Bringing home a rescue pup is one of the most exciting times for any dog owner, but it also comes with unique challenges as you help your new furry companion transition into your life. The first 30 days are critical for building trust and helping them feel comfortable, secure, and loved in their new forever home. To ensure a successful transition during this important period, I have prepared a comprehensive guide on how to help your rescue dog settle in your household.
Let’s dive in.
Preparing For Your Rescue Dog’s Arrival
It is a huge mistake to wait until the day you bring your new puppy home to gather all their essential supplies. So, as you wait for that day to come, make sure you have the following items ready to go.
- Poop bags
- Food bowl and water bowl
- Food and treats
- Collar, lead, and tag
- Selection of toys and feeding enrichment
- Appropriate cleaning products.
In addition to stocking up on supplies, you also need to fully prepare your home environment for your pup’s arrival. Here are some critical steps to take:
- Put away any clutter or toxic chemicals, secure loose wires, remove fragile items, and address any other safety hazards within reach.
- Store household cleaners and toxins securely out of reach, ideally in a high cabinet.
- Set up a crate, bed, or another comfortable, quiet, private area just for them to retreat to when overwhelmed.
- Place a couple of familiar toys and a worn t-shirt with your scent in their retreat space to help it feel more homey.
When you go to pick up your new puppy, remember to keep calm. While you may be excited to bring them to their new home, do not forget that they are leaving familiar surroundings for somewhere entirely novel.
1. Keep Car Ride Low-Stress
We all know moving is stressful, and your new pup shares the same sentiment.
- If possible, you should plan to have two people retrieve the dog – one person to drive and one person to sit with the canine and comfort them so they feel as relaxed as possible during the transition.
- On the way home, your pup should be safely secured, preferably in a crate or carrier. Some dogs find car travel stressful, so placing them in a secure space will make the journey home with you more relaxed.
- Line the crate/carrier with a worn blanket or towel carrying your scent. Pack a favorite toy, treat puzzle, or chew. Familiar smells and items help them feel more secure.
- Take them on as direct a route home as possible.
2. Have them Sit Politely before Entering Home.
Start by calming your new pooch before introducing them to their new home. Encourage them to sit or lie down before entering, even if they don’t know the command yet.
Teaching your dog to wait at the door before entering has several benefits:
1. It helps them learn self-control.
2. It reinforces the idea that they need your permission for certain actions.
3. It prevents accidents or injury by avoiding sudden dashes inside.
3. Introduce New Dogs to the Potty Spot
Upon arriving home, take your dog straight to their potty spot. Spend enough time there for them to become familiar and comfortable with the area. Even if they relieve themselves during this visit, be prepared for possible accidents.
Entering a new environment with unfamiliar people, scents, and noises can temporarily disrupt even a previously housebroken dog’s routine. Gently guiding the pup and allowing him time to become comfortable with his new surroundings can preempt unwanted mishaps as he transitions.
4. Show them the Important Areas of Their New Home.
Afterward, keep your dog on a leash as you show them around the house, minimizing distractions and noise. Remember, they might feel overwhelmed, so be there by their side as they explore.
In addition to the potty area, you can familiarize them with other important areas of their new home.
1. Guide them to their food and water bowls, providing a small meal and ensuring clean water is always available.
2. Introduce them to their designated resting place, whether it’s a crate or bed. This should be a peaceful spot where they can relax undisturbed.
3. Point out their toys and playthings, showing them what they can enjoy when bored.
Once you’ve shown them all the exciting parts of their new home, bring them to their bed and release them from the leash. This signals that the spot is now “theirs!” Don’t be surprised if they immediately settle down and ignore you—it’s their way of making the space their own.
5. Keep New Rescue Dog Separated From Resident Pets Initially
If you have multiple pets at home, keep them separated from current dogs or cats for at least the first 24 hours, regardless of perceived friendliness. Your stressed newcomer doesn’t need the extra stimulation of an immediate furry introduction, which risks escalating tensions.
The initial days after bringing your rescue dog home can be the most challenging. It’s important to keep in mind that they may not have lived in a home setting for quite some time. During this critical period, patience and understanding are key.
So, here are some of my tips to help you navigate these critical days with your new furry friend.
1. Establishing a Veterinary Care Routine
Within the first week of welcoming your rescue dog, it is crucial to schedule an initial wellness exam with a trusted veterinarian. This appointment will address any immediate medical needs, provide crucial preventative care guidance, and establish a rapport with your chosen vet. Additionally, vaccination and deworming schedules may need to be continued or initiated.
During this introductory veterinary visit, take the opportunity to discuss typical behaviors and activity levels specific to their breed and age. Gaining insight into what is considered normal will allow you to effectively monitor their progress and overall well-being.
Furthermore, seize the opportunity to explore potential signs of illness that may require immediate attention. Lethargy, changes in appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, limping, or skin irritation are among the symptoms worth discussing with your veterinarian. They can offer guidance on weight benchmarks, suitable diet options, appropriate exercise routines, dental care necessities, and other crucial aspects of their daily health maintenance.
2. Changing Foods Gradually
There are loads of different dog food diets out there, but your pooch needs complete, balanced nutrition to stay happy and healthy. If your rescue pup seems to be doing alright on their current food, you may want to stick with that at first until chatting with your vet about options.
If it is recommended to switch to something new, take it slow by mixing a little of the new grub in with the old over 1-2 weeks. This gradual shift in fare will help avoid any digestive troubles like upset stomach or diarrhea while transitioning.
As you get to know your new four-legged companion, keep an eye on how they handle the dietary change and let your vet know if any issues come up. Taking it easy on their tummy will help your new dog settle in smoothly!
