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Adopting a Rescue Dog: The First 7 Days

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When adopting a rescue dog, the first 7 days is often the most important time when building your relationship with your new furry friend.

It’s such an exciting time adopting a new dog! 

You picture all the fun you’ll have together: taking walks, playing fetch, and just snuggling on the couch together.

But you have to remember that the new dog will be confused and stressed from being transferred from place to place.

Adopting a Rescue Dog - White Dog wearing an adopt me bandana

He may have been a stray, in a home, in a shelter, or in a rescue.

He may have had many changes in his life and will need time to settle in with you.

The first week is crucial to the new relationship with your dog.

I’ve had many rescue dogs over the years. They’ve been some of the best dogs I’ve ever had (of course, I love all my dogs). 

But it’s especially rewarding to help a dog be the exceptional canine he was meant to be.

Preparation Is Important

If you’re planning to adopt a dog, it’s important to prepare for him. That way, the environment won’t be more stressful than it has to be.

There’s so much to do when a new dog’s coming home. 

The rooms he’ll have access to must be safe. Even if he’s an adult dog, I recommend “puppy-proofing” them.

Your new addition will be stressed when you take him home. Stressed dogs may get into things and chew them because of anxiety.

So remove items that may be tempting and put them out of his reach. This can include the television remote, shoes, knick-knacks, and the like.

But have safe toys that he can have such as an Extreme Kong. I have a few ready, stuffed with pate moist dog food and frozen.

Also walk your property to make sure there’s nothing dangerous to him. And, if it’s fenced, make sure there are no areas where he can escape.

Have dishes, treats, and food ready. 

I recommend continuing the food that he’s been eating for at least a few weeks so that he doesn’t get diarrhea. You can always change the food later.

I also recommend having an appropriately sized crate too. And a bed. And maybe an exercise pen if your dog isn’t used to a crate yet. Or even a baby gate to block him into a “safe room” if that’s how he’ll be left alone.

Over time, you can teach your dog how to be crated. But I would wait until the pup has adjusted to your home first.

Depending where you adopt him from, you may also need a leash and collar.

Have his area set up prior to his arrival.

If you’ve had other dogs, you may already have these items. Or a friend may give you theirs. 

Make sure to clean them first so that the prior dog’s scent isn’t on them.

And don’t forget an odor neutralizer to clean up any accidents. I like Rocco & Roxie’s Stain and Odor Remover, which comes in various formulas for different surfaces.

Also, have him checked out in the first couple of days by a veterinarian so that you can determine whether she sees any health issues. The vet will probably want to check a stool sample for internal parasites.

Chill Out

Your new dog will probably be overwhelmed coming into your house. There are so many new sights, sounds, and scents.

We all want to show off our new furry baby. But that can wait.

When I get a new dog, I want my friends to see him. But I’ll hold off for at least a few days–and sometimes weeks–depending on the dog and how I see him adapt.

Each dog’s unique.

Some of my rescues really acted like they lived with me forever, whereas some took many weeks to settle in.

Let Your New Dog Decompress

Don’t force him into new situations too quickly.  Set up an area away from family activity so that he can chill out.

Have any children ignore him and give him space. Keep him separate from your dogs or cats for the first day or so.

I realize that the new dog may have met them prior to adoption. But it’s different when he comes to live in their home.

Keep his first day uneventful. Just do what’s necessary.

You can keep him on a leash near you so that you’ll have some control to take him outside  and walk him.

Take him out to potty. Feed him. Just the essentials.

Don’t force attention on him. Let him observe you and come to you.

If he’s used to walks and seems friendly and wants to take a short walk, do so. But it’s really important that his collar or harness fits him and he can’t escape.

PRO-TRAINER TIP: Don’t take your new dog outside without him being on a leash. Some dogs can even escape from a fenced yard. Until he feels safe, he may try to flee out of stress.

It’s also crucial that his collar or harness fits and that he can’t slip out of them. Some dogs are the canine equivalent of Houdini. I recommend a well-fitted Martingale collar on a leash and a second leash with a harness at first. Dogs can’t back out of a Martingale collar.

Read Your Dog

I don’t mean like a book. But watch his body language. 

Doing so will help your bond and understand him better.

Watch out for stress signs or signs of fearfulness, like: drooling, whale eye (where the whites of his eyes show), tucked tail, ears pulled back, lip licking, hiding under furniture, dandruff or excess hair shedding, shaking/trembling, or whining.

Your new addition may show some of these signs the first day or even longer until he feels more comfortable.

If the pup shows excessive fearfulness for a longer period, get professional help from a canine behavior specialist. 

