Rescue Stories

8 Ways to Help Shelter Dogs Adjust to Your Home

It’s the best part of adoption, but also the hardest.

So you’ve done the good thing. You’ve adopted a shelter dog in need of a forever home. Now, you’ve brought her home. What happens next?

In truth, your dog may take some time to adjust. Likely, she has been living in a kennel surrounded by unfamiliar, barking dogs. Before she arrived at the shelter, perhaps she was living on the streets, or had an abusive owner. She may look perfectly healthy — but she may be emotionally scarred.

Below are the ways that you can ensure a healthy transition for both you and your dog.

1.  Have a space set up for them.

No one wants to arrive at a new home, and find out that there isn’t even a room set up for her to sleep. Choose a place in your house that’s easy to clean, because the stress of changing environments might make your new pup forget her housebreaking — the kitchen is a good choice — and outfit it with food and water bowls, a soft place to sleep, toys, and a appropriately sized crate if you plan on crate training your dog.

Also make sure to “dog-proof” the area. Remove any easy to reach — and enticingly chewy! — electric cords, put dangerous household chemicals on high shelves, remove anything breakable, and install baby gates to keep them contained.

Finally, have a treats and a “baby” — a plush toy — ready so that you are equipped with rewards.

2.  Introduce the dog to the family.

Not every dog is immediately friendly, and this isn’t necessarily indicative of her personality. Introduce each of your family members and close friends to your dog, and allow her to respond at her own pace. Watch for any behaviors like growling or cutting in to hugs — this will need to be addressed later in training.

Finally, never introduce anyone to your dog while she is sleeping. It will startle her!

3.  Be prepared for some issues with food.

When you pick up your dog to bring her home, make sure to ask what she has been eating at the shelter so that you can provide the same food at home. This will prevent stomach issues and diarrhea. Over the following week, you can begin to supplement the food you plan on feeding her so that her stomach has time to adjust to the new diet.

4.  Begin training immediately.

Before you even pick up your dog, spend some time acclimating yourself with familiar commands, and the tones of voice with which to use them (like those on this Petfinder list). If you’ve never had a dog before, consider consulting with a professional to learn about what healthy behaviors are — both from yourself, and from your new dog.

5.  Acclimate the dog to the toilet area.

After you’ve introduced your dog to her space, and perhaps some members of your family, take her out to the area where you want her to go to the bathroom. If you live in a house, this could be a section of your yard. If you live in a city, take her on a walk around the block. Don’t go back indoors until the dog has relieved herself, and praise her when she does so that she knows she’s a good girl if she relieves herself in the right place.

Also be prepared for some indoor accidents — it’s part of the nature of bringing a new dog home!

6.  Establish a schedule.

All creatures thrive on a schedule, including humans and dogs. A dog will acclimate faster if she has a clear idea of when she will be fed, when she will be walked, and when she can play. Make sure to build some time in the schedule for your dog to be alone! This will help her relax, and build her stamina if you ever need to leave her for extended periods of time — for example, when you go to work.

7.  Limit excitement.

For the first few days, keep everything very calm and quiet in the house. Limit visits from acquaintances and strangers. Don’t throw any parties. This allows your dog time to adjust, but it also allows you to observe their behavior, and pinpoint potential needs to be worked on.

8.  Have patience!

You just don’t know what kind of home your dog came from — if he or she had a home at all! Maybe items like newspapers or shoes can be triggering because they were used to punish your dog — or maybe they are afraid of loud noises, strangers, and doorbells. The best thing you can do is be consistent so that your dog is able to establish a new “norm” — and adjust happily to her new home!

After all — every dog is a good dog. This goes for your new dog as well.

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