Home > Animal Rescue, Dog Behavior, Lost Dogs, Pet Adoption, Pet News, Pet Safety > 5 things NOT to do when you first adopt your dog

5 things NOT to do when you first adopt your dog


Low Section View of a Man with His BulldogI often try to remember back to when I adopted my first shelter dog. I was so uninformed and inexperienced back then. I had never adopted a dog before. I had absolutely no idea what to expect with an adult dog, especially not one who had a whole history behind her that I didn’t even know about. I probably made a lot of mistakes and bad decisions in those early days (I am sure of it).

What I didn’t know then, but know now is that for a rescue or shelter dog, the first few days and weeks in their new home are risky ones. They are at the mercy of their new human to make the right decisions for them. One mistake, and the dog could end up back at the shelter, or worse, euthanized for a serious mistake that could have been prevented if the human had made a different choice.

That last part is what I was thinking today when I read a story on my local station’s website – “Brainerd Woman Suffers ‘Serious’ Injuries from Dog Bite”. If what the dog owner said was true, and he actually did just adopt the dog who bit the woman in the story, then he just put his new dog’s life in danger. Most likely, when he and his dog are found, his dog will be quarantined, and then euthanized. One mistake. One life.

I don’t want make pet adoption seem so serious and dire, but it kind of is. We can make a lot of survivable mistakes with our newly adopted pets, but there are a few that could place their lives, and others, in danger. Knowing what not to do can be the difference between life and death.

Here are a few things NOT to do when you adopt a rescue or shelter dog.

  1. Take him to a pet store – A dog in a shelter environment is already stressed out. Taking him from one stressful place to another stressful place, with a complete stranger (yes, that would be you), is a recipe for disaster. A stressed dog may do things they might not do in a another time and place. I remember one dog that was adopted from our shelter and taken immediately to a pet store to purchase some things for him. He ended up biting a child and as a result, lost his life. I know another dog who was adopted right off the rescue transport and taken to a pet store. He escaped the car and was missing for several days. When he was found he was almost 20 miles away from where he was lost. It almost cost him his life. Luckily, a stranger came upon his dehydrated body and saved him.
  2. Take her to the dog park – Not only has your new dog not had a chance to bond with you, but even more importantly, she doesn’t even know you yet. I still remember a couple who brought their new dog straight from the animal shelter to the dog park and ended up spending a couple of hours trying to catch her. She might have been having a ball, but they were not. Luckily, their dog was not aggressive, but many people have brought an adopted dog to the dog park who was. To assume a dog you just adopted is not dog aggressive or will not harm another dog is not only naive, but dangerous. Get to know your dog before introducing her to other dogs and people. You may also want to work on training her to come when called before letting her off-leash in a dog park.
  3. Invite friends and family over to meet her right away – People often want to show off their new dog right after they adopt them, but this can be a huge mistake. Strangely enough, dogs are very much like us humans in that they need time to get settled into a new place. Imagine how overwhelmed you would feel if your new neighbors came over and started making themselves at home while you are still unpacking from the move. Pretty uncomfortable, right? So imagine being a dog and having complete strangers invade your space and touch you and get in your face when you haven’t even had a chance to get settled into your new home. Not fun. It’s also a recipe for disaster. One mistake, one dog bite later, and you may have a dead newly adopted dog.
  4. Let him off-leash in a public place – See #2 above. No, seriously, why would you let a dog you don’t know off-leash in an unconfined area? You don’t even know if he likes squirrels or people or other dogs. If you have a dog like Jasper (my Sheltie), then you might find out that he likes to herd runners and bikers and skateboarders and…. yeah, you get my point. Once you let a new dog off-leash, you have no control. Not only do you risk him getting lost, but you also risk being liable to the danger he might do to another person or dog (see the news story I mentioned above).
  5. Leave him out in your yard unattended – This one might sound silly, but I really cannot emphasize it enough – Do Not Leave Your New Dog Unattended In Your Backyard. The riskiest time for a new dog to become lost is in those first few days and weeks in a new home. Your new dog is probably stressed and scared and disoriented. One strange noise or sudden movement or scary incident and he can be gone in a flash, right over the fence. Being in the yard with him tells him he is not alone. It also ensure that he won’t have a chance to dig under a fence or look for an escape route, and if he does, you have an opportunity to redirect him before he makes it out.

Most rescue and shelter dogs are not there because they were bad dogs or had behavioral issues. Most are there because someone had to move or was going through a life change that required them to give up their pet. They need time to adjust to all the changes.

Puppy Wearing BowAnd while these dogs are awesome pets and companions, they also have the potential to bite if backed into a corner or placed in a stressful situation (every dog has the potential to bite when placed in a stressful position with no way out). It is up to us, as their new owners, to protect them. It is up to us to do right by them. Spend time getting to know your new dog, and let him get to know you too. Before introducing him to all the new wonderful things in your world, take the time to bond. You have time. You have the rest of your lives to do all those cool things you want to do together. Why rush it?

