As a new parent to an adopted dog, you might have many questions about where to go from here. I am going to share the top ten dog adoption tips I learned or experienced within the first few months of adopting a new dog.

My Dog Adoption Story

My family and I decided we were ready to bring a new dog into our family earlier this year. The first thing we did was attend adoption events in our area. At these events we met the dogs and saw how they interacted with other people. After a few events, we found a dog that was right for us. We adopted our dog Cassie from Buddie’s Second Chance Rescue based in Buffalo, NY.

The rescue was incredibly helpful throughout the adoption process, but we still did a lot of research to learn new dog adoption tips to help us with this process. The rescue did a home visit and approved us for adoption soon after expressing our interest in Cassie (formerly Petra). After that we were able to reach out to Cassie’s foster family and plan on a date and time to meet her again. The foster family brought Cassie to our house so we could see how she would be in our environment. While meeting Cassie and getting her acquainted with our home, we were able to learn about Cassie’s history and her current lifestyle from her foster family. We decided that Cassie was a great fit for our family, and were able to officially adopt and bring her into our family the next morning. Cassie has been with us for 5 months, and we have many great days, and still some hard days. We are so very grateful that we were able to find Cassie, and I want to share our top dog adoption tips for the adjustment period both yourself and your dog will experience.

photo of black adopted dog
Cassie, our adopted Mastiff-mix.

My Dog Adoption Tips

1. Learn your dog’s history

It is very important to learn your adopted dog’s history, as it can explain some of the behavior and personality your dog exhibits. You need to remember that dogs have a past that lead them to be dropped off in a shelter or saved by a rescue. Most shelters or rescues will have a brief history of where a dog came from or the circumstances that lead to their current situation. My family and I were lucky enough to have a complete history of our dog. The foster family was able to tell us that Cassie went into a shelter in Texas when she was 4 weeks old. She managed to come to Buffalo and be adopted by a family in the area at around 3 months old. The family gave her to Buddie’s Second Chance Rescue after having her for roughly 4 months. Buddie’s placed Cassie with a foster family that had her for two weeks before we met her at the adoption event.

Cassie’s foster family was able to tell us why her family of 4 months gave her up. We learned that the family had another dog that was aggressive towards Cassie. The family brought in a trainer and attempted to work with the two dogs, but ultimately decided to give her to Buddie’s to find another family. Just in this short story we were able to learn that Cassie has a history of aggression with other dogs, so she would be a good fit in our family as the only dog. We knew that her negative experience with this other dog would limit her ability to socialize with other dogs and possibly other animals. We knew that if we wanted her to interact with other dogs we would need to slowly work with her until she was comfortable and non-aggressive. Cassie now socializes with many other dogs in our life, and is non-aggressive and enjoys playing with them. We are very proud of her progress with these other dogs, but it was very important that we knew her history before we introduced her to other dogs.

Another thing we learned from Cassie’s history, was that she hadn’t been in a home with a cat before. My family has had a cat, Tigger, for 10 years now. Tigger had grown up with another dog, so we knew that he would be able to adjust if we brought a new dog into our home. We knew that Cassie would be interested in Tigger because she had never interacted with a cat before. We put up pet gates to separate them until we started to introduce them to one another. This process took a very long time, but they are finally comfortable with each other and actually spend time together. These are just a few examples of why you need to learn your adopted dog’s history.

2. Work with your dog’s current schedule

When I was researching dog adoption tips, specifically the adjustment period with a newly adopted dog, I learned that it is important to maintain the dog’s current schedule as much as you can. Cassie’s foster family informed us that they woke up early for work, which meant that Cassie was an early riser during the week. In the beginning, especially because she was a puppy adjusting to crate training, she woke up at 5:00am during the week, and 7:00am on the weekend. This was an adjustment for our own sleep schedules. We woke up early to accommodate her crate schedule as best as we could. We would wake up at 5:00am or 7:00am depending on the day of the week, take her outside to go to the bathroom. She was used to sleeping in her bed at night, and then going to her crate at around 10:00pm. We stuck with this crate schedule strictly for the first few months. Now that she is older and enjoys sleeping in, we will wake her up at 6:00am to go outside or 8:00am on the weekends.

