Bringing a Rescue Dog Home for the First Time

Pre-dog Preparation

The short version:

10 Tips for Bringing a Rescue Dog Home:

  1. Make Sure They’ve Been to the Toilet
  2. Know What You Want
  3. Have Your Home Set up for Them Before They Arrive
  4. Know What Associations You Want Them to Have with Each Area of Your Home (and Reinforce Them)
  5. Keep Them on Lead
  6. Move Slow
  7. Take a Break
  8. Introduce Family Members One at a Time
  9. Positive Experiences Don’t Have to Be Over-stimulating
  10. Give It Time

Getting ready to introduce your new pup to your home and family? Here are 10 steps to help things go smoothly when bringing a rescue dog home.

Make Sure They’ve Been to the Toilet 

Before bringing a rescue dog home and entering a new area, take them for a short walk to help avoid accidents.

Know What You Want When Bringing a Rescue Dog Home

Consider where they’re going to eat, sleep, and spend time before they arrive. Map out what their average day will look like, as well as what ongoing boundaries you want to establish. All dogs like clarity, consistency and routine, it makes them feel safe. 

For example: If you don’t want them to beg at the dinner table, feed them their meals at the same time you’re eating yours. Don’t like them on the bed? Create a space for them that is comfortable, safe and warm, one they would choose to be in over anywhere else. Be consistent and keep it up. Too much free reign, or breaking routines, may set them up to feel overwhelmed and pick up unwanted habits.

Have Your Home Set up for Them Before They Arrive

Speaking of consistency and preparation: pre-organise bedding, food, toys and chews, water bowls and some treats so they walk into a steady, calm environment. You don’t want to overwhelm them by moving things around constantly.

Lift up or remove anything you don’t want your dog to have access to BEFORE they come home. If you can’t remove it, then coat it with a chewing deterrent so they learn as early as possible to not put their mouth over it.

Know What Associations You Want Them to Have with Each Area of Your Home (and Reinforce Them)

For example: You probably want the living room and bedrooms to be spaces where your pet is relaxed and setted. So avoid leaving toys such as balls and squeakers around, and rather provide bedding and chews in these rooms.

Bringing a Rescue Dog home

Keep Them on Lead

After bringing a rescue dog home, when it’s time to invite them in, play it safe by keeping them leashed. This also goes for any time they’re entering a new space or even meeting new people. It removes the concern that they could bolt out the door or even at another pet.

Move Slow

Introduce them to the house one room at a time, without anyone else around. Too much too soon can cause them to get overstimulated. The goal is for them to learn calm and positive associations with each space. Let them sniff and explore before removing them to where they are going to sleep or allowing them to rest in the room itself.

Take a Break

You don’t have to introduce them to the whole house in one go. Absorbing new information is exhausting. Watch and respond appropriately to your dog’s body language. If they become agitated, distracted, or hyper-aroused it means their mind is racing. Take time to settle things down using gentle encouragement and chews. If you need to pause and come back to the rest of the home later that’s fine.

Introduce Family Members One at a Time

Each interaction is a conversation, and it’s easier to focus one-on-one. The same rule goes when introducing them to other animals. Ensure both parties feel comfortable in the environment before trying a face-to-face meeting. Let one pet into a space alone, remove them, then bring in the other. The goal is to let them have a sniff before they meet. They don’t need to be in the same room to start getting acquainted. Again, keeping them on-leash for first interactions may also be a good idea.

Positive Experiences Don’t Have to Be Over-stimulating

If your dog is calm, content, and showing no signs of stress, they’re happy. This is a great frame of mind to remember for the home environment. Getting them worked up through play and boisterous interactions may be fun but is it really what you want them to learn about being at home? Nobody has ever called a dog trainer because their dog is too relaxed.

Take Your Time Bringing a Rescue Dog Home

It takes roughly three months for a dog to understand that this new space is home. They have strong cyclical memories and remember patterns such as when you get up, go to work, take walks, and feed them. But they need repetition to learn and can be thrown off by changing routines–so be consistent.

Ian Shivers is a behaviourist, trainer and counter of the Bondi Behaviourist. Check out their range of training packages here.

For more help with your pup, check out Scratch’s ultimate new dog guide.

Getting ready for life with a rescue dog? Get more great advice here.

Photos by Tom Garritty and Madeline Bowen on Unsplash.

Written by on for Off The Leash

Article last updated on April 28, 2021

Ian Shivers founded Bondi Behaviourist in 2015 and is the other half of Healthy Dog Pod. Having worked within rescue organisations and doing one on one consultations since 2007 in England and Australia, Ian has a wealth of experience. His passion is to create a platform for which information on dog behaviour and training can be shared to improve the quality of life for both dogs and dog owners alike.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Go at their pace and respect their choices, space, and body. Let them tell you when they’re ready to interact closely.
  • Provided a safe space (a crate or bed) where they can chill away from people and other pets.
  • Dog-proof the house to prevent undesirable toileting and chewing behaviour from occurring. 
  • Give them at least a couple of weeks to acclimatise to the new space before being left alone there.
  • Let them sniff. In addition to being the best source of enrichment and stimulation for dogs, sniffing is a really therapeutic and rewarding activity to engage in.
  • Talk to small children about giving them space and not overwhelming them.

Depending on your pet and lifestyle, crate training may be necessary. Dogs that spend a lot of time alone, travel regularly or experience anxiety may benefit from crate training.

That said, crate training needs to be performed properly. You can’t rush it. The crate needs to be large enough for the animal to stand up and turn around in. It should always be kept clean.

You can train both puppies and adults to like crates, but it will be quicker with puppies.

  • Consider yourself: Your behaviour can influence how everyone gets along. Animals will look to you for guidance and reassurance.
  • Arrange a neutral meeting: Introducing dogs in a neutral space can help avoid anyone getting territorial. This can be as simple as a nearby park. If possible, let them sniff each other out before you even adopt the new dog. 
  • Go for a pack walk: Once they’ve eyed each other, a walk can ease them into spending time together. 
  • Take it slow at home: Give them space by keeping them separate at first. 
  • Watch out for favourites: Remove any items that might be a trigger point for conflicts such as food and toys.
  • Babysit: Make sure they are getting on well before leaving them alone in the same area. This may take time.

Different states have different rules around pets and rental properties.

VIC: Usually it’s allowed. If a landlord wants to refuse a request for a pet they have 14 days to take it up with the Victorian civil and administrative tribunal who will then decide if the request is reasonable or not.

ACT: It’s up to landlords to accept or refuse, but they need to submit the refusal, along with their reasoning, to the state’s Civil & Administrative Tribunal. 

NSW: The state doesn’t have a hard law covering this matter. But the standard tenancy agreement includes a section requiring landlord consent.

QLD, SA and TAS: You need landlord’s consent. They don’t need to give a reason. 

NT: Technically there is no legislation covering pets and rentals. But that usually means it’s up to the landlord to make the call. 

WA: Not only do you need permission to get a pet, but the landlord is also allowed to charge a “pet bond” of up to $260.

It depends on the dog and the child. If you adopt a rescue dog from a reputable shelter, they should have been screened for aggressive behaviour. Dogs that post a risk of hurting someone will not be allowed to be rehomed. Saying that, a rescue may specify that the dog has particular needs that must be respected. That could include being kept away from young children. If they advise this, it’s not just as a suggestion. It’s a hard rule. Respect it and you reduce the risk of issues arising. 

Whether a dog is a rescue or not, it’s important that you speak to kids about how to behave around them. If a child is aggressive to an animal, or overwhelmed them, it could create a situation where the dog feels threatened and acts unpredictably.

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