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  1. June 2, 2015 at 6:26 AM

    Reblogged this on Carolyn's Writing and commented:
    Some great thoughts about you and your adopted dogs first days together…

  2. Sue
    June 2, 2015 at 7:25 AM

    Great tips! When we add a dog to our family we also try to have the first days be fairly quiet ones. No rowdy play (or lots of barking) from our resident pack and lots of individual attention for the newbie.

    • Mel
      June 2, 2015 at 10:10 PM

      Really smart advice Sue. I completely agree. I want my dogs to learn my routine first. I also like your idea of the individual attention. Smart!

      • Caroline
        August 23, 2015 at 11:14 AM

        Not necessarily the best idea. Giving the newcomer lots of individual attention can easily set up feelings of jealousy and resentment from the resident dog(s). You want them to accept the newcomer, not see him/her as a rival for your time and affection. Your existing dog(s) might actually need more reassurance from you than the new dog.

  3. June 2, 2015 at 7:51 AM

    Great points……….. but I would like to add one: No matter how cute he/she may look, and no matter how much you feel that you love him/her, DO NOT give him/her a hug! To wrap your arms around an insecure dog (= abandoned and/or abused and/or simply handed over to Rescue Centre) will result in the dog feeling confined and with no way out. A most natural reaction would be to bite the person holding him/her thereby allowing freedom of movement.
    It took our Ray close to two years before he would give us total freedom to handle him and, even now, he will occasionally walk away.

    • Mel
      June 2, 2015 at 10:09 PM

      Also a good one! I thinking hugging a dog is a no-no whether the dog is newly adopted or not. I let the dog initiate if they want a hug if it is something they like to do, that way it is their choice and not mine. .

    • January 31, 2017 at 1:07 PM

      Can’t emphasize this enough!! I was pulling a dog from my local shelter for a rescue, and there was a woman there surrendering her 11 year old dog. When I asked her why, she said it was because the dog had started growling and baring it’s teeth at her two young girls (and she was pregnant with a third). I asked, “What are they doing to the dog when he does it?” She said, “hugging it”. I told her the children should never hug the dog and she replied that she’d tried telling them, but they were young. Thus, this poor sweet dog who was over weight and clearly in discomfort in the hip area, and who had given it’s whole life to this woman and her husband, was going to end up being euthanized alone at a shelter. It was all I could do not to rip her a new one or worse.

      • Mel
        January 31, 2017 at 9:46 PM

        People like that make me sad. The dog is more a commodity than a living an breathing being. 😦

      • February 1, 2017 at 9:09 AM

        That is such an irresponsible action. Dogs do not hug each other (there is a message there!), and children must learn much about life… especially when they are young. I wonder how she will treat her children when they are challenging everything as teenagers? Throw them out?

  4. June 2, 2015 at 9:29 AM

    Very good common sense tips. And I have made several of these mistakes in the past.

    • Mel
      June 2, 2015 at 10:07 PM

      Me too. That’s why I thought it was worth sharing. Maybe someone will learn from my mistakes. 🙂

  5. June 2, 2015 at 10:31 AM

    Great post!! I would add don’t leave your dog alone with the kids, even older kids, until you have watched them interact a lot. ESPECIALLY if this is the childrens’ first dog. Kids will love the dog immediately and will not necessarily understand that it might take the dog a while to trust and love them back. I have known many people who have adopted a dog for their kids and assumed that because the dog was friendly meeting the kids, it would be fine with anything the kids were doing. It is so hard to tell from a shelter meet and greet how a dog will be with kids in the home. I am hyper-vigilent for at least 6 months with a new dog, observing every possible kid scenario, before I’m comfortable saying that the dog is reliable with (respectful) kids.

    • Mel
      June 2, 2015 at 10:06 PM

      Absolutely! Totally agree on dogs and kids and the need to supervise, especially in the first days and weeks. I guess I should have made this list 6 items!

  6. June 2, 2015 at 2:53 PM

    Good tips that make sense. Mom walked her first dog who was a shelter dog all the time. Trine loved tennis balls but Mom didn’t want to let her off leash, so she would walk her to tennis courts so she could lock her in and let her off leash to play ball. These days most courts say no dogs, which is a bummer.

    • Mel
      June 2, 2015 at 10:05 PM

      Thanks Emma. I have seen people use tennis courts and enclosed baseball fields (i.e., Alimagnet) to play with their dog rather than introduce them to a dog park right away. Not a bad idea!

  7. June 2, 2015 at 4:32 PM

    I think those are good reminders for any new pup. Thanks for sharing!

    • Mel
      June 2, 2015 at 10:03 PM

      Thank you! I hope they prevent a dog from getting hurt or hurting someone else.

  8. June 2, 2015 at 10:43 PM

    Great post! Seems like common sense…but sometimes, not so common.

  9. June 3, 2015 at 1:07 AM

    Reblogged this on ZeroBites Dog Training and commented:
    Great advice, for anyone who is thinking of or who has adopted a dog lately.

