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Your family has decided it is time to add a furry, four-legged member to your family. Now you have to decide where to get that pet. October is Adopt a Shelter Pet month. Rescues and shelters everywhere house wonderful dogs of all ages and breeds, each of them just waiting to become a member of your household.

While rescue dogs come from various backgrounds and experiences, they all share one important fact: they are dogs, and the dog you choose needs to be understood and treated as such.

Dogs need order and leadership. They seek pack structure, which you must provide. Your dog needs to know that you are the leader and that you have a set of house rules. This makes the transition from the rescue, foster or shelter to your home easier, faster and more rewarding.

Below are tips to help ensure a smooth transition for your new furry friend.

If You Have Not Already Done So…

Hold a family meeting to create rules about caring for the dog. Will he be allowed on the couch, the bed, and in all rooms of the house? Where will he sleep and eat? Who will walk him and clean up after him? As a family, you must all be consistent with your decisions or you will confuse the dog, usually resulting in the dog making his own rules and causing unnecessary tension.


Have the necessary items your dog will need from the start: ID tags, a collar or harness, and a 6‑foot leash, food and water bowls, healthy food, dog toys, a crate and bedding, and basic grooming tools.

Bring your new dog home when you can be there for a few days so you can get to know each other and establish rules.


Just before you bring your dog into the home, take him for a walk around the yard to tire him out a little. Walks are not only good exercise, but they also serve as a training tool and an opportunity to establish the lines of communication that better educate him.

Establish Ground Rules in the First Days

At first, limit your dog to one room or area. Allow him time to become familiar with the smells and sounds of his new home. Try to limit your time away from home those first days; your spending time with him will help him to become more comfortable in his new, unfamiliar home.

Keep your dog on leash for the first few weeks so you can immediately teach him what behaviors are and are not acceptable by showing and guiding him through the appropriate exercises. For safety’s sake, NEVER leave a leash on your dog when he is unsupervised.

Your rescue dog should NOT be left alone in the house with your existing pets until you have carefully monitored and controlled their interactions for a period of time.

Expect housetraining accidents. Your dog is in a new territory and is establishing a new routine, so accidents probably will happen. The key is to be consistent and maintain a routine.


Dogs instinctively like to den, and a crate makes the ideal place for your dog to sleep and get away from household hubbub. While a crate also makes housetraining and training in general easier, limit the amount of time the dog is crated. The crate should be roomy enough to allow your dog to stand up, turn around, and lie down comfortably. An alternative to a crate is to confine him in a dog-proofed part of your home, such as a laundry or mud room. You can use a baby gate or dog gate to block off the area from the rest of the house.

Most rescue dogs have been given basic vaccinations and many have already been spayed or neutered. It is important that your dog is examined by a veterinarian within a week after adoption for a health check and any needed vaccinations. While there, arrange for the spay/neuter surgery if needed.

For the first few days, limit guest visits to allow your dog to get comfortable with his new family. When you do have guests, ask their help in training your dog by instructing them not to pay attention to him until he has calmed down. One way to communicate this request is to post a sign on your front door informing visitors that you have a new dog in training.

A Trained Dog Makes for a Happy Human-Canine Bond


Get guidance for training your dog. A well-trained dog is a happier dog and a joy to have around. Your rescue may have performed a behavioral evaluation on your dog to help the adopter understand what, if any, potential behavioral issues the dog may have. Knowing this information ahead of time may be helpful when you begin training with your new dog.

Dogs need consistent structure. If dogs don’t have a consistent set of rules to follow, then they try to become the leader, which can create numerous behavioral problems. Thus, you—and all humans in your home—need to be consistent. Practice obedience training, set rules and apply them calmly and consistently, and praise your dog’s good behavior. He will be much more comfortable in a pack with structure and will bond more quickly to you.

It is amazing how quickly dogs learn what is acceptable and what is not. Dogs have a language of their own, and once we understand it, we can communicate better what we expect of them.

A Bright Future

Hats off to you for bringing home a rescue dog! Your patience and training will help to create a bond that will reward you both for years to come. With the right balance of rules, understanding and affection, your rescue dog will become a loyal, grateful and loving companion.

Jeri Wagner is a canine behavioral therapist and master trainer. Jeri uses a natural training system leveraging the same communication methods – body language and voice control – that dogs follow as part of their instinctive pack mentality. Training takes place in the home where the problems generally occur. Jeri trains in western Montgomery County, northern Chester County and eastern Berks County. For more information, call 1-877-500 BARK (2275) or visit www.barkbusters.com.


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