Rescuing a dog, either from a shelter, a foster home, or from the street is an exciting, stressful, confusing, frustrating and eminently fulfilling experience. As a reader of this article, I’m going to make the bold assumption that you are either considering it or have already done it. How to introduce a new dog into your life is something we are asked frequently by friends so we wanted to create this article to help them and others.
My wife and I have rescued quite a few over the years so we wanted to put this article together as a means of helping those that are working through some aspect of a rescue, adoption, or fostering. I want to get right to the heart of this, so won’t share those details up front but if you are interested in our story, it’s at the bottom of this article.
A word of caution – rescuing, adopting, fostering a dog is not for the faint of heart and should not be considered lightly. The new addition to your family is every bit as demanding as a new baby(we’ve had babies, grand babies, and dogs and it’s a toss up which is toughest to raise). This innocent little character will cause you to laugh and cry, give you fits of hysteria and bouts of depression, increase your exercise level and your stress level, teach you the meanings of all the different colors of dog poop, lead you to read books you never considered before, and all the while doing so with a cute “tilt the head” look that you just can’t help but love. It’s an investment in time, money, and energy that should not be underestimated. Good food, shots and other vet bills, exercise, and love – that’s what it takes and some of that costs money. It is a labor of love (with huge rewards) that you have to be prepared for. Don’t step into this lightly.
We started out creating the below information to be presented in a sequential manner but in the end, it’s just not that easy. The items below can be taken piece by piece but if you start at the top and work down, it’ll make sense and might actual do a fairly decent job of mapping out the journey. I think, the end result is more of a list of items we’ve learned over the years more than a step-by-step process. A step-by-step process didn’t work out very well. It’s a lot of information, to be sure, but you didn’t think this was going to be easy, did you?
The information below is lengthy so we’re adding a table of contents at the top. The items are listed in an order that could be considered sequential but in actuality, there’s no such thing. Every situation is different. Feel free to pick and choose the topics that are of interest. At the end of each topic will be a link to bring you back to the table of contents that looks like this:
- Bringing the dog home – allow some decompression time
- Create a welcoming space for your new dog
- Establish a routine to help them feel at ease
- Fun and easy interactions to teach and bond with your dog
- How to introduce a new dog to your family and other humans
- How to introduce a new dog to your other pets
- Visit the Vet to make sure you dog is healthy
- Thoughts on reprimanding your new dog
- Patience and Encouragement
- Your dog’s history
- Separation anxiety for the new dog
- Your new dog may make a few escape attempts
- The story of our dogs so far
Bringing the dog home is a sensitive and critical time. Don’t rush anything. Your dog will probably require peace and quiet more than anything else early on. Let him decompress for awhile before asking too much of him.
Your new dog will need to chill out a bit. Having a space of their own to do this is critical. Good food and water is, of course, a requirement and you should also consider a few chew toys to help them pass the time. If, like Jake in the picture below, a nice leather couch is available…all the better.
Don’t “show them off” to all of your friends and family. They need some peaceful time to adjust. Do not throw a “welcome home” party. This is not something the dog will understand and will most likely only cause increased anxiety. A festive party like this, although well intentioned, is really only fun for the humans.
Give them all the quiet time they need. It may be more than you expect so don’t force it and don’t pressure them to socialize
Be prepared for stomach issues
The food you feed them most likely won’t be familiar to them and it may (most likely will) cause upset stomachs. You know what this means. There’ll be some cleanup involved so get a good supply of paper towels, clorox cleanups, and maybe some masks.
If you are able to mimic what the dog’s meals were before you got him, so much the better. Mimic that and slowly transition to the type of foods you will be feeding him. If this is a rescue, however, you may not know. In just about every instance of ours (picking up strays off the street) there was no way for us to know so we feed them bland diets at first and then slowly introduced better and better food.
Where the potty?
The dog needs to know where it’s acceptable to go to the bathroom. Before even bringing the new dog into the house, take him for nice walk around the property so he can get the feel for the land and encourage him to use the bathroom in the best spot. Early attention to this matter will be helpful down the road.
If this is a puppy or perhaps an older dog that has never been potty trained, you’ll want to place an emphasis on this. Crating can help here too as dogs just don’t want to potty in their crates so will hold it. Aside from crating, extra attention is needed here to look for signs of needing to go potty and then taking the dog outside as needed. Praising them for doing their business outside is a good idea.
Give them a “room of their own” so they can adjust at their own pace in a comfortable area with few distractions or perceived dangers.
