How to settle in your new rescue dog…..some do’s and don’ts for those early days

Our instinct as dog lovers is to shower our new dog with affection. We know these dogs have known terrible hardship and all we want is for them to feel loved and safe.

What we must remind ourselves of is that these dogs are often not used to human contact and may not understand that can be a nice thing to be touched by a human.

If your new rescue dog is nervous to be touched it doesn’t mean that you will never be able to give your dog a cuddle or fuss, it might just take some time.

Resist the urge to touch your dog if it is nervous and allow it time to observe you before you attempt physical contact.

Speak to your dog in a quiet, calm and encouraging way and move towards and around your nervous dog slowly. 

If your dog darts away from you when you come close take things slowly, avoid sudden or fast movements of your own body, walk slowly and keep talking quietly and calmly to your dog to reassure them.

Using food treats to reward your dog for allowing you to get close to him or her works really well.

Choose tasty treats such as cooked chicken, small pieces of cheese or hot dog sausages. These are always popular!

Try first of all to gently drop the treat in front of them. Gradually build up to feeding from the hand and then you can gently stroke the underside of your dogs muzzle.

Above all be patient this might take days or weeks!

There are some things that are definitely best avoided with a fearful dog:

  • Dog’s do not like to be patted on the head! To approach your rescue dog to stroke or fuss them we suggest slowly extending your arm to allow your dog to sniff the back of your hand. If your dog stays relaxed gently stroke or tickle the chest or shoulder.  To begin with avoid stroking them around the neck and over the top of the head.
  • Avoid direct eye contact with your dog, dog’s find this threatening.
  • Don’t lean over your dog when you approach them, if necessary crouch down.
  • If your dog growls this does not mean it is a bad or aggressive dog it is just trying to communicate to you that it is feeling threatened and trapped. Back off and take the pressure off.
  • Seek the advice of a dog behaviourist if your dog is showing signs of fear and anxiety.
  • To start with your rescue will most likely be wary of new people, it will have taken them time to trust us as their rescuers and now they will need to learn that you can also be trusted. When you get your new rescue dog home we advise that they should have a period of at least a week when they only need to get used to the humans that live in the house. Please don’t invite friends and relatives to meet your dog, it will need time to settle in his or her new home.
  • Many dogs are scared of wearing a collar or slip lead. It reminds them of when they were caught by dog catchers. The catch pole used tightens around their necks and makes them feel as though they are being strangled, many dogs have nasty wounds from the wire of the catch pole. Understandably this makes the dogs very sensitive around the neck and you need to introduce a collar and lead very carefully. Lots of dogs that are scared of wearing a collar for this reason are happier to wear a harness. Please make sure that the harness you chose fits correctly and is not easy for the dog to escape from. Practice walking on the lead with the collar or harness in the house and your garden for the first couple of weeks before you take your dog out for a walk in new surroundings.
  • Make a safe place for your dog in your home. Your dog will have a hundred and one new sights, noises and smells to get used to in your home. Providing your dog with a ‘safe’ spot or bolt hole is crucial! Your dog may well find a spot in your home where they feel safe and you can place a bed, toys or chews there for them. Alternatively you could set up a crate for your dog in a quiet place, cover the crate with a blanket and put comfy bedding, toys and chews inside. You can leave the crate door open so your dog can get in and out when they want to. This will give your dog a place of security for when they feel overwhelmed.
  • Do not assume that your rescue dog will be happy left alone in your garden when you first introduce them to your home. There will be sounds and smells that they do not recognise and they are just as likely to get frightened and try to escape from your garden as from the house. Supervise your new rescue dog in the garden to begin with. If they are very nervous it is advisable to keep them on the lead until they get used to their surroundings.
  • You must be vigilant about making sure your dog cannot easily escape through the entrances and exits of your house and garden in the early days. Make sure that everyone in the household takes the same care as an open door or gate is way too tempting for a dog that is anxious and may feel the need to run. Make sure your dog is shut in a safe area when you open the front door, the use of child gates can be very helpful for this.
  • There are some dogs that actually find open doors and gates really scary to come through. This is usually when you are trying to get them to come into the house as they realise that they will then be contained. Try to resist the temptation to crowd the dog with too much coaxing. High value food treats are often successful when small pieces of food are thrown in a trail leading into the house. Often the dog will be frightened to come past you as this is too close contact for them. In these cases it is often better for you to walk away and allow them to come in, or you can quietly walk past them and gently encourage them into the house by walking behind them. Don’t be in a hurry!!! Whenever you try to do this is a rush it will always be difficult as the dog will sense your frustration.
  • If you adopt a dog that is fearful in the home do not attempt to take the dog on walks outside your home and garden until they have settled. They need to feel safe with their home environment before they are psychologically ready to take any other new experiences on board. They need to have formed a bond with you before you introduce the world out there as you will then be their support away from home.
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