Adopting a Rescue Dog: What to Expect as the New Owner


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Adopting a rescue dog is very different than buying a puppy from a breeder. These dogs may have behavioral issues or health conditions that may require continuous use. With this, you should be prepared before bringing your new doggo home. Giving a shelter dog a new chance for a loving home is worth it, but the question is this, “I’m adopting a rescue dog, what to expect?”

Here’s what you need to know before and after bringing a shelter dog for the first time:

Debunking the myths about shelter dogs

A lot of misconceptions surround rescue dogs. This is probably one of the reasons why at least 670,000 dogs get euthanized in U.S. shelters each year. So before you shy away from adopting a pooch from the local pound or shelter, let’s debunk some of these myths first:

adopting a rescue dog what to expect

All rescue dogs have behavioral problems

Although some shelter dogs are turned over due to problematic behavior, others are also relinquished due to the owners’ inability to sustain the ownership. And even if the dog has behavioral issues, training can go a long way. Even the fiercest shelter canines can grow to be lovable and gentle pets.

Besides, no dog is perfect. It’s in the way you will raise the pooch that will make it a well-rounded canine.

All rescue dogs up for adoption are old

Shelter dogs come in different breeds, sizes, and ages. It’s not true that you can only adopt old dogs, although you can do so by preference. Some rescue dogs can be puppies too, which are saved from abusive homes and neglectful owners. Also, some pups are born in the shelter to a rescued pregnant dog.

Shelter pets are filthy

Sure, some of the dogs in shelters may arrive dirty and covered with muck, but a bath can do wonders on their appearance. Some of these dogs have been on the loose for so long that their coat has started to degrade. With proper medication and care, this should go back to its original state.

Adoption fees are exorbitant

Adoption fees vary from one shelter to another. You have to understand that shelters sustain their operations by collecting these fees. Also, they have spent time and money to rehabilitate dogs, which includes veterinary care, food, and grooming.

You might have to pay $250 or so upfront, but it’s a total steal considering the cost of puppies from breeders. Aside from saving money, you’re also giving a dog another chance on life.

You can’t choose the dog that you like

This is not true. Some shelters will even let you visit your chosen dog a few times before deciding to bring it home. Other pet organizations will conduct home visits or temporary fostering so you’ll get to know your future pet more. This way, you can gauge the personality, behavior, and needs of the dog even before you sign up the adoption papers.

Ask yourself, are you ready to adopt?

Adding a new dog to the pack is a big responsibility. Rescued or not, this dog will have a different personality than your current pet. Also, not everything will go as planned. The new dog may chew the couch, have accidents inside the house, or become aggressive around strangers.

A new dog is a new beginning of training sessions and an adjustment period. Also, all members of the household need to be prepared once the dog arrives.

If you’re not sure, you can be a temporary foster home for your chosen shelter dog. This process is the most beneficial for first-time pet owners.

By being the temporary owner of the dog, you will have firsthand experience of interacting with the canine in a home environment. This can last for a week or a few months, depending on the terms you agreed with the shelter.

Once you’ve decided that you want to adopt the pooch permanently, you can now move forward with the dog shelter.

In this video, dog expert Cesar Milan teaches us how to choose the right shelter dog to adopt:

Things you should know first

When adopting a shelter dog, you should always prioritize your family’s safety. Also, you should consider the welfare of your new pet.

As you know, rescued dogs are different. Each one has a back story – from being a stray dog to being saved from an abusive home. Such experiences will shape the dog’s current behavioral, emotional, and physical well-being. You need to have an open mind and patience if you decide to adopt a rescued canine.

Here’s what we want you to realize first before you bring a rescued dog home.

You may not know your dog’s actual breed

Some dogs that arrive in the shelter could have been the product of endless cross-breeding. Even veterinarians may not trace its ancestry.

Why is the breed so important? The specific breed of the dog will let the potential owner know the canine’s breed-related tendencies. This includes behavior, intelligence level, lifespan, and so on.

