At Redfin, we know that the final touch on making your house a home is adding a new pet! Many people find the newest member of their family is a rescued pet. Adopting a rescue cat or dog is a big responsibility. You aren’t just adding to your family; you are quite literally saving a life. Rescues and shelters across the nation have many wonderful dogs and cats (and plenty of other critters), and any one of them can be the perfect addition to your household. However, shelter pets come from various backgrounds and have had an array of experiences — some positive, but some also traumatic.
When you bring a rescue pet into your home, you need understand the impact their past life has had on their emotions, behavior and mental state. Dogs, in particular, will need structure, routine and leadership — and they’ll be looking to you to provide it. Cats, though often more independent and flexible, also need to know that your house comes with a set of rules. Proving this structure from the very beginning makes the transition from the shelter to your home quicker, smoother and more rewarding for everyone involved.
Here’s what you’ll find in this guide:
- How to create rules and structure
- Introducing new and current pets
- Giving your rescue pet a safe space in the home
- What you’ll need before day one, and what to expect ON day one!
Establish Ground Rules for Your Rescued Furry Friend
First, how do the other members of your household feel about the responsibility of a rescue pet? Get together to establish the rules about caring for the new addition. For example, in order to provide that structure and leadership, everyone needs to be on the same page about allowing pets on furniture, sleeping in the bed, and access to all rooms of the house. If adopting a rescue cat, where will his litterbox go? If adopting a rescue dog, who will walk him and clean up after him? Everyone must stay consistent with decisions or the pet will get confused, which can cause stress and tension. If you don’t make the rules, your new pet will.
Don’t Bring Him Home to an Empty House
You’ll need to prepare ahead of time for bringing home a rescue pet. While some items can definitely wait until you see your pet’s preferences and personality, go ahead get ready by purchasing:
- ID tags
- Collar and, for a dog, a leash (avoid a retractable one until you’ve established control during walks)
- Food and water bowls — and don’t forget food!
- Toys, treats and bedding
- Training potty pads for a dog
- A crate, if you intend on crate training a dog
- A litterbox, if you’re adopting a cat
- A few grooming essential, like a brush and shampoo
You’ll ideally want to bring your new pet home when you can be there for a few days so you can keep an eye on them as they explore their new space and learn your house rules. Eventually you’ll want to leave them home alone more often and for longer periods of time, but not right away. Just before you bring a new dog inside, walk him for a bit to tire him out a little, and establish the lines of communication and social structure. With a cat, you may want to limit their area to one room, especially if you have other animals. They can get used to each other’s scents by sniffing under door frames.
Understand the First Days are Stressful
When was the last time your life changed dramatically? Maybe you moved to a new city, changed careers or had a kid? You new pet’s life is making similar leaps, and they will need space and time to adjust. It’s not uncommon for rescue pets to come from a bad situation — neglect, abuse, trauma — and they will bring that baggage with them. That’s why it is essential you recognize that the first few days will be scary and uncertain for them… and you.
At first, consider limiting your rescue pet to one room or area. Setting up baby gates in doorways is a great way to let them become familiar with their new environment’s sights and sounds, but maintain their own safe, private area. Go in and spend some time helping them to become more comfortable with toys, treats and, if they are open to it, cuddles.
Speaking of cuddles, don’t be surprised if your new friend is shy and wary. Don’t force anything, but be a calming, gentle and consistent presence. For this reason — the unpredictable behavior aspect — your rescue pet should not be left alone with your other pets until you have monitored their interactions for a period of time. Make sure they get along, or at least tolerate each other, before leaving them alone for any length of time.
For the first few days, limit visitors in your house so your pet has time to get comfortable with their new family. When guests do come over, be sure they know the ground rules. Socializing a rescue pet is very important, so ask for their help with whatever you are currently working on. If you’re trying to get a cat to not claw furniture, be sure they know how to react if they see it. If you’re trying to get a dog to stop jumping, but sure your guests know how to interact with your pooch when he propels himself.
Most shelter and rescue pets have been given vaccinations and have already been spayed or neutered. While it is important that your dog sees a veterinarian soon after adoption, a trip to the vet can be scary thing. Take a week to get them as calm and comfortable with you as possible. Get them in the car for a ride and, if you adopted a dog, take them for a few walks so they are used to leaving the house with you. And remember — treats! Reward all behavior you want to see repeated.
Don’t be alarmed or too angry about house training accidents. Even if you’ve adopted an adult rescue animal, being in a new territory and establishing a new routine means accidents will happen. If your new pet is excited, anxious or scared, he or she could go to the bathroom unexpectedly. This isn’t something they should be punished for, but it is behavior you need to correct so it doesn’t become a habit. Punishing them might make the animal think going to the bathroom is the bad behavior, not that they did it in the house. They might even become afraid of you. That’s why praising and rewarding when they do the right behavior is the best way to train. If accidents are frequent for a rescue dog, you may consider crate training.
A Trained Pet is a Happy Pet — and Makes for a Happy Home!
Dogs instinctively like to den, and won’t use the bathroom in their den. It’s a place where they feel calm and safe. That’s why a crate can be an ideal place for a nervous or anxious rescue dog to sleep and get away from household cacophony. Crate training can also train a dog to hold their bladder longer, making house training and training in general easier. However, you should never leave the dog locked in the crate for long periods of time or use the crate for punishment — this is a safe, happy place, remember?
Crate training isn’t for everyone. If you’re considering it, really do your research. Take time introducing the dog to the crate and make sure it’s roomy enough for your dog to stand up, turn around, and lie down comfortably. An alternative to a crate is a creating a dog-friendly area in your home, such as a laundry or mud room. You can use a tall climb-proof baby gate or dog gate to block off the area from the rest of the house.
Another tip for dogs: never underestimate the value of a good training class! Remember, dogs are pack animals, and therefore like structure and order. They are also very social and their personalities can depend on the pack.
Your animal shelter may have given your rescue dog a behavioral evaluation, but rarely are these offered for cats. Cats are independent and will typically try something a few times before they recognize that it’s off-limits. Like dogs, cats also respond better to rewarding and praise and are more likely to do what you want if their relationship with you is fun and interesting.
Bringing home a rescue pet is a very rewarding experience. Being prepared and making training a priority will help build a loving bond between you and your pet. Balancing structure, understanding and affection, your rescue pet will become a wonderful companion.
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