Older dog being adopted from shelter looking happily at his new owner

9 Things That Your New Shelter Dog Wants You to Know

If you have just adopted a new dog from the shelter, congratulations! You have just saved a life and given a deserving pooch a second chance! He is probably excited, and a little anxious, but happy all at the same time. These are a lot of emotions for your new dog to process, and he will need a lot of reassurance.

If your new dog could speak human, he would probably tell you several things that he wants you to know. He is likely to be a little scared at first because everything is so new. So he would ask you to speak gently and not yell at him. He would want you to be forgiving of mistakes; make his diet changes slowly; let him stay close to you; let him sleep near you; talk to him in reassuring tones; play with him; let him know you will always be there for him, and tell him he is safe.

Shelter Dogs Go Through a Lot

Shelter dogs often go through a lot of trauma. They have either been rescued from a bad situation or they have been lost or surrendered for re-homing. They may be frightened, distrustful, or grieving the loss of their family. Additionally, shelters can be scary places. They are noisy, full of strangers, barking dogs, and new rules. Even when this is a good transition for a dog removed from an abusive situation, it is still unsettling for a dog who has no idea why he is there or what’s next in his life.

Try to keep that in mind when you bring your new pup home. He will probably be very excited just as you will be. But he will be uncertain of whether or not going home with you will be a good thing, especially if he has had past negative experiences.

Please Don’t Yell at Me!

Shy dog being patted by owner in jeans. Afraid he may be yelled at.
Shy dog with new owner afraid he may be yelled at.

Probably one of the worst things for a newly adopted dog is to be yelled at. If you start barking orders at him before he has had a chance to learn your rules, he will be confused and intimidated. Instead, speak with him gently and give him directions about where he can go and what he is allowed to do in the house.

Your new dog will want to know what is expected of him and he will need guidance. He may have never lived in a home environment before. Even if he did, everyone has different rules and expectations. So, give him a chance and help him understand what you want.

I Want to Sleep Close to You at Night

Cute brown chihuahua sleeping with little girl
Chihuahua sound asleep in bed with his young owner.

Don’t be surprised if your new pooch whimpers his first night if he is put to bed in a room by himself. He will naturally be feeling anxious when he first arrives. He will probably realize that you are his new source of security. So, he will want to stay close and that will include sleeping near you at night. See my post, “Your Rescue Dog’s First Night. Where Should She Sleep?” for more information about sleeping arrangements.

Dogs are natural pack animals and normally sleep together, thus the term “dog pile”. Dogs will literally pile on top of one another to stay safe and warm in their den. My dogs love to tumble into bed with me and snuggle in especially on cold nights. You do not need to let your dogs sleep in your bed, however. But letting your dog sleep close by will be very reassuring, especially during the first few days.

I Have a Sensitive Stomach–Be Careful What You Feed Me

Dogs are not used to eating a wide variety of foods like we are. Their stomachs are tough in some ways in that they can ward off bacteria and other internal gut invaders. However, a dog’s stomach takes a while to adapt to new foods, and can end up with diarrhea or he may even vomit if a new food is introduced too quickly. Therefore, continue to feed your dog whatever the shelter was feeding him initially.

If you want to make a change, do it slowly over a period of several days by replacing the current food with new food in increments of 25% every 2-3 days until you can make a complete transition. See my post, “Is it Ok to Feed Dry Kibble to My New Rescue Dog?” for more information about changing your dog’s food.

Please Let Me Know that I am Safe

Woman comforting small rescue dog
Rescue dog being comforted

Your new dog does not know you. He can probably sense your good vibes when you pick him up from the shelter and take him home. However, he is in a totally new environment and he does not know if he will be with you for a long time or just a short while.

A lot of dogs get returned to the shelter after a trial period with a potential new family who later decide he is not a good fit for them. So, your new dog may not know if this is just a short “prison break” or his real, next, “forever home”. Therefore, he will need a lot of reassurance and loving attention.

