10 min read

How To Make Your New Rescue Dog Feel Safe In Your Home

Taking a dog home from a shelter may be one of the most heroic things you'll ever do.

Nearly 4 million dogs enter shelters every year, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Among them, only 1.4 million will be adopted. Do we really need to do the grim math on what happens to the rest?

Well, you, at least, shouldn't have to do any math ever again in your whole entire life. Because you're about to be a dog hero.

You're also about to take one of the most vital flying leaps of your life.

To help make that leap a little easier for you and your new best pal, The Dodo has reached out to a couple of the most shelter-dog-savvy, humane human beings in America today.

Rob Halpin, director of public relations for MSPCA-Angell

MSPCA-Angell is a "nonprofit that protects animals, relieves their suffering, advances their health and welfare, prevents cruelty, and works for a just and compassionate society," according to its website.

Did we mention he's really into dogs?


Finn Dowling, social media manager at Humane Society Silicon Valley

Humane Society Silicon Valley is an independent organization that has found forever homes for more than half a million animals since its inception in 1929. Dowling has been working in shelters, on and off, for the last 20 years.

Humane Society Silicon Valley

Here's what they think you need to know:

What price, love?

The first thing you need to know about a shelter dog, Rob Halpin says, is that they're worth it. Shelters may charge relatively high fees to adopt a dog, and the process can be rather rigorous. But keep this in mind: These animals are often already neutered, micro-chipped and registered. Many will have already been given flea and tick preventatives and they often have undergone basic training.


"People sometimes complain about fees for adopting dogs from a shelter or how demanding a shelter can be in terms of finding the right home for a dog," Halpin says. "There are reasons for both of those. We want the dog to have the best home that's commensurate with the kind of training and investment we've made in the dog. We want the dog and the person to be very happy."

The first thirty days

To say these days are critical would be an understatement.

"Try to remember that dogs evolved over thousands of years to be of comfort and companionship to humans in a very mutually beneficial relationship," Halpin explains. "The upside of that is very obvious. We know when our dogs love us because they express their love. The downside of that is dogs in animal shelters are rarely expressing their full range of personality."


Often, the traits that emerge right away are the ones we like: The dog becomes less jittery, more comfortable and more loving. Which, of course, means we fall in love all the more deeply. But it is crucial that you give your dog the time he or she needs to fully blossom. Be patient.

And, as Finn Dowling reminds us, don't, do not, please, no don't ever, not ever, LEAVE YOUR DOG OUTSIDE UNATTENDED.

"Imagine you're in a hospital and one day a very nice stranger puts you in their car and drives you to their house," she says. "No matter how nice their house was, you might try to get out and take a look around and get your bearings and see where you are."


"If something happens and the animal does wander off, don't take it personally," Dowling continues. "He's just trying to figure out what the hell is going on."

Pump down the jam

Shelter dogs generally only want to party with you when they get home - and only after much, much sleep.

"Going home is exhausting," Dowling says. "Sometimes, we'll see people throw a welcome home party and invite 100 people."


"For a lot of these animals, they've been in an institutional-type situation. They don't know who's who," she says. "They don't know where the food is. They don't know who they're supposed to be bonding with."

Sleep is a hell of a drug

Lots of times, too, when shelter animals come out of a shelter, they're really tired. Think of trying to sleep in a hospital - it's pretty hard to sleep. There's a lot of noise, a lot of sound, a lot of smells.

"A lot of dogs haven't slept terribly well. They're pretty exhausted. Give them a couple days to settle in," Dowling says.


Housebound, but not down

Resist the urge to open your entire home to a shelter dog, Halpin urges. They will be nervous and tentative at first, preferring to explore their new digs on their own terms, "instead of getting dragged around the house on a leash."

"It's very empowering and confidence-building for a dog to be able to get to know a house at his or her own pace," Halpin says.


Another tip for minimizing stress for both you and your dog?

"Create a smaller environment at home in which the dog can immediately settle into," says Halpin.

Think the kitchen. Or living room.

"Kitchens are great because a dog, particularly a puppy, may forget his or her house training for a bit. So time in a smaller space, like a kitchen, with easily cleaned surfaces, would be ideal for both the dog and the family," Halpin says.

Love pees

Finn Dowling is all-too-familiar with the exchange between shelter staff and prospective dog adopters.

Staff: Just so you know this is a puppy, and he's going to coat everything you know in urine.

Dog adopter: He won't because he loves me.

Staff: Not housebroken.

Adopter: We'll work it out together because love is perfect.

"Well, love is perfect," Dowling says. "But sometimes, love pees on the floor.

"It's sort of like a falling-in-love moment when everything you're saying to them becomes white noise," she says. "If you feel like that's happening, ask if they have any handouts you can look at when you get home."

Feeling good about this? Get more info on adoptable dogs at the MSPCA and Humane Society Silicon Valley.