What to do before you get your rescue dog

What to do before you get a rescue dog, to ensure it's smooth and successful for all involved.

The key to a lasting bond is confidence in your own skills. Unlock this power and train your dog to be the perfect life companion.

Dog paws iconDog ears and taill illustration
Dog paws icon
Dog ears and taill illustration

September 21, 2023

What to do before you get your rescue dog

This is the first blog in a series about how to help your new rescue dog settle into your home. In this article, we cover what you should do before you get your dog.

To go back to an overview of all the information about how to help your new rescue dog settle in, click here.

Right, let's crack into this list of some things you can do to prepare for your dog before you bring them home, to make your life (and theirs) so much easier.

1. Learn about your dog - talk to the rescue organisation

Make sure you talk to your contact at the rescue organisation and ask lots of questions:

  • what training have they done with your dog
  • what your new dog’s temperament is like
  • have they been exposed to kids, other dogs, cats, cars etc?
  • do they have confidence with new people?
  • have they shown any fear-based behaviour?
  • do they have any commands under their belt yet?

The more you know about your new family member, the better prepared you will be. If there is anything your dog hasn’t had exposure to yet (or much exposure to) then you can be prepared to make those introductions in a calm, careful, controlled way without overstimulating your dog, and ideally using a clicker and food rewards to help keep them calm!

Knowledge is power, so gather what information you can about your new dog’s experiences!

Here’s a link to a handy temperament test to help you get to know your dog.

2. Learn about dog behaviour

If this is the first rescue dog you’ve ever owned, I strongly recommend you up-skill yourself on dog behaviour before you take your dog home. This will enable you to understand what your dog is trying to say to you, and how to manage those messages, so that your relationship gets off to the best possible start.

One thing to particularly look out for with a rescue dog is the signs of stress or anxiety - panting, shaking, dilated pupils, tail between the legs, avoidance behaviours. If you see these signs, evaluate if there’s anything around that could be causing your dog stress or fear, and ease off on the situation (for example if you dog is distressed by the vacuum cleaner, ease off then you can slowly reintroduce it with some desensitisation training. Or if your dog is showing fear responses around a child, separate them so you can carefully manage interactions using a clicker and treats to help desensitise your dog). Also look out for signs of aggression such as raised hackles, growling, a hard stare, deep barking, snapping, and either contact a behaviourist or take a look at my Virtual Dog School to learn how to manage and solve this.

My Virtual Dog School will give you a fantastic understanding of dog behaviour, and teach you exactly how to train your dog given their less than ideal start. This course was designed with rescue dogs in mind, as they usually haven’t had all the socialisation and experiences that they should have, or they’ve had traumatic experiences that need healing.

If you’re adopting a rescue puppy, my Virtual Puppy School is the best place to start and if your pup is between 6 - 18 months, our Virtual Teenage Puppy Scohol is ideal.

3. Prepare your home

Before you bring your new best friend home, set yourself up with everything you need for your their comfort and training – some essentials are:

  • a dog bed
  • crate
  • water and food bowls
  • Training tools (lead, flat collar, slip collar, clicker)
  • toys
  • training treats and age-appropriate food. For training treats, we prefer to use small pieces of cooked chicken, cheese or dog roll - but anything your dog really loves will work.

Ensure you have a dog-proofed outdoor area set up, ideally a safely fenced backyard but otherwise a kennel and run. I recommend a dog door, so that your dog can go out to toilet easily, and have access to both an indoor space (it doesn’t have to be the whole house) and an outdoor space when you’re not home. This does help with separation behaviours. If you’re renting, you can buy temporary dog doors that fit into most sliding doors, like this. Or if a dog door is not right for you, that’s fine, just make sure you have a warm, sheltered kennel for when they’re being left outside.

Having everything ready and getting your dog into a routine quickly will help them settle in easily to life with you. It’s best to start as you mean to go on, dogs thrive on predictability and consistency.

We’d suggest you block off areas of your home that you don’t want your dog venturing into. If house-training, keep the majority of the house blocked off for now, with your dog’s crate area set up in the main social space of the house (kitchen / living area). Baby gates are good for blocking doorways!

Put away anything destructible like houseplants, rugs and breakables, and have plenty of dog chew toys available. We suggest you don’t give your dog toys that resemble house hold items, if you give your dog soft toys then they may chew children’s soft toys or cushions in future, thinking they’re appropriate chew toys!

Ensure chemicals and electrical cords are safely out of reach, and also remove poisonous houseplants, such as amaryllis, mistletoe, holly, or poinsettia, or keep them up high, where your dog cannot reach them. Be aware that karaka tree berries are highly poisonous to dogs, so scope if there is one nearby your home that may drop berries in your garden.

4. Brief the family

If you have other family members, make sure that you provide a united front when it comes to raising and training your dog.

Agree on some house rules:

  • is your dog allowed on couches and beds?
  • are they allowed in every room?
  • what behaviours are really important to us?

Agree to all be consistent in making sure you reward your dog wholeheartedly for appropriate behaviour, and avoid rewarding inappropriate behaviour. For example, ensure everyone understands not to pat your dog or let them through doors if they are barking or whining, don’t cuddle and pat your dog while they are jumping up, but give lots of pats and praise if your dog is behaving nicely.

Go over the key commands you’ll use in your house such as Sit, Down, On Your Mat, Stay, Wait, Come, Leave It etc. Using the same commands will help things to be clear for your dog, but remember you will have to teach them to your dog first!

5. Your rescue dog around kids

Young kids will need to be briefed on how to treat dogs - no tight hugs, don’t chase or corner a dog, don’t interfere with a dog that’s eating or sleeping, no pulling hair, ears or tails etc.

We recommend dogs are ALWAYS supervised around children, especially rescue dogs that haven't been raised with kids. For the first few weeks keep children very well supervised around your new rescue dog so you can first learn about their temperament. If you see any behaviours from your dog around your children that concern you, please reach out and send us an email to support@dogzen.com so we can help you assess it.

More info on helping you settle in your rescue dog...

Below are links to the next blog articles in this series on helping you settle in your new rescue dog.

Pick up and first trip home

  • Picking up your dog
  • The first car ride home

Day 1 at home with your dog

  • First time coming into your home
  • Introduction to Home environment
  • Introductions to family
  • Introducing other pets
  • Feeding
  • Start training from day 1
  • The first night
  • How you can help

Rest of Week 1 with your dog

  • Bonding
  • Set up a routine
  • Concerning or challenging behaviours
  • Training

Get in touch...

As always, if you need advice or support, feel free to get in touch! You can email us on support@dogzen.com or contact me through Facebook or Instagram.

Free training tips!

Sign up to our newsletter for free tips and dog training advice that will transform your relationship with your dog.

Immediately receive a free Essential Training Tips booklet
10% discount on all Virtual Schools and Store products
Regular training advice and tips
Articles tailored to your dog's stage of life
Insights into your dog
Join for free
Graphic of dog ears
Mockup of book reading Mark Vette's Essential training tips
Arrow pointing up icon