Adopting A Rescue Dog: What To Expect?

Knowing exactly what you’re getting into when adopting a rescue dog can be tricky.  It’s not just about knowing the requirements for dog adoption. Being stuck in a shelter is a tricky thing for a dog to go through. Ripped from whatever life they knew and thrown into a scary place, surrounded by strange people and dogs, understandably, you may find that their behavior is a little off.

Adopting vs Buying a Pet

Before you even think about adopting a dog, you’ll want to ask yourself what you want in a furever friend. Do you want a dog who will enjoy high-energy activities like running and hiking? Or do you prefer a dog who will be easy-going and laid back? These are essential questions to ask yourself even before you step through the animal shelter’s doors. 

It’s better to make the right choice from the beginning.

When you have the best of intentions, and the shelter is full of loving pets, it’s hard to say that there is a “right” or “wrong” dog to choose to take home. However, there is probably the right dog for you and your lifestyle.

For example, a hyperactive dog who needs a lot of exercises might not be a good fit when you don’t have the time or money to provide proper conditioning and training. A fearful, traumatized dog probably won’t do well in a full and busy household with young children. 

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

When you bring a shelter dog home, it can take several months to see its true colors. Shy dogs may become outgoing, while hyper dogs will chill out. This begs the question: if you can’t be sure of a dog’s true colors, then how the hell do you pick the right one?

How are you supposed to tell the difference between an easygoing, loving dog and a dog who has emotionally shut down because of his overwhelming environment?

There will always be some uncertainty with ANY dog, purebred or mutt, from a fantastic breeder or a great shelter. You’ll never know what medical or behavior issues you will run into or what a puppy’s personality will be like three years from now. 

Tips and Tricks When Adopting A Rescue Dog

Let’s talk about dealing with that uncertainty and determine how to know if the dog you want to adopt is the best fit for you and your lifestyle.

A woman holding the hand of her dog

1. Beware of Rescue Dog Anxiety Issues

Read their body language.  This is the single most effective way to find a great dog. 

A dog’s language is an incredibly subtle and effective way of learning about who they are. Once you understand it, you’ll be amazed at the whole new world of canine communication that opens up to you. 

This may take you some time, but it’s worth it, especially when you’re in the market for a new furever friend. Educate yourself, watch videos, and master this skill, so you’ll know what you’re getting into when you commit to a pet without returning them later.

2. Adopt a Dog for Free

Choose a good shelter.

From privately-owned to limited-intake facilities finding the suitable shelter to work with is a task on its own. 

Open-intake means they accept all dogs, whether surrendered by their owners or dropped off by animal control. Due to the many animals they handle, these shelters, while they may provide exceptional care, usually can’t get to know individual dogs very well.

Limited intake means they usually don’t accept dogs from the public. Instead, they will pull animals from local pounds.

Since they have more room to be picky and care for fewer animals, they get to know each dog much better and give you the necessary information you may be looking for.

3. Meeting a Rescue Dog for the First Time

Is the dog on medication? Has this dog been spayed or neutered? If the answer is yes, you should ask: How recently? If they were spayed the same day, she is still recovering – and pumped full of medication. 

It will be impossible to determine her natural temperament and personality if she is pumped up full of drugs. Don’t worry, though, if you fall in love with such a dog. There’s nothing wrong with coming back the next day to interact with her again before making any commitments.

What to Look for When Adopting a Dog

Woman taking her dog to a trail walk

Watch how the dog acts when walking on a leash. 

If he pulls on the leash, that’s normal and completely fine. It’s to be expected in such a chaotic environment. 

When we say watch how the act, you’re looking for any sign of aggression or fear. He probably has some reactivity issues if he barks, cowers, or growls at passing people or dogs.

While this isn’t a deal-breaker (or maybe it is), you should know that they may need extra support and attention in that aspect of their lives. If you’re not ready to invest time and money into a reactive shelter dog, it’s best to find one better suited to you and your needs. 

Dog Adoption Checklist

Choose a dog who likes your kids more than you.

If you’re looking for a family dog, you may be asking yourself if there’s a way to tell if a dog is good with kids. 

The answer is simple, yes. When you visit the shelter, bring your kids with you. If you have children or have young visitors to your home often, do not adopt any dog without interacting with the kids first.

Great family dogs will be thrilled to have the opportunity to play with your children. The dog will prefer playing with your kid instead of you.

If the dog ignores or doesn’t interact with them enthusiastically, it’s probably a sign he’s not a kid, which is fine, but he’s perhaps not the best pet for your lifestyle.

Phases of a Rescue Dog

Woman training her dogs

Meet more than one dog. Think you’ve found the one? Great, but explore other options first. This will give you a better idea of how dogs should behave in a shelter.

It may take a while for them to trust you. Due to the stress of life behind bars and previously failed owner relationships, rescue dogs may not come out of their shell entirely until at least three weeks after adoption.

Since most shelters house their pipes with foster families, communicating with them will allow you to know how the dog will act when placed inside a home. 

They’ll need to adjust.

Taking any dog, but especially a shelter dog, into a new environment may be a bit of a shock for them at first. As a result, they may initially appear overly shy or anxious in their new surroundings. Just remember this phase won’t last forever, and with love and comfort, they will feel right at home in no time. 

How to Help a Rescue Dog Settle In

Avoid “trigger-stacking”. Triggers are anything that can cause dog anxiety, so you’ll want to be sure not to put the dog in any anxiety-inducing situations beyond living in a new home with a new family. 

Common examples of triggering events include throwing a party, inviting many strangers over, or taking the dog to a dog park or the groomers. You’ll do all the things you’ve looked forward to owning a pet, all in due time.

They Might Have Separation Anxiety

Woman playing with her dog

Separation anxiety can be one of the more common behavioral challenges with rescue dogs due to whatever has resulted in them re-homed. Owners should take steps to show the dog that you aren’t going anywhere and you’re coming back, although they’ve been abandoned before. 

Whether you leave some music on or give the dog a food-filled puzzle toy to keep them happy and occupied while alone, you should expect to slowly work up to leaving the dog alone for long periods.

Why You Should Adopt, Not Shop

Tip and tricks on adopting a rescue dog

When you adopt a dog from a shelter, you’re saving one of the 2.7 million adoptable dogs that are otherwise euthanized in the United States each year. With your help and the help of others like you, this number can continue to be reduced dramatically. 

Finding the right match for rescuing a dog can be time-consuming and challenging, but can you put a price on furever?