Bringing Your Dog Home (First 24 Hours)
Bringing home a rescue dog is super exciting! There are so many wonderful reasons to adopt a dog – what could be more rewarding than welcoming your new companion into their forever home and living the best life together?
If you’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed and a little underprepared it’s perfectly normal.
Learning what to expect from the first 24 hours with the information provided in this guide is sure to put your mind at ease.
Preparation is key, so if you haven’t already done so make a start on getting your home ready!
It’s important to understand that bringing a rescue dog home for the first time can be a stressful experience and things may not go to plan.
Use the information as a guideline and set reasonable expectations. There’s a handy section at the end which outlines problems that can be likely to occur during the first 24 hours and how to handle them.
Table of Contents
What to Bring?
Be sure to bring a collar and leash. Consider a harness if you are collecting a smaller rescue dog or have concerns about the dog’s neck being strained.
You should bring an ID tag that has your phone number, address, up-to-date vaccine information, and microchip number if you or the rescue have decided to chip them.
It’s also a good idea to bring some treats along to show your new pooch how awesome you are!
You should try and collect your dog as early as possible if the rescue permits, leaving plenty of time for them to get settled before bedtime.
Show calmness and clear direction to help to set the tone.
Bring everyone in your household if possible including existing dogs. Bringing your dog will provide the opportunity for them to meet on neutral ground before entering your home.
The Car Ride Home
While it’s important to avoid stressful situations during the first 24 hours, a car journey home is often unavoidable.
Cars will often be unfamiliar to rescue dogs. It’s possible the only time they have been in one was the journey to the shelter.
While it wouldn’t be uncommon for them to happily jump in the car, you could encounter thrashing on the leash or flat-out refusing to get in by lying down.
Use a combination of gentle leash pressure and treats to coax them in.
Identify their body language first before picking them up or pushing them in. If they are that scared they may bite you.
Once in the car ensure they are secured safely using a dog crate, carrier, or pet seat belt, and provide treats throughout the journey.
It may be tempting to stop at your local PetSmart on the way home to pick up a toy or treat but this isn’t a good idea. Even if your dog appears to be fine, they are probably still stressed. Introducing them to another strange environment will likely only increase their stress levels.
You’ll probably be inundated with messages from friends and extended family excited to pop around and meet your new family member. Politely refuse.
Your dog is having a huge day. A steady stream of unfamiliar faces coming and going will not help matters.
The first 24 hours should be used to help bond your dog with you and members of your household only. Try to keep things as calm and quiet as possible.
Your friends will have to make do with your Facebook and Instagram updates for now.
First Few Hours
Before entering your home you should take your dog to the potty area and for a long walk to get them familiar with the area and burn off some energy.
Keep them confined to a small area of the house, a pet-friendly zone – save the grand tour for later. Keeping your dog contained creates a safe environment where they are unable to get into a situation that could cause them harm.
Be mindful that coercing a new rescue dog into being petted before they’re ready can be stressful for them. If they appear not to be ready, act disinterested in them.
If you have children don’t allow them to be over affectionate with hugging etc. Explain that the dog will need a little space for the next few days.
You should already have made a plan as to where your dog is going to sleep – introduce them to that sleeping area.
If you plan on using a crate, have that set up to provide your dog with some space to relax and decompress. You don’t need to close the door, just some space to retreat. If things are going well you could play some crate training games
Feed your new pup dinner as a reward for playing the games. Eating out of your hand is a good way to bond.
Introducing Kongs filled with frozen peanut butter or yogurt will help keep them occupied and minimize the risk of destructive behavior.
It’s been a busy and eventful day and you’re ready to get some well-deserved rest.
You may start asking the following questions at this point: What if they cry or bark? Wake Up The Neighbors? Damage the room they are sleeping in?
You should try and start as you mean to go on with the sleeping arrangements. Ask yourself if you really want them at the bottom of your bed in years to come. Try and stay true to your rules unless you encounter problems.
If you have decided your dog will be sleeping downstairs, joining them on a temporary basis for the first few nights is not a bad idea.
You should have a confined space set up, making it as comfortable as possible with a blanket, soft toy, towel, or jersey.
Take your dog out for a final potty break before lights out.
Don’t be surprised if they whimper or cry throughout the night.
While it can be difficult, leaving them to cry it out, it’s often the best policy. If you eventually cave in after hours it will reinforce crying for hours the next night.
