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Guest Column: How I Prepare to Bring Home a Shelter Dog

“Rescue Me” is a recurring column by Samantha Randall, editor-in-chief at Top Dog Tips. She’ll provide personal anecdotes and perspective about her life as a pet lover with a passion for cat and dog rescue.

Bringing a new furry family member home from the shelter can be a rewarding and satisfying experience. It can also be a frustrating, upsetting experience. If your new dog doesn’t adjust to the move, you may end up having to take them back to the shelter.

I’ve rescued many dogs over the decades, and I’m currently a parent to three dogs and four cats. Unfortunately, I also know how terrible it can be to have to return an animal to a shelter when they don’t fit in with your family or environment. To keep you from having to make this heartbreaking choice, here are a few things that have worked for me over the years when it comes to making sure the transition goes smoothly for new four-legged family members.

  1. Family Discussion — Everyone needs to sit down together and talk about this new family member. A dog is a responsibility that everyone must be prepared for. You also want to make sure you get a pooch that is right for your family. Talk about who will do what. Due to work and/or school schedules, one family member may never be able to walk the dog. Things like this need to be discussed and worked out so there are no problems once the dog comes home. Do you have little kids who want to walk the dog? Do you live in a small home? These things will determine what size dog you get. Talk out as many things as you and your family can think of to determine what is right for your home. When you get to the shelter, stick to your plan.
  2. Rules — Decide the rules and make sure everyone is clear on them before the dog comes home. First things first: if you have other pets, this new pet will need to follow the same rules as the others. Different rules lead to jealousy and fighting among your pets. If the big dogs can’t get on the bed, then the little one can’t either. Decide what time the dog will eat, who will feed them, where they will eat. Decide whether the dog can get on the couch and how they will be house-trained — crate, outside, pee pads, etc. Anything you can think of — make sure the rules are set and that everyone is clear on those rules before you go pick up your new furry friend.
  3. Lavender Aroma Therapy — Yes, aromatherapy works for animals, too! It is best to use natural essential oils. Get an oil diffuser from your local health store or chain retail store. You can get the lavender essential oil from the same place. Many pet stores also have lavender “plug-ins” specifically for pets. With a diffuser, you just mix a few drops of the oil with some water and the diffuser will disperse it. Lavender has a calming, relaxing effect that is great for your new dog. It is also beneficial if you already have some pets in the house, as it can calm everyone.
  4. Toys and Bowls — You want everything to be ready when your new dog gets home. If you have other animals, make sure your new pet will have their own bowls and toys. While my dogs share a water bowl, they will not share a food bowl, and they have lived together for years. You may also want to pick up a pack of pee pads. Even if your shelter dog has already been house-trained, they may forget everything they know for a while. Being in a new home is very stressful for pets. Like pet food bowls, you should also get toys for your new fur baby, even if you already have toys for other pets. Your other pets may feel like they own their toys and will not want your new dog playing with “their” stuff.
  5. Food and Treats — The way to a dog’s heart is through their stomach. Make sure you already have the food at the house, and that you have checked with the rescue to see what kind of food your new pal was used to. This will make any transition to different food easier. You might want to pick up some yummy treats as well, especially if you plan to train your new dog with a food reward. Treats are also a good way to get the dog to start trusting you and feel more relaxed.
  6. Transportation — Make sure you have a leash and collar for your new dog. It is also best to go ahead and get a pet carrier/crate. Based on your family discussion (above), you should already know what size dog you are going to get, so you should be able to purchase these items ahead of time. When choosing, think about what you will need. The dog may not be comfortable on a leash and may pull, so you might want to get a harness as well. Workers at the shelter should be able to fill you in on your new pet’s leash behavior. Also, check with the shelter ahead of time to learn how they will let the dog leave — leash or carrier?
  7. Clean the House — You don’t know how your new dog will act. They may temporarily have bad behaviors due to the stress of the move. Make sure that shoes, backpacks, toys, etc. are picked up. You don’t want your new fur baby to chew your possessions or get into anything that will hurt them . . . or you. It is best that your house is cleaned and ready for the new family member. That way you can devote your time to making sure they are comfortable when they arrive in their new home.
  8. Calm and Space — The new dog will need a calm environment. They may not want to be held all the time. Loud noises may scare them. Make sure everyone in your family understands this, and is willing and able to give the dog their space. Your new friend may be scared. They may not be very trusting yet. Family members need to know how to respect a dog before you bring one home. Never approach the dog when they are eating. Talk softly, pet softly and move slowly. Try to put yourself in the same position as your new pet. If you wouldn’t like it, don’t do it to the dog.

If you’re ready to adopt a dog right now, but you’re unsure which breed or type of dog will fit best in your home, I recommend you to listen to the second episode of my podcast on adopting a pet for your specific lifestyle. You’ll get a lot of tips and something to ponder before making this life-changing decision.

Read more Rescue Me here!

The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.

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