In our last article, we told you what to do before adopting a rescue dog. This time, we’ll discuss the things you can do during your dog’s first few weeks at home that will help her adjust to her new role as a member of your family.
When You First Get Home:
Tip #1: Provide Structure
Keep in mind that your dog has been through a lot, and that riding in a strange car to a brand new place with a person you just met would be stressful for anyone! What your dog needs most from you during her first few weeks at home is a sense of structure and safety, and you can provide that for her by setting clear rules and by enforcing them consistently.
This means no making exceptions to the rules you expect her to follow. If she is allowed on the couch one day but not the next, that creates uncertainty in her surroundings, and uncertainty is scary. How is she supposed to know when it’s okay to be on the couch and when it isn’t? Confusing. (Dogs are smart, but that’s expecting way too much from your new little buddy.)
When it comes to training your dog, focus on rewarding good behaviors rather than punishing “bad” ones. This should go without saying, but never hit or swat your rescue dog, and never yell or shout at her. If you catch her doing something you don’t want her to, get her attention by firmly saying “No!”—and then be ready to reward her with praise, affection, and a training treat as soon as she stops and looks at you.
Tip #2: Speak Her Language
Consistency is also important when communicating with your dog. It will be easier for her to learn what is expected of her if everyone in the family uses the same words and phrases when giving her commands. While it’s perfectly normal to talk to your dog as if she were a person, keep commands short and simple and give them in a firm but positive tone of voice.
Your dog will “talk” to you as well, using her tail, her eyes, and her behavior to convey her emotions and moods. To better understand what she is trying to tell you, check out this detailed guide from Modern Dog magazine or download the cute and helpful Dog Decoder app. But remember, no app can ever substitute spending quality time with your pet and truly getting to know her cues.
One last thing concerning your own body language: You might not want to hug your rescue dog right away! Dogs can view hugs from strangers as displays of aggression, not affection. It may be best to wait until the two of you have become better friends. When we first welcomed the Fetching Apparel dog Jeffrey into our home he was afraid of his own shadow. Baby steps were definitely needed as he slowly began to trust us.
Tip #3: A New Leash on Life
Even if you have a fenced-in yard, it’s necessary for your rescue dog to know how to behave on a leash. Your supportive presence is her biggest source of safety and comfort, so rather than setting her loose in the yard to fend for herself when she needs to go out, start by walking slowly beside her while she explores, using the leash to guide her and show her where she has permission to go.
(On a related note, please don’t expect your dog to live entirely outdoors—it’s bad for her and for you!)
Check out this article to get advice for training adult rescue dogs who are shy or afraid of being leashed, and for help with dogs that pull, check out these tips from Australian pet store chain Love That Pet™.
Tip #4: Do Housebreaking Right
If your rescue dog has never been housebroken, beware of “common sense” advice given on many pet care websites based on widely-believed myths and misconceptions about housebreaking. Housebreaking usually takes longer than just one week and requires patience, compassion, and consistency on your part.
The how-to of housebreaking is too important and complex for us to summarize here, so instead, we refer you to part 1 and part 2 of Dr. Karen Becker’s excellent article—the best resource we’ve been able to find for comprehensive information about housetraining and crate-training a rescue dog of any age.
(Disclaimer: The views expressed on Mercola.com, where the article is featured, do not necessarily reflect the views of Fetching Apparel. We are not well-versed on alternative or holistic veterinary care and, therefore, are not able to offer an endorsement.)
Tip #5: Save the Celebration
Of course you’re excited about your new dog and can’t wait to introduce her to all of your friends and family, but please resist the urge to throw her a “welcome home” party!
Keep in mind that she’s just made the journey from the high-stress environment of the animal shelter to a place she’s never been before—in a car she’s never seen—with a person she just met! Needless to say, she’s probably not in the best condition to meet a whole new group of strangers and other animals.
Take it slowly when it comes to socializing your dog. Until she gets used to you, your family, and your other pets, limit her exposure to unfamiliar people and animals as much as possible. Ask your guests to please ignore her unless she approaches them; no excited sounds, no chasing her around and trying to pet her.
Tip #6: Stay Close
Before you turn in for the night, make sure your dog has had the chance to do her business outside and then put her in her crate. For the first few weeks, keep the crate right next to your bed. You are now her pack leader and her source of strength, and your presence nearby will help her feel safer and calmer. As time passes you can gradually move the crate farther and farther away until it is in the spot where you want it to stay.
One Big Exception – Puppy Mill Dogs
Puppy mill survivors have been through terrible trauma, but with patience and a lot of extra TLC, they can become just as friendly and well-adjusted as “normal” dogs. However, puppy mill survivors do not always respond well to the types of training outlined above. If your rescue dog came from a puppy mill, please check out the Best Friends Animal Society’s wonderful, in-depth resources for rehabilitating and training puppy mill dogs.