The first dog I ever got from a shelter was a brindle Boxer I named Rosco. Everyone who has loved a dog knows how they change your life forever. There are some dogs though that burrow into your heart so deep that they leave a lasting scar. The ones you love so much you wonder if the pain of losing a dog is worth the happiness of ever owning another one. Rosco was that dog for me. I have his paw print tattooed on my shoulder and I think about him every single day. Rosco came with some quirks however, and most shelter pups do. He had awful separation anxiety to the point of chewing through anything from drywall to garage doors when he was left alone.
Learning about Rosco’s personality and bonding with him will always be some of my most valuable memories. Rosco was protective almost to fault, but a big baby when it came to his family. I slept on him for days on end when I got my wisdom teeth out. I told him all my secrets. He was my best friend and I am thankful each day that I adopted him.
There are so many ways to prepare for opening up your home to a pet that go beyond buying food and toys. It’s important to get ready to care for your new dog’s needs, and purchase things like dog food, a bed and/or kennel, and toys. It’s important to think about how the pet will fit into your space – do you need to pet proof your home or yard? It’s also extremely necessary to consider how a dog will fit into your schedule. Will you be able to give them adequate attention? Do they need to be introduced to other pets? How will you establish a routine and boundaries? Is this new pup allowed on the furniture or not?
Details like these need to be thought out, because taking on a dog truly does turn things topsy turvy for a while, and sometimes for their lifetime. Though I mentioned these things, because I think they’re important to think about prior to getting a dog, I don’t want to focus on these details today.
Today I want to give you 5 tips on how to prepare for owning a shelter dog that hits a little closer to the heart of the emotional matter.
- No dog is the same.
This may seem like a no brainer, but it’s something to really become aware of when you adopt your first or your fiftieth shelter dog. Even if you’re adopting the same breed, their personality could be wildly different from your previous dog. I’m no expert, but after having owned numerous shelter dogs, and rescuing a lot of other animals including rabbits and tortoises, I recommend going in with a clean slate and an open mind.
- Nothing happens overnight.
Give yourself and the dog time to adjust. Rescue dogs have histories, and some of them are pretty traumatic. Unfortunately for us, they can’t speak for themselves so it’s vital that we give them time to adjust. Recently, I took a senior dog, Hercules, home from the shelter. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t because he reminded me a bit of Rosco. After I had him for a few weeks, I asked our vet tech. if him shaking when he sleeps is normal, and she told me they never saw him rest long enough to answer that. Hercules’ behavior is different in his home than it was at the shelter. We take great care of the animals at Journey Home and they have a ton of people who love them, but it’s different when a dog transitions from a shelter environment to a home of their own. It could take weeks before you see all of your new dog’s personality. It could take weeks for them to see all of yours. Give each of you the time to get to know one another.
- Patiences is key.
I’m not a dog behavior specialist, so take everything I’m saying with a grain of salt. I speak solely from my own experience. In my opinion, all dogs need patience but shelter dogs often need a little extra patience. After Rosco passed away, I adopted a Shepherd mix from Journey Home, named Rip. Yes, for all you Yellowstone fans, that Rip. Anyway, he was very skittish about being touched on his back and legs. He would turn his head and though he never once snapped at me his instant reaction made it clear he was uncomfortable being touched. I spent every day after we brought him home working to make him comfortable with me petting his back and down his legs. It took a lot of time and a lot of patience on my part, but it took a lot of trust on his. You may adopt a dog who is “weird” about certain things, but with a little patience and a lot of love many things can be overcome.
- Don’t Panic – Consider what situations you can/should avoid.
Again, this may seem like a no-brainer but dogs pick up on our emotions. If things aren’t going exactly how you dreamed prior to setting foot in an animal rescue, try and remember that big changes are happening for you and for your dog. When I walked into my garage and saw the metal ripped up and all of the installation pulled out, trust me when I say panic was initially my first reaction. That reaction wouldn’t have done anything to improve our situation. Enough time had passed that Rosco had likely long moved on from thinking about his decision to eat my garage door. Instead of yelling and losing my cool, I started to think about how I could keep Rosco out of situations that made him panic in the future. I applied this to many things. Rosco wasn’t a huge fan of other male dogs, but did fine with females. Knowing this, I didn’t put Rosco in situations where I knew he’d act defensively. As you get to know more about your pet, you’ll be better equipped to prepare yourself and them for various environments.
- Enjoy it!
In case no one has told you, dogs are fun! Deciding to rescue a dog is something to be celebrated. Cuddle your new pet and go on walks. Take your new pup to your favorite places, even if that’s just the couch to watch a movie. Open your heart all the way up, because when you do rescue dogs have a way of loving that can’t be beat. You’re in for the adventure of a lifetime, allow yourself to soak that in.