by Marina Somma
Everyone praises you for adopting a cat or dog — after all, you truly are saving a life. And it is easy to get swept up in the excitement of it all and not stop to think about all the considerations you must make when bringing home a rescue dog or cat. Your new pet might bring some emotional baggage along with them, and it is incredibly important that you are fully prepared to help them settle into your home.
When it comes down to it, what we all want is to live a happy and cohesive life with our pets. Our pets should be a source of joy and love, not stress and concern. So, in this new dog checklist, we will discuss everything you need to know to prepare yourself, your home and your rescue dog or cat for this new life!
Settling Your Pet
Once you’ve found that shelter dog or cat that captures your heart, it’s time to get prepared to bring them home.
As with any significant change in scenery, you can expect your stray rescue to show some signs of fear or confusion. This is why it is important for you to help them settle into their new home as comfortably as possible. You should also ensure that you don’t overwhelm them with too many people or any other pets at this time.
If possible, you should see what their living arrangements were before they arrived at the shelter or foster home. If your dog was confined to a crate or was only kept outdoors they may be overwhelmed by your living space. If that is the case, you might want to have an appropriately sized crate for your dog to sleep in at night and remain in while you are away.
Crate Training: Dos and Don’ts
Veterinary behaviorists believe that giving dogs a quiet and solitary place can help a nervous dog relax. Establishing this “safe spot” early on can be a great way to help your pet cope with a new and strange environment. However, you never want to force a dog into a crate unwillingly, and you don’t want to keep a dog in a crate if they show signs of extreme distress like defecating or screaming.
To help your new pet adjust to their crate, scatter a variety of tasty cat or dog treats in and around the crate. Make sure you give them plenty of space so they don’t feel like you will trap or corner them inside. Don’t worry about closing them in the crate yet; just give them plenty of time to adjust first.
Regardless of whether or not your pet seems fearful after a few days of settling in, you should still begin socializing them with other people and pets. The process of socialization can seem daunting, but in reality, it is simply a matter of counter-conditioning and desensitization. It sounds scary, but it’s really quite simple. You expose your pet to something potentially scary and pair it with their absolute favorite treats to make it seem less scary. If that sounds too daunting, or your new BFF isn’t responding well to your training efforts, it may be best to consult a dog trainer or, in more severe cases, a pet psychologist.
People are a little easier than other animals because we can (usually) predict how they will react. If your new pet is fearful of people, you can have each new person avoid looking directly at them while tossing small treats in their direction. As they become more comfortable with the new person, they will eventually approach and take food from them.
With Other Pets
When dogs are fearful of other dogs, it can sometimes result in aggression or leash reactivity. In these situations, you should proceed slowly and cautiously to avoid injury. It doesn’t matter if you’re adopting a cat or a dog; you should still begin socializing them to other pets from a distance.
Only move to closer encounters when all the animals appear calm. Constantly provide both animals with yummy treats to keep the interaction positive. Don’t push either animal too far. The primary goal is to have a calm interaction and end on a positive note, not force two animals together.
About Anxious and Fearful Dogs
While some pets show signs of anxiety or fearfulness in the first few days, most become more comfortable as they adjust to their surroundings. However, some dogs and cats continue to struggle with fearfulness, particularly those who were previously abused.
Developing a Routine
Some fear and anxiety in pets stem from fear of the unknown. In these cases, the animals benefit greatly from a consistent routine. They wake up and potty, eat, and get a nice chew or mentally stimulating toy, and each of these things happens about the same time every day. Instead of wondering what potentially scary thing could befall them today, they look forward to these positive interactions.
Special Considerations for Illnesses
Occasionally, people surrender their dogs because they cannot properly care for them or they cannot afford to treat whatever illness they have. If you are bringing home a rescue dog with special needs, your new dog checklist needs to be a touch more extensive than usual.
Primarily, you need to ensure you learn everything you can about the illness or condition, and how to care for your new family member. Additionally, you should learn this long before your new pet ever sets paw in your home. Obtain all the medications and supplements that you need and anything your veterinarian might recommend trying to increase quality of life. For example, veterinarians are performing various studies on the use of CBD chews or tinctures to help cope with the symptoms of epilepsy in canines.
Your New Shelter Dog and You: Living Together
Not all shelter pets bring baggage with them, and just because they are homeless doesn’t mean it is through their own behavioral fault. Veterinarians have been conducting research on the immense number of behaviors that dogs express in shelters, but they acknowledge that “shelter dogs” are not necessarily any different from any other dog already in a home.
Regardless, you should always be prepared to settle your new pet into your home as easily and comfortably as possible. By providing a safe and quiet place for them to adjust, socializing them properly and helping them develop a routine, you can ensure that your new pet becomes a happy and healthy member of the family.
Marina graduated from Monmouth University with a B.A. in psychology and a B.S. in marine and environmental biology and Policy. She also holds CPDT-KA dog training certification with the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. She has over eight years of experience in zoological and domestic animal care and has worked at various facilities all around the country. Marina and her husband, Vincent, own, operate and manage an animal behavior/training and media company based out of Central Florida called petsETC.