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  • Writer's pictureCaryl Wolff

Your New Rescue Dog

Updated: Feb 16, 2022

dog lying on floor with pleading eyes
Rescue dogs need special help.

Your New Rescue Dog

Congratulations on adopting your new rescue dog! You are giving him the best home he has ever had whether he has come from a shelter, a rescue group, or the dog pound.

With a new rescue or adopted dog, communication and training are important so that your dog understands how you want him to act. Please don’t assume he automatically knows what you want him to do unless you show him how to behave. Rescue dogs often have been in several different environments – roaming the streets, being in a shelter, being in a foster home – and need guidance from you in their new environment, your home.

The first few days after your new dog comes into your life are important because he begins to learn how to act in his new home. What’s really important is to teach him what you want him to do by giving him some positive guidelines.

Supplies You Need for Your New Rescue or Adopted Dog

Find out what food your dog has been eating at the shelter and have that same brand at home. If you’re planning to change his food, it’s best to wait a couple weeks and then gradually make the transition. An abrupt change in his diet may cause diarrhea – and that’s not a pleasant experience for either you or your dog.

The shelter workers can advise you about any additional equipment and supplies you need at home. Please check the menu for my recommendations.

Before Leaving the Shelter with Your New Dog

You’ll want your dog to feel comfortable when he gets to your house. So to help him feel at home, bring something from his old home (the shelter) to his new home (your home). Take a cloth towel and ask his caregivers at the shelter to rub the towel on their arms and hands to get their scent on the towel. Then rub the towel on your dog’s playmates at the shelter, and bring this towel home with you. Now your dog can take smells that are familiar to him to his new home. Put this towel in his bed when you put him to sleep at night to help minimize any “first night jitters” he may have.

Ask the shelter caregivers about your dog’s likes and dislikes and any other advice they can give you. They are a wealth of valuable information.

Your Car Ride Home with Your Newly Adopted Dog

On the way home in the car, be prepared that he may get carsick. Cover your car seats with a blanket and have paper towels ready to clean up.

During his first car ride, teach your dog to ride in the back seat. It’s dangerous for him to ride anywhere in the front seat because he can be severely injured or killed by air bags, or he can distract the driver and cause an accident. If you are driving, please DO NOT let him ride in your lap. It is extremely dangerous. The safest way to transport your dog is in a carrier or crate, or by harnessing him with a seat belt in the back seat.

If you decide not to crate him, then leave the windows open enough so he gets some air but not open too far so he can jump out. A good rule of thumb is to leave them open so he can stick his nose out the window, and that’s about as wide as it should be. Some dogs like to put their heads out the window, which can be dangerous because road debris can make its way very easily into your dog’s eyes or nose and cause serious damage.

So he won’t become overly stressed, try not to make any stops where you have to leave your dog alone in the car on his first car ride with you.

If he is afraid of being in the car or of the ride itself, act happy and tell him in an upbeat voice what a silly dog he is. Try to get him out of his fearful mood. These first few moments can have a lasting impact.

Introducing Your New Rescue Dog to Your Resident Dog

If you have another dog, the shelter may have a place where your resident dog can meet your new dog before you bring him home. Even your dogs have been introduced at a shelter, it’s still beneficial to have them meet on neutral territory such as a park before you take your new dog into your home.

  • Ask a friend to take your resident dog to the neutral territory where your new dog can meet your resident dog.

  • Walk parallel paths far enough apart so that both dogs feel comfortable.

  • Don’t try to hurry the introduction. Both dogs should feel comfortable.

  • Begin to walk closer together until you are walking next to each other.

  • Then walk both dogs into your yard together with their leashes on and monitor their interactions.

  • Then go into the house with both dogs, keeping their leashes on.

When You First Get Home with Your New Dog

Take him to his toilet area first before you go inside your house. (If you have had a prior dog who had accidents in the house, your new dog may not know that his toilet area is not inside the house.) Stay with him in his toilet area until he goes and praise/treat him when he goes there.