What’s Normal and What’s Not

Of course your new dog will take time to get used to his new environment.

But there are some things you should look for to determine whether he’s doing well.

Of course, when you show him on leash around his new home, show him where his food will be. And show him a readily accessible water bowl in the area of your home where he’ll be.

Eating and Drinking

The first couple of days, your new rescued dog may not want to eat. He’s probably stressed, and some dogs who are stressed won’t eat.

If he doesn’t eat for more than two days, I recommend taking him to the vet to be sure that there isn’t a physical problem.

Make sure that he’s drinking water, though, so that he doesn’t become dehydrated.

Behavioral Concerns

During the first few days or week, your new dog may have certain behaviors that will concern you.

Remember that he’s probably very stressed and might adapt over time.

He may bark at you or at other new people and things. Redirect him to something else that’s appropriate, like a stuffed Extreme Kong, or avoid being touched.

He may show excessive fear and may whine and urinate when you approach, 

He may try to chew on furniture or other inappropriate items. So don’t give him too much freedom too soon. And puppy proof the area he’ll be confined to.

Remember: he probably has some doggy behavioral baggage. But it might be a light suitcase.

Medical Concerns

Within the first couple of days, have your vet examine your new dog. But you may also have some concerns regarding his health,

If he has diarrhea, it may be caused by stress if his diet is the same one he had prior to adoption’

I recommend a vet visit because dogs may dehydrate from diarrhea.

If anything else seems amiss, such as sluggishness or other concerns, of course a vet visit is also in order.

PRO-TRAINER TIP: If your dog’s behaviors seem excessive to you or if, within the first week he shows any aggression (including growling, lunging, air snapping, or biting), get immediate professional help from a behaviorist who has experience with such issues.

The First Day and Night

The first day and night home for a new dog or puppy can be a difficult one.

Of course, take him out to potty as soon as you get home. If he doesn’t go to the bathroom, keep him on a leash with you and keep taking him out to go.

One of my rescues, an adult sheltie named Lady, needed many times out to potty before she felt comfortable to do so–even though she had to go badly.

Take him on a leashed tour of your house. Just the areas he’ll live in at first. Show him where his food and water will be. And where his bed and crate are.

You want to make your new addition comfortable and feel safe. So put a crate in your bedroom for nighttime.

If he’s used to a crate, that’s great. Make sure that the crate is big enough for him to stand up in, turn around in, and lie down in.

If he’s still growing, get a crate with a divider that you can move as he grows.

You can leave a crate with the door open in the main room he’ll be in with you for the first week.  It can be his safe space, with a bed and a stuffed Extreme Kong.

Take him on leash out to potty and for a short walk if he’s used to walks. The rescue or shelter (or private owner) should be able to give you this information.

I advise taking him out to potty just as you would a young puppy. Even if he was house trained before, he’ll need a refresher in a new environment.

Use a potty phrase (“go potty” or “quickly”) and praise and reward immediately after he’s pottied.

He’ll meet other family members during the next week.

The first night will probably be difficult. You newcomer may whine and cry in his crate or exercise pen. 

Settle him in his crate (if he’s used to one) or exercise pen in your bedroom. 

Give him a safe stuffed Extreme Kong

PRO-TRAINER TIP: Have a few Extreme Kongs stuffed with some mashed dog food that have been frozen. These will keep him busy and will show him that positive things happen in those settings.

The Second Day

Of course, the schedule I suggest is just that: a suggestion. Each dog’s an individual. 

But even with the friendliest, outgoing dogs, you don’t want to flood them with too many experiences too soon.

If they’re exposed too quickly to everything, they may not behave as well as they would if a systematic approach were used.

If you can take him on a walk first, I’d do so to set him up to succeed. Make sure he’s pottied first thing in the morning.

Feed him and make sure that he drinks water. Then potty him again.

Some dogs may want to explore their new home, whereas others may just watch their surroundings.

Give him attention slowly, on his own terms. You can use treats to have him have a positive association with you.

PRO-TRAINER TIP: Use high-value treats with your new pup, so that he’ll have a great association with you. You want to make sure that the treats agree with him so that he doesn’t get diarrhea or a stomach upset. Boiled chicken (as long as he doesn’t have a chicken allergy) or freeze-dried liver may fit the bill, as they are a single ingredient unlikely to upset him. Make sure you give him pea-sized treats, not large ones, each time.

So when he approaches you, give him a treat and tell him in a mild but happy voice what a good boy he is. If he at first doesn’t come too close, gently toss him a few treats.

Depending on how your new dog is doing, you can introduce him off your property on neutral ground to your existing dog.

