With approximately 3.1 million dogs ending up in U.S. animal shelters each year, it's safe to say — there are rescue dogs aplenty anxiously awaiting to find their furrever homes. May is National Pet Month and while there's no perfect time to adopt a rescue, there's a lot to consider before introducing a new dog to your home. Here's what 15 dog experts recommend you do when it's time to welcome Fido into the fold.
1. Build trust little by little
"If your new dog is fearful or shy, help your dog by guiding the dog to different options than being afraid, without feeling sorry for the dog," says Julie Hart of Rescue Dogs Responsibly. "Encouraging a dog to engage his nose will help him understand scary objects and new environments. Fearful dogs thrive with predictability and routine, so try to do approximately the same things with the dog every day until the dog gets more comfortable. Use a leash or a long line to move the dog around the house and yard to be in the same area as you, but not too close."
"Building trust in small steps with fearful dogs and laying a good foundation will lead to greater progress in the long run," says Hart.
2. When introducing a new dog to your home, let your pup explore at their own pace
"When introducing a new dog your home, keep the first week quiet and low-key," says Debi McKee from Rescue Dogs 101. "Start by allowing your dog one room or area before overwhelming them with the entire house. Allow the dog to go at their own pace."
3. Feed your new best friend the right dog food
"Bringing home a new rescue pup can be stressful for your pup," says Danielle Marchessault, a pet wedding planner and coordinator and owner of For the Love of Paws. "There are so many changes happening, which can cause stress-related tummy issues. To help reduce any potential tummy upset, ask the shelter staff what your pup has been eating so that you can replicate it for the first few meals at home!"
4. Establish a routine that you and your pup can stick to
"One of our biggest tips for new dog owners is establishing a routine for your new dog right away! There's so much stimulation and new things going on for your pup when it first arrives home that it can be super overwhelming." says the OC Pom Rescue.
"For you new owners, decide when mealtime will be, when and where the pup will go potty, when you want to take the dog for a walk and when it's time for bed. Getting into a routine promotes comfort and stability, which will make that transition into the home that much more comforting and seamless!"
5. Keep your rescue dog active and stimulated
"To help your new rescued family member feel comfortable in its new home and environment, stimulate your furry friend with activity. Just like with people, young and old, it's important to keep your furry family member's brain active," says Healing4Heroes, a non-profit organization dedicated to assisting military service members and veterans by connecting wounded service members, as well as those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injuries with A.D.A compliant service dogs.
"As a renter, you can drop pieces of kibble indiscriminately around your home. This will keep their brain active as they search for yummy treasures while getting them comfortable with the different rooms in their new environment. Congratulations on adopting a family member that will love you forever, no matter what you do!"
6. Practice patience
"Patience is the most important part of welcoming a rescue dog into your home," says Molly Weinfurter and Mabel the rescue dog. "Most dogs have moved between shelters and foster homes their whole lives, so it will take some time for them to get comfortable and let their true personalities show. Watching a dog come out of their shell and thrive is the most rewarding experience, so give your new dog plenty of space in the beginning."
7. Pick up some eco-friendly, doggy-approved products
"As a new pet parent, providing a comforting safe space for a new rescue pet is a must. Part of making a safe space for them is providing mental and physical stimulation through toys that help keep them entertained mentally and physically," says the Gone to the Dogs team.
"Sustainably- and ethically-made toys are great for both pets and pet parents alike! You can find eco-friendly toys made out of materials like wool, hemp, cotton or wood. These are all-natural materials that won't harm animals or the environment in the manufacturing process like some plastics do. If you're just starting out as a fur mom or dad, then it might be worth considering the idea of buying eco-friendly cat and dog products!"
8. Keep safety and stability top of mind
"Take things slow and understand your new dog might be confused or frightened, so your No. 1 priority is keeping him feeling safe. You don't want him to learn that you're the person who scares him or will force him to do things he doesn't feel safe doing. Now is the time for trust-building, never intimidation," says Kate LaSala CTC, CBCC-KA, PCBC-A, CSAT from Rescued By Training.
