Adopting a Rescue Dog into your Family – What to Expect


Now that my kids are in school, I decided it was time to adopt a rescue dog.

The only problem is that I knew next to nothing about rescue dogs. I grew up with dogs, but they were never my responsibility. Also, several of them lived outside full-time, and I wanted a dog to live in the house with my family. What is all this crate training about, anyway? My husband is a great researcher, so he spent a lot of time on the Internet investigating the ins and outs of adopting a rescue dog. Eventually, we adopted Buffy, a one-year-old lab mix. Here is what my family learned from the adoption process:

Expect some waiting time.

I assumed that I could just visit a shelter, pick out a dog, and take her home right away. That’s not how things work around here, though. All of the local dog rescue organizations we looked at required an application to adopt. My family had to answer questions and even provide references. Once we completed the application and it was approved, then we could look at the dogs and pick out the right match for our family.

Read about the dogs online.

Many local rescue organizations use foster homes for the dogs. That means that you can’t visit them all at once at a shelter. Instead, we looked over the dogs’ profiles online and picked out our favorites. Then we set up meetings with the foster families to meet the dogs. Many local organizations also hold adoption events, where you can meet several of the dogs at once. Just remember that you must already be approved for adoption if you want to take home a dog that same day.

3 puppies in an animal shelter

Prepare for disappointment.

Don’t get your heart set on a specific dog that you see online. Plenty of other people are also looking online and may adopt that dog before you get the chance. Also, dog foster parents usually have the option of adopting the dog if they so desire. Much like online dating, it’s difficult to judge a dog solely from an online profile. The first dog we met sounded great but ended up jumping so much that he terrified my daughter. We had to keep searching for the right match.

Expect your rescue dog to experience stress.

Moving to a new home with new people is extremely stressful for dogs. Our dog peed on our bed the first two days at our house, even though she is housebroken. This is a common reaction to stress. Also, our dog had grown attached to her dog foster mom, so she whined a lot the first few days. To reduce stress for your dog, try to keep to her previous schedule as much as possible. Also, either keep feeding her the same food or else slowing mix a new food into the old food to avoid upsetting your dog’s stomach.

Train your children as well as your dog.

My children have never owned a dog, so there were quite a few misunderstandings at the beginning. I explained how they need to keep their toys off the floor, but Buffy did manage to find and chew a stuffed animal. One time my son was playing with the dog outside when she got loose. He freaked out and ran inside crying, not knowing that he needed to catch the dog first. Luckily Buffy was standing at the door waiting for us to let her inside. We are currently working on everyone giving the dog the same commands so she doesn’t get confused.

a rescue dog at a shelter

A rescue dog’s history may be a mystery.

A rescue organization may not know anything about a dog’s history. You may stumble across health problems or behavior problems that you weren’t expecting. After Buffy’s first vet appointment, she had a severe allergic reaction to a vaccine and went into shock. I had to rush her back to the vet center where they saved her life. Needless to say, that caught me completely off guard. Now we know to watch Buffy after she receives vaccines in case this sort of reaction happens again.

Be ready to put in the work.

Even if you adopt an adult rescue dog, they may still require extensive training. If your dog has led an isolated life, she may require a lot of socialization work. If your dog has experienced prior neglect or abuse, it may take a long time of consistent behavior on your part for her to learn to trust people once again. Don’t hesitate to visit a trainer if you struggle with any behavior problems. They are experts who can help you achieve your dog’s highest potential.

Get ready for the love.

Every time I come home, Buffy is waiting at the door, exuberantly wagging her tail. My children love to cuddle her and take her for walks. Our rescue dog is a wonderful addition to our family. If you want to add a furry friend to your family, check out one of Vermont’s many wonderful rescue organizations!

a family with their rescue dog on adoption day


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