What Should I Expect When Bringing a Rescue Dog into My Home?

Today’s the day! You’ve picked out the perfect dog from your local animal shelter or rescue organization after falling in love with the way he rolled onto his back, inviting the obligatory belly-rub. You spent some quality one-on-one time in the yard or park to ensure he’s the next lifelong member of your fur-family. You’ve hurriedly signed the paperwork and paid the adoption fee, excited to bring the little guy home. You open the door to your house, ushering your new companion inside, expecting him to immediately fall into your lap as a turn-key house dog…until your expectations are immediately squashed!

Sadly, many dogs are returned to shelters and rescues within the first two weeks due to a new owner’s lack of preparation or unwillingness to help their rescue pet transition into a new environment. Rescue dogs are more than just former strays, roaming the streets looking for their next meals. In fact, most came from a loving home and ended up at the shelter due to relocation, housing restrictions, financial hardship, and even owner aging/death. Yet the life they had previously been accustomed to, may not be the life you’ve created in your home, and they don’t know the difference.

The good news is, we’ve created this handy guide to help you and your family prepare for the lifelong joy of a new dog and the best way to transition him into your home.


Few things in life are more exciting than getting a new dog; perhaps purchasing a new home, graduating, or getting married? So, would you sign a mortgage without having the home inspected, don a cap and gown without completing the required classes, or walk down the aisle without planning the celebration? Choosing the right dog requires a certain amount of research and preparation in its own right; however, bringing a dog home needs a similar amount of forethought.

Here are few tips to help with the preparation:

  • Purchase a leash, food bowls, dog bed, chew toys, and food suited to the dog’s needs.

  • Arrange doggie day care if no one is home during the day or purchase a roomy kennel if the dog will be crate trained.

  • Inspect and repair potential escape points around your yard and perimeter fence.

  • Pick up any dangers inside the home that the dog could potentially get into.

  • Discuss sleeping arrangements, walking duties, and waste management with the participating members of your family.

Arriving Home:

As you pull into the driveway, your new pup surveying the neighborhood, you’re tempted to fling the door open as the dog leaps over your lap to run into the waiting arms of your expectant family. Well, life isn’t a Hallmark movie and the dog that has no loyalty to you yet, just leaped out the open car door into an unfamiliar (and sometimes distracting) world. Good thing he was microchipped, right?

Here are some things to consider when arriving home:

  • Keep the dog on-leash when exiting the car.

  • Avoid any new people or pets rushing the dog.

  • Let the dog explore his new yard and allow him take in all the new smells.

  • Introduce the dog to your family members and allow him to go to the children (not the other way around).

  • If other dogs are in the household, introduce them one-by-one in the front yard (neutral territory), keeping both on leashes and handled by two separate people. Watch for signs of fear, discomfort, or aggression.

Entering the Home:

The first test passed with flying colors and your dog anxiously waits at the gates of his new kingdom. He’s moments away from the amazingly comfortable life that you promised him. The front doors open into a lifetime of a dry place to sleep, regular meals, and endless belly-rubs. He’s so close to the second chance he deserves. Give him every opportunity to succeed and don’t set him up for failure!

Here are some pointers for entering the home for the first time:

  • Maintain leash control.

  • Place any other dogs in the household in a separate room as to avoid overwhelm.

  • Walk the dog around the areas of the home he’s permitted go and let him to give the sniff test.

  • Take him to the back yard, patio, or designated place where he’ll be doing his business. Wait and encourage him to relieve himself, praising accordingly when he does so.

  • Show him the comfortable dog bed, kennel, or human bed that he’ll be sleeping in.

Transition Period:

The first one-to-three weeks are crucial to a dog’s ability to settling into a home and make it their own. It’s also a vital time for you to learn their quirks, set boundaries, and identify potential areas that need work. Creating and showing the dog the rules of the house will help prevent future training needs. You’ve heard that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? Same goes for bad behaviors.

Here are a couple tidbits for surviving the transition period:

  • Try to bring the dog home at the beginning of a weekend or take a few days off to dedicate to your new companion.

  • Tether the dog to you for the first few days with a leash or rope. Wherever he goes, you go; and it helps establish trust.

  • Marking inside is common for new dogs (especially in males). Correct the dog with a short, but firm verbal command if you catch him in the act, and expect that you’ll be doing a little pee clean-up. Praise him with love and treats when he goes in his designated spot.

  • Feed the dog in separate rooms or parts of the room from any other dogs in the household. This helps avoid any food aggression while he learns to trust the other dogs.

  • Avoid feeding the dog table scraps unless you want a lifelong food beggar.

  • Consistently correct behavior if not allow on the furniture. Let him up once and he’ll want to come up forever.

To Infinity and Beyond:

You made it through the transition and your dog is officially a full-fledged member of the family. Sure, there were laughs and tears, frustration and cuddles, and perhaps even some blood and feces. You stuck through the hard part. Both you and your dog are better for it. You’ve forged an unbreakable bond. Well, now’s not the time to give up on all the hard work you put in together. Just like we as humans should never stop learning, let’s give our dogs a chance to do the same and be the best companions they can be.

Consider enrolling in obedience training (group or individual) with a qualified trainer. Techniques vary from trainer to trainer, and while the “best method” can’t always be agreed upon, the fact that you’re working on it can always be appreciated. If you live in the Northern Nevada region, we highly recommend our dedicated trainer, Brittany Straw of In-Line K9 Academy. She believes in training the owner as much as the dog, establishing a trust that both can work on together.

Be a dog’s hero: rescue from a nonprofit shelter or rescue organization, always spay or neuter, and do your part to educate! #RescueLivesMatter

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