How to Prepare for Adopting a New Dog

Portrait of a happy African American family adopting a dog
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When you decide to adopt a dog from a shelter or rescue group, you are doing a wonderful thing to help homeless pets everywhere! Once you have chosen the right dog, you can begin to prepare yourself and your home for the arrival of your new canine companion.

Bringing home an adult dog or older puppy from a shelter or rescue differs in many ways from bringing home a very young puppy. Each has its pros and cons. It's only fair that you should know what to expect for the first few weeks after your newly adopted dog arrives in your home. After all, the more prepared you are, the more smoothly the transition will go.

Preparing to Bring Home a New Dog

Before bringing your dog home, make sure you have the dog's personal areas set up and dog-proofed. They should have access to their new bed, bowls, and toys. If you plan to crate train, be sure the crate is ready as well.

If your new dog has a special item (such as a toy, bed, or blanket) from their foster home or the shelter, find out if you can take it home with them. This can help make their new home feel familiar.

What You Need

  • Dog bed and crate (if using)
  • Food and water bowls
  • Toys
  • Dog food
  • Collar, ID tag, and leash
  • Veterinary records

Prevent a Lost Dog

Have a collar and ID tag with your phone number made in advance. Bring it with you when you pick up your new dog.

Worst case scenario, if the dog runs off or wanders away, they are unlikely to find their way back to your home. Remember, they are in an unfamiliar place and might be stressed or afraid. Be extra careful to keep them on a leash or in a securely fenced area when they are outdoors to prevent them from becoming lost.

Transition the Dog's Food

Find out what food your new dog is currently eating and make sure you have enough of it for the first few weeks. If you plan on changing their food, wait at least a week before starting the new diet. Then, gradually transition them to the new food over the following ten or more days.

Both stress and diet change can cause stomach upset and diarrhea. Keep an eye out for these or any other signs of illness, many of which may also be brought on by stress.

Bond With Your Dog

Try to spend the first few days bonding with your new dog, but give them some space as well. If they want to spend time in their crate rather than with you, let them do so. However, you can encourage them to interact with you through the use of treats and a soft, calm voice.

On the other hand, you still need to establish a routine and set down the "house rules." Begin feeding, walking, and interacting with your dog on the same general schedule each day, If there are areas in or around your home that are off-limits to your dog, establish this up front. This can be done either by blocking access to the areas or by using the "leave it" command.

Begin Training Immediately

Training should start from the moment your new dog comes home but it's best to start slowly.

Housetraining is a priority. Many rescue and shelter dogs already have some housetraining, but expect a few accidents over the first few weeks. For other training, work on basic commands and loose-leash-walking at first, then move on to tricks and advanced training. Above all, remember to keep things positive!

Schedule a Vet Visit

Take your new dog to the veterinarian within a few days to weeks after they come home. It's a good idea to establish a relationship with your vet and open the lines of communication early on. This way, if your new dog becomes ill, your vet will have a better idea of their overall health beforehand.

The shelter or rescue group should provide you with any vaccine and previous health records. Be sure to bring these records to your first vet visit.

Let Your Dog Adjust

Be aware that your newly adopted dog may act differently in your home than they did at the shelter or foster home. A long talk with the shelter workers or foster owners can give you an idea of their personality and habits. However, once they come home with you, there's no way to be sure how they will behave.

Be prepared for it to take weeks or even months for your new dog to show their true self. Be patient and loving, but also be consistent. Make sure they get plenty of exercise, mental stimulation, socialization, and attention. All of these things can lead to a long, healthy, and happy life together.