Adopting Shelter Dogs or Rescue Dogs and Making It Work

Generally speaking, what you see in a dog at the shelter is what you will get. A dog that is shy and skittish will be just as hard to deal with as one that tries to be the boss. Since dogs are pack animals, the way they behave when lined up in cages is their way of behaving in the pack.
Choosing a shelter dog

There are always a wide variety of shelter dogs in breeds of every size, shape, and color available at the animal shelter. And there are, unfortunately, new dogs arriving on a daily basis. If you take the time to choose a shelter dog, and take the time to train and socialize him, it can be a truly rewarding experience.

Generally speaking, what you see in a dog at the shelter is what you will get. A dog that is shy and skittish will be just as hard to deal with as one that tries to be the boss. Since dogs are pack animals, the way they behave when lined up in cages is their way of behaving in the pack. It is important that you get them to a quieter area so that you can gauge their behavior away from the pack. Talk to someone who works at the shelter about the dog. Just like with people, looking into the eyes of a dog can reveal a lot about his true nature. Look for a dog that likes to play, especially fetch, as this is a good, positive sign that he will like to work. Dogs that are cautious and stand-offish are not good candidates, whereas those who approach to interact have guard dog potential. When you meet the dog, every family member should come along. He may be fine with you, but if he shows aggression toward another family member, he should not be adopted by your family.


Set up an area in your home that will be safe for your dog and your property. The easiest way to manage this is with a crate or cage. Dogs that have spent any time in a shelter will now be well used to spending time in a confined area, so this should make for a pretty easy transition. Using a crate will actually help you when it comes to potty training your new dog. Any time you have him outside the crate in the first few months, make sure you supervise all of his movements. Forget about the age, size, or breed of the dog, the only thing that should reduce the amount of supervision time is behavior. When it comes to feeding, you should start off by doing it in the crate, even when you are home. The same rules apply for set crating times. If the dog believes that he is only crated when no one is home, he can quickly develop separation anxiety. It doesn’t matter if you adopt an older dog, treat him like a puppy and only begin to develop real trust when he behaves in an appropriate manner. Your home is your castle, and it should not be destroyed by an unruly rescue dog.

Regardless of age, the process of potty training your dog should always be the same. He should be taken outside with the leash on, while you use voice commands to encourage him to eliminate, followed by praise for appropriate behavior. There is no set amount of time you need to commit to the potty training process, as it can be weeks or months, depending on the dog.

Another good idea for rescue dog training is obedience classes. This is a good idea for a number of different reasons: it allows you to build a bond with the dog, helps him to socialize with other dogs and people, and helps reinforce the basics of good behavior. He will also learn that he has to listen and obey even when there are distractions all around.

It is important that you do not make excuses for his behavior. If he is shy around others, it likely has nothing to do with coming from an abusive home. It is more likely that he is that way because there was a lack of socialization in his past. To continually blame is behavior on abuse from a previous owner does nothing to correct the behavior that he is displaying. If he is nervous around guests in your home, give the guest a treat to give to your dog every time they meet. This may help rectify the situation. Lingering on the past will do nothing to create a better future for you and your dog.

If you were not able to speak with the vet at the shelter, your first appointment after bringing your dog home should be to visit your local vet. The dog should be given a complete physical before being established in your home. The vet will use a stool sample to check for intestinal parasites, and will also be on the lookout for heartworm, assuming the dog is old enough. The shelter should give you the vaccination history for your dog. The vet will check that and make sure your dog is up to date with his shots.


If you have other pets at home, you will want to get an idea of how the dog will react when you are doing the pre-adoption evaluation. There will be plenty of other pets in the shelter, so ask the worker handling your case to bring in another cat or dog to the meeting area, just to get an idea of how your new dog will react. You might also ask if you can bring your own pet in for a meet and greet, but not all animal shelters allow this to happen.

If, during these meetings, you see that the dog does not interact well with the type of pet(s) you already have, he should not come home with you unless you are willing to commit an awful lot of time to train and socialization. Keep in mind, though, that a dog that is aggressive toward other animals may always stay that way.

Even if it appears that your new dog is happy and comfortable around other animals, you will still need to supervise the goings on inside your home for a while. Make sure that you have a controlled setting when introductions are made. Your new dog should remain on a leash, and your existing pets should be in a crate or carrier. There is every chance you will get scratched, clawed, or even bitten if you do not have these controls in place. Hackles may be raised, but this may be a normal sign in friendly meetings. Keep dogs on a leash and give them a little leeway, but don’t be afraid to pull them away if things go south. If a fight does erupt, DO NOT get your hand anywhere in between the dogs when pulling them apart. Throw a blanket over the dogs, or get a chair in between them. As you may have already guessed, it’s best that there is someone in control of each animal as opposed to you trying to do all of this alone.

The new dog should never be left at home alone with your existing pets until they have shown that they can behave appropriately, which may take weeks or even months. If you are in a position where supervision is not possible, make sure that the new dog remains crated. This does not mean hiding him away, though, as you can leave the crate in an area that allows our existing pets to come and have a look or a sniff, although you should supervise when they do. Your existing pets may antagonize the new dog, which could cause him to lunge, snap, or growl.

Taking time to plan, prepare, and train increases your odds of getting a shelter dog that becomes a beloved member of your family.


• ALWAYS go with your head over your heart when adopting.
• Make sure that your adopted dog will be a good fit in your new home, which means getting along with every other animal or human that lives there.
• Take time to research different breeds.
• Think about the reasons WHY you want a dog, and specifically WHY you want a rescue dog. Your goal should be to have an adoption that works. Do you want a dog that will laze with you on the couch, or do you want an active dog that will play and go with you on long walks?
• Understanding what it is YOU want will help you choose the type of dog that best suits your specific situation. It may be that a puppy is a better fit than a mature dog or vice versa.
• DON’T adopt a dog and believe that you can change his nature. You need to be able to work with what you get, as wholesale nature changes just don’t happen. The only way to create any kind of behavior change is with a huge investment (time and money) in training.
• DO NOT think that this is something that needs to be done alone. There are plenty of behaviorists and trainers who will be more than willing to help.

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