Congratulations! You’ve made the life-changing-in-the-best-way-possible decision to adopt a rescue dog! While your heart is bursting with excitement in anticipation of the day your four-legged furball is officially yours, there are important steps you can take to prepare your home — and life — for a new dog.
Murphy, rescued on a visit to a pet supplies store in Elwood, New York
It’s easy to make room in your heart for your new companion but be sure to make the time to ensure all your dog’s needs are met. Determine who will be responsible for what activities — and when. Who will walk and feed your pet, and at what times?
“Regular exercise and stimulation are extremely important for the well-being of your dog, both mentally and physically. Most dogs and most breeds, even those not considered active breeds, need exercise and physical activity,” says Schlomo Freiman, D.V.M., a co-founder and chief veterinary officer of Petriage, a leading pet health technology company that provides fully-integrated telehealth solutions for veterinarians and their clients. “A tired dog is a good dog,” he adds.
Routine is important, especially in the first few days; just like humans, animals have expectations, too. This includes quality playtime and cuddling. Rolan Tripp, D.V.M., C.A.B.C., a veterinary behavior expert and founder of AnimalBehavior.net, notes, “A daily, predictable routine really helps dogs to relax.”
Adopting — not shopping — for dogs is the way to go, but you’ll still need to engage in some retail therapy to get the essentials you’ll need to start your dog off on the right paw.
“The most important things to have ready for your new pet are appropriate food and a bowl for water,” notes Dr. Freiman. “You will also need a collar and leash to take him or her for regular walks. You may want a grooming brush to keep their coat healthy, especially if your dog has long hair.” If you live in a cold climate and your dog has shorter hair, consider purchasing a coat.
While the types of products you use are a personal preference, Dr. Tripp chooses Martingale collars. Torre Willadsen, a certified National Narcotics Dog Handler and a canine training/handling specialist with K2 Solutions in Southern Pines, North Carolina, advises clients against using retractable leashes, saying, “They are dangerous for dogs of all ages.”
Willadsen urges owners to be mindful when selecting bowls. “If you’re adopting a puppy, start with a puppy-sized bowl and upgrade as your dog grows.” He prefers stainless steel bowls “for easy cleaning and longevity.”
Dr. Freiman also recommends purchasing a comfortable dog bed and toys to make them feel at home and keep them stimulated.
And last but not least, don’t forget the poop bags!
These products are the basics, but you can buy so much more depending on your budget and preference. We know the choices can be overwhelming so we created our Rescue Pop Recommends Shop for a curated list of items you will need for your new pup.
A good vet is one you vibe with — and one you can afford. Some practices are simply more expensive than others. Veterinary offices can range from single providers to expansive group practices with a rotating staff. Decide if you’d like to deal with the same caregiver at every visit, or if you don’t mind Fido seeing different doctors.
If you are choosing a new vet, Dr. Freiman recommends one who has integrated telemedicine into their practice. “In many cases, vets who use telemedicine will respond to emergencies after hours, so if your pet gets into something after the clinic closes, you can call them for guidance before your rush to the emergency room,” he reveals.
Friends, family, and local Facebook groups are a great way to research options in your neighborhood and price range.
For more tips, see our Adoption Checklist Article: Tips for Finding the Right Vet for your Pet
Just as you do for your own healthcare records, prepare to keep all your pup’s paperwork in a single spot. Use a folder, manila envelope, or an online record of everything pertaining to your dog. This should include all adoption documents, medical records, insurance information, and microchip details.
Immunization certificates are of particular importance and should be kept at the ready. You may be asked to show written proof when you board your companion or seek the services of a professional groomer.
Freiman reminds adopters to be sure they get all health records when picking up their new pup and bring them to their first veterinary appointment. “If the pet has been taking any medications, the doctor will want to know what they are and decide if your dog should continue to follow the initial vet’s treatment.”
