You just freed a dog. Now what?

In which Jill reminds you: when in doubt, take a walk!

In which Jill reminds you: when in doubt, take a walk!

Rescue can make you nuts. You see an at-risk dog in a high-kill shelter, and your heart goes THUD. You wake up in the middle of the night with the memory of that dog’s nose between the steel bars, begging to get a scratch or a snack. You think: Who do I know who can help this dog? Who, who, who?

Then you have an idea. A newly-divorced friend of your brother-in-law’s sister is looking for an older dog who can keep her company. Active enough for daily walks, but not a candidate for “Ninja Warrior.” She works part-time and is home for the rest of the day. Perfect!  

Desperation turns to jubilation when the adopter agrees to a meet-and-greet. In fact, the woman is so excited that she’s already bought a comfy dog bed, a fancy new collar, and a case of bully sticks. Bring the dog over!

But the dream scenario can turn into a nightmare. People make all sorts of assumptions about their new pet, only to be surprised or, worse, disappointed. Here are three things to make sure to do after you jailbreak a dog from a shelter:

  1. Take a walk. If the dog has been in a shelter for more than a few days, odds are it needs to burn off some steam, get its legs moving and its heart beating. Maybe even more importantly, it needs to breathe fresh air and hear the typical sounds of a neighborhood or local park. Exercise normalizes a dog, letting it be a dog again. If the dog is healthy, I tend to do this immediately after leaving the shelter. Be careful not to go too fast, and avoid dog parks or off-leash outings until you get to know the dog better. Bring water. At this stage, some moderate activity and fresh air can do wonders!

  2. Bring her to a “decompression zone.” I rarely take a dog straight to its forever home if there are other dogs, cats, or kids in the mix. I find it’s better to go to a “decompression zone” for a few days. Since I have dogs, I’ll typically use a friend’s house. I have one friend who’s a single guy with no dogs, cats, or kids. Just as important, he has a big backyard with high, solid fences that are dig- and jump-proof. (We call it “the staging area.”) It’s the perfect place for a dog to roam around and relax. We spend time with the dog and get to know her habits, likes, and dislikes so that the forever family has all the info it needs when we really do take the dog home. If you’re the adopter, consider finding a friend or family member who can who can provide a temporary landing place. You never know, you might have just found a great pet-sitter!

  3. Shhhh! Your home is prepped and that you have all the necessary doggie accoutrements. Now the dog is at the door, waiting to enter your forever home. While this isn’t the time for a rigorous training session, it’s a good idea to establish rules. Make the dog sit before crossing the threshold. Keep the leash on and make sure everyone in the home is seated and relaxed. You don’t want everyone amped up because the dog will get amped too and that energy can escalate. Keep the leash on and let the dog explore. Keep the number of people and pets to a minimum. (No “Welcome Fido Open House!”). If you’ve got young kiddos, teach them how to greet the dog quietly and gently (how varies by the size of the dog and the size of the kid).

There are more comprehensive “how-to’s” for integrating a new dog into your household, including crate training, intros to your other pets, and how to introduce treats and toys. (I love this article on how to integrate your new dog with other pets!) The above three tips are, for me, ones that can turn a new dog into a family member.

Oh, and thanks for getting the dog #OuttatheCage!

Outta the Cage