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How to Help a Rescue Dog Adjust to Their New Home

Alyssa Sparacino Alyssa Sparacino August 12, 2021

Bringing home a new pet is exciting and joyful, but welcoming a dog — particularly if he or she is a rescue — can also be a bit nerve wracking at the same time. And if you, as the pet parent, are feeling this kind of anxiety, just think about how your new puppy or adult dog might be feeling coming into a new place for the first time. You want to get it right. You want them to feel at ease and at home instantly, but more often than not, rescue pups need time to adjust. 

With this helpful guide, your new rescue dog — no matter the age, breed, or previous situation — will feel safe, loved, and content in their furever home. Just remember, the below tips are meant to act only as a general resource for pet parents. Every rescue dog (or puppy) is different and what works for one may not work for another. Always consult a professional — your vet, a trainer, even a pet behaviorist — to dig deeper into any specific issues your new dog might be experiencing. 

Before you bring them home

First, know that bringing home a rescue dog is an admirable decision: Data shows that 6.5 million companion animals enter the shelter system every year, of which roughly 3.3 million are dogs, according to the ASPCA. Getting to this point meant you likely spent a lot of time considering what size or kind of dog or puppy to welcome into the family, not to mention what shelter or rescue to adopt from. 

Once you find the perfect fit for your family, you want to maintain that same mentality to prepare your space so it’s ready to welcome them home on day one. Make a shopping list of what to have on hand, which should include an ID tag, leash, collar, harness, dog bed, proper food for their age and size, as well as comforts such as toys, bones, and treats. And don’t forget the crate with a comfortable blanket or crate pad. (More on crate training below.)

You also want to find a trusted, easily accessible veterinarian before your rescue dog arrives, as they may need additional vaccinations and medical issues can arise at any time and you want to be ready to take action when they do. Not to mention, as any new pet parent can attest, you’re going to have a lot of questions and will need to plan your puppy first vet appointment.

Speaking of questions: Ask the shelter or rescue organization to share as much information as possible with you about your new rescue — including any medical records, if available. While the organization may not have a comprehensive history of a pet’s prior experience, any information is useful as you get to know your new family member, their needs, and temperament. 

The first few days — or weeks

The first seven days with a new rescue dog are likely going to be the most challenging, but this is the opportunity to set a foundation of trust and security, so this period of adjustment can also be the most crucial. Another thing to remember is that every rescue dog (any dog for that matter) is going to be different, and therefore so will the orientation phase. While a rescue puppy might need just three days to come out of their shell, it could take three weeks or longer for an adult dog with a history of abuse or neglect to feel at ease in your home. Translation: Have patience.

With that in mind, ease your rescue into their new environment slowly, and set some boundaries — figuratively and literally. Restricting their access to certain rooms or floors of a home can ensure you can keep an eye on them but also allow them to become acquainted with the space a little at a time, so as to not feel overwhelmed with all the new sights, sounds, and scents, per the American Kennel Club. You should also use caution when introducing a rescue dog to any existing pet — dog, cat, or otherwise. (Read more on how to introduce a new dog to your cat, and how to introduce a second dog into your home.) 

This is where that crate you bought comes into play. Crate training is a valuable resource to any pet parent but may be even more useful for those bringing home a rescue dog, as newly adopted pups get used to their new surroundings and seek out a safe place to call their own, reports The Humane Society of the United States. Arguably the most critical tip for successful crate training is to always use the crate as a positive environment, never as a punishment — remember, it’s your pup’s safe zone. 

As you continue to learn more about each other

Training any pet is no easy feat, and training a rescue dog can come with it’s own unique set of circumstances. So, don’t be afraid to tap a trainer for more guidance on concerns such as separation anxiety, guarding behavior, leash training, or how to best utilize the crate, as well as potty training if your rescue isn’t already housebroken or experiences a setback (a common occurrence when a pup is introduced to a new place). 

Maintaining a consistent routine around your rescue pup’s feeding schedule, walks, nap time, and play time will also set you both up for success in puppy training. So, while it may be tempting to change things up a bit as your rescue becomes more at ease, that’s actually when you really need to lean into the healthy foundation you laid out on day one. 

The knowledge of what to expect will foster a sense of safety and security and therefore love — something any rescue dog is lucky to have at home with you. 

Interested in more?

Alyssa Sparacino

Alyssa Sparacino Contributor

Alyssa Sparacino has been a digital health and wellness editor for more than a decade as well as a writer covering everything from travel and food to pregnancy and pets. Her favorite role, though, is definitely Dog Mom. She and her husband adopted Zoey, a Sato from Puerto Rico in 2019, and have been doting over this "super mutt" ever since.