We strongly recommend crating (detailed below) but if you can’t or don’t, it’s best to create some kind of area that is the dog’s and dog’s alone. A washroom, laundry room, spare bedroom, etc. In this case, be sure to dog proof the area. Extension cords should not be plugged in and accessible. Any item that could be harmful if chewed on should be removed. This room should be equipped with some kind of bed for the pooch to sleep on. We have found that the “chew proof” elevated beds are very good. We have aggressive chewers that have ripped beds to shreds (that rhymes!) and they have not bothered to chew these up.
A key here is that the dog’s space should not be in the main traffic area of the house. The dog needs some peace and quiet. But, by the same token, you want this space to be within sight of where the people in the house are. So you wouldn’t want to lock him up in the garage where he can’t see anybody. If you have a mudroom that has visibility into the main area, or perhaps a laundry room, these are great. Don’t close the doors but set up a gate to keep the dog in but also provide visibility and hearing into what is going on throughout the house. This will give him a place to chill, but also let him get used to the sights and sounds of his new home. A see through gate will also allow an introduction to other pets in a safe manner which also lets you see how all animals react.
As a human, we all have things to do in our own “rooms of our own”. Your new dog shouldn’t be any different. Safe chew toys are a great addition to your dog’s new area. These also serve as very good rewards for your dog when they agreeably go into the crate and lay down. Rudy (below) finds his new bed much better than his previous digs – he’s lovin’ his new life.
We strongly recommend crating dogs. For those that have never done it, it sounds mean and maybe even downright cruel. For those of us that transitioned from that kind of belief to actually doing it, we know it’s simply the best approach. Dogs love their crates. It’s where they go when they are tired, fearful, or just want some time along. Don’t you have a favorite go-to place? We’ve had one rescue (Rudy, pictured above) who simply would not take to crates and, I think, he has some bad memories of them. When we crated him, he literally tore it apart. There was no “leave him there and let him get adjusted” process. The crate was demolished. So Rudy, out of all of our dogs, does not have a crate. But, you know, he has our laps, our couches, my favorite chair, etc.
Put the crate somewhere out of the way but yet where the main areas of the house can be seen. The dogs want their “away space” but want to see what’s going on at the same time.
The size of the crate is a critical aspect. Too large and it’s less comfortable and may lead to the dog going potty in the crate. Too small and they can’t get comfy. The crate should be large enough for the dog to stand up without hitting it’s head, turn around, and lay comfortably. It’s not meant to be big enough to exercise in.
Let your new dog decompress for awhile. Let him chill in the crate or room. Don’t try to force him to socialize. That will only make it harder for the dog as well as for you. Let him adjust to his new surroundings, maybe get a meal or two, and recognize that there is no danger in his new home.
A routine will help the dog adjust to her new surroundings. Think about how kids are. They just do better with a routine, right? Your dog is the same way. A routine builds confidence and reduces stress for your dog, two things that will help build the foundation for a good transition to your home.
Feed them in the same place at the same time every day. If you choose to feed twice a day, make it consistent.
Go for walks at about the same time each day. As the dog becomes more and more used to you and it’s unfamiliar surroundings, you can vary the route but in the beginning, it’s all about establishing routine and patterns. Stick to the same route until the dog shows a better level of comfort and then deviate a bit.
Turn out the lights and go to bed at the same time each night. This is for Fido, not you. If you are crating the dog (hopefully this is the plan and it works out for you) then establishing a nighttime pattern of getting snuggled into the crate and turning down the lights is an excellent approach.
A part of “routine” is how the dog is trained over time. What words will be used to “sit”, “stay”, “get off the dang couch”, etc, etc. Make a list and share it. If one person is saying “off” and another person is saying “down”, it’s tough for the dog to understand and frustrating for the humans involved. Make a list. Share it. Enforce it.
Early in the process, you should think about training sessions for your new friend. This isn’t so much to train them as it is to get them used to you and to give you the chance to bond. Few things build trust better than snacks and, when given as rewards for training, this becomes another building block in the foundation of trust you are creating. Your new friend might not want to jump on the trampoline like Bruno is doing below, but how do you know unless he tries it out? Great fun for Bruno!
Day two or three, depending on the pooch, is a good time to start mixing it up a bit. Spend time with her, have some treats and start sharing them freely. Maybe start teaching her to “sit” on command. Basic training is something for her to focus on, interact with you, and learn that good things (treats) come from you. Since you’ll be sharing these treats more readily than normal, it’s a good idea to select a treat that has high nutritional value.