It is also important to stick to her feeding schedule. Cassie’s foster family fed her at 6:00am and 4:30pm. We stuck to her feeding schedule, especially because she was a growing mastiff-mix puppy. She only recently changed her own feeding schedule after going through her growth-spurt. Now that she is a year old, Cassie prefers grazing rather than a strict feeding schedule. We have food in her bowl and she chooses when she wants to eat rather than eating as soon as we feed her.

The third, and very important schedule, was her bathroom schedule. The foster family informed us that although house-trained, she still has accidents if she is not taken outside right after drinking water and eating food. This was a bit of a change for my family because the dog we had before Cassie was 11 years old and would let us know when he had to go outside. We vaguely remember the house-breaking stage with him, so it was a refresher for us when taking Cassie out on a schedule rather than only when necessary. Sticking to each of these three schedules will help make this adoption transition easier on your dog, appearing more normal and what they are used to. As you can see from my experience, Cassie chose to adapt her own schedule as she grew older, which is expected, but sticking to her original schedule in the beginning made the crate training and bathroom schedule much easier.

3. Learn your dog’s commands

Cassie’s foster family brought a whole list of commands that Cassie already knew, and even some she was working on. It is very important to learn the words your adopted dog already knows, one of the key dog adoption tips. Each dog is taught different commands when training, especially if he or she is an older dog that you choose to adopt. Continuing to use these commands is best so that your dog knows what you want from him or her, and will avoid any confusion.

Cassie came into our family knowing ‘potty,’ ‘sit,’ ‘stay,’ ‘come,’ and ‘off’. It was hard to remember the commands she knew, especially because she even knew hand commands such as a fist raised and palm out for sit, or an index finger up for stay. We taught our dog we had before Cassie different words for the same commands, so we had to adapt to her language to ensure we were on the same page. The hardest transition with these commands was ‘potty’. Our previous dog knew ‘outside’ and we would ask him if he had to go outside. But for Cassie, we had to adapt to ask her if she had to go potty. Once we got these commands down, and Cassie was listening and responding to us, we were able to teach her some other commands such as ‘paw’ or ‘shake’ and even ‘roll-over’.

4. Earn your dog’s trust

Earning the trust of an adopted dog is difficult, but with the biggest payoff. Newly adopted dogs are guarded, and rightfully so. They have known the love of a family, but still found themselves in a shelter. It takes time to earn your dog’s trust, but rewarding good behavior and giving lots of love and affection is a sure way to break down this barriers, making these dog adoption tips hands-on examples.

We found that Cassie was apprehensive and guarded when around men, including the man that was fostering her. Cassie’s foster family explained that they believed she had a bad experience with a man in the past, making her more affectionate and trusting of women, but timid and alert around men. We saw this in the beginning when Cassie would interact with my dad. My dad would put his hand out for her to smell it, and she would, but when he tried to pet her she would flinch and run away from him. We overcame this by petting her and keeping her calm when around my dad. Once she saw that we were there to pet her, she would let my dad reach out and touch her head. After each time she let him pet her he would reward her progress with a treat to ensure she knew this was good and that he was not trying to hurt her.

Today, my dad and Cassie are almost inseparable. She gets very excited when he gets home from work, always wants him to rub her belly, and will play fetch with him until she is too tired to get the ball. My dad thought the process was difficult, but worth it because she shows him so much love and affection now. Showing your dog that you are there to love and care for him or her is difficult at first, but once you establish this trust with lots of treats, belly rubs, and cuddles, you will receive the greatest love from your adopted dog. The love Cassie shows us is unlike any other dog I’ve met, and I believe you will feel the same after adopting your dog and earning his or her trust.

5. Establish the rules

It is easy to forget all the rules of your house and let your adopted dog do whatever he or she wants, but it is important to keep these rules in place to avoid future problems. Structure will make your dog feel more secure and he or she will know exactly what is expected, explained further by the authors at Wags & Walks, a site I discovered when researching dog adoption tips before our own adoption. It is important that you do not leave your newly adopted dog unsupervised until they know the rules. This will limit the chances your dog has to break the rules you are trying to teach.

