Tips on Welcoming A Rescue Dog Home From the Shelter

Amy Tokic
by Amy Tokic

Congratulations on the new addition to your family! Bringing a dog home from a shelter can be an emotional and stressful event- here are some expert tips to make the transition as smooth as possible.

Congratulations! You’ve just adopted a dog from the shelter. But the excitement doesn’t stop there – the first day home is an emotional one for the humans and a stressful one for the shelter dog. Even if the change is a great one, it’s still a big change, and it can have an impact on your new pet’s behavior. The air of excitement and the new period of adjustment can even catch you unprepared and lead you to make some beginner’s mistakes when it comes to welcoming a new dog into the household. However, there are a few things you can do when bringing a dog home from the shelter that will make the first few days in your dog’s new home happy and calming, as well as help to establish your place as pack leader.

Ease them into it

We know that the first thing you want to do when bringing a dog home from the shelter is to shower your new pooch with hugs and kisses. But hold off. Yes, a hug to humans conveys love and acceptance, but to a dog, it signals dominance and invasion of space. Give him some space until he has gotten to know you a bit better… then let the loving commence! This usually takes a couple of days, but as soon as your dog is comfortable in a new situation, they’ll be up for cuddles. Don’t force your new shelter dog into uncomfortable situations and take things slowly – you have many happy years ahead for the both of you.

However, just because you don’t want to signal overwhelming dominance to your new pet, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t establish yourself as the leader of the pack right away. Being firm and confident will not only help you train your dog later on, but it will actually help your dog feel more comfortable around you.

Tone it down a notch or two

On the day that you’re bringing a dog home from the shelter, we’re going to ask you to do something you might not expect – don’t bring him inside (just yet). This is an eventful day and it’s likely that your shelter dog will be full of energy. After you park the car, take your new dog for a walk to burn off some of that excess energy.

In addition to helping him burn off that excitement-generated energy, a walk will also give your dog to unwind and relax a bit before being introduced to his new home. As well, you’ll be establishing yourself as the pack leader – just be sure the dog stays beside or behind you on the walk. A walk around the neighborhood is a great way to introduce your pup to his new surroundings, and it gives him a chance to give the area a good sniffing.

Give them the apartment tour

Now it’s time to go inside. But don’t just let your new shelter dog off the leash to investigate his new home. You’re the pack leader, remember? It’s your job to set down the rules right from the start. You go through doors and entranceways first, followed by the dog. Lead the dog around your home on a leash, going from room to room (you always taking the lead and going in first). Spend about 10 minutes in each room, letting him sniff around.

Be sure that other family members don’t come rushing at the dog with kisses and hugs (we established why earlier in the article). Other family members should greet the dog calmly, not talking to him and letting him sniff them. Gradual introductions are best in any case, especially with shelter dogs, You might not know their past, but it’s likely to have been a ruff one if they ended up surrendered to a shelter. This is why it’s best to keep their stress of meeting new people to a minimum and give them time to adjust to all the changes before expecting them to become a social butterfly.

Prepare a safe haven beforehand

Your dog’s bed or crate should be set up before bringing a dog home. Save his area for the last stop on the tour. Give him a chance to sniff it and leave a few bones or treats out for him – that way, the dog will always see this as a positive place. If your dog is calm at this time, you can start petting and showing him affection. Rub his head, belly or back, but resist giving him a hug just yet. It’s very important that your dog is calm for this part. If he is still hyper, take him for another walk to help tire him out.

A cozy corner of your home where your rescue dog can retreat for some alone time is absolutely crucial. If things get too overwhelming and he feels like he needs a timeout, a comfy bed in the corner of the room or a reassuring nest that can be a furnished crate are just what he needs to relax. Once you’ve commenced the tour of the house and he’s been introduced to the other family members, feel free to give your shelter dog some food and water. Also, be sure to take frequent bathroom breaks until you’ve established a routine.

Going to sleep

Your first day of excitement is not over yet- it’s time for your dog to sleep in their new home for the first time. It can be hard for a dog to relax and go to sleep somewhere where they are not accustomed to, but the fact they’ll be knackered from all the excitement works in your favor. However, sleeping arrangements will still require a bit of an effort from your side. Most people opt for setting up a crate for their rescue’s first night in their home, even if they are not planning on crating their dog in the future.

Not only that a crate will ensure that your new family member doesn’t go out and make a mess of things while he’s still adjusting, but it will also give him a sense of safety and security to have a secluded nook to curl up in. You can even place the crate in your bedroom if you want him to know you’re nearby and there’s nothing to be afraid of.