I’m a big fan of Cesar Millan and one of the things he spends a lot of time educating dog owners on is the importance of walking your dog. It’s great exercise and allows for very strong bonding. It also establishes the pack order and gives the dog a sense of belonging. Establishing a pattern for walks will do this as well as build trust with your new dog. Also, oddly enough, a medium length controlled walk seems to tire your dog out more than an equal amount of time spent chasing balls. I don’t fully understand it but it’s true. Try it out. Don’t skimp on the walks.
Unless you live alone, at some point you’ll have to let other humans interact with the new dog. It’s entirely fine, recommended in fact, to lay down the rules before allowing this to happen. The rules are simple. Be calm, don’t force the dog to do anything, don’t hug, don’t kiss, and if the dog shows signs of agitation then walk away calmly.
As the dog shows increased comfort levels, and this may be a few days or it could be immediately, slowly let other folks in the house into the dog’s area. Ensure they move slowly and remain calm. If the dog pulls or runs away, they should leave. The dog will let you know when it is ready.
Instruct the folks who will be meeting to dog to let the dog set the tone. Do not kiss, hug, or pick the dog up. Just spend time with it in a very calm and relaxed manner. Just sitting there and sharing a few high nutrition and tasty treats is a great way to make the introduction easier on the dog.
If you have other pets, at some point they will have to be introduced. This is a critical and, depending on the dogs, can be a dangerous time. A calm and assertive manner is critical. If you are stressed out over it, they will pick up on that and the overall stress of the situation will increase. As mentioned before, Cesar Millan routinely opens the gate and allows a new dog into the midst of his pack. No fear, no stress, and it just works. I’d recommend having a small air horn in your pocket as they are amazing at breaking up scuffles. Be ready to use it but don’t use it too soon.
The dogs will sniff and circle and establish the pecking order. That’s natural and you have to let them do it. Bruno and Baron (below) have established a pecking order alright. Looks like Baron is in charge.
If you do have other pets, you’ll want to keep them separated from the new pooch for maybe 4 or 5 days. During this time, the new pooch is acclimating to her new surroundings. If you have set her up in a “room of her own” with a doggy gate, it’s a great idea to allow closely supervised visitation after the first day so the other pets can say hello through the gate. Allowing them to see and smell each other makes later introductions easier and gives you an early view into how this may eventually play out. Do they growl? Is their hair up? Do they look agitated? Then you’ll want to introduce the other pets very carefully. Are they friendly with their tails wagging? The actual introduction may be easier (but don’t let your guard down).
After the formal introductions and your new pooch has been socializing with other pets, it’s still best to maintain your new dog’s space as it’s space alone. It may need a place to retreat and regroup. With this mind, don’t let the other pets into this space for the week or possibly longer depending on how the socialization goes. The AKC has great information on introducing dogs to each other.
You need to know if the new pooch is healthy and, if not, what you are up against. Do not skip the vet visit. It’s critical to know everything about your new best friend.
This is a bit of a touchy one. It’s not should you do it (of course you should) but when should you do it? Our stance is as early as possible. A rule of thumb is to not deviate from taking the dog home after initially picking it up (from the pound, rescue, foster home, etc) but rather get it into it’s new home as quickly as possible. The one valid departure from this advice is a trip to the vet. If you can set this up on the way home, it’s a good approach. Get it out of the way early so you don’t have to interrupt the dog’s first week at his new home.
You’ll want to check for worms, heartworms, lice, etc. Telling the Vet that you have just rescued the pooch is pretty much all you need to do. A good vet will run the necessary tests to completely check the new dog out. This is going to cost a few bucks but, as I said earlier, that’s part of the deal. Skipping the Vet visit is in nobody’s best interest. I would not consider adopting, rescuing, or fostering if I could not afford to take the dog to the vet. That would be irresponsible. This is particularly true if there will be other pets or children interacting with the new dog.
Allowing your new dog to adjust comfortably is the name of the game and that won’t happen in an environment where the dog is yelled at, spanked, kicked, etc, etc. In all aspects of working with a new dog, a calm demeanor is the most effective approach.
It’s normal to be upset to find the pile of dog poop in the kitchen, or your favorite baseball glove chewed to shreds. Of course it’s frustrating. But reprimanding a dog for this is often counterproductive.
Yelling at them, or “rubbing their nose in it” for pooping on the floor, in my not-so-humble opinion, teaches them to hide it better next time but does absolutely nothing towards teaching them to hold it until they go outside.
