Getting a new rescue dog can both be a very exciting and scary time; this may be your first ever dog, or you may be wanting to introduce a dog to your existing family. Dogs end up in rescue centres for a variety of different reasons, including the dog having behavioural problems, the dog needing more attention than the owners could provide, house moves, relationship break-ups and the dog not getting on with other animals in the home.
Unfortunately, many dogs end up staying in rescue centres for a long time, and rescue centres can be very stressful environments for dogs. Because of this, it is considered an ethical choice by many to choose a rescue dog rather than buying a puppy. Despite this, rescue dogs can come with their problems, and careful consideration needs to be placed on choosing a suitable dog rather than the most visibly appealing one.
Before looking for a new dog, the most important thing is to evaluate your reasons for getting one.
Several things you need to think about include:
Some people feel that they need to acquire a new dog to keep their existing dog entertained or to provide them with company. They may also think that an additional dog will help solve the existing dog’s behavioural concerns. If your main reason for acquiring a new dog is similar to these, then it is probably best not to get a new dog right now. This is because a new dog may not help with your existing dog’s behavioural concerns or provide your dog with company. Instead, it could potentially make the situation more problematic, and you could end up with two dogs with behavioural issues instead. That being said, in certain situations it is fine to acquire a new dog even if your existing dog has certain behavioural concerns, but make sure that you are acquiring a new dog because it is truly what you want.
What is your current lifestyle? Will you have enough time in the day to entertain and exercise your dog? If not, will you be able to afford to pay a dog sitter or dog walker?
Are you planning on having children in the near future, moving house, changing routines or going on holiday? If so, then right now may not be the best time to get a new dog; rescue dogs need a lot of time to settle in and establish a routine. If you need to go away or if there’s going to be a major change in your environment soon after bringing a dog home, then this could add unnecessary stress for your dog and disrupt their ability to acclimatise to their new environment.
What type, size, breed and age of dog will suit your lifestyle? For example, if you live in a small flat then a large breed such as a German Shepherd may not be suitable because of the lack of space. If you are unable to provide a large quantity of exercise for a dog then a young Border Collie may not be suitable, because this breed requires a lot of exercise and mental stimulation. If you want a dog who doesn’t need too much physical exercise, then an older dog may be more suited to you, for example. Make sure to do some research on what breeds, ages, and sizes of dogs that would suit you most.
Think about what other animals you own; if you have cats or other small animals then will you be able to effectively keep a dog separate from them if needed? If you do own other animals, then it would be a good idea to check with the rescue centre which dogs have lived with these animals previously. For example, if a dog has never lived with cats before then it may take a long time to get them used to a cat, and may require a lot of separation at first. Rescue centres often make their own assessments and stipulate whether specific dogs can be rehomed with other animals or not.
Think about what behavioural issues you definitely won’t be able to manage. For example, if no one is home every single day, then it would be unwise to rescue a dog with a history of separation related behaviour. If you live in a busy town or city, then acquiring a dog with noise sensitivities or reactivity to people, dogs or traffic would be a bad idea.
If you already have one or more dogs at home, think about whether they would adapt to having a new dog in the home. Would all the dogs be able to have enough space for themselves? Do the existing dogs get on with other dogs? Do your current dogs have a history of aggression towards other dogs, or do they display resource guarding behaviours towards other dogs or people? Some dogs are much better suited to being the only dogs in the home, and don’t particularly like or get on well with other dogs. If your dog has a history of aggression towards other dogs or tends to avoid them, then an additional dog may not be suitable. It’s always a good idea to gradually introduce your current dog to a rescue dog whilst they are still at the rescue centre before adopting them.
To summarise, it is extremely important that before you acquire a new rescue dog you do a lot of research and evaluate whether you can provide a suitable home for a dog, and most importantly, what type of dog would be suited to you. When looking for dogs, make sure to ask the rescue centre lots of questions, and work with them by asking them which dogs they think would be suitable for you. Many people choose dogs on impulse because they look cute or are in a desperate need to be rehomed. However, it would be unwise to acquire a dog without much consideration, because you may end up having too many difficulties with the dog in future.
Once you have found a dog you think would be suitable, make sure to visit the dog at the rescue centre as many times as possible before adopting it. This gives you time to get to know the dog and create a bond. If you have one or more dogs at home, make sure to introduce your dog/s to the rescue dog by taking them for walks together several times before making the decision to take the rescue dog home. This gives you enough time to evaluate how the dogs get along and whether they would be suited to each other.
