Taking in a rescue dog is a challenging, yet rewarding experience. Rescue dogs may bring with them a little baggage. It’s possible they were neglected or abused. Even if not, the change in circumstances can make them a little uneasy. With patience and kindness, you can help your new dog thrive in his new home.
Position the bed in an area that provides respite from the noise and foot traffic of your home. Under the stairs or in a faraway corner are good options.
Close the door to any out-of-bounds rooms, such as bedrooms and garages. This sets out the rule from day one that he mustn't enter these rooms. This approach is preferable to giving him free reign at the start, only to then have to teach him not to enter certain rooms.
Leash the dog and walk him around the house. Let him explore at his own pace and get used to the new sights and smells.
Observe the dog as he investigates his new environment.
Introduce him to short periods of solitude. Many dogs are anxious if left alone and will howl or bark. By giving him periods of five to 10 minutes alone, you show him that solitude is never permanent, and at the end, he is always reunited with you. Give him a treat when you shut him away, so he associates the brief periods of isolation with a positive stimulus.
Note down any stimuli that cause anxiety, fear or aggression. These may include other dogs, sound, newspapers, men, women, children or cats. It’s often difficult to get information on a rescue dog’s background, but if he has been neglected or badly treated in the past, you can usually spot the signs by watching how he behaves. For example, if he flinches when you pick up a newspaper, it’s a sign he may have been hit with one in the past. If he shows fear toward any particular object or person, slowly introduce him to that source of fear while on the leash. Reward him for remaining calm and walk him away if he becomes anxious or distressed. Over time, he’ll learn that there’s nothing to be afraid of.
Observe his toilet routine. Take note of the time it takes between waking, eating, drinking and needing the toilet. Ensure that he is taken outside in plenty of time to relieve himself.
Give a food treat and verbal praise for correct toilet behavior.
Distract him if you think he is about to eliminate in the house. Call his name and calmly encourage him outside. Be very patient and never scold or strike the dog. Whatever age he is, if he hasn’t been housebroken, he simply doesn’t know any better.
Introduce your new dog to other pets and visitors to the house in phases. Leash him for the first introduction and always leave a door open so he can see an escape route.
Allow him to investigate new people and pets. If he becomes too excited, gently tug on the leash and say “no.” Praise him when he becomes calm. If he becomes anxious, calmly walk him away. By remaining calm yourself, you demonstrate that there is no need for alarm. Your dog will look to you for guidance and observe how to react to different stimuli. If he becomes aggressive, restrain him with the leash and walk him away from the target of the aggression and wait for him to calm down. Only when he's calm should you start to interact with him again.
Unleash the dog and allow him to interact freely with people and pets only when you are confident you can control his behavior verbally. Limit the free interaction period to no more than 10 minutes at a time. Use the “no” command to reign him in if necessary. For dogs with serious aggression or anxiety issues, it may be appropriate to keep on a long leash, rather than completely unleashing him. This gives him a degree of freedom, while enabling you to retain ultimate control of his movement.
Watch out for signs of trouble. If your dog begins to growl, positions his tail between his legs or folds back his ears, these gestures may indicate that he feels threatened and is warning the dog or person to step back. If this happens, issue a corrective command, such as "no," and gently guide your dog away using the leash. Take account of your dog's likely behaviors based on breed. Guardian breeds such as Rottweilers and Akitas are more likely to be territorial, for example. Terriers are more likely to react tenaciously if provoked.
- Always be tolerant and understanding of your dog's needs, but don't pander to him. Dogs are resilient and adaptable, so he'll get used to his new environment quickly. Any naughtiness should be corrected calmly and kindly, and positive behavior rewarded with praise and treats, as you would with a non-rescue dog, but with some consideration of possible abuse or neglect issues.
Simon Foden has been a freelance writer and editor since 1999. He began his writing career after graduating with a Bachelors of Arts degree in music from Salford University. He has contributed to and written for various magazines including "K9 Magazine" and "Pet Friendly Magazine." He has also written for Dogmagazine.net.