Put simply, if you don’t want your dog to be on the couch, don’t let him or her on the couch just because they are new to your home. Cassie was a couch dog in her previous home. We didn’t want Cassie to be on the couch in our home, instead we wanted her to have her own bed that she felt comfortable in while in the family room with us. We corrected Cassie whenever she jumped onto the couch by standing up and telling her ‘off,’ a command she knew meant to get down when she jumped up on someone to say hello. She quickly learned that ‘off’ meant to get down from the couch. We would reward her with a treat every time she got off the couch with the command. After she was off the couch, we would show her to her bed so that she knew she had a space that was her own, but she could still be present with us while watching a movie or relaxing on the couch.

Dog laying in dog bed
Here is a photo of Cassie enjoying her own bed, instead of the couch. A great example of enforcing rules with your newly adopted dog.

6. Determine your dog’s space

Setting boundaries and giving your adopted dog his or her own space is an important step in this transition. Petfinder, a reputable website with many dog adoption tips, explains that when you bring your new dog home, they will be under a lot of stress and will need a space to decompress. You need to find a space that your dog can have as their own, one of the first dog adoption tips many other sources agree is important. A space where they can have their bed, a crate if you are using one, and his or her toys. Creating a space for your dog will help them to feel more comfortable in your home overall, especially if they have a space that they can escape to if they feel overwhelmed or want to take a nap.

We found that Cassie was a very social dog, but still needed a private space for when she wanted to sleep. Cassie has all her essentials in a spare bedroom in our house, and when she wants to take a nap or go to bed for the night she will choose to go to this room. It’s not odd for Cassie to leave the family room when we are watching TV and go to her crate at night. We understand that she needs her own space and should be able to choose when to spend time with us all.

It is also important to dog-proof your home, and put up dog gates for the spaces you don’t want your dog to go. We found that putting up dog-gates to limit Cassie to one floor of the house helped with her transition as well as getting her used to our cat. We were able to choose when Cassie was ready to go to the other parts of the house on our own time as we saw her getting more comfortable. The gates helped Cassie to be able to see and smell our cat, without interacting with him just yet. We knew that it would take time for her to warm up to our cat, so the gates helped to limit their interaction to when we wanted to work with them rather than her running freely and chasing him. We would bring Cassie to the lower level of our house, where our cat was most comfortable, with a harness and leash so that we could control her more easily. She was very interested in Tigger, smelling him and trying to chase him. We continued to bring Cassie to our cat for many weeks, limiting and monitoring the amount of time they interacted. After a few weeks of these interactions we let Cassie off the leash and monitored the their interactions. Cassie was never aggressive towards Tigger, just very interested and wanting to play with him. The novelty of Tigger eventually wore off, and now Cassie and Tigger coexist together.

7. Introduce your dog to other family members

When we first brought Cassie home we gave her time to decompress before we introduced her to other family members. We knew she was stressed and shy at first, so we gave her a few weeks to get used to those of us in the house before introducing her to our other family members and their pets. Although the other family members and friends were excited to meet Cassie, it would have been unfair for us to overwhelm her with so many new people before getting to know those of us who would be with her all the time. Another article from Petfinder explains the steps for introducing your adopted dog to your family members, including other pets. We read and followed the suggestions in this article, as well as other sites with dog adoption tips on this matter, for introducing Cassie to ourselves, our cat, and visitors.

Cassie was excited to meet us and seemed fairly comfortable with us after a short amount of time. As discussed already, she needed more time to get comfortable with my dad, so we knew she would need time to adjust to other male family members. My older sister is married and has a dog of her own, Oakley, and we were very excited for Cassie to meet Oakley, my sister, and brother-in-law. After a few weeks of getting used to us, we decided it was time to introduce her to my sister, bother-in-law and Oakley. Cassie did great when meeting my sister. She was excited and wanted lots of love from her. We kept Cassie on a leash even though we were in our own home, just to be sure that she would be comfortable with these visitors. Cassie was unsure of my brother-in-law, but after smelling him and getting a few treats from him, she was very excited, and is still excited when she sees him.

