NEW ADOPTERS GUIDE TO SETTLING YOUR RESCUE DOG
The importance of ‘getting it right’ for your new foreign Rescue Dog cannot be stressed enough. It is far easier to prevent problems arising than it is to try to undo them once something has happened. By sticking to a few simple guidelines when your Rescue dog first arrives at their new home with you, you can help make sure they settle quickly, happily and with as few problems as possible.
Please bear in mind, the following information is based on my knowledge and experience of foreign Rescue dogs, but every one of them will be different. Please read through the whole information guide several times before your dog arrives ideally, and get all members of your family to read it too.
These guidelines are information you need to know, you may need to know all of them, you may not need any of them, but you will definitely need to be prepared to read and assess how your particular dog is coping with everything, and meet his/her needs as an individual.
Many rescues have different protocols when their dogs arrive. Your dog may be delivered to your house, you may be collecting them from a rescue kennels or somewhere else. The protocols remain the same.
Even if your dog has already been with a foster family in the UK, these recommendations still apply. Yes, being with a foster may have helped them over a key adjustment period, but you are about to take them away from everything that has become familiar to them in that time, so the stressed/confused/scared possibilities still exist.
When collecting your dog you will need the following
– A collar & lead
– A Slip Lead – this is to be worn as an emergency back-up should your dog panic and try to bolt – a dog can slip out of a collar in 2 seconds and you would be shocked how easily this can happen.
– A harness would be advisable but many dog arrive confused and scared and so may not cope with the manhandling of having a harness fitted.
– A Crate for the car or some way of securing your dog in the car ie harness with seat-belt attachment or a secure boot area.
– Someone with you to help in case your dog panics in the car or is exceptionally upset.
COLLECTION / ARRIVAL DAY RULES!
We have watched too many of these beautiful dogs go through a two day van journey to arrive at their new life only to escape in panic and be lost. Some are lost for weeks and some sadly get killed on the roads. Please do not underestimate the need for belt and braces here.
– As soon as you have your dog, put them straight into the car or in their crate in the car or take them straight into a secure garden or indoors.
– DO NOT walk them around to see if they want to go to the toilet, most of these dogs won’t toilet until they feel totally safe anyway.
– Please Remember your dog will most likely be scared , confused and stressed. They may look for a way to escape your garden, they may try to wriggle out of collars and may well bolt if given half a chance.
– Please DO NOT Risk your Dog’s Life.
– Leave their lead on in the car if it’s safe to do so, to make it easier and safer for you to get them out when you get home without manhandling them too much trying to get the lead back on. If you are going straight into your home, also leave the lead attached and trailing for the first few hours at least in case you need to man-oeuvre your dog into or out of anywhere.
– If you have collected your dog in the car, when you arrive home, again take your dog straight indoors or into the garden, but keep them on a lead in the garden, even if you think it’s secure.
IF YOUR DOG IS DELIVERED STRAIGHT TO YOUR HOME ADDRESS
– You must keep them at home for the first 48 hours as part of DEFRA Regulations
– You may receive a spot check visit from DEFRA, usually within the first week but it can be anything up to 4 weeks following arrival.
This is just to make sure everything is in order with your passport, paperwork and they will want to scan your dogs microchip to make sure it matches your documentation.
GET YOUR DOG’S MICROCHIP UPDATED IMMEDIATELY!
This is so important, the first few days in a new environment are when your new dog could feel most scared and more likely to run away if the opportunity arises. It is so easy for people to leave gates open, your dog can scoot through an open door or in some cases escape from gardens. If the chip has not been registered to you, and your dog has just arrived from Romania Their microchip will NOT show up on any database in the UK, it has to be registered first, so even though a scanner will read the microchip, they will have no way of tracing where that dog came from, meaning they will end up in kennels somewhere with the risk of being put to sleep if not claimed.
LEAVE A LEAD ON WHEN YOU ARRIVE HOME:
Leave a short lightweight lead trailing when you first arrive home in case you need to move your new rescue dog off of, out of or into anywhere This will eliminate the need for you to grab for their collar, which could be scary to an already stressed dog that doesn’t know you.
FOOD & WATER:
Make sure they have access to fresh water in a place where ideally they don’t have to turn their back on a room to drink, so not in a corner. If they feel anxious about their surroundings they may be reluctant to drink if they can’t see where everyone is while doing so.
Offer them food shortly after they arrive but for the first few days at least, feed little and often rather than big meals. Ideally scatter their food over a small area to prevent them wolfing it down and to encourage them to engage in naturally calming behaviors like snuffling and sniffing. Obviously feed them separately to resident dogs.