9. Lean into crate training
"When bringing a new dog to their home, we recommend getting settled into a reliable routine with plenty of exercise right off the bat!" says Lucky Dog Animal Rescue. "Long walks and trips to the dog park are great ways to tire your pup out so they have less desire to get into things at home. Teaching your dog that the crate is a safe space for them to stay when you're not home, taking them out on regular intervals and rewarding desirable behavior are all great ways to set a routine."
10. Stock up on doggy necessities
"Homecoming day is an exciting time, both for you and your new rescue, but it's important to keep it low-key when introducing a new dog to your home," says Janice Jones from Small Dog Place. "Your new dog will be anxious so having everything prepared beforehand is a must. Stock up on a comfortable bed and blanket, dog bowls, leash, harness and, last but not least, assure you have a good supply of toys and treats."
"This special day should be reserved for you, your family and your new rescue — a time to get acquainted in a peaceful environment. Your dog will not only want to explore his new home but also where to find his bed, the water bowl and where to eliminate. This is also a good time to show your neighbors just how responsible a pet parent you are during walks, by picking up immediately after him and keeping the grounds clean."
11. Show affection through playtime and walks
"The most important thing you can do when introducing a new dog to your home is creating a space they can call their own to help comfort them as they adjust to their new surroundings," says Jennifer Dew, the founder and owner of 9 to 5 Pets.
If you're looking for an easy transition with your rescue pup, Dew recommends the following:
- Take your rescue dog on regular walks and give them lots of playtimes to release their energy and help lower their stress as they're wrapping their paws around the transition and change.
- Shower your new pup with affection to help reassure them that everything's OK and make plans to stay at home with them as much as possible that first week to help reinforce their sense of security (which is you) in their new home.
And lastly, Dew shared, "Dogs thrive on routine, so when they experience a lot of change (good or bad), it causes stress and anxiety which can lead to unwanted behavior like accidents in the house or excessive barking. So, stay patient with them and keep in mind that this behavior is relative to the stress and anxiety they're feeling and that they are doing the best they can. With love, patience, routine and positive reinforcement, any negative behavior should subside in time as they settle into their new home with you."
12. Repeat the old adage "Slow and steady wins the race"
"Forget Me Not Rescue highly encourages slow introductions to other pets in the home. We specialize in hard-to-place pets like seniors so it may take several visits to make the adoption successful. Patience, time and a loving touch are very important," says Margarita Fazioli from the Forget Me Not Rescue.
13. Keep calm and carry on
"When preparing for your new rescue pup to arrive, make sure to have a sense of calmness be your focus," says The Peaceful Pack. "This will help when you start introducing a new dog to your home and promote a greater feeling of peace, stability and trust for your pup. Control what you can in your environment by creating cues for calmness, such as playing classical music, giving your pup their own space & providing enrichment-filled playtime."
14. Regularly remind yourself and your family that introducing a new dog to your home takes time
"Our No. 1 tip for welcoming a new rescue dog into your home is to provide the new dog with time to become accustomed to their surroundings," says Amber L. Drake from the DogBehaviorBlog. "There will be new sights, smells and sounds, which can be overwhelming to a new dog. Waiting one or two days to begin introducing new guests or pets to your rescue dog is recommended. And, as with any new adventure, patience is key."
15. See what your pup gravitates toward
"When you start introducing a new dog to your home, especially a rescue animal, you need to provide the most comfort possible," says Lauren Farricker from WoofRepublic.com. "Patience is very key during this time of transition as you learn how to integrate with each other. So, for new rescue pup parents, I advise trying to obtain their existing bed, blanket or a toy that gives them a sense of comfort in the new space that provides a semblance of where they've been as they are learning their new safe spaces. Shelter dogs may not have any existing items, so observe what they gravitate towards in their first few days to see how they find comfort."
No bones about it
Welcoming a new animal into the family is just as much of a transition for you, as it is for the dog. So, while you show patience in welcoming your new best friend into your apartment, make sure to show a little grace for yourself. After all, this is an adjustment period for everyone.