What to do when you take your rescue dog home
Expert animal behaviourist Mark Vette once taught three SPCA dogs – Monty, Porter and Ginny – how to drive a car to show that rescue dogs are smart dogs. In fact, he has worked closely with rescues for 40 years! Today he shares his tips on how to make your dog’s transition from its rescue organisation to your home as smooth as possible.
If you are planning on adopting a rescue dog, the first thing I must say is thank you. You’re making a wonderful decision – in my experience, no one will love you better than a rescue dog and you can feel great that you’re giving a home to a dog in need.
But it can be a big transition for a dog to go from the home it knows at the rescue organisation to your place, and this is especially true for adult dogs who can be a bit less adaptable than puppies. So here are the things I recommend you do to ensure your relationship with your dog gets off to the best possible start once you take them home. Doing things right the first time will make life a lot easier for both of you!
1. Talk to the rescue organisation
Make sure you talk to your contact at the rescue organisation and ask lots of questions about what they have been doing with your dog, and what your dog’s temperament is like – have they been exposed to kids, other dogs, cats, cars etc? Do they have confidence with new people? Have they shown any fear-based behaviour? Do they have any commands under their belt yet? The more you know about your new family member, the better prepared you will be.
2. Learn about dog behaviour
If this is the first dog you’ve ever owned, I strongly recommend you up-skill yourself on dog behaviour before you take your dog home. This will enable you to understand what your dog is trying to say to you, and how to manage those messages, so that your relationship gets off to the best possible start. My online dog training program, Dog Zen, is one option that will give you the best possible understanding of your dog.
3. Prepare your home
Before you bring your new best friend home, set yourself up with everything you need for your their comfort and training – some essentials are a dog bed, crate, water and food bowls, lead, collar, clicker, toys, training treats and age-appropriate food. Having everything ready and getting your dog into a routine quickly will help it settle in easily to life with you.
4. The car ride
When you’re picking your dog up to take them home, try to make the car ride a positive, non-stressful experience. I recommend taking your clicker and training treats so you can click and reward your dog throughout the process of leaving the rescue organisation and getting into the crate or car. Ensure your dog is safe and secure for the car ride, preferably in a secure crate with soft bedding inside. Drive calmly and carefully to avoid too much bumping around. This will help your dog to be comfortable with riding in the car thereafter – it may not be something they’ve done a lot of since going to the rescue organisation or probably before. If your dog seems uncomfortable, it may help to break the car ride up and do some stops at parks along the way – particularly if you live far away from the rescue organisation.
5. Coming into the house
When you first arrive home, put your dog on a lead and walk them around the property to sniff and get their bearings. Take them to the toileting area first and spend a bit of time there to give your dog a chance to go after being in the car.
When you come inside, do a walk around of the main living area that your dog will spend most time in, then put them in a crate. A crate is a den-like space for a dog – small, warm and enclosed – and it makes them feel safe, which is a good way to start in this new location. The crate should contain a soft, comfortable bed space and a water bowl. If your dog isn’t house trained, any space not covered by the bed should be covered in newspaper and there should be easy access to an external door if possible. Being right next to a dog door that goes out to a secure yard is even better! My Dog Zen online training program teaches house training in more depth; you can check it out here at www.dogzen.com.
6. Introductions to the family
At first, I would suggest you bring your dog into a quiet household to enable them to get used to the new situation before being introduced to the rest of the family – particularly if you have kids and they didn’t meet at the SPCA, as they can be a bit unpredictable and scary to a dog that is in a new situation. Introduce family members one at a time, and ask each person to exhibit non-threatening behaviour. This means they should crouch down, turn slightly sideways, they should not stare and they should call the dog to them rather than approaching it full on, using a clicker and treats throughout the meet and greet. When the dog approaches, patting it under the chin and on the chest area is best to begin with. Your dog may be immediately comfortable with the whole family, but every dog is different and some need to take it a bit more slowly, so start gently just in case. Click and reward your dog as it meets each new family member, and ask the family members to give the dog treats too.
7. Introducing other pets
If you have other pets in your house, you also want to ensure these relationships get off to a good start!
When introducing your new dog to other dogs, ideally start by encouraging an ‘inguinal greet’. This is the dog’s version of a handshake, and involves the dogs sniffing each others groin and backside areas. You want to present your current dog’s backside to your new family member – do this by holding your dog between your legs with its back end facing the new dog. Once the new dog has sniffed the area, let your current dog turn around and sniff your new dog too. Click and reward both dogs continuously throughout this process to establish a positive association. Be aware when you’re feeding both dogs for the first time that there aren’t any issues – you should separate them for dinner until you’re sure they’ll be alright together. Also ensure that life stays as consistent as possible for your existing dog – make sure you give both dogs equal attention.
If you have a cat, first make sure you ask the rescue organisation staff about your dog’s sociability with cats. Either way, I recommend you start by putting your cat in a crate in a living area. Bring your new dog into the room, and click and reward it for calm and nice behaviour. Let your dog sniff around the cat’s crate, continuing to click and reward it. When you feel both animals are comfortable, you can let your cat out of the crate (but keep your dog on the lead initially) and continue to click and reward. Be careful handling the cat as it may be scared and possibly become aggressive to you too.
Check with the rescue organisation what food they were feeding your dog before you adopted them. If you don’t plan on feeding the same brand, slowly swap out the old food with the new food over a couple of weeks. Start by mixing 20% new food with 80% old food for a few days, then gradually increase the amount of new food and decrease the amount of old food. This will help to prevent any tummy upsets from a changing diet! They will do best staying on the diet they had at the rescue organisation for at least a while.
9. Start training from Day 1
From the moment you bring your dog into your home, you should begin positive reinforcement training – this means rewarding your dog for behaviour you want to see, either using a clicker to click and reward your dog, or with praise and pats. It’s tempting to let your new dog do whatever it wants in the first few days because you want to lavish it with love, but it’s easier and less stressful for everyone if you make the house rules and boundaries clear from the get-go. If you don’t want your dog to sleep on your bed, never let them on your bed. If you don’t want your dog to jump on you or anyone else, don’t reward them for jumping on you by patting them when they do and do click and reward them when all their feet are on the ground. If you want your dog to go and lie quietly on its mat, reward it when it does this. Using a clicker to click and reward positive behaviour will make training heaps faster and more effective – I highly recommend you get one! You can also use the clicker to teach your dogs all of the essential basic commands (if they don’t already know them) – come, heel, stay, sit, down, wait etc.
Remember that positive training helps to build a strong bond between you and your dog – it’s engaging, stimulating and fun for your dog to do training in which they’re rewarded with yummy treats! Also, when your dog learns that you are a source of all the good things in life, they will be attentive to you and look to you for direction.
10. Set up a routine
As quickly as you can, set up a routine for your dog of playtime, feeding, exercise, relaxed time etc. Don’t spend every waking minute with your dog, as this can cause separation distress – leave your dog alone for periods of time, maybe just 15 minutes at first, then an hour, then go out for a few hours, etc. This will help your dog feel comfortable when you are away. You may also like to invite people round to your house to meet your dog in the early days, to enable your dog to become accustomed to having new people coming into the house.
11. Be patient
Remember that your dog may have been through some significant changes in its life. It may have been in unpleasant and unloving circumstances before it went to the rescue organisation. We aren’t perfect and neither are our dogs, so be patient with them, allow them to make mistakes, and give them heaps of love and attention for desired behaviours. They will certainly love you back wholeheartedly!
All the best with your new family member!