Also, the breed will help the possible owner gauge if the pooch will suit their home setup. Some dogs don’t do well with kids, while others thrive in just about any environment.

If your heart is set to a specific breed, you may need to wait until the shelter receives a dog of such kind. But for those who are bent to save a dog from homelessness and possible euthanasia, the breed matters less.

A shelter dog will be scared

Shelter dogs will freak out if they are brought to a new place. Their past experiences may also affect their acceptance of their new home. Instead of taking this as a red flag, you have to understand that a shelter dog has been through a lot. It might have been beaten before or has wandered the streets for long and other sad stories.

Some dogs may appear aggressive or mad at their new owners. This could all be part of the new environment. Help the pup ease into your home.

Taking the adjustment phase step by step is the key. If you show the dog that you’re gentle and warm, it will yield to you in no time. Also, training is essential to dampen any negative behavior.

Your dog’s personality will be different than your other dog

Dogs come in different shapes, sizes, and personalities. Others can be born cheerful, serious, or watchful. If you have a dog at home and planning to adopt a rescued canine, it’s best to know if they have matching personalities.

This way, your current pet and the newcomer will thrive together. The last thing you want to happen is to break up dog fights every day.

Take note that some breeds just don’t go well together. Also, some canines don’t like same-sex dogs around. Some breeds perceive a same-sex dog as a threat. Again, it’s all about matching the shelter dog to your current pet.

Your adopted shelter dog will need training

Rescued dogs have previous owners, but it doesn’t guarantee that they are well trained. Some of the common problems among rescued dogs are chewing, barking, jumping, pulling, and poor housebreaking. The good thing is that these are correctable with consistent training.

As the new owner, you should also identify if the behavior is caused by inadequate training or an external factor within your dog’s environment. For example, the shelter dog might be afraid of its new home, which leads to improper urination. Aggression could be due to a movement that reminds the dog of its previous owner’s violence.

Your rescued dog doesn’t know you’re his or her savior

Adopting a rescue dog is a noble act.  You’re saving the pooch and giving it a second chance for a loving home. However, the dog will not know this.

The problem with some pet owners is they humanize their dogs too much to the point that they expect it to understand human feelings. Sure, your dog understands that it came from an unpleasant situation and your home is a safer place. Still, you can’t expect the poor doggo to feel gratefulness.

Gaining your new dog’s trust doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a long process, much so for dogs exposed to an abusive home for an extended period.

The rescued dog may have health problems

As much as shelters do their best to provide veterinary care for all the dogs in their custody, some health conditions may remain undiagnosed.

Most vet care in dogs shelters includes basic check-ups and not blood tests, allergy detection, and so on. If you’ve found out that the dog has a serious condition, say cancer or hip dysplasia, the shelter can take it back. Some dog owners give it back while others prefer to shoulder the treatment expenses. It’s all up to you to decide.

We recommend that you visit a veterinarian on the very first day that you bring the dog home. This way, you’ll know if your furry baby has special health needs. Most likely, the vet may need to update the dog’s shots.

Preparing to bring home a rescue dog

Once you’ve decided to adopt a shelter dog, it’s now time to tick the following points on your to-do list:

Dog proofing

If this is your first time owning a pet, you need to pet-proof your home. Much like baby-proofing, it will keep both your dog and home safe. Keep away items that are easy to swallow, including keys, coins, Lego blocks, pen caps, and more.

Also, you should remove any house plants that are poisonous to dogs. This includes lilies, tulips, azalea, peonies, and more.

Lastly, tape loose wires, store chemicals on locked elevated shelves, and so on.

Set-up a cozy crate

One of the most effective ways of calming a tense dog is using a crate. Put comfy bedding to the crate with toys and some treats. Remember, if the dog enters the crate, don’t close the door. Do so only after a few weeks and at a slow pace.