To avoid a situation where your dog cries for attention and is rewarded by getting up, schedule a toilet stop by setting an alarm.
Make this event as boring as possible and don’t turn it into a late-night party with tons of treats and play.
Quietly praise them if they go after a few minutes. If they don’t go, don’t force the situation and stay outside for ages, just quietly take them in.
Ideally you will have booked the day off from work or brought your dog home on a Friday or Saturday so you can spend the whole day together.
Get up early and take your dog outside to potty.
Aim to have a quiet stress free day. Play crate games or other games and feed breakfast.
Go for the same walk you went on yesterday which will provide your dog with familiarity.
Use treats to encourage good behavior and try not to punish any bad behavior used as a coping mechanism.
If you do need to pop out and leave your dog alone, confine them to a safe area in your home like the kitchen with a baby gate.
Congratulations! You have just survived the first 24 hours with your rescue dog!
Post-adoption blues are common. You may be asking yourself: What have I gotten myself into? Is this really the best home for my new pup?
You may have feelings of anxiety, and guilt or be totally overwhelmed. Again, this is perfectly normal.
Firstly, if you weren’t the right fit for your dog, you wouldn’t have been approved.
There’s always time to improve skills you think need strengthening – it’s fine to learn on the job.
While adopting a rescue dog will mean a change to your lifestyle and routine, don’t assume that the first 24 hours is an indication of what your life will look like in the coming years.
Your dog needs some time to understand they are in their forever home now and adapt to your lifestyle.
Suggested reading: Reasons dogs are returned after adoption
You may have noticed your dog panting or excessively lip-licking. They may have pinned their ears backwards or yawn a lot. These are probably calming signals your dog is using to communicate they are feeling uncomfortable.
If you notice excessive use of calming signals it may indicate your dog is very uncomfortable and close to being pushed over the edge. You should back off at this point and try something new.
Shut Down or Retreat – Feeling Overwhelmed
Shutting down & retreating are often signs linked to trauma that may have resulted from your dog experiencing some form of neglect or abuse.
Having a comfortable little spot they can retreat to makes a big difference. If you are using a crate you could cover it with a blanket to make the perfect hiding spot. Be sure to leave the door open so they are free to retreat if they start feeling overwhelmed.
Crying & Whining
It’s common for newly adopted rescue dogs to cry and whine during the night
While you may find it difficult, it’s important not to immediately respond to crying or whining as it will reinforce this behavior.
Try introducing an old jersey into their bed that smells of you. Consider moving their bed closer to you temporarily or spending a couple of nights on the sofa.
Pheromone plug-ins can also have a calming effect.
Dogs bark for many different reasons. Barking when inside a crate is particularly common during the first 24 hours of taking a rescue dog home.
If they are barking at night, bring the crate into your room temporarily which should alleviate loneliness or feeling scared.
If they are barking during the day, find something else for them to do like playing a puzzle game or chewing a toy or kong.
Chewing, Destroying Things
Chewing is perfectly normal behavior in all dogs. They chew for stimulation and fun as well as to relieve anxiety.
In order to save your most valuable possessions, it’s important to teach your rescue dog what is OK to chew and what is not.
Put valuable objects away, provide your dog with their own toys and some edible things like bully sticks or pigs ears. Spray inappropriate chewing items with deterrents like bitter apples.
Not Getting Along with Other Pets
Teaching two animals to get along is not the easiest thing to do. You want to try and ensure your animals have positive experiences with each other from day one.
Show equal amounts of affection to both animals during the first few days and provide them both with positive reinforcement.
Try and keep them separated for periods of the day and make interactions short and sweet.
Accidents & Not Going
Accidents are not uncommon for rescue dogs during the first day or so. They may have got used to going on the kennel floor at the rescue or maybe never been potty trained.
It’s also common for a new rescue dog to not go at all during the first 24 hours due to them feeling anxious and trying to adjust.
Take your dog outside regularly every hour or so and give them plenty of time outside. Provide enthusiastic praise if they do manage to potty.
If they start sniffing or circling while indoors, take them out.
With the first night and day complete it’s time to continue to the first week and beyond.
How did things work out for you?
Did you encounter any problems we haven’t mentioned?
Have you got any tips and tricks to help others?
We would love to hear from you in the comments below.