So you’ve made the decision to share your life with a rescue dog. Thank you, and congratulations; you’re about to learn what it’s like to save a life and make a forever friend!
In this article, we outline some steps you can take before you adopt that will help you and your rescue dog get off on the right foot/paw.
Step 1 – Pick Your Pooch
If you’re too soft-hearted to walk into a shelter full of needy dogs and walk back out with just one, there’s an easy answer. No, you can’t just adopt the whole shelter—but you can pick out your forever friend in the comfort of your own living room by starting your search with Petfinder.
Petfinder is a free online resource that allows you to browse photos and descriptions of all the dogs available for adoption in your immediate area. You can narrow down your search even further by specifying which gender, age, size, and even breed of dog you would prefer to adopt.
If there are no dogs matching your specific search criteria currently available nearby, Petfinder can notify you as soon as a match for your specific search criteria shows up in the database. To use this feature, create an account, enter your search criteria, and then click the “Save Search” option right above the search results.
Step 2 – Questions, Questions, Questions
Once you’ve found a dog you’re interested in, your next step should be to call the shelter or rescue group in charge of her care and find out everything they can tell you about her. “Dog blog” Thatmutt.com suggests asking all (or at least some) of the questions on this exhaustive list.
You’ll definitely want to ask about the dog’s history and previous home(s), since her past experiences are likely to affect her behavior. In particular, dogs rescued from puppy mills usually require a level of care above and beyond that of a regular family pet, so don’t adopt one unless you’re totally committed to the added responsibility.
(If you’re interested in learning more about adopting and rehabilitating a puppy mill survivor—in other words, if you want to be a really big hero—check out the Best Friends Animal Society’s excellent e-book, “Understanding and Caring For Puppy Mill Dogs.”) And here’s another book we highly recommend — Henry Says ‘Hello!’
It’s also a good idea to ask the shelter what size harness your dog will need and what kind of food she has been eating while at the shelter. Once you get the pup home, you can make a gradual switch to a brand that you’ve researched and feel good about feeding your pet. More on that in a sec.
Finally, be prepared to take a turn in the “hot seat” yourself. Most shelters and rescue groups have a policy of asking potential adopters a lot of seemingly personal questions about things like their work requirements, family dynamics, and future plans. The answers to questions like these help rescue organizations make sure their dogs are going to safe, loving, permanent homes.
Play it Safe
Just like you would before bringing home a new baby, you’ll need to spend some time danger-proofing your house before you bring your new dog home. Luckily, the American Humane Association has a comprehensive, room-by-room safety prep checklist to help you do just that.
Also, be aware that letting your dog have the run of the house right off the bat is a bad idea. Instead, choose a room with a floor that’s easy to clean, like the bathroom or kitchen, and set up a playpen for her there. She’ll feel safer in a smaller space during the first few weeks, especially if you have to leave her alone for an extended period of time. If there are rooms in your house that will be off-limits to her, have baby gates in place to block them off before she begins to explore.
Plan to make a trip to your local pet supply store and purchase the following items for your new dog before you pick her up:
Collar and ID tag with your name and number—This will help protect your dog from being lost for good in case she accidentally gets loose during transport.
Leash—Your first instinct may be to buy a retractable leash, but that’s a really bad idea. A short (4’-6’), sturdy fabric or leather leash is much better suited for training and walking your dog.
Harness—Don’t rely on your dog’s collar when attaching her leash; collars can slip off or cause injury. For her safety and comfort, it’s better to use a harness instead. The Fetching Apparel dog Jeffrey had tracheal damage when we got him. Who knows what happened to the poor guy, but he had a terrible, deep cough with even the slightest leash pulling. It was immediately clear that a harness was the best option for our Jeffrey.
Dog food—A sudden change in diet can upset your dog’s stomach, so feed her the same food she’s been eating at the shelter if at all possible. When switching brands or flavors, mix a little bit of the new food in with her regular food each day to help her adjust gradually.
Training treats—These should be very small and low-calorie, yet savory enough for your dog to view them as rewards. Be sure to do your homework — read reviews and make sure the ones you’re choosing haven’t had a recall.
Toys—Even adult dogs feel the urge to play and chew from time to time, so make sure to have some durable toys and chewy treats for her to play with. Bully sticks are inexpensive and long-lasting, and Kong® makes hollow rubber toys in various sizes that you can fill with treats or peanut butter to keep your dog entertained.
Crate—Crates are extremely helpful for housetraining and provide your dog with a “safe place” where she can feel sheltered and snug during the night or while you are away. The ideal crate is large enough for your dog to stand up, turn around, and lie down comfortably, but not so large that she has room to go to the bathroom.
And Now, The Fun Part
Once you’ve followed these steps, you’re ready for the best part of the whole experience—meeting your new best friend for the first time and bringing her home to be a part of your life!
Our next blog post will feature tips to help your rescue dog make the transition from shelter to home as smoothly as possible.
Thanks for Reading!
Before you go, please take a few minutes to browse the colorful products available in our shop. Fetching Apparel donates a full 40% of proceeds to deserving nonprofits like Happy Tails Animal Rescue of Washington County, Virginia, which has found loving new homes for more than 10,000 rescue dogs (and cats) since 2003, including Jeffrey (the Fetching Apparel dog)!