Consider Fido’s Fuel

In all likelihood, you’ll be getting your new furry best friend used to food and treats he may not be used to. If you want to continue to feed him the food he was eating with his breeder or the shelter/rescue, what-have-you, that’s fine. But it’s likely you’ll want to switch it up and you’ll want to be careful about how you do.

According to the AKC, if you switch your dog’s food too quickly, you may see him suffer from signs of gastrointestinal distress. This could look like vomiting, diarrhea or even a lack of desire to eat. It could also look like him wanting to wolf everything he can down because he’s simply not absorbing enough nutrients from what he is eating. The AKC recommends the following schedule (if at all possible and you have access to the current/old food) for switching a dog’s food when you first get them:

  • Day 1: 25% new diet and 75% old diet.
  • Day 3: 50% new diet and 50% old diet.
  • Day 5: 75% new diet and 25% old diet.
  • Day 7: 100% new diet.

This will also be the time you learn about your dog’s sensitivities, as if this timeframe doesn’t seem to do the trick, you may need to give him a bit longer of an adjustment as you mix the foods. You will never go wrong supplementing with a great probiotic/fiber/digestive enzyme supplement to keep gastrointestinal distress down and increase his overall gut health quality. Mostly, you’ll want to watch how he does, and make sure that he adjusts to the new change well. If it seems he adjusts too well, and eats like he’s never eaten before, you may want to look at feeders that will slow that gulping down. Dogs who eat too quickly can deal with issues like regurgitation too. If you’ve rescued your dog from the shelter, odds are they’re not used to not worrying about food, so they may have a propensity to wolf it down.

The 3-3-3 Rule

Another helpful tip is the 3-3-3 rule, is a guideline that outlines the three key phases of adjustment for a dog when adopting into a new home. Initially developed to help adopters understand the emotional landscape of rescue dogs, this rule segments the adjustment period into three distinct stages: the first 3 days, 3 weeks, and 3 months post-adoption. These phases reflect the dog's acclimatization to its new environment, mirroring familiar feelings of uncertainty that humans often experience in new situations like starting a new job or moving to a new school.

During the first three days, the dog might feel overwhelmed and display a reduced appetite or withdrawn behavior as it starts to absorb its new surroundings. By the end of three weeks, the dog typically begins to settle in, becoming more comfortable and starting to show its true personality. Behavior issues might become apparent during this time, providing a crucial period for training and setting boundaries to aid in the dog's adjustment.

After three months, the dog should feel secure in its new home, having developed a stable routine and strong bond with its adopter. This stage signifies the dog's full adaptation, where it has not only accepted its new living situation but also feels secure and understood within its new family. It's recommended to have consistent support from a veterinarian and a pain/fear-free trainer to ensure the dog's physical and mental health throughout these stages.

At the end of the day, bringing a new dog into your home and life is something different for the both of you. But it’s something different that’s PAWESOME and you can totally do it. Just follow these tips and remember that every transition is just that–a transition. It’s not permanent and once he (and you) settles into routine? It’ll be like he’d always been there!

Photo credit: N K /

Guidelines for Parents With a Newly Adopted Dog

  • Parents should always supervise interactions between their newly adopted dog and children. It is crucial to avoid leaving a child alone with the dog, even for brief moments such as answering a phone call. The idealized bond shown between children and dogs on television often does not accurately represent real-life interactions, which can sometimes lead to unexpected behaviors from the dog.

  • Mealtimes for the dog should be calm and isolated from children. This not only provides the dog with peace and privacy but also helps to prevent any resource guarding behavior that might arise from children being too close during feeding times. Meals should be portioned to ensure they are consumed quickly, and any leftover food or empty bowls should be promptly removed to discourage guarding.

  • Families should discourage any form of rough play between the dog and any family members. This includes wrestling or encouraging the dog to bite at human clothes or body parts. Such activities can teach the dog inappropriate play behaviors that might be mistakenly directed at a child later, increasing the risk of injury.

  • It is important to be vigilant not only with your own dog but also with dogs belonging to friends or neighbors, especially when they are around your children. Dogs might accept behavior from a child within the family but react differently to a friend's child. Children often act unpredictably, and this can provoke a dog. Therefore, before your child visits a friend’s home where a dog is present, meet the dog in advance. Assess the dog’s size, behavior, and the household’s rules regarding the interaction between children and the dog. Ensure there are no toys or bones that could cause possessive behavior, and confirm that the dog does not exhibit any aggressive tendencies towards visitors.

