At Felcana, we frequently get asked about welcoming a new puppy or adult dog into your home. It may be your first time adopting a shelter dog, and we understand the anxieties, worries, and excitement that come with! Deciding to rehome a dog is a major commitment and we have compiled together a couple of checklists to help ease the rehoming process. In this article, we cover:
- How to adopt a dog?
- Before bringing your new rescue dog home
- First day with rescue dog
- The first seven days
- The next few weeks
How to adopt a dog?
The dog adoption procedure is relatively straightforward.
- Where to find a dog to adopt? Depending on where you live, there will be a variety of local rescue dog shelters near you and a quick Google search should provide a good list. If you are searching for a particular breed, be sure to look for specific breed charities that rescue and rehome dogs. For example, Greyhound Trust which has branches throughout UK help to rehome retired ex-racing Greyhounds. Some popular dog shelters include RSPCA, Blue Cross, Wood Green and Dogs Trust.
- Look for a dog/puppy. Visit your local dog shelter to meet some of the dogs available for rehoming. However, due to COVID-19, many shelters have ceased visits. Most now have an online website or page where you can view the dogs virtually. Here, you can get to know each dog’s story and have a better idea of their needs and requirements.
- Fill in an application form. The shelters want to get to know you, and to assess if you and your chosen dog are a good match.
- What’s next? The dog adoption procedure will likely vary from here on – each shelter will have different protocols on how they may choose to proceed with your application from here. Some shelters conduct a home visit to make sure your home environment is suitable for a dog. The best way to find out is to give the shelter a ring!
- How much does it cost to adopt a rescue dog? The adoption fee tends to range from around £100-£250. Adopting a puppy is likely to cost more. This fee will also depend on what each shelter requires to support their work.
- How long does adoption process take? Some dogs may take longer to adjust to a new home than others. It is usually up to the shelter themselves to determine when they think the dog is ready to go home with you.
This video by Battersea Dogs & Cats Home gives you a glimpse into their rehoming process, and the work that they do daily to make sure each dog goes to the right family.
Before bringing your new rescue dog home
So you have visited the shelters in your area, consulted everyone at home and met the dog you want to adopt - now what? There are a couple of things you can do in preparation for when your dog comes home with you.
- A family decision. Make sure everyone in the family is on the same page and that everyone’s responsibilities are made clear. Who will be the primary caretaker, do the feeding, bathing, and walking etc?
- House rules. Draw up house rules that everyone in the family agrees to stick to so your new dog doesn’t get confusing or conflicting messages about what he is and isn’t allowed to do.
- Know your dog. Find out as much information about your new dog and his personality as possible, especially if he was a stray with no background history at all. Most shelters have some form of assessment, especially larger organisations like Battersea Dogs & Cats Home in London.
- His own little space. Determine where your dog will be spending most of his time. Pick a room that’s the centre of activity at home so your soon-to-be family member won’t feel isolated. The kitchen is often a good option as it’s best for easy clean-ups.
- Patch up the house. Dog-proof the areas where your dog will be spending most of his time during the first few months. This includes taping loose electrical cords to baseboards, storing household chemicals on high shelves, removing plants, rugs, and breakables, setting up the crate, and installing baby gates. This is especially important if you’re adopting a puppy.
- When you’re out during the day. Create a temporary, gated-off living space for your new family member where he can’t damage or eat something. This will be his area whenever you’re not at home.
First day with rescue dog
The day to bring your dog home is finally here! It is normal to feel a combination of both excitement and nerves about welcoming a new family member. Similarly, your dog will be introduced to an entirely new environment for the first time so remember to take things slow.
- Try to avoid rush hour at the shelter. Weekends and afternoons are likely to be crowded which can excite or agitate the dogs. If possible, go in the middle of the week instead, at a non-peak timing.
- Meeting a rescue dog for the first time. The first meeting is definitely an exciting one! However, it is important to go slow and let him approach you. You may stick your hand out and allow him to sniff it.
- Ask what and when he was fed. Stick to that feeding regime for at least the first few days to avoid stomach upset.
- Register your dog's microchip. Be sure to register your contact information with the chip’s database company. Remember to bring an ID tag with your phone number on it, too.
- Take him home. Your new dog should be safely secured, preferably in a crate. He may find the car trip stressful so having him in a safe place will make the trip easier for him. Remember, you could get landed a big fine if you're driving with an unrestrained pet in the car.
- Give him a tour. Once home, keep your dog on the leash and lead him from room to room - spend a few minutes in each room. Show him where his food and water bowls are.
- Take him to his own little safe haven. Take him to his toileting area immediately. Spend some time with him so he gets used to the area and can relieve himself.
