What to expect when adopting a rescue dog
There are many reasons why dogs end up in an animal shelter and often it’s about the owner’s personal circumstances, rather than the dog’s fault. Moving house, changing jobs, divorce or a new baby can all make dog-ownership challenging, and many owners take their dog to a rescue centre with a heavy heart.
This means that there’s more choice than you might expect, including family-friendly breeds, as well as puppies and adult dogs. ‘Research some common breeds in advance so that even if you decide on a cross-breed, you’re familiar with the characteristics your dog could potentially have, and choose traits that suit your lifestyle,’ suggests Nick. ‘Do a few breed quizzes online or check out Petplan’s breed profiles. And never choose a dog on looks alone.’
How to choose the right dog
Nick recommends trying to choose with your head, rather than just your heart. ‘It’s so easy to fall in love with an animal straight away,’ he says. ‘But you need to stay a bit detached if you can and let the attachment and affection develop later. This saves any heartache if you find you’ve chosen a dog that doesn’t suit your lifestyle.’
The staff at animal rescue centres have lots of experience in helping you choose the right dog, but be prepared to keep an open mind. Steven and his partner rehomed Beckett from Allsorts Dog Rescue in Sussex three years ago. He says: ‘We originally went to see a greyhound, but she was nervous around men. Our second choice had already been adopted, so we ended up meeting a funny little terrier-cross. He was so pleased to see us that we knew straight away we’d be taking him home.’
Pet owner Richard says he also fell in love instantly: ‘We shortlisted some potential dogs on the Battersea Dogs & Cats Home website and went through the pre-registration process – including a vet’s visit to approve our home. We headed to Battersea for a quick look around and while we were there, we met a little Staffy-cross. Archie’s been with us for seven years now.’
Will your rescue dog have behavioural issues?
Some rescue dogs, such as Beckett, may have behaviour problems that can be addressed with consistent training and patience. ‘Aggression towards other dogs and people, for example, are key things to watch out for, but they can be successfully worked on with a behaviourist’s help,’ says Nick.
‘Most rescue dogs have a back story,’ says Steven. ‘We don’t think Beckett was socialised with other dogs as a puppy, so he growls if they come too near, too quickly. He also loves to snuggle under blankets, which makes us think he might have been taken from his mum too soon.’
Getting your home and garden ready
Before rehoming a dog, a home check will be done by a vet or animal charity staff, as they will have lots of practical advice to help make it a smooth transition. A comfortable dog bed is a must, and some rescue dogs also prefer to sleep in a dog-crate.
‘We weren’t sure if Beckett was house-trained so we initially laid plastic sheeting to protect the living room carpet,’ says Steven. ‘We secured the garden boundary with a fence, and we fitted a gate between the lower and upper parts of the garden to help keep him safe.’
Make sure to get as much information as possible from the rehoming centre to help prepare for any unique behaviours, and like and dislikes of your chosen dog.
Here are more useful tips from Nick on how to get your home and garden ready:
- Do as much preparation in advance as you can. Decide where your dog is going to rest and sleep, and stock up on suitable bedding. Make sure you have food and water bowls and check what your rescue dog is currently being fed. If you want to change to a different kind of food, always make any changes gradually.
- Make introductions to the rest of the family in a calm, controlled way – and keep your rescue dog on a lead at first, if you need to.
- Introduce your new dog to any existing pets in a neutral territory – with existing dogs, you could meet in the park then bring them both home together, or take the other dog to the rescue centre to make sure both dogs get on. If that’s not possible, make the first introductions in the garden, rather than indoors.
- When it comes to bedtime, I would jump right in and start as you mean to go on. If you let your new dog sleep in your bedroom in the first night, do you really want him at the bottom of your bed forever? Being very clear about house rules from day one is much better for your pet’s long-term emotional stability.
- Focus on the rules and routines first, and a positive relationship will naturally follow. It’s all about striking the right balance between setting boundaries and developing a bond.
- Be consistent – it’s important for any dog, but especially so for a rescue dog that may have experienced lots of inconsistencies in its care.
Settling a rescue dog at night
For some rehomed dogs, separation anxiety can be common. ‘Try not to overly comfort a rescue dog in the first few days and weeks,’ says Nick. ‘This can create a sense of helplessness and possibly introduce a feeling in your dog that he can't cope with life when apart from you.
‘Your new rescue dog may want to sleep in your room, so if you want your dog to sleep in a separate room, start out as you mean to continue. Place an emphasis upon calm direction giving and maintaining the house rules.
‘Provide your new dog with lots of opportunities to exercise and become familiar with his new surroundings, as this is an excellent way to bond and help him feel safe and relaxed.’
Archie initially struggled being left alone at night. But, with the help of a stress-relief jacket, he soon learned that a closed door at bedtime didn’t mean he was being abandoned again.
‘We quickly realised that Archie is absolutely devoted to people,’ says Richard. ‘At first, he stuck to us like glue, so we consulted a dog behaviourist to help him to become more independent.’
Stress and anxiety can affect any dog, not just rescue pets, and a few practical tips can make a world of difference.
What about rescue dog behaviour training?
A rescue dog might need training, but so would a puppy from a breeder. The first step for a new owner is to establish what is important for that individual dog. It may well be just establishing a basic set of commands for ‘recall’, but the shelter may also be able to share what they already know and areas to focus on. Be consistent and use positive reinforcement and reward-based training, or join a local class.
‘We took Beckett to puppy-training classes to teach him to walk on the lead and develop his recall,’ says Steven. ‘He’s very clever so he actually loves being taught new skills and tricks.’
But most of all, rehoming a dog involves lots of love. ‘Just be patient,’ says Richard. ‘I can’t imagine life without Archie now – he’s such a happy, friendly dog, and it’s very rewarding to know that we’ve helped him live a better life.’
Rehoming a dog tips
Research the centre you’re getting your dog from and ask if it offers ongoing support and advice. If you’re still searching for the right rehoming centre, try our Rehome a Pet search tool to find a centre near you.
- When choosing your rescue dog, consider where you live and how much dog-walking you want to do – some small breeds are very active, while an older dog may be happy to spend hours snoozing.
- Introduce every member of the household – including other dogs – to the dog you want to rehome, before you make a final decision.
- Trust the advice and judgement of the rehoming staff when it comes to choosing the ideal dog.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help – a good pet behaviourist can help you deal with any initial training and behaviour problems once you come home.