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A Dozen Things You Should Know Before Adopting a Rescue Dog

  1. She will not be grateful for you adopting her. Why should she? You are just one more thing that has Ted1happened to her over which she had no control, some of which have been worse than others. She may come to love you and her new home in time but don’t expect gratitude for “rescuing” her, because she doesn’t understand what you did.
  2. Adopting an adult is not easier than adopting a new puppy. Okay, she may be house-trained (but not necessarily in your house) and not need to toilet through the night, but you are dealing with a dog that already has expectations of how you will behave towards her and re-learning how to respond is more difficult than first learning. Initially you should be prepared to put in at least as much time and effort as you would with a puppy.
  3. She does not know your rules. She has lived with some human rules before (maybe – maybe not if you import a street-dog) but they won’t be the same as yours. Where is she allowed? On the carpet? On the sofa? On the bed? On your knee? When, where and what is she allowed to eat? Food dropped on the floor? Free wild-food (horse manure and squirrels)? Your petunias? She will do what she has done before and, again, re-learning is harder than first learning.
  4. She does not know you from Adam (especially if you keep wearing that fig leaf). Why should she do what you say? Because you rescued her (see 1 above)? She may take time to love you and maybe six months before she trusts you (if ever, depending upon what has happened to her previously). She won’t necessarily want to come back to you when you call her – especially if something more interesting/edible/worrying/fun is happening over there.
  5. She will not automatically get on with your other dog/ cat/ hamster/ child/ husband/ hair-dryer/ vacuum cleaner/ traditional training methods… Dogs are individuals with personalities. Many dogs can accommodate changes and adapt accordingly but this will need time and effort. Sometimes some just can’t.
  6. She is not your last dog. She may have the same number of legs and cute floppy ears, but she is not a replica of any dog you have ever had. She can replace the place in your heart that your last dog left empty, but she cannot replicate them – even if she is the spitting image – so don’t expect her to.
  7. She will have odd habits (perhaps amusing, or disgusting). People allow or encourage their pets to do the weirdest things: taking food from her bowl and bringing it into the living room to eat one piece at a time, licking the plates in the dishwasher, licking her bum then your face (kisses for mummy!) or re-eating vomit (more kisses!) –  and the dog might consider these normal.
  8. People lie. Or at least are economical with the truth. Do not believe everything on the form the previous owner filled in. They were trying to get their dog adopted and may have glossed over what they think might be her faults – especially if they feel embarrassed about them. Q. Where does she sleep? A. In the kitchen (for the first five minutes until she sneaks upstairs and spends the night in bed with me). Q. What does she eat? A. “GoodBoy!” dog kibble (after I’ve mixed minced beef and gravy with it and fed it to her on a spoon).
  9. Rescue societies aren’t perfect. They do their best to match dogs with owners, but might not know that the dog you’re adopting has a tendency to howl the house down when left (the previous owner might not have mentioned it) or that she chews shoes, or hates postmen, or humps cushions or… You might need to work with her a bit…
  10. She WILL be stressed when she arrives. The most stressful life events for humans are the loss of a loved one and moving home. She’s just experienced both at once (regardless of how bad they were). She is in a new place with odd rules, which she worries about getting wrong. This will make her nervous and less tolerant of being pestered (for example by dogs on walks or by visiting children). She will feel apprehensive and defensive. Give her a break. Be hyper-attentive of her needs. Does she need to walk away from that yappy dog? Does she need a treat to reward her for coming away? She needs guidance (Guide & Control). Provide it for her before her stress levels tip her into using problematic behaviour. In time her stress will ease as she becomes used to her new situation.
  11. She may have a Honeymoon Period. No, not giggly holding hands with flowers, champagne and chocolates, but because she stressed and everything is new, she might not do anything at all for a while (varies but about a month isn’t unusual). Then, when she’s sussed out the new place and folks, she will revert to how she has behaved previously. This might be some forms of problematic behaviour that resulted in her being given up for adoption in the first place. Don’t be another human that gives up on her – work with her.
  12. Treat her right and she will bring you joy. There isn’t a day that will pass that she won’t make you smile – probably when she tries to help you rebury the daffodils she has just proudly dug up for you. Or when the postman pats her on the head and says, “What a nice dog, where did you get her?”

21 replies on “A Dozen Things You Should Know Before Adopting a Rescue Dog”

Fabulous article. It’s exactly what we need to share with adopters once they’ve reserved a dog. Sums up everything perfectly, and may help with adopters, often high, expectations of our dogs! You said it’s ok to share above, can I print this page and add to our adoption folders, showing full credits, of course? I’ve shared to our FB page already 🙂 Best wishes.

Hi Kathy, feel free to use it in any way you deem fit. Glad to be of some use.

Re no 8 paragraph, people also lie or are economical with the truth when adopting a dog. I hope you do full home checks before and after people are allowed to take a dog,cat or any animal.

Hi Jill,
I don’t know of any organisation that doesn’t do proper checks before and follow-up. Maybe I just work with the better end of the sector 🙂 Any “organisation” that doesn’t check potential adopters is not looking after the animals in their care.