3. Make Meals Fun Brain Games
Food-based enrichment activities are a positive, low-pressure way to help shy or fearful rescue dogs start cautiously exploring their new home while learning to associate you with yummy things.
Since scared pups may initially feel overwhelmed by too much direct human interaction, turning mealtimes into fun solo brain games helps them warm up through positive reinforcement at their own pace.
Stuff a puzzle toy with kibble, then set it down and step back, allowing them to investigate independently. Hide small treats around the house for them to sniff out.
This combination of mental and physical stimulation not only burns out their energy but also helps boost their confidence as they solve puzzles and reap delicious rewards. During the initial few weeks, encourage independent or parallel play activities until a solid bond of trust is established between you and your new furry companion.
4. Keep Walks Short
You’ll no doubt be excited to start taking your rescue dog on fun new walks all over. However, during the initial few days, it is advisable to keep the walks short and confined to a single location. This will allow your pup to gradually adapt to their new surroundings and familiarize themselves with the area.
The first weeks with your rescue dog are focused on relieving immediate stress and establishing a sense of security. As you enter the weeks following adoption, the goal shifts toward developing consistency through scheduled routines, continued bonding, and formalizing the ground rules of your home.
1. Comforting Structure Through Schedules
A dog’s full personality may not emerge until they have become comfortable in their new home, usually over the course of a few weeks. As your rescue dog is still getting to know you initially, be patient and maintain consistency around scheduled activities like feeding, walks, etc. This structure demonstrates what you expect from your pup and what they can expect from you on a daily basis.
2. Priority One: Potty Train
Initially, bring your rescue dog outside every 1-2 hours, including first thing when waking, 15-30 minutes after meals, before crating periods, and before bedtime. Reward immediately with high-value treats whenever they go in the desired potty area — this builds the habit fast!
3. Build Exercise into Your Routine
Well-exercised dogs are less likely to develop problem behaviors. Try to dedicate at least 30 minutes per day to walking, running, playing fetch, or engaging with puzzle toys based on your dog’s needs.
You can also incorporate 5-10 minute training sessions during exercise, working on basic cues like sit, stay, and down. Learning new skills tires their brain and burn out their energy!
4. Assess Your Rescue Dog’s Comfort Level with Dog Parks
After consulting with your veterinarian to ensure your dog is vaccinated correctly, you may consider introducing them to dog parks or group training classes for socialization. Carefully observe your dog’s body language to determine their comfort level when interacting with unfamiliar dogs in these stimulating environments.
An anxious or fearful dog may exhibit cowering postures or attempt to isolate themselves, while an excessively assertive dog may resort to aggressive behaviors like snarling or biting.
If your dog appears overwhelmed, refrain from forcing the interaction. Instead, gradually expose them to small gatherings of balanced, friendly dogs. Providing structured opportunities for your rescue dog to become accustomed to engaging positively with new canines supports their ongoing adjustment in the critical first few weeks after adoption.
How Long does it Take for a Dog to Settle in a New Home?
When bringing home a rescue dog, there’s a general timeline called the 3-3-3 rule you can reference to set expectations on how long it generally takes them to settle into their new home.
The first 3 days after adoption is an overwhelming period for them as they adjust to their new surroundings and people. They are in “detox” mode from the shelter environment, may seem shut down or withdrawn, and may be hypervigilant about settling in safely.
In the first 3 weeks, you’ll notice them starting to relax and learn to trust you on a basic level. They begin understanding the routine and rules of your household and get more comfortable showing you their true personality – the good and the quirky! This is when the honeymoon period starts transitioning into the rebellion phase for many.
Finally, at roughly 3 months post-adoption, they should fully settle in and form a deeper bond of trust with you. Your rescue dog feels like part of the family now. But if you adopted an adult dog with prior life experiences or trauma, it can understandably take longer for the walls to come all the way down as they learn to feel 100% secure.
Remember, every dog adjusts at their own pace. Some rescues take less time to settle in, while others take far longer. As long as you provide them a secure, low-stress environment with structure and bonding time, over an initial adjustment period of a few months, the newest member of your household should come out of their shell!
Then, once comfortable, rescued dogs tend to “rebel” and test boundaries. But boundaries = security. So stay calm and consistent in enforcing house rules, and they will learn their place. This is simply the feeling secure enough in your acceptance to see what they can get away with, like any family member! It’s actually an encouraging sign of their adjustment to home life.
- Can I let my rescue dog sleep in my bed with me?
I understand the desire to cuddle up with your new furry baby, but it might be wise to postpone letting them sleep in bed with you right away.
Dogs need their own clear-cut spaces, and humans need theirs as they establish trust and rules. So, gift them a comfy doggy bed as their official crash pad when they are first home. They’ll learn to view it as their own safe, cozy sanctuary.
Once your newest family member seems fully adapted weeks/months in, you can gradually start inviting them onto the bed for cuddle sessions if you wish.
2. Do you need to take a dog training class?
If you’re struggling with specific behavioral issues or if you prefer professional guidance and structured learning, a dog training class can provide valuable support. Ultimately, the decision to attend a training class is up to you, based on your dog’s needs and your personal goals for training and behavior.
The first 30 days bring an intense learning curve for any newly adopted rescue dog and their new pet parent as you both navigate big adjustments while learning to communicate with and trust one another. Don’t get discouraged by bumps in the road, like accidents or anxious behaviors. With lots of love, patience, structure, and proactive troubleshooting, you’ll be on the road to rescuing dog parenting success in no time!