Photo by Camylla Battani on Unsplash

How to Deal With the New Rescue Dog In Your Life

Set your rescue dog up for success by seeking to minimize overwhelming and potentially dangerous situations as you integrate this dog into your home, your family, your life and your heart.

When you bring a rescue dog into your home — you really can’t know exactly what to expect. Perhaps the dog was living elsewhere in a foster situation. Perhaps the dog came straight out of a kill shelter where it lived in a metal kennel surrounded by many other stressed out barking dogs.

Over my lifetime in veterinary medicine, and having had more rescue dogs than your average bear — I’ve got some pro-tips from the trenches for ya:

Time

This is going to take some time. So put on your patient-pants and prepare to be patient with this dog. A rule of thumb is that it’s going to take AT LEAST 6 months of living in your home for this dog to let their guard down and for you to fully be able to see who they truly are. Thats a good chunk of time, so seriously, patience is a must.

Pregaming for the rescue dog arrival:

Find out as much as you can about the dog. If the dog is living with a foster family or group — they will likely have some very hepful information for you. LISTEN and pay attention when they share it, they know way more about this dog than you do. You may be too excited to really take it all in, so get documents in an email or take notes, so you can refer back to them when you’re calm and can actually focus.

Is this dog microchipped? if so, is there only one microchip or could there be multiple? If it’s from a shelter — they will have already scanned the dog. Get the microchip number(s) and register the dog to YOU, so that if she runs off or gets lost, you can rely on that information. Most folks DO NOT do this, but you don’t yet know what type of flight risk you could be dealing with, so best to pre-arrange for these safeguards before you find that you need them.

Bringing the dog home:

If the dog is docile and seems aware of vehicles (as in, it climbs right into the car and appears to know what car rides are all about), then perhaps have a second person come along and sit in the back with it, to help soothe or hold a leash, if needed. It’s a good idea to have a kennel in the back of the car just in case the dog needs to be placed or contained in a kennel for transport, or in case you don’t want to risk the dog losing its shit and/or mind when the vehicle starts moving. If the dog appears shifty, fearful, or potentially unreliable in any way, put it in a kennel for transport — it’s safer for you, the dog, and the interior of your vehicle.

If the dog is NOT travelling in a kennel, DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT under any circumstances, roll the windows all the way down. Dogs can and absolutely will jump out of the windows of stationary AND moving vehicles. Many rescue dogs jump out of the car window on the way ‘home’ for the first time. They don’t know you, they may fear you or just freak out about the moving vehicle, and if you open the windows wide enough that their body can fit out — there is a decent chance that they’ll flee. I cannot tell you how many dogs have a major accident immediately after adoption because they jumped out of the window of a moving car, and have to then go directly to the ER for care before even making it home for the first time. It’s astounding but completely true. So, keep your windows closed, or open only enough so that head and snoot can catch a breeze.

Do not attempt to forcibly hold the animal during initial transport. You may get hurt. Again, a kennel or car carrier is not a bad thing, it’s not cruel, and it’s better than you getting bitten, scratched by a fearful animal, having the animal jump out the window, OR having that animal vomit/poo all over your car interior.

When you get home:

Leash the dog, and best bring this dog into and out of your home on a leash at all times. Do not assume that the dog will happily follow you into the house/apartment/cabin or wherever y’all will be living. This dog doesn’t know you, doesn’t trust you, and may not want to be or go indoors. Leash it, be gentle, move slowly, and tempt the animal with food or other high value items if needed. High value items differ from dog to dog, and you will have to hone in on what THIS dog views a a high value item. This will take time. Time, that you haven’t had together, yet. More on that later.

If you are integrating this dog into a home with other pets, other humans, or children, I recommend that you do meet and greets OUTSIDE the home, and if your existing dogs are territorial or have a history of having had any beef of any kind with other dogs — please do this on a neutral territory that is NOT your own (and therefore your existing dogs’ own) property.

The last and most recent time I integrated a traumatized (Cotton, the housefire survivor) old dog into our household with three other dogs, we leashed all the dogs — allowed them to have a sniff and greet on the street in front of our home, and did a 1 mile walk together with this “new pack”. This stragety works well for some, but may not work for all, especially if your new dog is fearful, shy, shut down or easily overwhelmed. OR if is unfamiliar with with wearing a collar or walking on a leash.

Go slow, be gentle, clear your schedule, and keep your expectations and trust low.

If you have kids around, please DO NOT put new rescue dog into a situation where a bite event could occur. Allow the dog to walk around the home and explore on their own, in their own time, at their own pace. Do not force it, and don’t helicopter parent the dog. Sit the Eff down, and be quiet, gentle, and let the dog safely explore the home. Pickup or cover all trashcans or things that the dog could scavenge or eat (garbage, even bathroom garbage, food or snacks kept on a low shelf need to be moved, pull all sugarfree gum from kids and adults rooms or purses/backpacks)

Adjusting to Life Together:

What is your actual normal life like?

Start with that.

Sleeping/waking hours and basic structure and schedule: You’ll want this dog to fit seamlessly into your home, and eventually this will happen, but it will take time, work, repetition and patience. Crate training is a good thing to do, unless this animal has separation anxiety or will attempt to chew/fight their way out of the kennel and hurt itself in the process.

Basics include:

Safely riding in a car

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Emily Roawr

Career veterinarian pivoting. I write about animals, queers, adoption, alcohol free life, and art. Inquiries may be directed to emilyroawr@gmail.com