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How to Help a Rescue Dog Adjust

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Rescuing a dog is one of life’s greatest joys and most rewarding experiences. It is not easy, but it is so worth it! If you have not rescued a dog before, this article will provide the guidance you need to get started. Before you know it, you will be comfortable helping rescue dogs adjust!

scared chihuahua dog being held

How long does it take for rescue dog to adjust?

The adjustment period is referred to as decompression, and most rescues agree that the average dog takes two weeks to decompress. However, as all dogs are individuals who have experienced different things, this will vary among dogs.


How can I make my rescue dog more comfortable?

There are many things that you can do to help your newly rescued dog feel more comfortable, such as:

Make a routine. Dogs love routines and consistency so they can learn what to expect. From the first day you bring your dog home, institute a schedule that will work for your family long term.

On days a deviation is required, try to keep as much of the daily routine as you can.

Train.You should work on training from day one to help your dog understand what will be expected of her, and to help establish your bond.

If you allow a dog to do naughty things, it will become more difficult to get them to stop in the future.

Respect. While dogs generally love to be petted, and many dogs love to snuggle, some do not. Allow your dog to initiate physical contact first and pay attention to what she responds to in a positive way.

If your dog does not like being petted in a certain way, do not continue doing it. When she acts done, let her be done and leave her be.

Do not hug your dog. Hugs make many dogs feel uncomfortable and trapped.

A dog who is uncomfortable only has a few ways to say no, and one of those ways is biting.

Avoid grooming for the first week if possible. Many dogs do not enjoy a “spa day” of a bath, ear cleaning and nail trim. As such, it is a good idea to avoid such potential unpleasantness initially.

However, if your dog desperately needs bath, make it as pleasant an experience as possible, to include lots of praise and treats.

chihuahua with woman sitting in background

How do I bond with my rescue dog?

Bonds take time and effort to build. A good place to start is by spending time with your dog. Here are some ideas to bond with your dog:

Go for walks. This tried and true classic helps dogs bond with you because they consider it a pack activity to walk with their pack. It is also healthy for both of you to get exercise, and it offers your dog a change of scenery and interesting smells.

Be sure to keep your dog on a leash for safety.

Snuggles and pets. Being physically close and offering a relaxing massage by petting your dog can help establish a bond and help your dog become more comfortable with you as he learns that you are kind and care for him.

Play with toys. Dogs love to play with their people. You cannot go wrong with throwing toys, playing tug, cheering your dog on with praise as she solves a food puzzle toy, or holding a bone while your dog chews it.

Training. Training helps dogs and owners bond by working together.

Gardening. Your dog might love to nap in the sun and “supervise” as you garden.

If you dog likes to dig, you can train her to help dig holes for plants in the garden.

Car rides. Take your dog for a ride in the car to get a “pup cup” from Potbelly, Starbucks, or a local ice cream establishment.

Story time. When your dog snuggles you, read to them. This can be soothing and strengthen your bond.

She won’t not understand the story, but she will like hearing your voice and getting attention.

Biscuit Baking. While food should not be used to express love because it risks a dog becoming obese, baking special treats for your dog is a good activity because it is something quiet to do at home and presents an opportunity for training your dog to behave politely in the kitchen.

Dogs are smart and will learn that you are baking for them so they will enjoy this too.

Toy shopping. Take your dog to a pet store and allow him to pick out toys for himself.

Shopping. Find dog friendly stores to take your dog to and visit them at slow times. Find calm and kind people to pet your dog to help expose him to new experiences, socialize him, and help him build trust in you.

Be sure to read this post for help with bonding with your new dog.

black father and daughter with laptop holding chihuahua

How do you tell if your new dog is bonded to you?

If a dog is bonded to you, you will notice the following behaviors:

  • Some dogs will follow you around the house like a shadow. Some dogs do this more than others; it is based on his or her personality.
  • Other dogs do not shadow their humans constantly, but will come find you to check in when they want attention.
  • Your dog will look up at you on walks.
  • If your dog is napping and you are not in the room when she wakes up, she will walk around the house looking for you.
  • Your dog will choose to be with you in a room full of people.
  • Your dog will seek attention from you.
  • She will make eye contact with you.
  • He will be happy to see you when you get home.
  • She will respond to you and listen to you.

What do I need for my new rescue dog?

You will need supplies to care for your dog and help him feel comfortable. Here is a shopping list and tips to prepare for your rescue dog’s adoption day:

Healthy food and treats. Your dog will need a good quality, healthy food to eat. If you choose to prepare home made meals, be sure to have a trusted veterinarian review the recipe to ensure that your dog’s nutritional needs are being met.