Make sure that the crate is appropriate to the size of the dog. If you don’t have a crate, you can set up a corner where your new pet can snuggle and rest. This should be away from too much foot traffic and noise.

Make sure that everyone at home is onboard

Your new dog doesn’t want to meet everyone at once. Too many strangers lunging in can scare a shelter dog. If possible, introduce one family member at a time and in a very calm way.

If you happen to have kids, make sure that you explain to them the whole pet-owning process. Beware of toddlers since they love pulling ears and pulling tails.

Picking up the dog

When you’re picking up the dog from the shelter, make sure that you ask about its diet, health condition, and behavior. The shelter may also recommend a specific food brand that suits your new pet.

On your way home, it’s best if the dog is contained in a crate. Many rescued dogs barely leave the shelter, which means that riding a car can be frightful too. Also, it will be easier to bring the dog inside your home if it’s inside the crate.

Also, have a leash prepared whenever you’re letting the dog out of the crate. Since you’re not yet sure how it will react on its first day at your home, it’s best to have the control on your side.

After bringing the dog home

On the first day of bringing your dog home, make sure that you got it checked by the vet. Aside from that, you need to get your dog microchipped. Make sure that its previous microchip has been removed if there was any.

Once the dog is in your home, observe its reactions. This is an excellent start for the adjustment period. It’s normal for shelter dogs to feel unsafe or anxious in a new home. It may take a few days for the dog to be fully familiar to the scent of your home and the people around.

If your dog came from an abusive owner, it might take weeks before it opens up to you. This is normal and the only thing you can do is be patient and make your dog safe on your care.

Here’s what you can expect on a shelter dog during its first day at your home:

-Shyness and continuous hiding

-Nervousness around strangers and many people

-Aggression around other dogs or people

-Territory marking (peeing on bed, toys, corners, etc.)

-Whining or unexplained barking

-Possessiveness on objects or other people

-Tucked tail and pinned ears

The succeeding weeks

Once your new pet has adjusted to its new home, it’s time to start training. Older dogs are likely to have been subjected to some form of training during their stay with their previous owners. Still, it’s safer to assume that you’re back to zero.

Always start with basic obedience training. This includes teaching commands like “sit”, “stay”, “come”, and “leave it”. After your dog masters these on cue, you can now proceed to other advanced training.

Next, you should deal with housebreaking. It’s good if your dog has prior training to this, but if not, patience can go a long way.

Some breeds are easier to housebreak while others take a while. Regardless of how fast the dog can learn, consistency and patience is the key.

Using a crate, get your dog used to waiting to be let outdoors before eliminating. If your dog still has accidents inside the house, you may need to check with the vet for possible hormone-related incontinence. This condition usually affects spayed female dogs.

Also, don’t forget to socialize your new dog. Daily walks are a good start, then you can introduce friends and strangers later on. Again, take everything slowly.

What if it doesn’t work out?

Some dog adoptions don’t work out. While pet owners might be happy and more than willing to give a shelter dog a new home, some circumstances may prove it to be tough.

So what should you do if your shelter dog isn’t a match for your home? First, contact the shelter where you got the dog. They can help address the issues you have with the pet. Training classes might solve what you thought is a “deal-breaker” on the adoption.

If all else fails, DON’T try to re-home the dog yourself. Always work with the shelter where you adopted the pooch. The shelter will find a new home that suits the lifestyle and personality of your dog. Some shelters can take the dog back and wait until another person adopts the canine.

You’ll feel bad about it, but in most cases, it’s for the best. You’re just getting yourself and the dog stuck in a situation that’s detrimental to both sides. The next time you plan to adopt a dog, make sure that you take the time to get to know the pooch first. Be a foster parent for a longer period before you decide to move forward.

Even with a failed dog adoption, you should never stop looking for your perfect pooch. This video will show you why:


Adopting a rescue dog what to expect? Shelter dogs come in different shapes, sizes, and personality. Always take things slowly so you’ll get the right dog and you can help the pooch adjust to its new, loving home.