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A dog behind a wire fence in a canine rescue centre looking for adoption

When you adopt a rescue dog, the first week is vital

If you're about to welcome a rescue dog into your home, it's important to be prepared for the first week. It's an important stage in the development of your relationship with your new pet and can make all the difference in his or her transition.

From establishing a routine to creating a safe space, discover how to make this phase as smooth and as rewarding as possible for your new four-legged companion and your family.


Things to consider for your first week with a rescue dog

The first week is a daunting time for an adopted dog. He must adapt to a new environment and family, while still recovering from the stress of living in a shelter.

The good news is there are plenty of ways to make this transition easier for your dog. Here are ten examples that are important during the first week.


Visitors Can be Stressful for Your New Dog

Many of your dog-loving family and friends will be desperate to meet your new pet – and it can be hard to say no!

Try to minimize visitors during the first week or two though. Adapting to a new household is difficult for a rescue dog, but the process becomes harder with the excitement of meeting lots of new people. Allow your dog time to settle in and establish a routine before having guests.

When you do have guests over, ask them to come alone or small groups. Make sure they are calm when entering the house and allow the dog to greet them in his own time. Keep a close watch for signs of stress.


Ensure Your Home is Dog-Proof

It might sound obvious, but make sure your home and garden are fully dog-proof before bringing your pet home.

There are many potential hazards in the average home. Some of the most common include:

  • Toxic house plants, such as aloe vera, ivy, and lilies
  • Broken or weak fencing that could allow the dog to escape
  • Medication or cleaning chemicals
  • Electrical cords that the dog may chew
  • Choking hazards, such as children’s toys

It’s best to be over-cautious when adopting a dog – especially until you know his temperament.


Slowly Increase Your Dog’s Time Alone

Being in a new home is often frightening for an adopted dog. This anxiety is amplified by being left alone – even if the dog hasn’t previously shown signs of separation anxiety.

To avoid increasing your dog’s stress, gradually increase the time he’s left alone during the first few weeks. This builds trust that you’ll always return.

Start by leaving for a few minutes and giving the dog a tasty chew. Remain calm when you come back, as this teaches him not to anticipate your return. Once your pet seems happy to be left alone for a few minutes, begin to increase the time.


Maintain a Consistent Diet

Dogs have sensitive stomachs. A change in food can cause your pet to feel unwell or even trigger diarrhea, especially when he’s already stressed.

For this reason, maintain the shelter’s diet for at least a few days. You can then gradually switch to his long-term food, as this minimizes the chance of a stomach upset.


Set a Food, Sleep and Walk Routine

It’s easier for a dog to settle into a new home if he has a routine, as dogs thrive on consistency.

From the first day, try to maintain a consistent schedule for sleep, food and walks. This helps the dog feel confident and relaxed, rather than always anticipating when he’s going to get fed or taken outside.

It’s also important that everyone in the household is consistent with the dog’s training. If you want to teach him not to jump up, for example, ask everyone to respond in the same way. In this example, the best option is to instantly turn away and ignore the dog, so he learns jumping doesn’t get attention.


Make a Comfortable Den

Before bringing your dog home, make sure he has a den with all the essentials. These include a comfortable bed, water bowl, and lots of fun toys.

The den should be your dog’s safe space from noise and attention. Ask everyone in the house to leave him alone whenever he’s on his bed, so he learns he can go there for a break. If possible, put his den somewhere quiet in the house without much foot traffic.

Getting a dog used to being in a crate can help your dog settle in and has many other benefits such as stress-free travel. Once your dog is happy in a crate, it doesn’t matter if he is at home, in the car or on vacation, he will feel safe and secure in his own space.


Get a Vet Checkup

It’s a good idea to take your dog for a veterinary checkup during the first week. The rescue centre may have provided health information, but it’s still important to get an up-to-date overview of your dog’s health.

Aside from a health check, make sure that your dog has had all relevant vaccinations.


Take Shelter Recommendations Seriously

Shelters often perform tests on dogs before they are adopted. These could include testing how the dog responds to other dogs and people.

Pay close attention to advice given by the shelter about your dog’s temperament. If the dog is known to have toy possession issues, for example, don’t be tempted to test this – especially during the stressful first few weeks.


Set Aside Dedicated Time for Building a Bond

Forming a bond with a dog takes time – especially when adopting an adult dog who may have had negative experiences in the past.

The bond is likely to form naturally, as long as you’re caring and treat him kindly. You can speed up the process by setting aside dedicated time for play and positive grooming though.


Have Patience

It can take weeks for a dog’s true personality to come out after adopting. Even then, it may take months for your pet to feel completely settled in his new home.

Be patient during this process. Your dog will become a loving and settled member of the family, but he needs time and care to get there.

You may also find that your dog forgets his housetraining when he’s settling in. This is normal during a stressful period. Never punish your dog for mistakes, as this causes more stress and anxiety.


First steps with your rescue dog

Walking a rescue dog for the first few times can be exciting but challenging. These initial walks are crucial to bonding and teaching good habits. Here are some tips to make those walks successful and enjoyable for both you and your dog.

  • Teach him to walk without pulling: Before you start your walking training, consider fitting your dog with a no-pull collar. These collars are effective in training your dog not to pull on leash, which can help your dog overcome any previous bad habits.
  • Start in a quiet environment: Areas with less traffic and stimulation will give your dog a chance to gradually acclimatize to unfamiliar sounds and smells. Keep the leash short at first for more control and to prevent him from getting too tired.
  • Use positive reinforcement: Bring treats and praise your dog when he walks well beside you without pulling on the leash. This will teach him that walking without pulling is desirable and he will be more likely to repeat it on future walks.
  • If your dog shows anxiety or fear, ignore it: Give him time to explore at his own pace and choose less crowded routes if necessary. Always stay calm as this will make him feel more secure.
  • Remember that each dog is unique: Some can adapt quickly, while others may need more time to overcome their fears. Whatever the situation, patience and affection will be your best allies to help your adopted dog enjoy his first walks and overcome any bad habits he may have.

Main photo by Margarita Kosior on Unsplash


What are your experiences with a rescue dog? Let us know below!

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