TIME, SPACE & PATIENCE:
When your dog arrives they will be in stress overload. Their Cortisol and Adrenaline levels will be through the roof. They will need at least a few days for these to even begin to come down so please make these first few days very peaceful. Most dogs sleep a lot during the first 24 hours and it’s important to give them the opportunity and a safe place to allow them to do that. This alone can prevent all sorts of problem behaviors in the first few days.
If they are fearful when they arrive and don’t wish to interact then leave them to choose their space and don’t keep encouraging them to make friends. They will come around in their own time but if you keep trying to make them do things you could increase their anxiety and make the process of them settling take much longer.
Avoid having lots of visitors to the house during the first week. Let your new arrival settle, get used to their new environment and get used to you before you start introducing more new people. Visitors tend to want to excessively fuss because they will know you rescued this dog from an awful situation. All this attention from so many strangers can cause many of these dogs to feel anxious. Let your dog choose to interact with any visitors when they do come, but if they don’t want to then leave them be and ask your visitors to ignore them. You should be able to tell how comfortable they’re feeling from their body language. If they’re happily leaping around your new visitors, then it’s more likely they will enjoy a fuss, but if they’re hesitant and unsure, it is REALLY IMPORTANT that you let your dog set the pace for new introductions. If you try to encourage them to make friends, you can actually MAKE them scared of new people – and this can take months to change once established.
SAFETY: Keep them on a lead, preferably a long line in the garden for the first few days, some dogs can be very panicked by all they’ve been through & their new surroundings and you want to be sure they have no intention of trying to escape. This is especially important and a very real possibility if your new rescue dog was a street dog. Some of these dogs have been reported to jump 6ft fences and if you have any gaps in your fencing, you can be sure your Romanian dog will find them!
BELT & BRACES ON YOUR FIRST WALKS:
Double lead your rescue dog when you first start walking them outside, in case they panic and slip a collar or harness. Best combination is harness +
lead with a flat collar + lead. Or you could have a slip lead on as well as your ordinary collar/harness & lead, but don’t use it, it’s only there as a
back-up if anything goes wrong. Many Romanian dogs will panic if you use a lead that tightens around their neck so make sure the slip lead is only used as a backup emergency.
Take your rescue dog out to the garden when they arrive (on a lead) to see if they want to toilet. Most won’t go until they have settled down.
Following on from this take them out to go to the toilet as soon as they wake up, after each meal and every couple of hours for the first week (every hour if a puppy) this will lessen the risk of accidents in the house and give you the opportunity to praise and reinforce all toileting outside. This will increase the likelihood they will quickly learn where they are suppose to go to the toilet and reduce the degree of accidents in the house. Most of these dogs are toilet trained within 48 hours.
- Don’t keep fussing over your new arrival, they will most likely not be used to it. Although you may feel you are showering them with all the love they have missed out on and comforting them during their stress at being in a new home, they find this quite stressful, in addition to all the stress of their journey and finding themselves in a whole new strange environment. Give them time and space.
- Don’t Bathe them for at least a few days. Your new arrival will most likely pong a bit. Please refrain from putting them through the additional stress of being bathed unless it’s absolutely necessary for medical reasons. This is a very intrusive and often scary experience for a dog that has already been through so much stress. They have no idea who you are or where they are and may not cope at all well with being manhandled into a bath or shower. This kind of overwhelm in the first few days of arriving could easily cause trauma for your new arrival and the development of more deep seated issues (fearfulness, mistrust, reactivity) Once a few days have passed you will have a much better idea of how your dog might cope with this experience (or not as the case may be) The smell very quickly diminishes anyway so just give them some space on this one.
- Don’t allow them to follow you everywhere and have access to all areas of the house for the first few days/weeks. Often these dogs will not be used to all the home comforts we offer them and if you allow them free reign over everything, you could find them developing resource guarding behaviors over all the new & wonderful ‘stuff’ they find at their pawtips. Plus it can help prevent the development of separation anxiety by providing them with their own room that you leave now and again just to go to other areas of the house. In addition to this, an anxious dog can feel more anxious if they have too much space.
- Don’t Let them on beds or sofa’s for the first few weeks. Again this can instigate resource guarding, which once it starts to happen, is more difficult to stop than if you can prevent it from starting and being practiced in the first place. Resource guarding of sofa’s and beds is a very common problem during the first few weeks and has led to quite a few bites and the return to kennels of newly adopted dogs, so please help make your adoption be as successful as possible and follow this advice.
- Don’t reinforce ALL attention demanding behaviors. This can often be an insecurity based behavior and you could enhance the possibility of separation anxiety and owner possessiveness (resource aggression) being created by always giving in to their demands for attention. By all means give them plenty of attention once they’re settled in, but try to avoid always responding to their demands for it.
- Don’t mess about with your rescue dogs feet – this is a very sensitive area (instinctively) for dogs, leave grooming, bathing and rubbing with a towel until they are a bit more familiar with you and a relationship of trust has been established.
