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  • Mandy

Settling a new rescue dog

Updated: Jun 29

As it is National Rescue Dog Day here are some points on settling a new dog, the blog on stress will also help.

This is a picture of 'Pepper' who was abandoned on the streets of Romania to fend for herself, available (but probably not long before she is adopted) from Amicii.


If you are taking on a new rescue dog you will probably be advised to follow 3-3-3 as below, go slowly, allow your dog time to settle and get over the extreme stress of being rehomed and the journey to their new home.


Go at your dog's pace and do not take the 3-3-3 too literally, for some dogs it could take a week or more before they are ready to move on to the second 3, and many weeks before moving to the third 3. 3-3-3 could be 7-6-8 for your dog.


I would recommend (and have seen this work many times through experience with a rescue):


First 3 days: have the dog in a 'decompression area' as shown below, this is the dog's safe space. A room with a stairgate will also work. Keep their world small.


With dog to dog introductions start by allowing them to smell the other dog but not see it, then see but not touch, then 'meet' in controlled way before allowing them to run and play together, if both dogs are showing good body language. Lift up toys they may resource guard and feed apart.


Do not worry about house-training, use puppy pads unless the dog has come from a foster and expects to go outside for their toilet. When first meeting your dog he/she may need some comforting, show them they are safe and you will not hurt them, however if their body language indicates they are scared of you and do not want to be touched then keep this to some quiet words rather than trying to cuddle or pet them. Once they are ready to settle it is best if they have a couple of days with little to no attention: do not play with them, do not spend too much time talking to them, do not pet or cuddle them. Too much contact in the early days can lead to hyper-attachment and is stopping the dog from sleeping and resting which they need to release the stress. Keep noises down and let them see you throughout the day. They may need a radio on and a night light for overnight, if they cry when left for the night go to them, let them see you then when they are calm leave again.


3 weeks: no baths, no visitors, only people who live in the house should be there, gradually open up their world and let them explore the house and garden at their pace. Do not take them out of the house / garden. When they are ready to interact with you start playing fun games and do fun training with them to build the bond with you and build their confidence. Be aware of your dog's stress levels (see stress blog) and do not rush anything. Don't force the dog to engage with people if they don't want to, when they are ready to be stroked and cuddled they will go to you. Rescue dogs can bond with women before men, don't worry about this. Take extra care with children, do not allow the children to fuss the dog without a consent test (videos can be found online for this), gently stroke the dog (not over it's head) for a few seconds then remove hands, does the dog ask for more by staying in place, leaning in or pawing at you. Don't try cat introductions until the dog is settled but reward the dog every time it see's the cat at a distance. Use lot's of rewards to encourage good behaviours and redirect any behaviours you don't want, help the dog to know what to do in your home. Your home is your dogs home so don't worry about enforcing lots of unnecessary rules however if you have a rule (i.e. not allowed on bed) then help the dog to adhere through rewarding the desired outcome (i.e. sleeping in own bed) and be consistent with it. Toilet training may be possible during this time if the dog is confident going to the garden.


3 months: slowly introduce them to new people, new places and new experiences. Keep doing things they can succeed at to build confidence and do not expose them to things they are frightened of. Go at the dogs pace, consider how many new things you expect them to experience each week and do not overload them and make the dog stressed. If your dog is barking and lunging at something this is not good, take them away from that situation, they are stressed and probably frightened.


This is a summary and more advice can be given but the key is to go slowly and keep the dog's stress levels under control. A few weeks or months of being cautious will be rewarded by years of loving companionship