Many rescue centres allow you to have a trial period with your new rescue dog. This is to give you time to see whether your new dog is suitable for you and whether it will get along with all animals and members of your family. It would be wise to choose a rescue that will allow for this; many rehomed dogs get re-relinquished into rescue from the adopter because the dog does not turn out to be suitable for their lifestyle.
Bringing your new rescue dog home
When bringing your new dog home, make sure you have a suitable vehicle with an area suitable for appropriate restraint. Rule 57 of the Highway Code states that “When in a vehicle, make sure dogs or other animals are suitably restrained so they cannot distract you while you are driving or injure you, or themselves, if you stop quickly. A seat belt harness, pet carrier, dog cage or dog guard are ways of restraining animals in cars.”
Moreover, you will not know how your new rescue dog will react to being in a car or how easy they will be able to control when getting it out of the car. Because of this, it would be irresponsible to not have your dog appropriately and safely restrained. If you use a dog seat belt, make sure that it is attached to a car harness rather than to the collar; if your dog falls over or jerks in the car then this could cause damage to their neck if they are attached by the collar.
If you are using a crate, make sure that it is large enough; your dog needs enough room to turn around and stand up. The crate will also need to be safely secured so that it won’t move or slide around. Also, if you are travelling a long distance from the rescue to your home, make sure to take breaks to allow your dog to toilet and have a drink of water.
Adapting the home environment for your new dog
Make sure to have the environment set up in plenty of time before your new dog arrives. For example, it is a very good idea to create a safe space somewhere in your house. This should be somewhere out of the way of busy thoroughfare (such as hallways) but also not too far away from living areas. Dogs are social creatures and generally like to be in the company of others. However, your dog also needs their own space to retreat to if needed. Crates make really good safe spaces, with comfortable bedding and a duvet or blanket to cover it, along with plenty of toys inside. However, if your dog is not already crate trained then you will need to take the time to introduce the crate gradually and encourage your dog to develop positive emotions associated with the crate. Alternatives to crates include a comfy, sectioned-off area of the living room, the cupboard under the stairs, or a separate room with a comfortable resting area.
If you own one or more other dogs, or own other animals such as cats, then it would be a good idea to prepare separate areas for your current animals and your new dog; introducing a new dog to your current animals may cause them a lot of stress if rushed. Long-lasting positive relationships are much more likely to be developed if your animals have time to be introduced gradually, rather than allowing each other free access straight away. Because of this, it may be necessary to create separate areas using baby gates or keeping animals in separate rooms to begin with. Also, if you already have a dog/ dogs, then make sure that there are separate safe spaces for each dog. Make these changes to your home environment a few weeks before acquiring your new dog to give your current animals time to adapt to the changes.
Another important consideration is how your new dog will behave when introduced to your home. A safe space will be very useful if your dog will be fearful or anxious so that they have a place to go and hide. On the other hand, the new dog may be very over-excited and may find it hard to settle straight away. Be prepared for this scenario by ensuring there are no objects that your dog can knock over and break. You may need to temporarily move things around or remove certain objects from a dog’s reach.
Other things to consider before bringing your dog home include:
Pet insurance - this will help cover the cost of certain veterinary procedures or emergencies.
Registering your new dog with a vet.
Ensuring you have the correct equipment (e.g. a lead, collar, harness). Front-attachment harnesses are good for dogs who pull because they allow for more control, and double ended leads allow for two points of contact on your dog for additional control.
Registering your dog’s microchip with your information - the rescue centre or vet should be able to help you with this. This is important because it is UK law for dogs to be microchipped.
Identification tag to attach to your dog’s collar. The ‘Control of Dogs Order 1992’ states that any dog in a public place must wear a collar with the name and address (including postcode) of the owner engraved or written on it, or engraved on a tag.
Appropriate complete food - the type of food you use will depend on your dog’s age and any medical problems. The rescue centre should give you advice on this, and should give you some of your dog’s existing food so that you can gradually wean your dog off this food and onto the food that you have chosen; dogs can get upset tummies if they transition from one type of food to another straight away. Also, make sure that the type of food is called a ‘complete’ food so that your dog will get a correct balance of nutrients.
Introducing your dog to your home
There is no set time-frame that it takes for dogs to settle into a new home environment, as all dogs are different. Some dogs will take a lot longer than others because of their previous experiences. For example, a traumatised dog from an abusive or sheltered past will probably take a lot longer than a really well socialised dog from a previous positive environment. It would be wise to not set your expectations too high or expect your dog to settle in by a certain point. Keep a dairy and monitor your dog’s progress daily.
