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Tips For Your New Rescue Dog

Updated: Aug 3, 2022

Hi, everyone! It’s been awhile since I’ve written a blog post, and a lot has happened since then. In February, I began training dogs full-time and in March I acquired a foster dog. Life has been busy, and for a while, I wasn’t sure what to blog about. Now that I’ve taken in my second foster dog, I have a lot to say. Many people adopt dogs ready to have a new best friend, and expect the dog to somehow automatically fit into their family. Many people aren’t aware that dogs need time to decompress before they are fully comfortable with their new life and routine. If you’re thinking about getting a new dog, read my personal experience in this post. You can scroll to the bottom for tips on how to allow your new dog to decompress.

When I worked on the Behavior Team at an animal shelter, every day I saw dogs who had been harmed by humans in one way or another. We had dogs who came in emaciated, abused, and emotionally broken. We had dogs who had been abandoned in a house and were living in a crate for months with no access to food or water. We had dogs who were bred so poorly that they had fatal health conditions. We had dogs come in simply because their owners were tired of caring for them. We saw dogs who had bitten people due to being abused or due to someone messing with their food while they were eating, and they were put on a bite quarantine to be euthanized. We had dogs who went home with a new family, and were brought back hours later due to being ‘aggressive’ or ‘not fitting in with the pack.’ I hope that reading this post helps you understand things from the dog's perspective, whether you have a dog or are thinking about adopting one.

Meet Sam, my foster dog.

When I heard his story, I knew that I had to help him however I could. Sam was bred by an uneducated, money-hungry backyard breeder. Backyard breeders don’t breed for temperament or check for genetic issues. They had multiple litters at one time & at 2-weeks old, Sam had snuck over to the other female dog. She slammed him to the ground, and he likely sustained a back or neck injury. When he was 5-weeks old, the “breeder” wanted to kill him. A family member of the backyard breeder took the dog, and didn’t give him a great life. He lived in a pen outdoors, usually in his own urine and feces. They didn’t try to train him until recently. It became clear at a young age that Sam was blind and epileptic. The family wouldn’t keep up with his medication, and would yell at him while he had seizures. Sam had about 2 toys at this house for the first 2 years of his life, so naturally he found his own toys. He ingested socks, paper, and just about anything he could find to keep him entertained. After two years of hitting, kicking, and emotionally abusing this poor dog, they finally decided they didn’t want him, so I took him. It has been a journey for the past 3 weeks, and Sam is already thriving. He must be thrilled to be in a place where he can relax, interact with people without being hit or kicked, and that he gets to learn new things. It has been a humbling experience to foster a young, energetic, special needs dog; going through the transition period makes me even more sympathetic for my clients!

Sam is a lovely dog. He is basically a 2-year old puppy, as he never really transitioned out of puppy behavior. The first night at my house, Sam and my dog were both pacing around the house, panting excessively. They were both pretty stressed, which is to be expected. The first couple of days, Sam was constantly falling off of the curbs outside, but other than that he walked like a dream on a leash. He slept a lot during the day, and was cuddly with my dog. He seemed to be house trained and crate trained, which was great for me! About 5 days in, Sam began barking at my dogs to get them to play, almost non-stop. I would practice ‘go to bed’ or have him settle on a yoga mat for various periods of time throughout the day, and then he would go right back to barking at them. We would go for hour-long walks, do a ton of training, and sometimes he would be tired out, sometimes he would bark like he had been doing nothing all day. Sometimes, he begins picking up anything in his sight, whether it’s a dog toy or not. When we went for walks, Sam began pulling in the other direction so hard to the point of choking himself any time that he saw a person or a dog. About 2 weeks in, my dog finally tried to play with Sam and he cowered and ran away with his tail tucked. He would then immediately bark at my dog, as if he wanted to play.

Even as a dog trainer who coaches people on things like these daily, I became frustrated. I had to constantly remind myself that Sam is in a new place, with new things, and is overwhelmed since all he knew before was an outdoor pen. I began giving him natural calming treats, and continued implementing a daily routine. We have days where he doesn’t chew up anything but toys, and days where I forget to close my bathroom door and find shredded toilet paper everywhere. I have continued working with him on-leash outside and in the house, even on days where it feels like everything is worse than the day prior. Just yesterday, Sam peed all over himself in his crate in the morning, which he had never done before. I knew that it wasn’t his fault and that I should’ve listened when he was whining in the crate, but was still frustrated that I spent two hours of my morning cleaning up the mess.

As of today, Sam has been in my house for 18 days - not even three full weeks. Most days we have great training sessions when we walk outside, and some days he struggles a bit. He has periods of 2-3 hours where he calmly sleeps in the living room while my dog and I are up and about doing things, and then he has times where he barks and barks. We have a routine that includes a certain amount of crate hours during the day, times for walks, times for training, and times for relaxing outside of the crate. With all of that being said, I am very much aware that Sam will likely take months to get into a routine of his own. He is blind which adds another element to all of this, but decompression time is real for all dogs and they typically take months to feel completely comfortable.

I always refer to the 3-3-3 Rule, which shows a good visual of how dogs are feeling when you first get them. Specifically, day 3 of being in a new place is when cortisol levels are the highest. After about 3 weeks, dogs are just starting to settle in. At about 3 months (this timeline varies depending on the dog) they typically begin to show their true colors. Of course, their behavior moving forward depends on how they are being handled during their transition period.

Here are some tips for getting a new dog, whether you get them from a shelter, a rescue, a foster, or directly from their old family.

  • Give them SPACE

  • Leave a thin leash on the dog in your home for the first month. This way, if the dog gets into a room that they shouldn’t, or if you need to move them anywhere, you can just pick up the leash and begin walking. Never grab your new dog’s collar or try to pick them up.

  • Don’t try to cuddle your dog to make them feel at home, this will only stress them out more.

  • Set up a ‘safe zone’ for your pet, like a crate in a low-traffic, quiet area of the house.

  • Give them food and water in a place where no people or other animals have access to it.

  • Keep new interactions to a minimum

  • Only have the dog interact with people and animals who live in the household. Don’t take them to public places around people and dogs.

  • Don’t take them to dog parks.

  • Put them in a crate or separate room if you’re having guests over.

  • Do this for at least the first month, depending on how quickly your dog adjusts. This is crucial in order to not overwhelm them when they’re already stressed out.

  • Be patient. Reach out to a positive reinforcement trainer if you’re struggling with patience

  • Remember the 3-3-3 rule.

  • Do not punish or yell at your dog when they display normal dog behaviors such as growling or barking. They are letting you know that they’re uncomfortable with the situation.

  • Remember that things take time, and it will likely get worse before it gets better.

  • Set your dog up for success by using treats and food to bond with them.

  • Put yourself in your dog’s paws; they may not be used to living in a house and asking to go to the bathroom. They may not understand what’s a dog toy and what’s for humans. They don’t know your routine, so ease them into it.

Remember that training and socializing your dog is doing a good service to your dog, and to the community. Anything can happen in life, and if for whatever reason your dog ends up in a shelter or needs to be rehomed, if they are undersocialized and unruly, they have a much higher chance of ending up in a shelter and on death row.


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