Introducing Cassie to Oakley was more difficult than introducing her to our cat and visitors. She had lived with an aggressive dog in her last home, so we knew it would be hard for Cassie to get along with Oakley. We brought Cassie and Oakley to a neutral space, a dog park, so that neither was territorial. They were interested in each other and were fairly comfortable with each other from the start. Once we saw that they were getting along, we decided that we could play with them both now. While throwing a ball we saw that Cassie exhibited mild toy possession. We immediately removed the ball from the situation and Cassie was well behaved towards Oakley again. Later we did our research on toy aggression or resource guarding and found that the easiest way to handle this situation was to remove any toys or objects she could become possessive over when with Oakley. When you bring your dog into your home and they exhibit similar behavior, I suggest researching dog adoption tips specifically on resource guarding to help with this complex issue. Now that we know Cassie is toy possessive with other dogs, we remove toys from the area when she interacts with Oakley. Cassie now interacts with many dogs and their owners, and is well behaved and non-aggressive.

8. Training your dog

Although we knew Cassie already had some basic training, she still needed to get used to hearing the commands from us and understand that she should listed and respond to commands from us. We used positive reinforcement to ensure that she knew good behavior from unwanted behavior. Cassie remembered the commands she already knew, and listened when we used them on her. We still rewarded her for listening to us with treats and praise. We made sure that everyone in the house was on the same page when it came to her training and commands, so that we all knew what behavior to praise and what behavior to ignore or change.

A main goal with training Cassie was to get her to a place where we felt comfortable letting her run and play off leash in our yard. We have a large yard for her to run and play in, but it does not have a fence so she needed training to learn these boundaries. We brought a training collar in for this part. With the collar, we were able to use a remote so that the collar would beep when Cassie was getting too close to the boundaries we wanted her to learn outside. When Cassie heard the beep if she was too close to the boundary she would return to us and receive a treat for coming back. She has quickly learned her boundaries when outside and still receives treats to enforce this behavior while outside. Positive reinforcement was key for training our adopted dog, and it will be helpful in training yours as well.

9. Patience

As you can tell from our experience so far, Cassie has made great progress throughout this long process. A key to working with any dog, but especially an adopted dog, is patience. When researching dog adoption tips, we found that a majority of the sources stressed having patience during this time. We knew that it would take a lot of time and training to help Cassie adapt to her new life with us, and it required a lot of patience. Knowing Cassie’s history helped us to understand that she would need love, training, and bonding so she could adjust to our lifestyle. Dogs are a commitment, maybe not for our whole lives, but for their whole lives. Adopted dogs are special and require a lot of time and patience, but the love they show you is the greatest payoff. I encourage you to give your dog all the love and training he or she may need, but please be patient with them and know that it will take a bit of time to understand this new lifestyle.

10. Give your dog time to adjust

The people at Buddie’s Second Chance Rescue stressed the 3-3-3 Rule. After a brief explanation, and further research on the 3-3-3 Rule for dog adoption tips, we had a good grasp on this concept. Your dog will be very stressed in the first 3 days of coming to his or her new home. It takes 3 weeks for your dog to start to feel comfortable in your home. Finally, it takes 3 months to be completely comfortable in your home and trust and bond with you. Some people expect their adopted dog to adjust right away, and give up when the dog can’t make this adjustment. Adopting a dog is a commitment, and should not be taken lightly. Dogs, just like us, will be stressed during this transition, so knowing the 3-3-3 Rule will help us to understand why our dogs haven’t fully transition right away. Please keep this in mind when you are adopting a dog. It breaks my heart that another family adopted Cassie, then gave up on her after a short amount of time. We were able to adopt Cassie and give her enough time to adjust to our lifestyle, allowing her to become a great, loving and trusting dog.

I hope that you have found my dog adoption tips to be helpful with your research and the adoption process. I encourage you to continue your research when learning other dog adoption tips. These tips are the most important tips I experienced and learned through my own research, but as you’ll see, each dog is different and not all my dog adoption tips will apply to your dog. That is why I encourage you to read the articles I have linked throughout this article and to find your own sources with dog adoption tips that are specific to your own dog. Dog adoption is a long process, but the love you will share with your dog is an incredible feeling unlike any other.