Have another handler (presumably another family member or friend your current dog knows and likes) walk your current dog.

Walk them about 10 feet apart parallel to each other.

Assuming they met prior to the adoption and got along, after a while when they’ve settled down, have them meet on leash for a few seconds. Then walk apart again. 

Do this a few times, letting them meet for longer times as long as the meetings are successful.

Over the next week, they can take longer walks and meet more often. If things are going well, you can then have them meet in the same way on your property.

And, as long as they’re getting along, you can have them meet inside on a loose leash. Then, as long as they’re friendly to each other, have the leashes drag should you need to redirect them. 

PRO-TRAINER TIP: Don’t leave any valuable items out that either may guard while they’re together. So no food, chews, treats, or toys should around when you have them meet and get to know each other.

If there are problems such as aggression between the two dogs, I recommend getting the help of a positive reinforcement behaviorist. And, of course, keep them apart.

Days Three Through Seven

There are some measures you’ll want to take to ensure the smoothest transition for your new family member.

Create a Routine

A routine is important for all dogs. They learn what’s expected of them and gain confidence in their environment.

Take it slowly. But have regular times for feedings, walks, play, pottying, training, and just relaxing and getting to know each other.

Exercise will help him be less stressed and, as long as he likes walks, will help him bond with you.

As long as he doesn’t guard toys and likes to play with them, play fetch. Of course, do this without your other dog present.

The amount of and type of exercise you provide will depend on his age, health, and breed(s).

Expose Him to Everyday Life Slowly

You may not know much about your new dog’s background. So take it slowly. As he’s able to handle it, expose him to the TV, to the dishwasher, to stairs, and to cars and bikes passing by.

If he’s too scared, go back a step to where he was successful. For example, he may be able to be near the dishwasher at 20 feet away but not at five feet.

Set Limits and Boundaries

Don’t feel bad for doing this. It’s for your dog’s safety and not to have him develop unwanted behaviors.

Of course, as I’ve discussed above, block him off in a section of your house that’s been “puppy-proofed” and where you can watch him.

Since you can see him, have a leash dragging if you need to redirect him away from or to something. 

Praise and reward when he engages in desired behavior like being calm, investigating his environment, or trying to engage with you.

Resist the Urge To Spoil Him

I know it’s hard not to give in to those pleading puppy dog eyes. But don’t.

If he likes cuddling, fine. That can increase your bond. But constantly cuddling him can set him up for problems. 

When you see that he’s confident and wants to, call him over to you to be petted. And praise and reward that behavior..

If he gets constant attention though, he may develop separation anxiety. Or he may not listen when you don’t want to or can’t give him attention.

Give him praise and treats when he’s earned them. 

Introductions to Others

Give him a couple of days. But introduce him to the people he’ll be living with.

As you did when you greeted him, make it a positive experience. Don’t have them rush him. 

Instead, have them come into the room (or already be in the room) calmly, sitting down. If he’s a shy dog, they shouldn’t stare at him.

Have them give him treats or gently toss them to him.

Depending on his progress, you can introduce him towards the end of the week to a friend or two. But don’t introduce him to a crowd of people.

Over the weeks to come, he can meet neighbors and other friends if they listen to you to do so in a non-confrontational, positive manner.

Out of Sight, But Not Out of Mind

After he’s been with you for a few days, you have to get him used to being away from you.

Velcro dogs are more likely to develop separation anxiety’

So leave him for a short time in a safe area like a crate if he’s used to a crate. If he’s not, I would get him used to one over time.

You can leave him in an appropriately sized exercise pen. Or a safe room where he can’t get into trouble.

Patience Is Key

There’s so much to do when any dog joins the family. I understand that it can be overwhelming at times.

But take a step back and think of the small successes–the “puppy steps”–you make. And remember the reward at the end: a great dog who’s your best buddy.

Expect Accidents and Some Setbacks

There will probably be some potty accidents even if he was house trained in his prior setting.

Just clean it up with an odor neutralizer. And take him outside to his potty spot more often.

Begin Some Basic Training

As long as your pup seems to trust you and doesn’t exhibit any behavioral or health concerns, start teaching some basic commands like sit.

It will help your bond and establish some rules.

Final Thoughts

Adopting a new dog may be one of the most rewarding things you ever do.

But take things slowly. Move at the dog’s pace. Don’t overwhelm him.

With patience, you’ll probably have one of the greatest dogs you’ll ever have.

Did you adopt your dog?

How were the first 7 days.

Tell us about your experiences in the comment section below.

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Adopting A Rescue Dog: The First 7 Days - White Dog wearing an adopt me bandana

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