- Don’t take your rescue dog for walks for a few days AT LEAST for most it will be a week. They need time to decompress from everything that has happened to them before overwhelming them further with all the sights, sounds and smells of the outside world. We feel they need walks every day to be happy, but many of these dogs will not be used to our busy environments. They can find them scary & stressful, on top of the already stressful experiences they have been through
leading up to their arrival with you . They will be tired enough with processing all that has and is happening to them, they need time to settle to get ready to take on the environment outside. (Google -Stress or trigger Stacking in Dogs for a more detailed explanation about this)
- Don’t Expect your rescue dog to be used to wearing a collar and walking on a lead. If they have had any experience of being on the end of a dog catchers pole, they will most likely be terrified if you start trying to pull them along on a lead. Do plenty of lead practice in the garden in the first few days, without all the distractions they will face when the actually go out for walks, to get them used to it and help them realize it’s nothing to worry about.
- Don’t Let your rescue dog off the lead for AT LEAST several weeks but probably much longer & with some never. Hire a secure field if you want to give them a good ‘ole run around. Please do not risk your dog’s life because you want to enjoy the sight of them ‘running free’ many of these dogs are very easily spooked and it wouldn’t take much for them to bolt. In addition to that many of them have a very high prey drive and although they may seem like they’re going to hang around with you, one whiff of something interesting and they could well be disappearing into the distance!
MEETING RESIDENT DOGS
Your new arrival may not be ready to meet your resident dogs immediately If they have never been on a lead, or are frightened of the lead, introductions may be better taking place at home in the garden, but you will need controls / barriers in place ready to keep everyone safe if necessary.
BUT if your dog is clearly terrified, I would recommend leaving introductions until they have settled a bit and stress levels have reduced, otherwise it is far more likely the introductions will not go well
- It is generally best if new rescue dogs can meet resident dogs away from home somewhere quiet, have a little wander & a sniff together and then be brought back into the home together, BUT you will need to assess this based on the point I have made above.
- Please bear in mind that many of these rescue dogs will be scared, so if you are doing greetings outside the home, make sure you have them double leaded, one of which being a slip lead (but not in use) and don’t expect them to walk as such, just to have a wander & a sniff and be able to meet their new friends before returning home
- Make any necessary arrangements so that rescue dogs and resident dogs don’t have to be left alone in the same space for several weeks, or at least until it’s obvious they have bonded and are very happy together.
- Once back in the home, allow your new dog time & space to himself away from resident dogs to process all the new information and experiences. A baby gate is ideal for this, or behind a glass door, to give them regular periods of down time but without shutting them away completely on their own. That way they can still see, hear and communicate with resident dogs and get used to all that is going on around them but without feeling overwhelmed and hassled by it all. Go about your day spending time with both your resident dogs and your newbie individually so they don’t feel shut out.
- Be aware of potential barrier frustration, you may need an area between them to prevent this.
- Most settle without issue but it’s important to be vigilant and assess this when they arrive. If a fight occurs between newly adopted dogs and resident dogs in these first few days, (bearing in mind the elevated stressed state of your new arrival meaning potentially low tolerance levels) it can damage the relationship badly making it harder for them to become friends and live happily together
Keep new dogs and resident dogs separate at feeding times for at least a few weeks, maybe longer. Your new dog will arrive very hungry! If they have spent any amount of time in a Foreign Public Shelter they will have had to fight for their food, and whilst, with many, this behavior subsides quite quickly, during the settling in
period, it will still be in the forefront of their mind. If an argument over food takes place in these early days and weeks, it could ruin the relationship between your new rescue dog and your resident dog forever, which will cause you many more problems in the long run.
PREVENTION OF INCIDENTS:
Always feed treats and any high value bones/chews etc separately,
either in crates or separate rooms (baby gates are a godsend here)
PREVENTION OF DOG -DOG RESOURCE GUARDING:
If you have a resident dog, pick up all the toys for the first few days/weeks until you can see how they are getting on, and to give them time to get to know each other and settle in each other’s company. If your resident dog is used to playing with toys with you, take them in a separate room for playtime so they don’t miss out, and leave your rescue dog with a treat to keep them happy.
WHAT TO EXPECT FOR THE FIRST FEW WEEKS (At Least!)
When your rescue dog first arrives with you, it is important to be 100% aware and realize they will need time to adjust and settle. If I took one of my dogs and left them in a strange house where they didn’t know anyone.
We would expect them to be very unsettled, upset, confused, very stressed and to display any range of behaviors, including reactivity, which they would not normally display. I would expect all this from a dog that has never had any upset in their life and has lived life so far knowing nothing but love, safety and security.
