Do you ever look at your rescue pup and think, “who saved whom”? We know the feeling. Even though they were technically adopted, they feel like one of your own. You can’t imagine your home without them, and life before Fido seems like a distant memory. Though your shelter sweetie has no doubt enriched your life, he or she may exhibit some anxious or unruly behaviors you’d like to see shift.
In honor of National Adopt a Dog month, we’ve collected some tried and true tips to help your rescue dog adapt to its new forever home.
- Create structure. Since she can’t tell you about her past it’s safe to assume the worst and train for the best. Between foster families and shelter stays they’ve probably been subsisting on a lack of structure. It’s your job to recreate it. The more predictable their day-to-day, the more predictable their behavior will be.
- Teach them the rules. Through compassionate redirection, you can help heal the emotional scars left over from stressful street life or an abusive owner. Be kind but firm and most importantly consistent with your (many) rules. If you feel like you’re micromanaging at first then you’re doing it right.
- Make the crate a safe space. Some new pup parents assume that the crate is an automatic source of stress for their shelter sweetie. Though this may be true at first it’s important they learn to view it as a haven, not a hellscape. Feeding each meal in the kennel with help create a positive association. Start by feeding with the door open and over time close it shut. You can use essential oils to associate calming scents with the space. Baby mobiles and windchimes or a view out an open window can engage their sense of sight, getting them out of their head. A metronome sound has been shown to help squelch separation anxiety in the kennel because it sounds like a heartbeat.
- Enroll in obedience classes. A dog wants to please its master. Help bring out and refine this inherent drive by starting obedience training as soon as possible. Don’t wait until you’re out of the doggie honeymoon period and experiencing issues to begin. Most unwanted behaviors tend to escalate on a roughly 3-month cycle.
- Train during feed times. Many shelter dogs are quite food motivated. You can use this to your advantage by reinforcing lessons and commands learned during obedience training. Ask them to sit, stay, wait, and make eye contact until you’ve given the signal before allowing them to gobble their grub. It’s another way to show that you’re the pack leader (more on this in a bit.) Just make sure to safely transition to a new dog food over the course of about a week.
- Provide bathroom supervision. Even potty breaks need to have rules. For the first few weeks monitor their #1s and #2s by keeping them on a leash. After some time you can let them out to do their business solo. However, if at all possible, it’s good for their health (and yours) to help them eliminate by walking around the block.
- Limit excitement. This is especially important during the first few days you bring the dog home. Don’t have a welcome home party or invite the entire family to meet your new addition until they’ve had sufficient quiet time. Moving forward, be careful not to unknowingly reward their excitement. When you return from being away, ignore your pup until they calm down. We know it’s hard, but it helps with jumping and other unwanted excitability.
- See that they’re socialized. Once they’ve acclimated to you and your home, start regularly bringing them around humans and friendly dogs outside the home. You may even be surprised to see other pooches imparting their good manners onto your little learner.
- Be the pack leader. It can be tempting to give in to your rescue dog’s every whim. They’ve certainly earned a little luxury! Still, they’re looking to you for cues and commands. Make sure you take every opportunity to be the dominant one. Without rules and structure outlined by you, the pack leader, they’re likely to make up their own.
- Exercise with gusto! Along with discipline and affection, it’s one of dog trainer extraordinaire Cesar Millan’s key tenants. And for good reason! It fulfills their instinctual pull to move the body and creates trust with their new owners. Plus, it completes their stress response cycle, ensuring they aren’t re-traumatized by stressful situations.
Adopting a dog isn’t just altruistic, it’s also rewarding on so many levels. The more love and attention you put into your rescue sweetie, the more you’ll get back. Happy National Adopt a Dog month y’all!