Whether you have another dog or not, let your new dog explore the house at his own pace. Keep him on leash. Let him have access to just one room at a time. Keep an eye on him so he does not injure himself or get into trouble.

If you have another dog, you will have to decide whether to let your resident dog accompany your new dog during his introduction to your house. Sometimes just accompanying your resident dog and seeing where he goes and how he acts is all that the new one needs. Keep both dogs on leashes that are dragging on the ground. If there are any disputes, you can quickly intervene by picking up the leashes rather than grabbing their collars.

This is a good time to take the towel you brought from the shelter and show your new dog where his sleeping area will be. Just show it to him, but don’t force him to go there. After a while, he will want to lie down and rest, and he will naturally go to a place that is familiar to him.

Your friends and neighbors will want to come over to see your new addition, but ask them to wait a few days to let your dog get used to his new home first. If they want to pet him, ask them to move their hand slowly and scratch him under his chin. If they try to pet him on the top of his head, your dog may mistake their gesture and think they are going to hit him, and he may either run away in fear or try to bite. Take control of the situation by talking with your friends and neighbors in advance so that does not happen.

Your Adopted Dog’s First Few Days at Home

Your new rescue dog’s first few days at home can have a lasting impact on his behavior and your future relationship with him. There generally is a three-month “honeymoon period” with a rescue dog when he is “sizing up” his new home and family. He will generally be on his best behavior during this period, and the way you interact will influence your ultimate relationship.

Petting – When he comes into your home, he probably will be overwhelmed, so don’t put a lot of pressure on him and force him to love you immediately because that may confuse or frighten him. Rather than constantly paying attention to him and trying to show him how terrific you are, let him come to you and then reassure him that he’s welcome. Let him get used to you and your family at his own pace.

Sleeping – The best place for your dog to sleep is in his own bed, preferably a crate, next to your bed. Put the towel you have brought with you from the shelter in that crate. The crate will be his sanctuary and should never be used as punishment.

While You’re at Work – Before you go to work or leave for any extended period of time, help your dog get used to being alone so he will not develop separation anxiety which is very difficult for him - and you - to overcome. It's much easier to prevent than to cure. Start leaving him alone for a few seconds, gradually extending it to a few minutes in his crate throughout his first day home. Leave him a stuffed Kong (do a search for Kong-stuffing recipes), bully stick, or puzzle toy to keep his mind off your leaving.

Make your departures uneventful and try to ignore him for a few minutes before you leave rather than fussing over him. Leave the radio on to a classical music station. Then return, also being uneventful. Repeat this several times during the day and lengthen the time you are gone.

It’s important not to come back if he begins to bark. If you return when he’s barking, he will think that his barking makes you return, and he may bark incessantly. Then you probably will get complaints from the neighbors.

Training Your New Rescue Dog

When you bring your dog home, all you want to do is smother him with love and give him a good home for the rest of his life. Whether he was a stray or whether his former owners took him to the shelter themselves, the reason he is at the shelter may be due to some behavior problem that his prior owners did not know how to address.

You have the opportunity to make him a better dog. Set limits by showing him what you want him to do in a way that he understands. He may not intuitively know that getting on the furniture or digging in the backyard is a no-no. In his former home, that may have been okay. First, prevent him from doing things you don’t want him to do — if you don’t want him to drink from the toilet, close the bathroom door! Then show him what you want him to do rather than punishing him for something he has already done.

Obedience training is very important at this point, and begin as soon as you can. Your dog is learning whether you are teaching him or not. It’s a lot easier to teach him what you want him to do when he first comes into your life than to have to erase things and reteach later on.

Remember that changing habits doesn’t take place overnight. Give yourself and your dog a chance.

Thanks for visiting Your New Rescue Dog. I make a small commission on any products or books I recommend.

Disclaimer: This article is for information only. It does not replace a consultation with a dog trainer, dog behavior consultant, or veterinarian and may not be used to diagnose or treat any conditions in your dog.

If you need help with puppy or dog training, we do both private in-person and virtual lessons via Zoom. Please contact us by calling or texting (310) 804-2392 or sending an email to . We look forward to working with you.


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