Upon arrival, ensure that any other animals are kept separate from your new dog and have had their needs taken care of. Take your new dog out for a toilet break, show them where their food and water is, and then take them to their safe space. Leave them alone to start with, and don’t approach them unless they approach you first. Make sure that everyone in the house understands the rule and doesn't overcrowd your new dog.
At this stage, don’t worry about walks, introducing your dog to friends or family, training or socialisation; give your dog several days before doing anything new with them. Also, make sure to not leave your dog alone in the house for the first week or so, as this may cause them unnecessary stress. At this point, cameras are useful so that you can observe your dog when they are in a separate area of the house to you. This will allow you to observe their behaviour and see how they’re settling in without you being present.
Your priorities during the first few weeks should be on building a trusting positive relationship between yourself and your dog, and not on potentially stressful situations such as visitors coming round, going out in the car, training sessions etc. Scent work activities and slow, gentle walks are good low-energy stimulating activities. Start establishing daily routines, as this will help manage your dog’s expectations and reduce anxiety. Additionally, establish rules and boundaries with your dog from the start, as this will help with managing your dog’s expectations and encouraging your dog to seek you for guidance.
Examples of this include:
Waiting for your dog to stand or sit patiently before allowing them through the front/back door.
Asking your dog to ‘sit’ before feeding them.
Teaching your dog that jumping up does not result in attention, but keeping all 4 feet on the ground does.
Teaching your dog that other unruly or inappropriate behaviours such as barking or chewing furniture do not result in attention from yourself, but calm politer behaviours do result in attention and rewards.
Treats can only be obtained in exchange for good, polite behaviours (such as relaxing or sitting on request).
Over time, depending on how relaxed your dog is and how quickly they adapt to your home environment, you can increase the activities that you do with your dog and start focusing on training or more exciting activities such as meeting friends or family.
Also, gradually increase the length of time your dog is left alone both with you in the house and with you away from the house. This will help to slowly habituate your dog to being left alone, rather than throwing them in the deep end straight away. Using some form of remote video recording to watch your dog on your phone will be useful to establish how your dog copes alone.
Introducing your dog to other dogs in the household
Keep your existing dog/s separate from your new dog to start with; use dividers such as baby gates or doors, and don’t force interactions. It would also be sensible to use house lines on your dogs to begin with so that you can safely separate them if things get tense.
Ensure that each dog has their own separate feeding and sleeping areas, and separate toileting and walking times to start with. Swapping toys and bedding will help to familiarise dogs to each other’s scent. After the first few days, begin by allowing dogs to meet each other from other sides of baby gaits and on the lead during walks or in the garden. Observe each dog’s body language carefully, and don’t try and rush them to get on.
Over time, gradually increase interactions until you can allow the dogs to have free access to each other for short periods to start with, and then gradually increase the length of time the dogs have free access to each other. If any of the dogs show tense body language or try to avoid each other, then separate the dogs before things get out of hand. For more information on dog body language, look here: https://www.pdsa.org.uk/pet-help-and-advice/looking-after-your-pet/puppies-dogs/canine-ladder-of-communication
If you have other animals such as cats, using a similar procedure, keep the animals separate from each other to start with and keep your new dog on a lead near to them until you are confident that they can safely be allowed free access to each other. You may need to keep them separate for a long time and encourage your dog to relax when near to them if they get over-excited by their presence
First vet visit:
Make sure to plan your vet visit around your dog’s needs. For example, if your dog is fearful of new situations then it would help your dog to slowly introduce them to the vet practice by making a few trips there whilst using lots of food rewards before being handled by the vet. Speak to your vet to see if they would be happy with this first, and take the time to discuss a care plan for your dog before taking him/her to see them. It may also be a good idea to muzzle train your dog prior to vet visits by slowly introducing the muzzle. This will help reduce the risk of your dog hurting anyone if they act defensively. For more information on muzzle training, look here: https://www.bluecross.org.uk/advice/dog/dogs-and-muzzle-training
It may also be useful to get your dog used to being handled and having different types of veterinary equipment being used on them first. If possible, it would also be good to have someone else hold your dog’s lead so you can help restrain your dog if needed and feed them treats. If your dog is very traumatised or very fearful of the vets, then try and find a vet who would be able to do a home visit instead.