  10. June 3, 2015 at 8:51 AM

    You wrote, “I don’t want make pet adoption seem so serious and dire, but it kind of is.”. You are sooooooo right. I wish I had found our blog way back when. I am new to WordPress.com but I had something to say from the ” crazy dog hell” our family went through when not realizing important things to know about involving a particular kind of rescue dog, shelters, fostering, and OMG! So, after we survived our experience, when the storm began to pass and the sun began to shine again, I had something to say, in hopes of maybe offering even a small speck of hope or insight to ANYONE else out there before, during, or after getting involved with said topics. I JUST created a blog. I am a total newb at this and will likely add more soon, but the majority of what I wanted to say is out there. Doing it on a small hand held device takes patience and sometimes makes it challenging to find all type-Os but I did it and try to catch them. I am still trying to figure how this place works, but, when I do, I want to have a link to your article on my sight if that is allowed and only if you do not mind. Anyway, you did a very good job and I enjoyed reading your article.

  11. June 3, 2015 at 8:56 AM

    Hmmm, my keyboard changes words it THINKS I want to use instead of words I actually type! So, it might confuse the reader on what I am posting. I’m sure I seem super tech-tarded. I wish there was a way to edit a post as to fix word and grammar errors I discover from posts I leave on my nano, teeny, weeny microscopic viewing window used for writing a post!

  12. June 3, 2015 at 8:59 AM

    My initial comment was SUPPOSED to say, “I wish I had found YOUR blog first.”

  13. buddy
    June 3, 2015 at 2:22 PM

    I’ve read quite a few stories about newly-adopted dogs slipping their collars while out on a leashed walk. So I would add “Use a martingale-style collar or double-leash with a kennel lead when out on walks.

  14. June 4, 2015 at 12:48 PM

    Wow Mel, what a great post! (Maybe another award?) 🙂 I did most of these with Delilah and I’m just so grateful that nothing horrible happened. I can’t imagine how horrible I would have felt. Thankfully I like to think I’ve learned since them and would not make the same mistakes again.

    Thanks for sharing these tips.

  15. June 4, 2015 at 5:24 PM

    Excellent advice. It’s always amazing what people do with rescues, even the experienced ones. Thanks for reminding us. 😉

  16. June 6, 2015 at 5:45 PM

    Great advice…I have had over 10 rescues and this advice is spot on, especially about letting the new rescue settle and acclimate without pushing or putting them in an uncomfortable situation…Thanks

  17. June 6, 2015 at 7:33 PM

    I’ve only have had rescued babies and only bonded with them right away. Reading thru the 5 things I never did any of those. Just common sense is all that is necessary. When I went to pick up Fritz I asked a friend to drive so I could bond w/ him coming home in the car a 20 minute drive.. It was worth the extra care. He’s my guy..

  18. June 7, 2015 at 9:18 AM

    Reblogged this on Coddle Creek Pets Blog.

  19. June 7, 2015 at 9:22 AM

    Wonderful advice. This article should be given to every person who adopts a dog from a shelter or rescue group.

    • June 9, 2015 at 8:03 AM

      I 100% agree with you. I guess shelters just want to move them in and move them out or the adoption process would involve more responsible info or helpful info to those who adopt animals that may have or obviously have issues, and if for no other reason tan to I’ve that info to foster families/foster parent… Especially first time fostering people. Or if a shelter is too poor, too cheap, or could care less their website could provide a link or links to important reading material.

  20. June 9, 2015 at 7:57 AM

    I don’t know why rescue shelters cannot responsibly print out a list of DOs and DONTS for newly adopted pet owners, ESPECIALLY from a shelter. If a goal is to promote getting a dog from a shelter then a list, or even this article should be also included and the shelter should not just hand it to the human but clearly state the info therein and have the human sign that he, she, they have been explained the content & are to read it before leaving the shelter’s parking lot. Takes seconds to add that step to the final adoption process. Ours offered NOTHING for our then “special needs” severe fearful dogs and never even called us for months while fostering. We left feedback and emails of their status but nobody read or knew about it. Months after we adopted the dogs the same shelter left a voicemail stating the day and time some people were going to arrive at our home to possibly choose one of our dogs to own……and at the time The Flash likely could have not even caught one of them.

  21. June 12, 2015 at 3:57 PM

    Great tips!

  22. June 16, 2015 at 5:12 AM

    I think it essential for a dog in a new home to get a feel for the area with lots of walks with other dog members in the household (if there are any) to help them bond.

  23. Deb
    August 17, 2015 at 12:11 PM

    Thanks for the great article. My husband and I will be adopting a dog within the next year and I probably would have made a few of these mistakes.

    • Mel
      August 17, 2015 at 7:26 PM

      Thanks Deb! I hope it helps. Good luck in your search! There are a lot of great dogs out there. 🙂

  24. February 28, 2016 at 9:36 AM

    This needs to be printed out and every rescue and pound adoption agency should pass along to the new family. This is so important because some folks have never even had an animal in the home. Some did not grow up with a pet. We have all made mistakes and times have changed on the responsibility and feelings of these animals in our family. They are family members, they are work, like having a child and expensive for food and medical. You cannot let it go or give away or discard. If there is a question about the ability to care for your pet, do not get one. So good you brought this up.

  1. June 4, 2015 at 12:52 PM
  2. June 6, 2015 at 9:00 AM
  3. June 24, 2015 at 4:24 PM

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