How to Prepare for Adopting a New Dog

A Labrador Retriever chewing on a plush toy

The Spruce / Kevin Norris

When you decide to adopt a dog from a shelter or rescue group, you are doing a wonderful thing to help homeless pets everywhere! Even before you've chosen the right dog, you can begin preparing for the arrival of your new canine companion.

Bringing home an adult dog or older puppy from a shelter or rescue differs from bringing home a very young puppy. Each has its pros and cons. You should know what to expect for the first few weeks after your newly adopted dog arrives in your home. 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 areas set up where it can feel safe and that your home is adequately dog-proofed. The dog should have access to its bed, food and water 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 its foster home or shelter, find out if you can take it home. This can help make your home feel familiar.

What You Need

You will need a few basic dog supplies ahead of time so you don't have to run to the store at the last minute, and can spend time with your new pup.

  • 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, it will not likely be able to find its way back to your home. Remember, the dog will be in an unfamiliar place and could be stressed or scared. Be extra careful to keep it on a leash or in a securely fenced area when it's outdoors to prevent it from becoming lost.

Transition the Dog's Food

Find out what food your new dog is currently eating and make sure you have enough for the first few weeks. If you plan on changing its food, wait at least a week before introducing the new diet. Then, gradually transition to the new food over a week or so.

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

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

You still need to establish a routine and set down "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 upfront. 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 after it comes 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 its overall health beforehand.

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

Let Your Dog Adjust

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

It could take weeks or even months for your new dog to show its true personality. Be patient and loving, but also be consistent. Make sure it gets plenty of exercise, mental stimulation, socialization, and attention. All of these things promote a long, healthy, and happy life together.

Preventing Problems With Your Dog After Adoption

If you have children, try to have them meet the dog before you bring it home so the dog recognizes their scent. At home, introduce the kids to the dog in a calm environment. Keep control by having the dog on a leash and don't leave children alone with the dog unsupervised.

You'll also want to establish rules with your kids that are appropriate to their age. For instance, young children should be taught not to run after the dog, play with its toys, or pull on its tail or ears. Teaching kids how to properly behave around dogs will go a long way to preventing bites and nips.

The same precautions should be taken with any pets you already have in the home. Take the time to properly introduce the new dog to resident dogs and cats, giving those pets priority and disrupting their routines as little as possible.

Do not plan any major trips, renovations, or changes within the first few weeks to months that your dog is living with you. This transition time should be as stress-free as possible, and a trip to the kennel, moving furniture, or workers coming in and out of your home can cause stress to any pet, much less one who's in a new environment.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.
Article Sources
The Spruce Pets uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. GI Upset in Cats and Dogs. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.