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Considering Adopting a Rescue Dog?

There are many reasons pets may be available for adoption. They may come in as a stray, surrendered or perhaps born in a shelter. It’s true that often the dog you see in the shelter is not displaying its true behaviour. Social media can paint a rosy picture that is rarely the reality so it’s important to keep sensible expectations when adopting a rescue dog as you often don’t know what they have been through.

We find that some of the biggest challenges people face with rescue dogs, can be dealing with unwanted or unusual behaviour. Behaviour is made up of many things – genetics, previous experiences and learning history, the environment and physiology. Just because your rescue dog fears people doesn’t mean they were necessarily mistreated.

  • A stray dog may never have seen the inside of a house so is overwhelmed or scared when taken inside.
  • A puppy that hasn’t been exposed to people or been outside the yard can find new people and places scary.
  • A dog that has had previous learning history that makes people unpredictable and scary.
  • A dog whose genetic makeup predisposes them to being sensitive to loud noises.

Rescue dogs can often bring unidentified baggage with them. It’s important to look ahead to the future and see how wonderful you can now make their life. Start with patience and kindness and go at their pace. Training may take more time, or you may need to get help with certain behaviours. You may even need to adjust your expectations but work with the dog in front of you.


Agree as a family on house rules, check your fences and make sure areas you will keep your dog are safe are secure, plus work out sleeping and eating areas. Consider other pets and safe spaces for existing pets. Ensure your new dog can be separated by either crates or baby gates if needed.

Introductions to other pets

You may have already done a meet and greet at the shelter or foster home, but this is very different to bringing a pet home to live with you. Even the most adjusted of pets can have their nose put out of joint.

We recommend meeting on neutral ground or at least outside your house. If all dogs are fully vaccinated, then just meet outside and go for a slow walk together. Start with some distance and gradually zig zag closer if the dogs are showing relaxed body language. Allow mutual sniffing of objects such as trees and allow sniffing of each other for a few seconds then call them away to continue walking. If everything is going well, you can make your way back to your house and continue this in the yard. You may allow one or both dogs off lead, but this will depend on the situation.

If you are bringing a new rescue puppy into the home, you can do this intro on your property, perhaps out the front or in a safe space. A puppy may need to be kept on lead, so they don’t jump all over an adult dog repeatedly. Continue to supervise all interactions and allow some calm down time when bringing them into the house.

Settling in phases

The first thing to be mindful of is there is a definite settling in period. There is a rule called the “333 of rescue pets”:

  • 3 days to allow decompression from travel, a safe place and quiet time. They may be feeling overwhelmed or scared by what is going on. It’s a good idea to stay home for these first few days and ensure a calm, quiet environment.
  • 3 weeks to explore their environment and start building a relationship with the family/person. They may become more comfortable and show more of their true behaviour. Sometimes this is when unusual or unwanted behaviours start to surface.
  • 3 months until a dog will really get into the daily routine and gain more of a sense of security in the new home.

Of course, dogs don’t follow formulas. They are living beings and can all be very different. Some pets need more time than others until they settle into their home and routine and are ready to successfully go out in the world. Again, work with the dog in front of you.

We recommend avoiding:

  • Going to off leash areas or dog parks in the first couple of weeks (unless the park is very quiet or empty).
  • Taking your dog to gatherings like parties, markets or community events for the first few weeks.
  • Having large gatherings or parties at your house in the first few weeks.

Helpful products and strategies

There are a large range of products on the market that may assist your new pet settling into their new home and environment. Like all products, some may be effective for some dogs and some not as much. It’s often when you stop using a product that you notice a difference so be open to trying some as they really may be helping.

  • Adaptil – dog appeasing pheromone that may help with settling in by providing comfort and security
  • Zylkene – a milk protein product that can help pets cope when facing unusual and unpredictable situations such as a change in their normal environment.
  • Homeopet anxiety relief
  • Relaxing music
  • Licking, chewing and sniffing helps with self-soothing. Giving lots of quiet time with any of these options can really help.
  • Diet – gradually transition any changes. Ensure good quality human grade proteins are used otherwise it can interfere with the body’s ability to utilise
  • Serotonin – a naturally occurring chemical that helps to control mood.

    Professional help

    If your dog is suitable, enrolling in a positive reinforcement based group class with qualified trainers can be a great way to continue building the relationship with your new dog. Or it may be more suitable to engage a qualified trainer to help you with private sessions depending on what behaviour your dog is showing. We have many years of experience with rescue dogs so can help get you on the right track or refer you to a trainer in your area. So, remember the ‘333 rule’, take your time and enjoy your new rescue pet.

    Further reading

    Miller, P, (2010) Do Over Dogs – Give Your Dog A Second Chance At A First Class Life, Dogwise Publishing.

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