You have finally found the one, but how to make it work? Shelter pets can be the best companions, their life experiences help them to deeply appreciate their new home. But life in a shelter can be unpredictable, hard on their mental and emotional systems, and the confusion of life before they went to a shelter can have some lasting effects. Going to a new home can be just as scary and hard as going to the shelter was. Here are some tips to help you give your new friend a paw up on transitioning smoothly into your home!
One of the most important things is time to settle in. There is a "honeymoon period" where the newness of it all is a pleasant distraction, and for the first few days it can be absolute bliss, or, for some pets who have never experienced a loving home before, it can be very overwhelming. The behavior you encounter during the first few days from the shelter may be the opposite of what you can expect long term. But with gentle guidance, clear expectations, and a few more tricks, things can smooth out and be wonderful for life. Experts agree that it takes a minimum of three months to decompress from the shelter and settle into home life. Working with a trainer or behaviorist familiar with shelter dogs might be beneficial, and many rescues now have trainers who are willing to offer discounted services for shelter or rescued pets. The amount of time your new friend was in a shelter environment can have a profound effect on them, so if they were there for a long time, be prepared to need to work with a qualified fear free trainer and give them more time. Make sure you do not overwhelm them by having too much socializing or excitment. Give them time to relax, and get them on a set schedule to help refill their emotional cup!
Before you pick your new pet up, make sure you are ready! Have the items you absolutely need ahead of time. This allows you the time you need to help your new pet adjust to life with you, and for you to form that important bond.
Talk to the shelter about the food your new pet was eating, and have that on hand to either help shift to a new diet or to feed until you have been able to consult with your vet who may recommend something different. Have a ready supply of training treats available so you can begin to work on new behaviors in a positive way, immediately. Treats should be small and soft, it is a good idea to start with hot dogs, or real meat or cheese cut into tiny pea sized pieces. Have a small variety on hand to figure out what is the most rewarding to your new friend! You don't need much, but a few small baggies is a great idea to help with motivation in new or scary experiences.
Have a good plan of where the new pet will sleep, and offer different options. Some pets are willing to snuggle into bed with you but others have never had that experience and prefer a bed of their own. Crates are a great choice because it gives them their "own" space, think of it as their own room! Most shelter pets LOVE having their own room! But some have had negative experiences with a crate and might not like it. Alternatives for this might be a bed with you, a bed next to yours, or a different room. Knowing that YOUR plan of what you want, might not be what your new pet needs, helps you to go with the flow and not be stressed about it. Stress can transfer to them, and make things harder on both of you. Be prepared to offer alternatives if things don't seem to be working out.
As a family, discuss ahead of time what expectations you all have. Choose words to communicate certain desired behaviors to your new pet and stick with them. For instance, the cue "off" rather than "down" when the pet is jumping up on furniture is a good choice because "down" might be used to ask them to lay down in the future, and would become confusing for your pet! Discuss behaviors that will be acceptable or not, such as allowing them on beds or couches, and discuss training routines. Having the household on the same page is very important.
Be sure to have a good schedule lined up for feeding, play time, potty times, social times and rest. Depending on age, these items can help make the transition much smoother. Understand what the routine was in the foster home or the shelter kennel, so you can gradually transfer these things to fit your schedule.
THE BIG DAY!
On the day you go pick up your new friend, it might be a good idea to have a friend drive you, so you can sit near the crate or in the back seat with your new pet to comfort them if the ride seems scary. Make sure you have a properly fitted collar or harness, and it is not a bad idea to have a tag already made with your contact information, in case things are very scary and they bolt. Your new pet could get sick in the car, if they have not been exposed to rides much, so take a few towels and cleaning supplies. Try to go early, and have the day to help them adjust to the new routine once you get home.
THE FIRST FEW MONTHS
Within the first few weeks, it is a good idea to take your pet to your veterinarian, for an exam and ensure you can give them a good healthy start to their new life! Make sure the vet can review the shelter/rescue records and ensure your pet is up to date on vaccines and preventatives appropriate for your area. If your pet was microchipped, ask them to scan it to ensure it is readable and has the appropriate information in their file.
Take a lot of walks together. Try a variety of food puzzles, there are wonderful DIY puzzles online with a simple search to engage their minds in a healthy way. Hand feeding half of their daily food in a puzzle and the other half in simple training exercises is a wonderful way to build a strong bond. Enroll in a training class. Every time your dog comes to you, give them a treat, and let them move back off to explore things, whether in the yard or on a hike with a long leash. Find a good trainer to help you understand how to deepen the bond and navigate any behavioral issues you were not prepared for. Most important- enjoy each other! And thank you for choosing a shelter pet!