5 Mistakes New Rescue Dog Owners Make

I have trained a walked a number of rescue dogs in my day. I also live with one of my own, and a foster dog from China. Over the years I see some consistent problems crop up with regards to owners and their new rescue dogs. Some of these mistakes can make the settling-in process more stressful then it needs to be.

If you’re looking to adopt a dog, take note of these common mistakes, so that you can avoid them, and ensure that your new dog’s transition to ‘pet' life’ is as smooth as possible.

  1. Treating it like a ‘pet’ dog

With many rescue dogs, it’s impossible to truly know their life experiences. Of course, there are exceptions to this, but for most rescue dogs, their background and experiences are completely unknown. When bringing home a rescue dog it’s best to assume that they have never been a ‘pet’ dog before. What I mean by this is that they may not have lived in a home, with a loving and supportive family. As animals who prefer consistency, this lack of stability can often lead to behavioural issues that we encounter when the dog comes into our home.

When bringing your new rescue dog home it’s important to have patience. Assume your new dog has never lived in a home before, and be prepared to show them the ropes when it comes to housetraining and the rules of the home. Tread softly in the beginning, to make sure that you’re not triggering your dog to react in a way that would be harmful to you and the rest of your family. Your new dog will quickly become a ‘pet’ dog one he settles into his new environment, but in the meantime, be as patient as possible to allow him to settle-in.

2. Neglecting to consider additional costs

The medical background of most rescue dogs is relatively unknown. Often times, when adopting from a shelter, a vet will have checked the animal thoroughly before it is cleared to go to your home, but you still can’t possibly know the medical history of his entire life. He may have a chronic condition that was not present a the time of the vet inspection that could resurface later on.

So, when adopting a new dog, prepare yourself for extra medical costs, should unknown medical condition arise.

3. Assuming the dog will settle-in overnight

Many rescue dogs have spent their time moving back and forth between foster homes and shelters, which makes for a very inconsistent life. When your new dog comes to live with you, he will be in an environment that he doesn’t know, which people that are foreign to him, so don’t be offended if he doesn’t settle-in overnight.

With many rescue dogs it can take up to three months for him to settle-in and begin showing his true colors. This doesn’t mean that you’ve chosen a ‘difficult’ dog, it just means that he needs a bit more time. Dogs love routine, so if you set up a consistent routine in your home right from the start, he will become comfortable with you before you know it.

Start by showing your dog where he is meant to sleep at night, committing to a routine feeding and walk schedule, and giving him lots of love and support to build a bond that will allow him to show his true personality.

4. Flooding the dog with new experiences

When we first bring our rescue dog home, we’re often very eager to begin our new lives with our dog. Our first thought is to introduce our dog to our friends and family, and take him to all of the places that we love. However, rushing into these new meetings can be overwhelming for our new dog, and it can actually hinder his settling-in process.

Many rescue dogs have lots of experience moving around to home to home, and shelter to shelter. Dogs crave consistency in their life, it’s how they begin to feel safe and secure. In order to relieve our new dogs anxiety we need to allow him the time he needs to settle, and develop a bond with us before we introduce him to new things that may be scary and exciting. By taking the time to develop a bond with your new dog, he’ll feel more comfortable tackling these new experiences, because he’ll know that you’re there to support him.

5. Starting the training late

As I mentioned before, dogs love it when their life is consistent. It gives him something to hold onto during a time of change. Many people will wait to begin training until the dog settles-in, and this is a mistake. Training builds confidence in a dog and allows him to develop a bond with you.

Training doesn’t always have to be in the form of ‘shake a paw’. When I say training I mean anything from housetraining to showing your dog where to sleep. Rewarding your new dog often with treats and praise will boost your dogs confidence and allow him to feel more settled in your home.

Django’s Story

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As a dog that was rescued from an abusive situation, Django had a difficult time settling into my home. One thing that the rescue did not mention to me is that he was utterly afraid of stairs, which was a problem considering that there were stairs leading to my apartment. Due to his fear, he spent the first three weeks in my home essentially living at the top of the landing, too afraid to venture down into the main part of my house.

What I had to figure out was the root of his fear. Did something negative happen to him around a staircase? Or had he just never seen stairs before? After three weeks of gently encouraging him with food and praise, we finally got him to go up and down the stairs confidently. It took us another month or so to get him to the point that he felt comfortable enough around us to cuddle and play.

Now, two years after adoption, you would never be able to tell that he was abused and neglected. He has completely settled into his life as a ‘pet’ dog, but it’s been a long road to get here. Patience and love will be your best friends when bringing home your new rescue dog, so get comfortable with them!