Photo credit: Gorodenkoff /

Frequently Asked Questions:

What to know before adopting a dog from a shelter?

When bringing a new dog home, it is crucial to ensure they have the right supplies and environment to make the transition smooth. Essential items include a martingale collar or front clip harness to prevent slipping and assist with leash training, and dog ID tags along with microchipping for safety and identification. The food should be introduced gradually to avoid digestive issues, with guidelines on portion control and frequency readily available from most pet food brands. Additionally, maintaining consistent locations for food and water dishes helps the dog orient themselves in their new home. Crates are recommended to reduce stress during the adjustment period, and safe toys are essential to relieve stress and prevent boredom.

The adjustment period varies for each dog and can range from a few days to several months. Patience is vital during this time as the dog may experience house-training regressions or shyness. Establishing a clear set of rules and structure from the start can prevent future behavioral issues and provide security for the dog. Training is equally important; it should be consistent and integrate both verbal cues and hand signals. Regular training not only improves behavior but also enhances the dog's happiness and mental stimulation. Professional trainers and puppy-proofing the home are advised to ensure safety and facilitate learning. Regular exercise and establishing a relationship with a vet are also important to manage the dog's health and energy levels.

Overall, make sure you conduct extensive research before deciding to adopt a dog.

How much does it cost to adopt a dog from a shelter?

According to the Animal Humane Society, these fees are determined by factors like the animal's age, breed, and size, with some high-demand animals commanding higher fees to support those with special needs or difficulty finding homes. An administrative fee, ranging from $5 to $22, is applied to all adoptions to support program operations. Additionally, a hold fee of $30 for dogs and cats, or $10 for other animals, can be paid to reserve an animal for 24 hours, supporting the extra day of care needed.

Dog and cat adoption fees at the Animal Humane Society include various services such as a physical examination, vaccinations, deworming medication, flea/tick treatment if needed, spay/neuter surgery, and 30 days of pet insurance. They also offer a 60-day return period and free follow-up examinations by participating veterinarians. Animals are provided with preventative treatments for fleas, ticks, and heartworms, ensuring their health and well-being.

These fees may vary from location to location. Contact your shelter to find out more.

How do you adopt a dog from a shelter?

Generally, you can expect these following steps:


  • Explore different breeds, ages, energy levels, and personality traits to find a dog that suits your lifestyle.
  • Check local shelters, rescues, and fosters for available resources and potential matches.

Fill out an application:

  • Complete an application online or in person, providing details about your living situation, dog experience, and references.
  • Some shelters may prefer in-person applications.

Interview and first meeting:

  • Prepare for in-person interviews where interactions with the desired dog are observed.
  • For rescues, be ready for potential home visits.

Adoption finalization:

  • Complete final paperwork, pay the adoption fee, and take your new dog home.

How long does it take a shelter dog to adjust to a new home?

According to the 3-3-3 rule, your shelter dog should feel at ease and comfortable in their new home after 3 months of care following necessary training.

How to introduce a shelter dog to your dog?

When introducing a rescue dog to your current pet, consider their temperament, playstyle, gender, and age to ensure compatibility. Assess if your current dog enjoys socializing with other canines and choose a new companion accordingly. Create separate spaces for both dogs initially, providing downtime and preventing possessiveness by keeping food bowls, beds, and toys separate. Meeting at a neutral location for the first introduction, such as on a walk or at a dog park, can ease the process. Watch for signs of fear or aggression in both dogs' body language, and if present, separate them and slow the pace of introductions to prevent injury and foster positive interactions. Look for relaxed postures and playful signs as indications of enjoyable interaction between the dogs. Follow these steps provided by the Animal Humane Society for more information.

Amy Tokic
Amy Tokic

Amy Tokic, Editor of, is a passionate animal lover and proud pet parent of Oscar, a Shih Tzu/Chihuahua cross, and Zed, a Japanese Chin. Her love of animals began in kindergarten, when she brought her stuffed dog Snoopy into class with her every day. Now, she writes about her adventures in pet ownership and tirelessly researches products, news and health related issues she can share with other animal enthusiasts. In her free time, Amy loves perusing used book and record stores, obsessing over the latest pet products available and chasing squirrels with wild abandon (a habit attributed to spending too much time with her pooches).

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