Show Me Where to Go Potty– I May Have Forgotten

Due to the stress of moving into a new home, it is not surprising that a dog who is already housebroken may regress. Or, he may not be sure where it is okay to go potty and poop. Some dogs who are used to peeing and pooping on concrete floors may mistake your large tiled backroom as an okay place to relieve themselves. Additionally, he may just get over-excited and have a momentary relapse.

Some dogs raised in puppy mills or other non-home environments may have never even lived in a home. Sadly, they would relieve themselves as needed wherever they were confined as they had no choice.

So, please forgive your new furry friend if he makes mistakes or needs to learn the new rules in your home. Be patient and kind and try to imagine what it would be like to be in a new place where expectations may be different.

When I adopted my two adult rescue dogs, one of them peed on the carpet a few times. For a while, I could not figure out why. Without thinking, I scolded her and directed her to the backyard. Now, looking back, I wish I had been less harsh. She simply did not know how to tell me she needed to go outside. Fortunately, we eventually got our communications worked out and no longer have accidents.

My Sister Wants to Come With Me

New rescue dogs, Charlotte and Georgia looking a little tentative in their new home.
Sisters, Charlotte and Georgia, had been together their entire lives when I adopted them at 6 years old.

This is a tough one. You may be looking for only one dog when you go to the shelter. But some dogs are surrendered to shelters along with their siblings. Their sister or brother may be the only consistent and safe part of their lives after losing their home. See my post, “Should I Adopt a Bonded Pair of Dogs” for a more in-depth look at this topic.

Additionally, some dogs bond with other dogs in the shelter, especially if they have been there for quite a while. Splitting them up can cause another trauma for dogs who have already had to deal with a lot. So if you are able, please consider adopting more than one dog if you discover this kind of connection.

I Love Obedience Classes

Although the word obedience may not sound like a lot of fun, most dogs really love training classes. They get to interact with other dogs, learn a lot of new things, and hang out with you. Classes help to let a dog know what you expect of him. Dogs really do want to please you, and they just need to learn how.

Additionally, this is a great way to bond with your new dog. Classes allow you to spend quality time with your dog and he will appreciate both the stimulation and the attention. You can find local classes near you by going to your local AKC.org website.

I Want to Play and Go on Walks

Recommended essential equipment, backpacks!My two mixed breed rescue dogs, Charlotte and Georgia standing near the door ready for a walk wearing their Outhound Dog Backpacks.
Ready for our hike!

Like us, dogs enjoy having play time and they love to explore. Playing fetch, tug of war, or hide and seek are great games to play with your pooch that are also easy to do. Taking your dog for a daily walk will also let him get some good exercise, hang out with you, and explore his local neighborhood and world.

And, as with obedience classes, taking your dog for a walk and playing with him each day is another wonderful way to develop a deep bond with your new best friend. Be sure to see my recommended products page for dog toys and equipment.

Let Me Know You Will Always Come Back Home to Me

Cute terrior sitting on top of a couch looking out the window
A cute white west highland terrier dog sitting on the top of a couch, looking out of a window

Separation anxiety is a common issue with rescue and shelter dogs. They have had a lot of uncertainty in their lives and are now looking to you for security. Start by leaving them at home for only short periods of time. Say a similar thing each time you leave the house such as, “I will be back.” Start with 30 minutes and then gradually increase the time. Eventually, your dog will understand that you will come back and you will not abandon him. See my post, “Separation Anxiety — Mine and My Dog’s” for more insights.

Final Thoughts

Put yourself in your new dog’s paws. He will naturally be a little uncertain and anxious when you bring him home. Even though he may be thrilled to be out of the shelter, he doesn’t know you well yet and can not be certain if you are a friend or foe.

So be gentle. Reassure him. Make him feel at home first, before you show him off to your neighbors and friends. Give him a chance to settle in. And, at every opportunity, let him know that this is his new home, a place where he can be safe, be himself, and be part of the family.