So imagine how much worse it is for a rescue dog from Romania. These dogs could have spent some time trying to survive on the streets, would have had to endure the horrors of a Romanian Public Shelter and how they’re treated and handled there. They would have spent 2 days on a transport vehicle with yet more strange dogs and people, possibly another 2 days in yet another strange kennel environment (if not longer) with MORE strange dogs and people before they finally arrive with you, yet another new environment with more strange people and possibly more strange dogs, along with a completely new routine and level of expectations!
Some dogs cope with all of this remarkably well, but some don’t, and it would serve adopters and fosters better to assume that they won’t cope, and behave and handle them accordingly.
That way, you are far more likely to prevent problems than if you assume they will be fine, or that they will be grateful for this wonderful life you have offered them, and then don’t provide them with the necessary consistency, boundaries and structure that they need at this most unstable of times.
Important points to remember in order to provide structure in the early weeks
- Have all the equipment you might need ready for when your dog arrives. Be prepared.
- Keep YOUR behavior consistent. Your rescue dog will learn much quicker from knowing what is expected of him. Avoid confusing him by making sure everyone in the house is doing the same things.
- Provide a secure, safe place for him to be left alone. Start doing this as soon as he arrives, even if only for 5 or 10 minutes at a time while you go elsewhere in the house.
- Establish a routine as much as possible and as quickly as possible. Your new arrival can gain a lot of confidence and reassurance from having a routine in place and knowing what to expect and when.
- Expect some problems in the early settling in period, and be prepared for it to be a bit stressful and unsettling for everyone in the house to start with. All legitimate rescue’s will provide support and advice, but it can never hurt to have already sourced a reputable local trainer or behaviorist you can call upon if needed.
We would recommend looking for an accredited member of a recognizable body to ensure your trainer has been fully assessed and uses positive reward based methods of training and handling.
NB: The dog training industry is unregulated and therefore it is possible for pretty much anyone to set themselves up as a trainer, but this doesn’t mean they will be a good trainer with up to the date knowledge. I know for a fact, many trainers are still using aversion methods for training and dealing with behavior problems, which if used on a rescue dog, will most likely cause more problems than it solves. Please choose your trainer carefully and ideally choose a trainer experienced with foreign rescue dogs.
The First Few Weeks are a Critical Transition Period
Dogs are particularly impressionable when they first arrive in a new environment, and how well you manage their behavior and handle any problems during this transitional period will have a direct effect on how quickly they settle and become a well adjusted member of the family.
Mistakes made and issues handled incorrectly during this stage can result in long term problems developing because your Romanian dog will imprint very quickly, especially to a negative experience. If you encounter any kind of extreme reactions from your dog during these first few days and weeks, barking and lunging at visitors, reacting to dogs or people out on walks, please seek the help of a professional as quickly as possible because it is unlikely this behavior will simply ‘sort itself out’ and the quicker you deal with it the less likely it is to develop into a well practiced habit. When that happens it means more time and work to help your dog learn to make different choices.
Please plan to invest time during this period to steadily introduce, teach and get acquainted with your new dog and his/her unique character. All of this MUST take place at your dogs pace and within the realms of what they can cope with.
It will definitely be worth the extra effort in the long run…
Possible Problems You May Encounter With Your New Rescue Dog
It is essential you realize and appreciate that you are more than likely going to face some problems with your new rescue dog. This does not mean they can’t be solved, or that you have gotten a ‘bad’ dog, it’s the same with all rescue dogs, they’re not robots and if you don’t know their history, you have to be prepared to deal with any of the following.
- Resource guarding
- Separation Anxiety
- House soiling
- Demanding Attention
- Snatching at food
- Running off
- Fear of new people (growling / reactivity)
- Fear of other dogs (growling / reactivity)
- Counter surfing
- Bin Raiding
- Not liking a lead being put on
- Pulling on the lead or not wanting to move when the lead is on
- Stress behaviors (Chewing / Shredding)
If you’re not prepared to deal with any of these problems, you need to discuss this at length with your rescuer before you get your dog. It’s unfair to expect a dog to arrive and be ‘perfect’ and when they’re not you send them back. This causes untold psychological damage for the dog, making it harder and harder for them to settle into a future home. Please take a moment to place yourself in their paws and seriously consider what you can and can’t deal with based on your knowledge, experience and commitment.
Most rescuers will provide support during the settling in period, but even with this, you need to be prepared to put in the work at home initially to settle your dog as smoothly as possible.
ESSENTIAL EQUIPMENT TO GET BEFORE YOUR DOG ARRIVES
- Flat Buckle Collar
- Double clip Halti Lead (Amazon sell these quite reasonably)
- Slip lead + Short lightweight house lead
- A long training line (15 – 20ft)
- Baby Gate(s)
- Escape Proof Harness (Or harness plus double leaded to collar)
- Crate or Xpen
- Plenty of healthy tasty treats
- Training treat bag