How to welcome a rescue dog

Ways to Welcome A New Rescue Dog by Kate Senisi,

New puppy and cat training together

Adopted dogs can make wonderful lifelong companions. But whenever you’re bringing a dog with an unknown history into your home, there’s always some risk involved. Here are some tips to help your new dog acclimate to his new—and wonderful—home!

1. Create a “doggie-proof” space
It seems counter-intuitive to us humans, but a small space can often make a dog feel more comfortable than a large one. The less space a dog has to worry about at first, the easier it will be for him to settle in. Using a crate or a baby gate, create a safe space that is “dog-proofed”; it should be adequately secured and contain nothing on which a dog could choke. Once your dog has settled into the smaller space, you can gradually increase access to other parts of you home. Make the small space a happy spot: Get some extra special treats (like cheese or turkey) and toss it into the area, praising your dog for going in on his own. Close the door and feed another treat and practice this several times before leaving the dog alone.

2. Allow 24-72 hours of “recovery” time
Visits from new people, introductions to other pets, and trips to new places can be stressful for a dog who has just come out of a shelter. It’s a good idea to let a rescued dog acclimate slowly to a new environment – especially if the dog appears shy around strangers or your other animals. These first few hours are a good moment to bond with your dog by playing mentally enriching games or taking part in some rounds of fetch or tug. During this time period, make your home a fun but low-key place.

3. Introduce new things in small doses
If you already have a dog, you can introduce them by having another person walk your old on leash at a safe distance away from you and the new dog. The two dogs should not be facing head on; an ideal setup is to have them start off by walking side-by-side on opposite sides of the street. Reward each dog with something they like whenever they are politely leash walking in the presence of the other dog. Avoid dog parks until you have gathered a lot of information about how your dog interacts with other dogs one-on-one. You can introduce new people to the dog by having them ignore him (no direct eye contact, no touching) while tossing some treats towards him. If your dog approaches the person and has loose, wiggly body language, that’s a sign he will likely be okay with the stranger gently handling him. If the dog is hesitant at all, do not have strangers touch or handle him. A fearful dog can easily realize that they need to become aggressive to get strangers to go away.

4. Create a predictable schedule
Most dogs love a routine—especially in a new environment—and creating one will help them settle in quickly. This could mean feeding/walking your dog around the same time each day and even taking the same route on leash-walks for the first few weeks to allow your new dog to slowly acclimate to his neighborhood.

5. Prevent aggressive behaviors by making positive associations
New rescue dogs often take two or three months to settle into a new home. During this period it’s important to build positive associations and reward the behaviors you like. Any time you use a clicker or a marker word to capture a good behavior, you’re increasing the probability of the dog offering one of these behaviors up on his own in the future. Behaviors to reward include: meeting a new stranger, not barking at the doorbell, not jumping up on a new friend, sitting, laying down, responding to name, etc. Anything you like, reward it! You can reward good behaviors with your dog’s regular food or with healthy treats like plain, boiled chicken, cheese, sodium-free deli meats or a favorite toy.

6. Don’t use force when attempting basic training
Using force or physical manipulation with a dog is the easiest way to get bitten and to teach the dog that the environment is unpredictable. A dog who bites is likely to bite again because the behavior “works” (it got you to stop touching him or to go away!) Instilling trust through training requires patience and motivating the dog using some kind of reward – whether it be food, a toy or access to anything else you discover the dog really likes.

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