When considering the best approach for how to introduce a new dog into your family and life, it’s far better to withhold the reprimand and instead calmly take them outside so they can potty, or give them a substitute chew toy and remove the item they have been chewing on. For that matter, remove ALL items they shouldn’t be chewing on and this won’t be a problem anymore.
Dealing with a new dog is a lot like dealing with kids. You may not have kids but you’ve dealt with them before. Regardless of the level of frustration, patience and encouragement is always the best approach. It’s tough, of course, but if you can get to the other side of that the result is worth the effort.
If you place yourself in your dog’s paws, it’s easier to understand what may or may not be helpful during this delicate time.
Try to envision, from the dog’s perspective, what “makes sense” to them.
Chaos, loud noises, lots of people picking the dog up/trying to pet, inconsistent routines, scolding, yelling, spanking, etc, etc. With all this going on, would you be able to adjust to a new situation? These are all things that will make the transition more difficult.
It’s always best to be calm and assertive (trust Cesar Millan) and the results will speak for themselves. It takes as much education for the pet owner as it does for the pet.
You can’t always know this.
In fact, often you won’t but it will have a critical impact on how you introduce a new dog into your life.
If you have picked up the dog from the pound or have rescued him from the street, you probably have no way of knowing her history. If you are fostering or perhaps you took the dog from a family who could not keep it, you might have some insights into the dog’s past, which can be quite valuable.
Regardless, keep in mind that there are things around the house the dog may be inexplicably scared of and it may make absolutely no sense to you.
One dog we rescued, my favorite of all time, was a Pit Bull named Jake. He was fearless. Nothing bothered him at all. Until he saw a broom, then he freaked out and ran away to hides. A mop? No problem. Swiffer? No problem. But a broom just terrified him. Jake was my best friend for many years and I shuddered to think what caused him to be so afraid of brooms.
Another example is Rudy, our most recent rescue. Very much like Jake, Rudy isn’t afraid of much except yard rakes. Here’s a dog that has literally tried to bite a running chainsaw and he also attacks my riding mower without concern. But when he sees a rake, he cowers.
So again, keep in mind that there’s a good chance some things will bother your dog and it may make no sense to you but is very uncomfortable for them. What do you do? Do you try to “fix it”? I’d advise no. I just kept brooms away from Jake and rakes away from Rudy. It’s easier and way more comfortable for them.
A dog bonds with it’s owner and this is both natural and fun for both. When they are removed from each other, the human feels it but we are conditioned and experienced in dealing with that feeling. Some dogs aren’t. It’s important to understand that separation anxiety is normal in many cases. With work, it can be minimized and sometimes eliminated altogether but it something you may have to work through it.
If you think about where the rescued dog came from, she may have had a strong bond with her previous owner. Even an abused dog loves her owner. Unconditional love, it’s one of the things that dogs are great at. So your new pooch may be missing her former owner and you have to work through that. Some of the crazy behavior you see early on may be a symptom of that.
Another great thing about dogs is that they can forget easily if the situation helps them to do so. Give them love and attention and before long that bond will be with you instead of her former owner. This may mean the separation anxiety peaks when you are not around, but that’s something you can work with over time. Far better for her to miss you than for her to miss her former owner. Below Rascal is waiting for our daughter to come home from school. She spent most of her days right there and every day her arrival from school was a joyous occasion for Rascal.
If they bond with you quickly (that’s sweet!), they may not like it when you are gone. If they had bonded with another person or animal previously, this can be doubly difficult as they will have a more difficult time bonding with you and they will be missing the animal/person they bonded with previously. Only patience and understanding works here and, as with everything else, you are going to have to work at it.
Some dogs have a strong tendency to bolt out of any open door, pry themselves through any gap in any gate, or leap over seemingly “tall enough” fences.
You have to be on your guard here until you know your new dog’s tendencies.
We have dogs that can easily jump our fences but choose not to. They just don’t. We also have a dog that you would think wouldn’t be able to jump the fence but he will when the impulse strikes him. If he sees a deer outside the fence, he’s gone before we can react and, I’m fairly certain, before he really even thinks about it. He has no impulse control whatsoever.
Depending on the temperament and the history of the dog, he may try to escape. This is something you’ll pick up on early on. Fencing, of course, is recommended but also a keen eye on the front door to make sure the new dog doesn’t bolt outside when you aren’t expecting it.
Walking a dog that likes to try to escape should be done with a harness instead of only a collar to provide better restraint without causing injury. Any dog that pulls on a leash should be walked with a harness as it’s safer on many different levels.
