How to help your rescue dog settle in

December 16, 2023 - 4 min read
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding your pet’s care, treatment, or medical conditions.
dog sleeping in crate

Adopting a rescue dog? Congratulations!

Whether you're a rookie pet owner or you're the owner of multiple pets, any new dog creates a different dynamic in your home. But rescue dogs bring their own unique history of behavior.

You may not know everything about that history, but you can still pave the way for a smooth integration into your home and community. Here are some tips to help your rescue dog settle in.

Build out their safe zone

It's so important for a new pet to feel like they have an area where they can retreat when they're overwhelmed.

Whether it's a crate (more on that later), baby gates, or a closed-off room, make sure your dog has their own zone with all of the following supplies available:

  • Food bowl and water bowl

  • A comfy bed and/or blanket

  • Toys (don't leave them alone with anything, though)

  • A potty pad (if necessary)

We talk about these things a lot for new cats, but it's very helpful for new rescue dogs as well, particularly if they're on the anxious side.

Dog sleeping in wicker crate

Establish a routine

Dogs, like toddlers, thrive on routine. When they know what to expect, they behave better (sometimes).

Here's a sample routine I used for my adult Pomeranian, Lou Lou:

Time Activity
6:30 a.m. wake-up, potty time
7:00 a.m. feeding
8:30 a.m. walk, potty time
12 p.m. walk or fetch
4:30 p.m. potty time
5:00 p.m. dinner
6 p.m. walk, potty time
10 p.m. one last potty time before bed

I should note that my pom had a teeny bladder and also had access to an indoor potty pad.

Your schedule might look different, but the goal is to maintain a routine as much as possible, even when your schedule changes or you just happen to stay up late on a Wikipedia rabbit hole.

Make sure they're collared and microchipped

dog collar and dog harness

Even though you feel like you already know your new pup inside and out, the reality is that you probably don't know how they'll react to seeing a squirrel dart across the street during their potty break.

Keep them on a leash whenever you're out in a space where they could escape, and make sure they're collared (with an ID tag!) and microchipped just in case they slip out.

Consider a crate

Do crates feel inhumane to you? Well, for dogs and their cave-loving ancestors, it could actually feel more safe—a cozy space like a crate could actually feel comforting. Just as important, it helps keep your pet safe from tempting cords and choking hazards, especially if your home isn't fully pup-proof.

If your shelter dog isn't already crate-trained, it may be a good time to get started. Just remember to be patient, make it a positive experience, and keep sessions in the crate on the shorter side. Crate training should never be a substitute for proper training or all-day care.

dog with dog bed and little dog house

Don't rush introductions with kids or other pets

It's so exciting to get a new pet, and, especially if it's a puppy everyone's going to want a snuggle. Just don't rush it. When too many people or pets are introduced too quickly, your dog can feel overwhelmed and even experience some less-than-desirable behaviors.

Remember, your dog probably has no clue they're in their new forever home. They're just trying to figure out how to get their needs met and stay safe, and you're responsible for ensuring that they do so safely.

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Avoid triggering situations

While you might be anxious to hit up the local dog park to socialize your new pup—particularly if you don't have room for your dog to roam—talk to your vet first and take things slow.

First off, your dog needs to be fully vaccinated. They'll be exposed to a ton of different dogs at the park, and the things dogs tend to leave behind can carry illnesses and diseases. Not surprisingly, socializing a dog that's not fully vaccinated requires extra care.

Secondly, a dog's true personality rarely comes out in the first few days or even weeks at home. My Pomeranian was attacked by a toy-possessive dog at the beach, and the owner was absolutely shocked by the sudden aggression in her pup—she'd never seen it before.

While you can't control every interaction (or keep your dog home forever), hold off until you know your dog better. They could have some triggers you're not aware of, and the last thing you want to do is put them in a stressful position where they might feel the need to react. It's just not fair to them.

Put on some relaxing tunes

My dog loves Frank Sinatra—what about yours? It's worth a try, especially considering it's been suggested that music might actually help reduce your dog's stress. So what to play?

“Classical music is generally a safe bet, but like people, many pets appear to have different musical tastes,” says Dr. Lauren Jones, a veterinarian in the Philadelphia area.

(Side note: It's probably a good idea to avoid screamo or anything that sounds like a wailing cat.)

Don't rush it

How long will it take for your rescue dog to settle in?

There's really no answer for that. It totally depends on your experience, your dog's history, their temperament, and your home environment.

Regardless, hopefully you're in this for the long haul, and you'll enjoy many years together with your new pup. Focus on laying a solid and calming foundation now; it should help your shelter dog get off on the right paw in your home.

And one final tip: Don't forget to reach out and set up your first vet appointment with your pup right away. Dog insurance can also be a good idea, as it can help you pay for unexpected accidents and illnesses that crop up.*

*pre-existing conditions excluded. See your policy for details.

Leanna Zeibak
Content Manager

Leanna Zeibak is a Content Manager at ManyPets. In her spare time, she paints pet portraits and bakes far too many chocolate chip cookies.