How to Introduce a Rescue Dog to Your Family

You have a cat or dog already, and you’d like to foster or adopt a rescue dog, but not sure how to go about or to introduce them to the family?

Master Bowie asked

Dr Jo Righetti

A renowned animal behaviourist and Rescue Awards ambassador, who also adopted her 10 year-old dog Chilli.

Cathy Beer

Founder of Pets4Life and the Companion Animal Rescue Awards. Pictured here with her foster dogs, Fluffy and Twinkle.

What are the signs to look for regarding compatibility? – ie. breed, age, temperament

Unless you’re after a specific breed, I suggest you look for a rescue dog that suits you and your family’s lifestyle and energy level. Rather than thinking of what the animal looks like, go for temperament – the pet’s personality and energy level. If you already have a cat or a dog at home and you’re thinking of adopting another dog, let the rescue organisation know so they can find a dog that’s already well socialised with cats or other dogs. If you’re not ready to take on a rescue dog, you can try fostering.

Dr Jo
Whichever breed you want, you’ll make it work. They’re also many beautiful mixed breed dogs you can choose from. Often, it’s good to get a dog of similar size with your current dog as they tend to play better together. If they’re fairly close in age, it’s better to get opposite sexes – ie. if you have a male dog, get a female dog, and vice versa – as it helps them to get along.

What is the best approach to introduce my dog to the rescue dog? Is it a good idea to take my dog to the shelter and meet there or on a neutral ground, like at a nearby park?

Dr Jo
First impressions matter! A few days of patience and gradual introduction can make a lifetime of happiness between two pets. It’s a good idea to take your dog to meet the rescue dog at the shelter, but make sure that both dogs are controlled. If it’s not possible, a neutral ground is a great option – perhaps a place where it’s not your dog’s territory. Find a local park and let the two dogs meet across a field, on a lead, at first. If that’s going well, bring them a little bit closer together, and eventually if they’re willing to, they can have a sniff at each other. At that stage, it’s probably a good sign and from then on, you won’t have too many issue in getting home and introduce them.

At home, never leave the dogs alone together until you’re absolutely sure that they’re going get along. Look out for those resources that each dog may guard, and that includes yourself. A lot of dogs like to to be the only dog in the family. Like children, we have to teach them to share.

Read Cathy’s 5 TIPS on how to choose an ethical and responsible rescue group, and the warning signs to watch out for.

How fostering dogs would effect my dog? How to make my dog feel comfortable and safe with the process and the fact they will leave?

Dr Jo
Most foster parents end up adopting their foster dogs, which is great. But if you’d like to foster dogs, make sure that your dog is friendly with other dogs. Take your dog to a park or ask a friend to visit with their dog, and see if your dog is ok with that. It’s important to introduce the foster dog into the family carefully, on a neutral ground – see response above. Be very careful over resources, such as the space the dogs occupy and food – by feeding them separately or individually if necessary. Give each dog individual attention as well.

There’ll be heartache when they go, but know that you’re doing a great job in fostering and helping animals find home.

Watch Dr Jo Righetti’s full Q & A here