Whether you’re adopting a grown dog or a puppy, you need to make sure your surroundings can withstand the curious nose (and mouth) of a canine. Just as you would childproof your house or apartment when bringing home a baby, take similar steps for your new pet.
“Puppies get into all kinds of things, and it can be dangerous. First and foremost, familiarize yourself with dangerous foods,” notes Freiman. These include chocolate, raisins, grapes, onions, foods made with garlic or onion powders, some peanut butters, and chewing gum, many of which can be lethal.
Non-food items can be dangerous as well. Be sure to secure garbage cans and access to household cleaners, chemicals, and medicine. Don’t forget to be mindful of cords, socks, hair bands — and anything your pup can chew (which is basically everything within its reach, if we’re being honest).
Daniela Sere, president of Who Let’s Your Dog Out, a dog-walking/sitting company serving the Patchogue, New York, area, says, “Since I pick up poop for a living, I can tell you from experience that I have seen socks and dog toys (particularly those tug-of-war toys) in their droppings. Even children’s toys and crayons!” In addition to removing choking hazards, she believes in moving all plants to hard-to-reach locations for a few months as well as they can be harmful. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Even though some dogs clearly don’t understand the concept of personal space, it is important that your pet have a spot or spots that are theirs, from where they eat to where they sleep and where they stay when left unattended.
“Whether or not you set up a crate for your dog is a personal choice, but having a crate and creating a den-like environment where your new dog or puppy can feel secure and protected can be extremely helpful for house training and reducing separation anxiety as well as destructive behavior,” states Dr. Freiman. “The crate should be like a welcoming den for your dog, never a place for time out. Always make it fun going in by using positive reinforcement and treats.”
Be sure to get the right size crate. “Your dog should be able to sit and stand comfortably in the crate,” he says. Dr. Tripp advocates for a crate that can fit into your car for easy transport. And before you slowly introduce your new pup to its crate, he suggests spraying Adaptil dog pheromones on the area to help ease anxiety and make her or him feel at home quickly. When getting your rescue used to the crate, Dr. Tripp urges owners to “toss treats into the crate and praise the dog when entering the crate.”
It’s okay if you don’t have room for a crate, however. “You can use puppy gates or other barriers to create a small enclosure for your dog. For puppies who are not yet potty-trained, limiting their access to a small space – especially when they are alone – helps them learn to wait to relieve themselves until you go outside,” Dr. Freiman advises.
Regardless of your dog’s age, consistency is vital when it comes to training. While more advanced training can take time, decide upon phrases you and other caregivers will initially use to communicate with your dog. You can do some research and determine which types of phrasing work for everyone. Will you say, “Do you want to go outside?” Vs. “Do you want to go for a walk?” Or “Go lay down” vs. “Go to your place.”
This also goes for their name. While you one day may refer to your dog by tens (or hundreds) of cute nicknames like Coco Bandito or Mooskie Doodle Bugs, it’s best to use her or his given name for the first few weeks until you’re sure they recognize it. Getting your dog to come to you when called is important — and even lifesaving — if he or she is off-leash.
Be sure everyone in your household agrees to communicate with your new addition with love. “Do not scold the dog for anything,” says Dr. Tripp. “Be sure to reward immediately for good behavior.”
In addition to a reputable vet, you may need additional assistance to care for or train your new best friend. According to Dr. Freiman, “You should try not to keep them [in a crate] for more than four to six hours, depending on the age, breed, and temperament of your dog.” If you’re going to be away from your pet for long periods during the day and your budget allows it, Willadsen says, “Consider a well-run doggie daycare or dog walker when you are gone. It is good for the dog to be social without you around and will get him or her much-needed playtime, too.”
Similarly, if you have a vacation planned, explore options for pet sitters or dog boarding facilities in your city or town.
Finding trusted service providers, including groomers and trainers, and building relationships with them is beneficial as it provides another element of consistency and trust as you hand your pet off for an hour, a day, or a week.
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The Ulti-Mutt Guide for Rescue Pets and their Pawsome Pet Parents.