Excellent article, Dave. Never having taken on an older dog before, though having lived with dogs for most of my life, I have recently rehoused an eleven year old working cocker spaniel who is an absolute delight. Yes, it has been hard work. It is like an old lady suddenly removed from everything and everybody she has known to live in an institution where everybody speaks Swahili and you are expected to obey the rules. For a start I thought that she might be deaf, but we are both in a learning curve, firstly understanding each other’s body language and gradually she beginning to understand a little of my vocabulary. For the first three nights she barked and howled,but I went against the textbook recommendation to ignore a puppy’s night-time barking and sat with her for about half an hour to console her and keep her company (she had lived in kennels with other dogs) and she settled down from then on. We have had problems with wetting in the house, but even that is gradually resolving itself by experimenting with different feeding regimes and using some tablets called ‘Incurin’ which I think are doing the trick. As she is gaining in confidence all the time it is interesting to see what she will do next. But she is the most affectionate little dog one could wish for and it is lovely to see how she has gained in confidence in just six weeks. It just takes patience and understanding to see life from an elderly dog’s point of view.

what do you think to the idea of having something visible -eg hi-viz coat, message on lead – which indicates to others that this is a re-homed dog? I know some rescue organisations are strongly opposed on the grounds that the dog should not be identified as a ‘special case’, shouldn’t be defined by its past etc, but it’s also not helpful to a dog learning to cope with a new environment to be confronted with angry shouting people telling its owner off for having such an ‘immature’poorly trained dog and can be counter-productive to the very confidence-building you are working on? The dog gets things right – eg walking calmly past another dog- say nine times, then panics once, there’s a lot of shouting (and once an attempt to kick the dog) and you are back to the beginning. Some indication that the dog needs a bit of tolerance and consideration might work with some people? I was dissuaded from doing this with my first rescued dog (above arguments) but when I got my ex-puppy farm breeding stock cockerpoo I kept her RSPCA harness on her in the hope that it would make people aware that she might not be the world’s most socially confident dog.

yes I have a couple of bandanas from them after reading about them in Dogs Monthly (there were some letters the following month complaining about the use of yellow because of its established association with assistance dogs, you can never please all of the people …). At the time I couldn’t put a jacket on my dog because he was very touchy about anyone reaching under him and when I revisited their site after getting him to overcome this I couldn’t find the jackets. However at a training camp for reactive dogs met someone whose rescued street dog wore ‘Nervous dog please do not approach’ and got one from the same supplier – mine says Keep Clear Dog in Training and I have a tabard for myself as well so we don’t get ambushed from behind (hopefully). I preferred to focus on the training rather than his history though it does mean I get asked what he is in training for to which I generally say ‘life in general’

Great article, sound advice for anyone looking to bring a dog or puppy into their lives. I think that realistically a 6 month period is the minimal amount of time it will take any dog to really settle in a new environment with new people and longer if there are more issues to overcome. That said, rescue dogs can make the most exceptional companions and members of the family, when treated with love and respect.

Absolutely agree Karen, just don’t expect the magic to happen on day one (and love it when it does) 🙂

Agree, it’s a great article. Dogs are brilliant companions.

I’m of the view that when a human brings a dog into the home, it’s then the dogs place too. This means, if you exclude the dog from certain areas (unless dangerous, of course) the human isn’t sharing but hosting a visitor. It’s almost like entering a new relationship. I would like to rescue another dog.

Excellent article just seeking 8th rescue dog one still needs reminding however successful you’ve been in the past. Should be compulsory reading before adoption.

Well done on two counts Bill: firstly for taking your eigth rescue dog and secondly for understanding that none of us know it all – we all learn from every dog (especially me). Good luck with the latest.

This is so so true I have rescued for many years. I let the Dog take the lead, appreciate the needs and the behaviours. Eventually there is an acceptance from both parties and that is the joy! I am looking for my Fourth rescue dog. I hope I will be accepted by one soon. ??????

We rescued a working cocker 4 months ago.
She had been kept as an exbreeding dog for all of her life (approximately 6 years) she is such a lovely little dog. Very good with people and dogs outside.
However, when anyone comes to the house she howls with fear and I end up putting her in her crate for safety and security for her.
Any advice would be very welcome thank you.

Hi Lucy,
Well done for giving her a loving home, but she’s clearly got some baggage she needs some help with. It’s probably due to lack of adequate socialisation and will be tough to completely unpack, and she’ll probably benefit from a programme tailored especially from her, so you might consider a consultation with a qualified behaviourist
In the meantime providing her with a safe space is a good idea, just make sure it isn’t a punishment to exclude her. Teaching her to go to a comfy bed for a long lasting treat would be a start, but to make significant gains you’re going to need to introduce her to some people in benign circumstances. Let her approach people she feels comfortable with (do not let people approach her – she should be the lead), and reward her with cuddles and gentle petting. If you can do this with a single regular visitor at first before building up to others it can ease her into finding interaction if not positive fun, at least not threatening.

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