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Adopting a Rescue Dog

Adopting a Rescue Dog: The First Seven Days Are Critical

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Bringing a new pet into your home is like bringing in a new household member. Not only will the new pet need to adjust — everyone in the home will need to make changes and get used to their new living arrangement.

The first week with a new rescue dog especially can be a make-or-break part of the experience. It’s a critical time to bond with your new pet and establish routines and norms that will keep the household comfortable and happy — both for your new dog, and for the rest of the family. 

So before bringing a rescue dog home, you should know what to expect during those first seven days — and how you can best prepare yourself to make them go as smoothly as possible. Follow our steps for the first seven days with a new rescue dog, and you and your pup will both get as much benefit out of this crucial time together as possible.

Adopting a Rescue Dog: Before the First Seven Days

Before you even bring your new dog home, there are a lot of things you need to do to get yourself, your family, and your home ready.

Dog-Proof Your Home

If you don’t already have a dog in your house, you may be surprised to learn how many standard household items and areas might be hazardous to a dog, especially if it’s a young puppy.

Some houseplants are poisonous to pets. Food needs to be stored in places a dog can’t get to them. Trash needs to be secure so your new pup can’t go digging through it. And those are just a few examples of steps you need to take to dog-proof your home.

Look at every room of your home with a critical eye for things your new dog might get into, and make sure everything is safe. Follow dog-proofing guides online to make sure you aren’t missing anything that could be a danger to your new pup’s safety and happiness.

Get All the Supplies You Need

Adopting a Rescue Dog: Before the First Seven Days

Your new rescue dog will need a lot of supplies. You need a crate, toys and treats, food, bowls, a bed, and collars, harnesses, and leashes. And those are just the basics. You’ll realize more things your dog needs as you get to know his or her personality and preferences. 

One supply you might not see on any new dog checklists (but that you should definitely invest in anyway) is a pet tracker. A dog in a new home might get scared or overwhelmed, and that makes your new rescue dog more likely to run away. A Huan bluetooth pet tracker mobilizes an entire community of pet lovers to help find your missing pet and make sure he or she gets back home safe and sound.

Find a Vet

You don’t want to be scrambling to find an available veterinarian for your new rescue dog after they get sick or hurt. You should establish a relationship with a vet before you bring your dog home.

Make a Plan for Where Your Dog Is Allowed to Go

Giving a new rescue dog full run of your entire home might be overwhelming, especially if you have a larger house. And there may be some parts of the home that you don’t want your dog to have access to, like certain bedrooms or the kitchen. So before you bring your new rescue dog home, make a plan for what parts of your house are off-limits, and figure out how you’re going to keep your dog out of them (pro-tip: If they don’t have doors, baby gates are a good solution).

Make a Plan for Family Introductions

Ideally, every member of your family should visit your new dog at the shelter before you finalize an adoption.

But when it comes to cats and other pets that don’t tend to do well in unfamiliar environments, that may not be possible. In that case, you’ll need a plan for how you’ll handle those introductions in your home, without any shelter professionals to help guide things in the right directions.

Introducing dogs to small children and other pets should be done slowly and deliberately with constant supervision. The Humane Society offers a number of good resources on how to safely make those introductions.

Adopting a Rescue Dog: The First Seven Days

Congrats, you brought your new dog home! But now what? Here’s how to handle the critical first seven days to set your dog up for a happy life in his or her new home.

Adopting a Rescue Dog: The First Seven Days

Day 1: Bringing Your Dog Home

On Day 1, you only have one goal: Bring your new rescue dog home and let him or her start to settle in. For the first day, give your dog just one small part of the house to explore, like a bathroom or laundry room. Make sure the dog has a quiet place where it can get comfortable and rest, and while it’s important to spend time with your dog, give him or her plenty of alone time to decompress, too.

One of the best ways to make a pet feel comfortable in a new home is to establish a very predictable routine, so now is the time to start that. Decide on times for meals, playing, and going outside to potty or take a walk, and stick to the schedule as closely as you can.

Day 2: Getting to Know Each Other

Day 2 is still about letting your rescue dog get comfortable in his or her new surroundings and with his or her new people. You should still keep your dog limited to a small area in your home at this point, and keep being careful not to overwhelm them.

If possible, spend this entire day with your dog, but don’t be demanding of your dog’s attention. For example, spend the day reading or working in the same room as your dog, and allow them to come over to you if they want to. And make sure to continue with the routines you established on Day 1 for feeding times, walks, playing, and going out to potty.

Day 3: Developing Trust

On Day 3, you can start to expand the areas of your home your new rescue dog has access to. Remember to keep a close eye on them as they explore, though. Avoid reprimanding or punishing your dog for bad behaviors at this point, as your main goal is to develop and build trust. Dogs react much better to positive reinforcement, so if your dog engages in a behavior you want to discourage, distract them with a toy or attention, and then praise them for abandoning the bad behavior.

Day 4: Building a Routine

Day 4: Building a Routine

On Day 4, continue to build trust between yourself and your dog, and stick carefully to the routine you’ve been implementing since bringing your new dog home. By now, the dog should be getting comfortable with that routine, and might be excited just before meal times, or waiting at the door when it’s time to go for a walk or go potty. These are good signs that show your dog knows what to expect and is becoming comfortable in their new home. Continuing to follow the routine will help your dog continue to settle in.

Day 5: Becoming Part of the Family

One Day 5, start making your dog part of the family by allowing it to have more (closely supervised) freedom and a role in your family’s routines. For example, get the entire family out to walk the dog together, or let the dog hang out in the room where you watch TV in the evening. 

This is also a great time to begin training your new dog. Keep in mind that this might be a slow process with a rescue dog, and your dog will still need more time to learn to trust you. Start with very basic commands like “Come” or “Sit,” and use lots of treats and gentle pets as positive reinforcement as your dog learns.

Day 6: Going to the Vet

Ideally, your rescue dog should have been checked over by a veterinarian before coming home with you. But even if that’s true, taking time during the first week to visit the vet you’ve chosen and introduce them to your new dog is a great practice. The vet can give your dog a basic health exam to make sure there are no problems the shelter missed. And if your new dog is missing any vaccines, flea and tick medications, heartworm prevention, or other important preventative care, this is a great time to get that done.

Day 7: Identifying Destructive Behaviors

At the end of your dog’s first week, he or she should be starting to get comfortable in their new home, and because of this, bad behaviors might start to show. Especially with a rescue dog, it’s possible your new pet has bad habits from their past that you will need to address and correct.

Keep a close eye on your dog to watch for any bad behaviors and identify whether they’re habits or patterns. Start making a plan to mitigate any destructive behaviors, and teach your dog more positive ones. For a new dog owner, booking a few sessions with a professional trainer isn’t a bad idea.

Adopting a Rescue Dog: The First Seven Days and Beyond

Congratulations on making it through the first week with your rescue dog! Your hard work isn’t over yet, though.

It takes far longer than a week for a rescue dog to fully settle into a new home with a new family. And keep in mind that this timeline is only a suggestion — some dogs may need more or less time to make it through all of these milestones. Experts say the average dog takes about a month to fully settle into a new home, but depending on your dog’s past and its temperament and personality, it may take more or less time.

The most important thing to remember when adopting a rescue dog is to be patient and kind — and enjoy every minute with your new best friend.

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