From Shelter to Sofa: Helping Your Rescue Dog Transition

Updated on August 15, 2019
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Heather is a certified dog trainer and pet lover. She has founded and operated 2 animals rescues in addition to many volunteer hours.

Taking a rescue dog from the shelter to the sofa is a big commitment. According to the American Humane Association (PDF), about 1 in 10 dogs are returned or given away within 6 months of adoption. Here are some tips to help your dog make the transition smoothly and finally end up out of the shelter and into their forever home.

Before You Bring Home Your Rescue Dog

Preparation is worth its weight in gold when it comes to transitioning a rescue dog. Before heading home you should:

  1. Establish Guidelines: Sit down with family members and establish guidelines. Will Fido be allowed on the furniture? Are table scraps ok? Where outside is the potty area? Getting everyone on the same page now will prevent future confusion for the dog.

  2. Puppy/Dog-Proof the Home: Did you puppy/dog proof? One of the tricky things about rescue dogs is that we have pretty limited information. Are they chewers or garbage pickers? The best thing you can do is remove anything that could become problematic, for now at least. If your yard is fenced, take a quick walkthrough to be sure a possible escape artist can't get out.

  3. Get Your Supplies: Have all your supplies ready before picking up your furry friend. Do you have a collar, leash, bowls, toys and most importantly a crate?

  4. Set Up a Safe Space: Leaving the shelter and entering a strange place is stressful. Make sure that a crate set up in a quiet place away from any commotion. If your pup is overstimulated in these first few days, the crate will be his/her safe zone.

Teaching the House Rules

Arrange to pick up your pooch when you have a few days in a row to be home. Much like children, dogs do best when there is a defined set of rules and routines. If you head off to work before they have had an opportunity to learn these parameters, bad habits and behaviors can develop.

Introduce Them to the Home

Once you arrive home, take your new friend for a walk. Show him the potty area and give him a chance to relax a bit. Before you head into the house, make sure everyone knows not to create too big of a fuss. Your rescue dog will need time to decompress. During this time, keep visitors to a minimum and interactions low key. If you have other pets, do not introduce them for at least 24 hours.

Establish a Schedule

Follow your predefined schedule, making sure to go out to the potty place every 1-2 hours. For the first week, your pooch should be on the leash or in the crate at all times. I find tethering the leash to my waist is helpful. It may seem excessive but really is one of the keys to success.

Note: A good resource for home management of your dog is a free online class offered by Leerberg University.

Bonding With Your New Dog

Go for Walks

The walk is the most significant thing you can do to bond with your newly adopted pet. Keep it peaceful and enjoyable but set boundaries. If your dog is pulling on the leash the entire time, it will quickly become miserable for both of you. Try a Halti or a harness with a chest clip. Limit walks to places that you will not run into strange animals or people right away. This should be as stress-free as possible.

Play and Train Together

Combine playtime and training time. Make your dog work for the reward of playing fetch or tug-of-war. This creates the desire to be with you as well as a sense of respect for you.

Make Food Fun

Feeding time is another opportunity to bond with your dog. Try feeding your dog out of your hand for the first half of their meal. If your dog has food aggression issues, first seek the help of a professional trainer for positive reinforcement methods of resolving it.

Offer Affection and Lead

Be a firm but affectionate leader. Your new dog is looking to you for guidance in this strange new environment. Don't make the mistake of nurturing bad behavior with cuddles just because you feel sorry for him. The bond you have with him will be much stronger in the end when you provide clear expectations.

Additional Tips

It is perfectly normal for your new dog to not want to eat for the first few days. Don't use this time to bribe with table food and treats, it sets a precedent that is hard to break As long as he is drinking don't worry too much.

The Rule of 3

Remember the rule of 3. For 3 days, expect your dog to be overwhelmed and reserved. At 3 weeks, expect your dog to become more comfortable and to catch glimpses of possible behavior problems. At 3 months, a bond will have developed and your dog will be perfectly comfortable showing his true personality.

Most dogs are surrendered to a shelter or rescue due to lack of training, unsuccessful adoptions happen for essentially the same reason. Don't be afraid to ask for help.

After you are confident with your dog's personality, consider doggie daycare, especially for a young dog. There are social skills that other dogs can teach that we as people just can not.

Know That You Are Saving a Life

Thank you for adopting a dog in need. There will be no greater love and devotion than that of a rescue dog.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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