Guest blog by Richard Cross creator of The Dog Clinic which helps dog parents build a strong bond with their pet through positive training. Learn more at: www.thedogclinic.com
Adoption is a wonderful moment for any rescue dog – but it can also be a stressful time. The dog must adapt to a new home and family and may still feel somewhat stressed from shelter life.
There are many ways to help your dog settle in – here are seven of the best methods, along with tips for making the transition as smooth as possible.
1. Prepare your home for the new arrival
It’s natural for your dog to feel anxious when you bring them home. Remember, they may have been in a shelter or foster care for a while, which can be a stressful environment and quite different to their new home.
Some basic preparation can help your dog to feel more relaxed. Make sure you buy a high-quality dog bed (memory foam is a great choice), plenty of fun toys and other essential items. It’s also a good idea to find a quiet space to put their bed, so your pet has a place to rest without being disturbed.
Find out which food your dog was eating at the shelter, so you can buy the same brand and type. While you may want to change their food, this can cause stomach upsets if you do so too quickly. Instead, gradually change their food over the course of a week or two, so the dog’s digestive system has time to adapt.
It’s also vital that the garden and home are secured. Check for any gaps in hedges or broken fence panels, as an adopted dog is at risk of trying to run away. Make sure any toxic plants are removed from both the garden and house.
2. Keep introductions calm
Ideally, an adopted dog should meet all members of the family before you bring them home. This includes any other dogs you have at home.
Even if your dog has already met the family, it’s important that the first interactions in the home are calm and quiet. Too much excitement can be stressful and difficult for your dog to cope with.
To avoid unnecessary anxiety, ask family members to sit down quietly. Allow the dog to approach them when they feel ready and give them space when they move away. This can be difficult for children, so try to explain why a calm introduction is important. Reward your dog with treats and praise for calm behaviour.
Note: Be extra careful when introducing your pet to other dogs. It’s best to do so in a neutral environment, such as a local park with lots of space. Allow your dogs to greet each other in their own time – don’t force interactions.
3. Pay attention to rules and advice provided by the shelter
Some dogs have behavioural issues and while these can be improved through positive training techniques, this takes time and patience. The stress of moving home can also temporarily worsen a dog’s issues.
The shelter should inform you of any behavioural issues your dog has. They may also recommend ways to handle them, including management strategies. It’s vital to take this advice seriously.
If your pet has issues with resource guarding, for example, don’t be tempted to “test” whether you can take away a toy. If you’ve been told that they are defensive around other dogs, don’t invite a friend over with their pet. Ignoring the rescue centre’s advice is a common reason for dogs being returned to the shelter.
4. Delay guests until your dog is more settled
It’s natural to want friends and family to meet your new dog. Many of them will also be desperate to say hello to your new canine companion!
Unfortunately, greeting strangers is a stressful experience for a dog, even if they might appear happy and excited at the time.
For this reason, avoid having guests until your dog is more settled in their new home. This allows the dog time to bond with their new family and learn the routine.
5. Establish a consistent routine
Dogs thrive on consistency and routine. The faster you establish this for your dog, the faster they’ll settle in.
Aside from avoiding guests, you should feed, walk and toilet your dog at roughly the same time each day. Having a consistent time to go to bed and wake up can also help your dog to settle overnight.
6. Always use positive training techniques
It’s important to develop a strong bond with your new dog. Without trust and love, it’s impossible for your pet to settle into their new home.
That’s why positive training is such an important technique. The basic idea is to reward the “desired” behaviour, while ignoring your dog when they do something wrong. Over time, your dog learns which behaviours are rewarding, and you don’t damage the bond you’re building by shouting or scolding.
Management is also essential when training your dog. This involves minimising the opportunities they have to perform unwanted behaviours.
Here are a few examples:
- If your dog barks from the front window at people walking by, use a baby gate to keep them in a different room when you’re not around.
- If your dog likes to chew shoes, put them in a cupboard and provide more appropriate chew toys.
- If your dog tries to take food off the table, put them in their crate (assuming your dog been properly introduced to a crate) or in a different room during meal times.
While this might seem like avoiding the problem, management is a great way to prevent behaviours from becoming habits.
7. Be patient
It can take months for a rescue dog to feel fully settled into their new home, especially if they’ve had negative experiences in the past. Be patient during the settling in period, as becoming frustrated will just make life more difficult for your dog.
It’s also important to remember that all dogs are different. Some might want to explore their new home and investigate their new family members. Others may just want to lay down and sleep. Whatever your dog’s personality, the key is to provide a relaxed, loving and calm environment.
Gaining the trust of a rescue dog requires patience and a lot of love – but it’s worth the effort.
While adopting a rescue dog is an exciting time, it’s important to remember that your new family member is likely to be stressed, anxious and unsettled.
You can help them to settle in by creating a calm and comfortable environment. Treating them with kindness, patience and consistency will also help you build a strong bond and partnership with them.