog may be a bit nervous when they first arrive and that it is very important to give them space and time to get used to their new home and new family.

Explain that they will be able to play with their new dog, and give him or her fusses, but not just yet.

Safety considerations

As the responsible adult in the home, safety is your responsibility. All interactions between children and dogs should be actively supervised, and this is particularly important with a new dog.

You may not know what previous experience the dog has with children and you do not yet know how well the dog tolerates stress.

Children and dogs should not be left to judge situations as they may not always make the right choices.

Use stair gates across doors to keep dogs and children separate unless you are there to supervise. Take the time to learn about dog behavior- dogs give lots of warning signals when they are not coping and recognizing when your dog is stressed can help to prevent bite incidents.

Your rescue dog’s behavior- what to expect

It is common for dogs to be a little worried when they arrive in a new home. New sights, smells, people, and other animals can be overwhelming, and they have left behind all that is familiar.

If your dog has lived in kennels for a long time, being in a house will feel very strange. Your dog may hide away and avoid interaction at first, and they may not want to eat much. 

This is usually temporary and over the next few days, they should gain confidence and start to relax as they begin to feel safe. 

Not all dogs react to stress by hiding away– some will become hyperactive or aggressive, they may look for ways to escape, they may vomit or develop diarrhea.

This should settle down as the dog decompresses, but call the rescue center if you are concerned. 

Of course, all dogs are different, and more confident dogs may settle in more quickly, especially if they have lived in a house before.

It is worth remembering that a dog who has not lived in a home before, or who has spent a long time in kennels, may not be house-trained.

After a few weeks, you may notice your dog’s behavior change as he becomes more confident and starts to test the boundaries a little. 

This can be the time that behavior problems emerge. If you do notice any problematic behavior, the sooner you get help from a trainer or behaviorist the better. 

The rescue center that your dog came from may also be able to give you advice.

How to help your dog settle in

Allow your dog to settle in at their own pace. It can be tempting to want to shower them with love, but cuddles and fuss may not be welcomed until they know you better. 

The house should be as calm and quiet as possible and your dog should be given space. Block out your diary and avoid having visitors for the first few days. 

Let your dog spend time in their safe space and give them as much choice as you can with regard to interacting with other family members. 

If they come to you for a fuss, stroke them gently for 3 seconds and then stop. This will give them the opportunity to ask for more fusses or to move away if they feel uncomfortable. 

If your dog knows that they have a choice and that they will not be forced to do anything, this will help build their confidence and trust in you. 

Leave them to eat in peace (they may only eat when no one is around) and allow them to slowly start to explore their new home.

It can help to remember the 3-3-3 rule when helping a rescue dog settle in. 

During the first 3 days the dog will decompress. During the first 3 weeks the dog will get used to their environment and routine, and you will start to see their true personality emerge. 

It will take around 3 months for the dog to truly feel safe and settled and to have built a bond with their new family.

Suggested reading: First 24 hours with rescue dog

When to be concerned and when to seek help

It is very hard to predict how a dog will react to being rehomed. You should be prepared that the first few days and weeks may be challenging. 

Many problems will resolve on their own if you give the dog time and space to decompress and settle in, but it would be sensible to seek help from a vet, behaviorist or the rescue center if you notice any of the following:

  • Hiding away and avoiding human contact for more than 5 days
  • Not eating for 48 hours
  • Severe aggression where you are concerned for the safety of other dogs or people
  • Vomiting or diarrhea for more than 12 hours
  • If your dog is extremely stressed and you are concerned for their welfare
  • Any behavior problems that become apparent as the dog settles in

Getting into good habits and establishing routines

Before you bring your dog home, agree as a family what the household rules will be. If you decide no dogs upstairs or no dogs on the furniture, gently enforce this rule from day one. 

If you have children, it is sensible to have a ‘no feeding from human plates’ rule, to prevent your dog learning to beg when people are eating.

Establishing daily routines can help your dog settle in. Routines don’t have to be accurate to the minute, but predictably having two walks a day, two meals a day, playtime each afternoon, and a biscuit before bed can be reassuring for your dog.

Suggested reading: ways to identify a reputable dog rescue shelter

Family rules when living with a dog

When dogs and children share a household, it is important to have a few rules in place to ensure safety, minimise stress and ensure the dog has a good quality of life. 

All too often, dogs are subject to tail pulling, rough handling, or teasing because the children have not been taught how to behave around dogs. 

When a dog is stressed, this increases the likelihood of a bite incident occurring

Older children may be able to understand and follow rules, but younger children, or those with additional learning needs, are likely to need an adult to supervise interactions with the dog so they can learn from the adult’s example.

Family rules may include the following:

  • Always shut the yard gates and the front door
  • Leave the dog alone when they are in their bed or safe space
  • Leave the dog alone when they are sleeping or resting anywhere in the house
  • Leave the dog alone when they are eating from a bowl or when they have a chew
  • Never chase the dog
  • Never pull the dog’s tail, ears or sit on them
  • Gentle strokes are fine, but don’t put your arms around the dogs neck or put your face too close to theirs
  • If you approach or try to stroke the dog and they move away, don’t follow them- they want to be left alone
  • If the dog growls, stop what you are doing and slowly move away.

Training your rescue dog

You do not need to worry about training your rescue dog until they have decompressed and are feeling safe. 

A stressed dog cannot learn effectively, so trying to train too early really is a waste of time. 

Once your dog is obviously starting to relax and seems comfortable in their environment (usually after around three weeks, depending on the dog) start with some gentle training that is easy for them. 

Practice their recall, always rewarding them with tasty treats when they come to you. 

Very basic exercises such as sit, lie down and ‘give a paw’ are good starting points. Once your dog has settled in, you may want to speak to a dog trainer about one-to-one training or even training classes for your new dog.

Suggested reading: 10 reasons dogs are returned after adoption

Feeding your rescue dog

To avoid digestive upset, it is advisable to feed your dog the same food they had in the rescue center for the first week or so. 

If you would like to change to a different food, do so gradually over a period of a few days by replacing some of their food with the new food and slowly increasing the amount of the new food in their meal. 

Always choose the best quality food you can afford- cheap dog food may contain ingredients that aren’t good for your dog’s health and may adversely affect their behavior.

ID tags and other legal responsibilities of dog ownership

Dog law varies from state to state, and even city to city, so it is important to check the laws in your local area. Your local animal control officer should be able to give you the information you need. As a guide, states and cities may have laws covering:

  • Dog licences and identity tags
  • Vaccinations (including the rabies vaccine)
  • Clearing and disposal of dog waste
  • Dog bites
  • Dog barking
  • Dogs on leash
  • Number of dog allowed in the home
  • Dog welfare

Dog Adoption Tips: Final Thoughts

Bringing a newly adopted dog into your home can be challenging, especially for the first few weeks. But it is one of the most rewarding things you will ever do- after all, you have given that dog a wonderful second chance at life. 

Suggested reading: Reasons to adopt a shelter or rescue dog

Give your new dog plenty of time and space to adjust, gradually building relationships with people and other pets in the home. Be prepared that you may see their behavior change as they settle into their new home.

Don’t be afraid to seek advice– even for minor issues- many rescue dogs and their owners need the support of a good behaviorist in those first few months.

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