So you’re about to rescue a dog. First of all, congratulations! It takes a whole lot of time, work, and heart to commit to owning a pet, let alone a rescue dog with its own specific wants and needs.

Chances are you’ve already had dozens of conversations with friends, family, and significant others before finalizing your decision.

So on behalf of all dogs without a home and the hardworking shelter staff who work to find them homes, thank you!

To help make that first week with your new pup a little bit easier, we’ve looked into some of the most important steps to take when bringing a dog home from the shelter.

Additionally, we’ve included some of the many things you can do before the dog even comes home, to help make the transition go smoothly for everyone involved.  

bringing home a rescue dog advice

Prep Family Members or Roommates

Before anything else, it’s important that anyone else who lives in the house or visits on a regular basis be informed of what kind of dog you’ll be getting, the habits of its breed, and how everyone is expected to act around the dog after it has arrived.

This step is absolutely crucial when small children are involved, especially with regards to rescue dogs.

When the dog does come home, each person should be introduced to the dog individually, giving the pup plenty of time to sniff and react.

If a member of the house has an allergy to dogs, consider hypoallergenic breeds if possible.

Prep the House

This is where some background research can really come in handy. Hopefully, you’ve planned the adoption ahead of time with a shelter and have a general idea of the breed or breed combination of your new best friend.

From there, we recommend consulting reputable online resources as well as local pet-care professionals who can give customized instructions for how best to introduce it to the home.


You’ll also discover different rooms or objects the dog should stay away from, based on their play habits and health needs.

It can also be a good idea to purchase dog safety gates to place between certain rooms. Only allowing the dog to stay in one room for its first few nights in its new home can help make the transition less intimidating and jarring for the doggo.

Make sure that cleaning products and other harmful chemicals and food are out of reach and cannot be accessed by the dog, even after hours of pawing and gnawing.   

Prep the Car

Whether you’re driving a high-end luxury vehicle with previous leather seats or a junker with one door falling off, it’s a good idea to dog-prep the vehicle before the pup can get to it.

Drape a towel across the backseat. This will catch any stray hairs or slobber that might drip down during the drive home.

rescue dog advice

Consider purchasing a dog harness that connects to your car’s seat belts. These harnesses vary by breed and dog size. They’ll help keep the dog in place and relatively calm despite the world of wonders whizzing by just outside the window.

Roll down a side window slightly so the dog can smell the outdoors.

Make a Good First Impression

When first meeting the pup or picking it up to bring it home, introduce yourself by letting the dog sniff your hand. Don’t dote on the dog too much at first, since this could jeopardize your status as the home pack’s alpha.

You can also start leash training the dog right away by being gentle yet firm as you guide the pup to your car and ultimately into the house.  

Set Early Boundaries

With puppies, there’s a steep learning curve for training, but they also tend to be blank slates and offer little resistance after being trained at a young age.

But rescue dogs have likely already become ingrained in their own habits and routines. And this is why it’s all the more important to establish a position of control and authority early on in your relationship with the new pup.

In the home, make it perfectly clear that the dog is not allowed to jump up on counters, run out an open door, etc.

Another good trick to establish dominance is to eat before you feed your dog. This way, the dog sees you as the pack’s alpha and won’t bother you for food long before feeding time.  

Set Time Aside to Play

Especially if the dog is still relatively young, make a decent amount of time in your daily routine exclusively for playing with the dog.

This could be a couple long walks every day, or running around in the backyard with a chew toy, or even some simple tussling in a room in the house that’s safe for active play.

Even older dogs still like to play, but you’ll likely have to adjust your play tactics to match your dog’s unique energy level and capabilities.

Older dogs may enjoy slow walks through a public park, with ample opportunities to socialize with other people and pets.

Befriend a Vet

Simply put, your vet is your cohort in making sure your dog lives a happy and healthy life. That’s why it’s so important to take your time when looking for a great vet in your area.

rescue dog advice

A simple Google search can be a great way to get started on this point. Be sure to check reviews from past customers; they know the most about what it’s like to interact with this office on a first-hand basis.

But of course, there’s no substitute for making an appointment and visiting yourself. Even if the adoption center provided a basic round of shots for the pup, it’s worth your time just to take the dog in for a preliminary checkup.

It’s likely that your friendly local vet will have some more in-depth suggestions for how best to care for your dog.  

Expect the Unexpected  

Most importantly, prepare for the inevitability that you can’t prepare for every aspect of dog ownership. There will be difficult days, and there will be many times when you’ll feel like you’ve made terrible mistakes.

Just remember that thousands upon thousands of other pet owners have been through this same experience before. And many of them have been kind enough to talk about their experiences online.

You’ll be surprised how much a precedent there is for just about any weird thing your dog has been doing lately.

But seeing that face and wagging tail at the end of a long day is more than enough to pay you back for all the sweat and tears that went into adding a new member to the family.