- Settling a rescue dog at night. It is not unusual for puppies and even adult dogs to cry on their first night in a new home – remember that they are away from what is familiar to them! You may wish to put their crate in your bedroom for the first few nights, as being near you can help to provide a source of comfort.
- Prepare yourself. Going into a new home with new people, new smells, and new sounds can be stressful for your new dog. Expect the unexpected, and don't scold your new family member if they have an accident!
The first seven days
These first few days are fun and also definitely challenging. You may be finding it difficult to adapt to a new routine with your dog, or vice versa. Allow your dog to ease into the process and be patient - it will be rewarding!
- Bring him to the vet as soon as possible. This way you can check you’re not bringing home internal parasites or fleas. It’s also a chance to ensure he’s on top with all vaccinations and get worming and other preventative medications. If this is your first time at the vets, this article may help you prepare for what to expect.
- Make introductions. It’s never easy for the new family member to meet the other dogs and cats that already live at home, but there are a few tricks that might help.
- Keep calm and carry on. For the first few days, help your new family member settle in easier by keeping a calm quiet environment for your dog and limiting excitement (e.g. the dog park).
- Change foods slowly. Switch to your preferred brand / diet slowly, over a few days to a week. Start with mixing the old dog food with 1/8 or 1/4 of the the new one and increase the proportion at intervals.
- Reward-based training is fun. Training a rescue dog may be slightly challenging, as they usually have previous learned behaviours. The earlier you start his training, the faster and easier it is for your dog to learn. Pay attention and keep an eye on him at all times. As soon as you spot him doing things you like, quickly reward good behaviour by giving treats.
- Renaming. Choosing to rename your rescue dog is perfectly fine. If your dog has a previously recognised name, it might be useful to combine their old name and the new name, then drop the old name over time. Using treats to reward your dog if they respond to the new name is also a good idea!
The next few weeks
This is a period where you will learn a lot about your dog's personality - what makes him wag his tail, what makes him tick, and what scares him!
- Be patient and understanding. Your dog may be a bit uneasy at first as he gets to know you – don’t force interactions. In the meantime, keep to the schedule you intend to maintain for feeding, walking, and training etc.
- Out for a walk. After your vet has confirmed your dog is up to date with all the necessary vaccinations, you may want to take him to the dog parks. Our vets recommend to keep the dog on a lead until you have built up a strong bond with him, and assessed his confidence interacting with other dogs and strangers.
- Some doggy “me” time. Giving your new pet some ‘neutral’ time during the first few weeks will help him settle in better and avoid creating problems. Make sure you provide him with a safe place, or a comfy bed, to settle and relax.
- One step at a time. Don’t expect too much from your new dog – having him change undesirable behaviours in a short period of time is simply not feasible.
- House training your rescue dog. This is definitely an important one. Taking your dog out to relieve themselves at set timings daily, and giving them lots of praise when they do so outdoors can help to reinforce positive behaviours!
- Stick to the rules. Dogs thrive off a consistent routine, so keeping to those house rules will allow him to settle in and feel comfortable in the new home.
- Never too old to learn new tricks! What better way to bond than going to some dog training classes together! If there is lots of training to do, start off with short ten to fifteen minute training sessions every day and make this a positive bonding time for you and your dog with lots of praise and the odd treat. If you're in need of some help, be sure to check out our article on online dog training, where we share a few resources and delve deeper into how dogs learn.
- Training a fearful rescue dog. This may be very challenging. It will definitely require a lot of patience and perseverance, but also extremely rewarding to do. Try to get to know what your dogs’ triggers are, and also what they are comfortable with. Understanding what causes your dog to become frightened and learning to work slowly with and around that is important. Do not be disheartened if progress is slower than expected, and remember to celebrate the small victories along the way!
- Keep asking questions. Many shelters encourage families to call when they need anything – they are likely to know a lot more about your new dog than you do in the beginning!
If you have any problems or concerns about your new pet, seek help sooner rather than later. Felcana's free online Symptom Checker is a simple way to get quick answers for anything you are worried about with your dog. Your vet may be able to recommend a behavioural counsellor or trainer if you encounter behaviour issues you’re not familiar with. Select a trainer who uses positive-reinforcement techniques to help you and your dog overcome these problems.
And finally, enjoy getting to know your new family member. Bringing home a rescue dog and providing them with a loving home can be one of the most fulfilling experiences. Dogs can enrich your life in so many ways, so making sure you spend the time upfront to build a trusting bond between you both will really cement the foundations of what can be over a decade of friendship.
Have you recently adopted a rescue dog? We would love to hear about your experiences in the comment section below!