Bringing a new dog home is a time of great excitement. But along with the excitement comes responsibility, and when you are bringing home an adult dog rather than a puppy you should consider a number of issues. Be sure to listen carefully to the rescue organisation’s suggestions on training and handling - they are very experienced when it comes to ensuring a happy match and successful settling-in period and don’t hesitate to ask for help/advice if you need it.
Part of the bargain
Many prospective owners choose to adopt an unwanted dog from animal shelters/rescue centres, which usually request a donation towards the costs of caring for the animals they have taken in. Since animal welfare is of paramount importance, most centres like to neuter, vaccinate and microchip dogs for identification before they are made available. If not, they will generally require you to undertake to do so as a condition of the adoption. Make sure you are clear on what you are expected to do before you make the final decision.
Behavioural and emotional needs
Although many dogs have an unknown history, having been abandoned or taken in as strays, some dogs will arrive with information from previous owners. Reputable rescue organisations are also very experienced at assessing rescued dogs’ behaviour and temperament. Remember when taking on an older dog you need a lot of patience as they may take several months to settle in and feel relaxed enough to show their true personality.
A place to call home
Changing homes can be a traumatic experience for adult dogs, particularly if they have lived with one person all their lives and perhaps been poorly socialised (e.g. life with an older person will be a lot quieter than life with a young family). The process means they lose their companions and familiar surroundings, so make sure you are prepared and have discussed with the rescue centre how to make this transition easier. Have a sleeping area prepared where the new arrival can feel safe, equipped with a dog bed, blanket or cushion as well as water and food bowl. This provides a 'time out' place for the dog to escape to. Ensure children know not to bother the dog when he or she is in this space.
Introductions all round
If you're introducing an adopted dog to another adult dog, don't assume they'll get along immediately. Let them get to know each other gradually, initially with both dogs on leads in case of conflict, and always give the resident dog plenty of attention so the new companion isn't seen as a threat, whilst reassuring both that there is nothing to worry about. All re-homed dogs should be neutered for many reasons, including the fact that they maybe less likely to fight. When it comes to meeting a resident cat, the road to social harmony often takes a little longer, but it is achievable in most circumstances. Seek advice on this introduction as it must be done correctly. Inappropriate and frightening introductions will be remembered and are hard to undo. The cat and dog should never just be put together immediately. A slow and controlled introduction is best - initially just mixing smells, then visual contact before physical contact, with the new dog always on a lead. Ask your vet or the rescue centre for further information on how to get this right.
An adult dog may come with a great deal of training, or with very little, including a lack of house training in some cases. Again, you are best guided by the rescue organisation on how to proceed, but not surprisingly you may have to put in some extra time and effort to teach your old dog new tricks. A dog-training class is a great idea, as it may also socialise the new dog so they are less afraid of unfamiliar situations and can learn skills they missed out on as younger dogs. House training an adult dog is challenging and requires patience and time. Consult your rescue centre, vet or dog trainer for advice.
Try also to create consistency in the feeding routine they have become accustomed to; feed from the same type of bowl, at the same times of day if known, and incorporate any specifics like putting the bowl on newspaper if this has happened before. If you plan to change your dog’s food, you may want to wait a few weeks until he or she is properly settled-in. You may need to manage the transition even more gradually than normally advised. Start by mixing a little of the new food into the old type, and over 10-14 days increase the amount of new content, until the dog is eating only the new food. If any gastrointestinal upsets occur and persist then consult your vet.
If your dog has recently been neutered, be aware of the tendency to gain weight because of changes in metabolism and a likely drop in activity levels. Carefully monitor their body condition and be prepared to cut out unnecessary extras like table scraps.
If you’ve adopted a dog from a friend or relative, again their feeding regime may be fully understood. However, despite best intentions, and the background information the previous owner can provide, it’s better to assume there’s more to learn, and to start your new relationship with a thorough examination by the vet.
Even if you are aware of the dog’s medical history it is sensible to have a newly adopted dog registered and examined by your own vet, who can advise you on their body condition and health status and may identify any problems you need to be aware of or that require treatment. This is especially important if the dog is a stray or has an incomplete history. However healthy he or she appears, your new pet may have an underlying medical problem, have a dental condition, be suffering with parasites or some other difficult-to-spot concern . Your vet may also suggest a suitable diet depending on your dog’s breed, body condition, age or any health problems.