Your dog may be too anxious to eat initially, so be patient. You should also purchase savory training treats, plain regular biscuits and any other treats you think your dog would enjoy.

Food and water bowls. Place them in a quiet area to help your dog feel comfortable eating and drinking.

Check out bowls from Chewy here.

Check out bowls from Amazon here.

Consider purchasing a food bowl mat to help protect your floors from water.

A crate. Dogs like having a “bedroom” to retreat to like teenagers do. Make your dog’s crate easily accessible for them, but in a quiet part of the house so they may go there to cool off when the house gets busier than they would like.

Check out the crates from Chewy here.

Check out crates from Amazon here.

Toys. Pick more toys than you think are necessary. The more options the better; you want your dog to have many appropriate options to prevent her from playing with inappropriate objects.

Check out toys from Chewy here.

Check out toys from Amazon here.

Cozy bed and blankets. Set these up in a quiet area to allow your dog to feel comfortable napping in them.

Be sure to select something that is easy to wash. Bonus points if it is placed in the sun!

Check out dog beds from Chewy here.

Check out dog beds from Amazon here.

Secure harness and safety collar. Dogs should always be walked wearing a harness to prevent injuries to their neck and throat.

They will also need a leash.

Pick up bag dispenser. It is wise to keep a pick up bag dispenser on your leash to be able to pick up after your dog as efficiently as possible. Even if your neighborhood has a professionally managed dog pick up station, you might need a bag when the station is empty.

Check out dispensers from Chewy here.

Check out dispensers from Amazon here.

Also, your dog might be frightened of something that is near the pick up station, making it difficult to return to it to grab a bag.

Grooming supplies. You will need dog shampoo, nail clippers, and depending on the your dog’s coat type, brushes. If you will be taking your dog to a professional groomer you might not need nail clippers, but long coated dogs must be brushed regularly to prevent matting, and it is always wise to have shampoo on paw in case your dog gets into something smelly after the groomer’s hours.


Every dog is an individual who has unique needs, but as long as you are patient and loving, you will reap the reward of the unique type of unconditional love that owners of rescued dogs enjoy. Dogs respond to love and care; never stop loving and caring, and never give up. The road might be bumpy sometimes, but as long as you stay in it for the long haul, you will look back and be amazed at how far you and your dog have come!

We’d all love to hear your rescue story so please leave a comment and tell us about it. Also be sure to leave any tips you may have that aren’t in this post.

Other posts you may want to read:

Should You Rescue or Buy a Chihuahua

How to Find a Chihuahua Rescue




Friday 18th of September 2020

What a valuable article, Cathy. Almost all of our dogs have been rescues. My beloved, brindle chihuahua, Lilly, was flown from LA (Cali) to Seattle, by a "last chance" rescue, after she was found wandering the downtown streets of LA. I don't know what all she went through that 1st year of her life, but the day I adopted her, no one could even touch her. She was clearly fear aggressive. I was living alone at that time and I think that really made it much easier for her to bond with me. Within a few weeks, she knew she was out of danger and trusted me enough to allow her true self to shine through, even with my close family members. She is now 11 years old (and is chi-momma to my mother's 5lb. chi puppy) and is so well behaved, healthy and a very happy lady! It isn't the easiest way to adopt a pup, but it is the absolute most rewarding (for both dog and human)! The most useful suggestion I got from a trainer: afraid dogs are more comfortable when you don't look them in the eyes, and act like you don't notice them. They will come to you when they're ready.

Valerie Manon

Friday 18th of September 2020

I got a rescue two years ago. She's a Chi and I named her Mia. They warned me that she had been badly abused but I wasn't expecting how much it had traumatized her. I spent countless hours just sitting on the floor as close as she would let me get. All she wanted to do was hide under the kitchen counter. I put potty pads down all over the kitchen until the day I might be able to take her outside. It took 6 months before I could get close enough to put a harness on her. She was terrified of the outdoors. I don't think she had ever seen the light of day. Fast forward 2 years and she is now house broken. She loves going outside. If someone had told me two years ago that she would be my lap dog, I wouldn't have believed them. She loves to lay in the chair beside me and get loved on. I can tell the way she looks at me,that she adores me as I do her. She still has some small issues,but she has come so far. So, if you plan on getting a rescue be prepared to have a lot of patience. I promise you it's totally worth it.

Valerie Manon

Saturday 19th of September 2020

@Shan7T., I think I'm the lucky one to have found her. She's my baby.


Friday 18th of September 2020

@Valerie Manon, Mia is so fortunate to have found her way to you!