As a side effort to this, since I mentioned above the dogs that my wife and I have rescued over the years, I went through an exercise to actually record them. It was fun and sad at the same time but I also realized there were far fewer than I thought. At the outset, I thought that we must have rescued about 50 or so but in reality, it’s far fewer. The fact that they tend to live so long means we have a lot at any given time so it just seems like a lot more.
My wife and I sat down and counted up how many dogs we’ve we’ve invited into our family over the years. The grand total was 28 but I suspect we missed a few and it seems like there’s more. We feed them well and ensure regular Vet visits so they tend to live a very long time. We had a Bernese Mountain Dog that lived to be 16. The life expectancy for a Berner is only 8 years. Since they live so long, we tend to have a lot of them around at any given time. The most we’ve had at any one time was 22 but that was a bit of a fluke as from a pair we rescued (Hercules and Binky), Binky was pregnant and presented us with 9 additional puppies a few weeks after the rescue so we rescued two that day but those two turned into eleven a few weeks later. But, hidden behind that fact is that we already had eleven rescues at the time. Eleven already plus eleven more: twenty-two dogs! The good news is that Hercules and Binky were full blooded labs, so the puppies were in great demand. We gave each one away for free after vetting the potential owner thoroughly. We’re still in touch with most of them today and we are sent a lot of pictures of the dogs hunting, playing, or just laying around the house. Those puppies made a lot of folks very happy.
If you’re interested, here’s a breakdown of our past and present pack members:
- Buffy – Schnauzer: Not a rescue, my wife had him before she had me. This guy was not friendly!
- Chelsea – Doberman (our first rescue)
- Coco – Doberman (Chelsea’s puppy that we kept) (rescue)
- Mookie – Bernese Mountain Dog: Rescued when we saw him tied to the front porch of a house in the desert with no food or water. Mookie smashed every life expectancy chart ever made, living to 16. Life expectancy for Berners is about 8.
- Oscar – Dachshund: He adopted us. Literally walked into our garage one snowy day, curled up and went to sleep and never left.
- Rascal – some kind of terrier thing: Gifted from a litter a friend had
- Daisy – Staffordshire Terrier: Rescued from the mean streets of Decatur, Georgia
- Rex – Schipperke: Also rescued from the mean streets of Decatur, Georgia
- Bruno – Boxer: Our son brought this one home. I said “no, we have too many already”, and he never left. Loved this dog dearly.
- Roxie – Unknown breed. She’s red: Rescued from around Atlanta somewhere.
- Jake – Pit Bull: My best friend until his untimely passing. Rescued on a cold, misty morning from a ditch alongside a graveyard on an abandoned road. Died of cancer after an operation and treatment. He was only six when we lost him.
- Cody – Rottweiler: Like Oscar, Cody adopted us. He walked up to the house, introduced himself, and never left. Never had a Rottie until him and now we absolutely love the breed. Cody lived to age 12. In his final year he developed cancer. He went through treatment that extended his life for about a year. It was worth every penny paid and mile driven.
- Baron – Dachshund: Oscar (mentioned above) was killed by a neighbor dog. Baron was bought about a month later. We do love the Doxies and the house wasn’t complete without one. He’s getting up there in years now, he’s about 12.
- Rusty – Pit Bull: Rescued with his sister Rocket from the mean streets of Conyers, Georgia
- Rocket – Pit Bull: Rescued with her brother Rusty from the mean streets of Conyers, Georgia
- Hercules – Giant (132 pounds) Black lab: Rescued in Conyers along with his wife Binky
- Binky – Black lab: Rescued in Conyers along with her hubby Hercules. She was pregnant and added 9 puppies to our pack a few weeks after bringing her home
- Ginger – Lab, Hercules and Binky’s puppy: Of the nine puppies, all were given away (well vetted) but Ginger adopted me personally and didn’t want anything to do with anybody else. Her and Jake were my very best friends. She died at age 3 due to stringy chew toys. I miss her terribly.
- Blitz – Pit Bull mix thing: Gifted from a foster home after I lost Ginger and Jake (my two best friends) during a tough couple of months
- Rudy – Boxer/Pit/Mess: Rescued from abusive owner
- 8 other puppies in addition to Ginger from Binky’s litter
Our current pack includes Rusty, Rocket, Roxie, Baron, Blitz, Rudy, and Binkie.
That’s a log of information! I hope you found it worthwhile. Please bookmark it and check back often as we will be updating it from time to time. The process to introduce a new dog into your home and family is fairly static but new things can and will be added as we learn more, experiment more, and adopt more. Happy adopting!!