When I think back on the first few months of having Romeo I often cringe at the things I did and did not do. I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. All I knew is there was a terrified looking pit bull who was about to be euthanized and I. Had. To. Save. Him.
So I did, and then I made a handful (or two) of mistakes that I wish I wouldn’t have.
But! You live and learn…
And then you share your experience with the world (or your blog), in hopes that some don’t follow in your footsteps. :) Although I didn’t commit all of the following mistakes, I find them equally important to understand when bringing home a rescue dog. It’s really key to remember a rescue dog has a story all its own — one we will never know all the details to, but slowly we are given clues and it’s important to foster a trusting relationship early on for that to happen.
Here are 5 mistakes you can easily avoid when bringing home a rescue dog that will help you build a deeper relationship with them.
1. Not Giving Enough Time To Decompress
No matter how long a dog has been in a shelter, a few months or just a week, they each need time to decompress. The shelter environment is incredibly stressful for them and they will need time to decompress from the emotional and physical stress they’ve incurred while being there. So, what does that mean exactly? It means giving them space to unwind and naturally relax. Don’t ask too much of your dog. And don’t give too much — attention, love, training, freedom, etc. — to them, either.
This is a period where they need to slowly get to know their new surroundings and new humans. It should be kept very simple; a lot of rest, short walks/potty breaks, routine meal times, and crate time. This will help establish a relationship between you two while your new dog de-stresses. I’ve read the decompression phase is anywhere from 2-3 days to two weeks. I would opt closer to two weeks, however, depending on the dog and their history it may be a little longer.
2. Going To The Local Dog Park Right Away
This was a huge mistake that I made. While I did give Romeo adequate time to decompress, we became regulars at our local dog park shortly after. And all it took was one time for me to realize how unprepared and irresponsible I was:
Romeo, my two kids, and I decided to head up to the park to let Romeo burn off some energy. It was a beautiful, sunny, warm summer day! Great day to be outside… just not at a dog park, as we soon would learn. When we arrived, there were two other dogs in the park that appeared to be leaving which I thought was good – we had the whole park to ourselves! I let the kids go in first and as I was locking the gate behind me, the two dogs that were already there started playfully jumping on my kids. Nothing a firm “no” couldn’t have stopped, but Romeo saw this as a threat and charged both of them. As I lost control of my leash I think my heart jumped out of my chest — I had no idea what to expect. I thanked my lucky starts for days that nothing serious came of it, but it shook me up so much we decided to take a break from the park all together.
Because we don’t yet know our new dog, we become vulnerable to terrible situations happening if we expose them to too much. Give it time. Learn how your dog is with other dogs and other people before subjecting them to a potentially dangerous situation. Dog parks can be a positive experience for dogs, just not initially when you’re still getting to know your dog and vice versa.
3. Letting Them Off-Leash In Public
This is kind of a rule of thumb for all dogs, but especially for shelter dogs you’ve just fostered or adopted. Again, we don’t know their history which means we don’t know how they are with other dogs, people, children, smaller animals, unexpected noises, and so forth. You are responsible for keeping your dog and the people/animals around your dog safe. Keep them leashed!
4. Expecting Him To Act Like Your Other Dog
This was a long, hard lesson learned for me.
It took months for me to understand that Romeo will never be like Lily. There wasn’t, and still isn’t, any amount of training or bonding that will get Romeo to listen, respond, or act like Lily. And for many reasons – their breed, their upbringing, their gender, their triggers, what motivates them, what they are afraid of, what interests them, etc.
You will beat yourself up over and over again if you compare one dog to another, in hopes that they will all be the same. They won’t be. You can aim to have all your dogs be obedient. You can train them all to walk on a leash properly, sit and stay when asked, and redirect them when needed. But all that still won’t change the fact that one dog doesn’t like unaltered male dogs and another isn’t interested in chasing squirrels.
Just like people, they are all individuals and we must respect and treat them as such!
5. Introducing To Family and Friends Right Away
When I got Romeo I only introduced him to the people who would be making regular appearances in his life: my kids, my neighbors, my mom, and my kids’ dad. Everyone else took a back seat until I felt comfortable enough introducing him to new people (besides the random strangers at the dog park — again, the worst mistake I made when I got him!).
If you refer back to point number one, less is more. In the beginning, keep it as simple and easy-going as possible. Soon enough you will be able to invite all your friends over and show off your new puppy, promise!