How to help your new dog settle in

“I don’t know that I’m adopted”

Put yourself in your new pet’s paws: they don’t yet know that they’re ‘adopted’ or that this is their ‘forever home’. Try to understand that they may be a little bewildered or even scared; they don’t know the rules and what they may or may not do (including where they’re allowed to go ‘toilet’).

No matter how good or bad the place they came from was, this is still a big change – they’re looking to you to show them the ropes, teach the rules, make them feel safe, and help them understand what their place in this new home is. This move is stressful to them – it’s all new and unfamiliar!

This is very important – make sure the new dog respects existing pets. Don’t allow the newbie to run straight into the house and up to other animals, and never let them chase existing animals away from their beds, bowls, mats, etc. This is asking for a fight.

Download full info document: FAW Your new DOG

(You’re welcome to share this info but please credit FAW as this helps to create awareness of our organisation.)

Please try to see things from their point of view and be patient, consistent, and calm.

Remember, dogs WANT to fit in; they WANT to be part of your pack – with you as their leader. Start off as you mean to go on: with you in charge. They will feel more secure and happier if they know where they fit in. Having a routine really helps (i.e. feeding around the same time, etc.) because they know what to expect.

If you have other pets, don’t allow the newbie to run into the house and up to other dogs as they may feel they’re being ‘invaded’. Take him/her to the cats’ and/or dogs’ bedding so they can have a sniff. Watch your new dog to see how they react – he/she should appear interested and friendly.

Important: keep new dogs on the lead when introducing them to any other animals.

Remember, your dog is looking to YOU to show them what to do and what is expected of them. Think of yourself as a tour guide showing around a foreign visitor who doesn’t speak your language!

EXTREMELY IMPORTANT! Please put a collar and tag on your new dog straight away. It is usually within the first week or two that newly adopted animals may slip out, either because they’re bewildered or because they want to explore or are stressed. Click here to find out more about why newly-adopted animals sometimes run off (and it’s not because they ‘don’t like you’! Why your new pet may try to escape.

They do not know your area so it is crucial that you supervise them when they’re outside in your yard, and ensure that they can easily be identified should someone else find them. Note that dogs and cats adopted from FAW are microchipped. Should your new go missing, please notify us immediately so we can try to assist in the search and alert the microchip company.


What should I feed my new dog?


Animals at the rescue centre eat a wide variety of foods, from different brands of pellets and soft food; dogs also sometimes get raw food. Those in private foster care may have been on a specific diet so ask us or the foster what they’ve been feeding them.

It’s entirely your decision what you’re going to feed them in future, but we recommend choosing good quality food as this keeps their overall health good, which reduces vet visits.

We always recommended getting a small tub of Protexin or other a probiotic for animals – as many animals get a bit of an upset tummy at first due to the change in food and environment.

 What should I do at feeding time?

Dogs can be very protective over food, especially dogs that are unsure of themselves and in an unfamiliar environment.

Ideally, feed your new dog/cat separately from other animals for the first 10 – 14 days.

We strongly recommend that children or other animals should NOT approach the new dog while it is eating. If there is growling, snarling, or snapping, contact FAW or an animal behaviourist.

What about food guarding?

This will usually show itself with going very still and moving over the bowl, showing the whites of their eyes and/or growling, which can progress to snapping. This is usually easily resolved if you nip it in the bud quickly – it does not mean they are ‘aggressive’ and dangerous in general. Please ask for help if you’re concerned.

What about my existing animals?

Don’t be disappointed if new and existing pets aren’t friends straight away; some are instant BFFs and others take longer to bond – just like people.

Make sure existing pets, especially dogs, see and understand that they’re still important and aren’t being ‘replaced’ but don’t ‘play favourites’. Ensure you stay in charge.

Give them the same attention you always have, and don’t allow the new dog to eat their food or take over their beds or favourite spots. Likewise, discourage existing animals from getting into the new dog’s bed.

Bed time

  • Some rescued dogs take time getting used to the luxury of having a bed of their own and may initially choose to lie on the floor. Don’t force them but keep showing them where they may sleep (putting some treats in the bed helps!).
  • Young dogs and puppies can be overwhelming to existing pets, especially seniors – make sure they have safe, calm place to retreat to where the new dog may not go. If you have a spare room, this is perfect. Alternatively, try sectioning off a portion of a large room.
  • Your new dog may also appreciate having a room or section where it knows it’s safe to retreat to.
  • If you do not want your new dog to sleep on your bed or couches, discourage them gentle but firmly.
  • Supervise them in the beginning but stay calm. Avoid ‘screaming’, even you’re if excited and happy. Dogs perceive this as unsettling or it can ‘wind them up’.
  • If anyone is very anxious, overly excitable, or anticipating disaster, ask them not to be there initially. Animals sense emotion and can react accordingly; you want them to start off in a calm, balanced, and positive manner. They can meet the new dog when things have calmed down.

Can I take my new dog for a walk?

For sure – just be extra-extra-cautious that they can’t get out of the collar and do not let them run loose until you are 100% sure they will come when called! It may be best to give them a few days to settle in as moving house can be exhausting, disorientating and stressful.

Start walking them soon to work off extra energy and learn to listen to you. This is also a very important bonding time. Just make sure they cannot pull out of their collar and run off!*

If the dog is very nervous or not used to walking on lead, you will need to work up to walks, starting with getting them used to a lead at home. Work off energy by playing with them instead.

If you have other dogs, you may need to take it/them separately at first.

*Note: if your new dog should run away, do not chase it! This can make them run faster. Rather get a strong-smelling treat (e.g. cheese, peanut butter, mini cheddars, biltong, etc), crouch or sit down, and hold the treat out to them calling softly. Be patient.

What about meeting new people? No matter how much you want to show the newbie off, rather let things settle down for a day or so, allowing everyone to get used to each other, before having visitors over.

When people do visit ask them to pay attention to the other dog/s before the new one.

If you have rules that you want your new dog to learn, like ‘no jumping’ or ‘no getting on the couch’, ask that these be adhered to by visitors.

The new dog is like my shadow – is that normal?

Initially, the new dog may attach itself to one family member and follow that person around, always staying by their side. This is usually the person who is home the most and/or the person who feeds them. This is great and it helps the dog learn the ropes and get settled!

Be careful not to allow them become possessive over a person. Ensure that the dog spends time with all family members. The person they’ve become attached to should encourage other family members to approach and interact with the dog, and other family members should call the dog to them and play with or pet them (brushing, stroking, etc.). The dog’s favourite person should also leave occasionally (even if only for 10 minutes) to allow the dog to get used to being around other peopl and to reduce the chances of separation anxiety developing.

If a dog growls at other people approaching ‘their’ person, this is absolutely not ok. Immediately tell them ‘no’ firmly (don’t shout) and move away from them. Don’t shout, chase, or grab the dog as this could cause a nervous dog to snap. Please contact us or an animal behaviourist if this happens.


A common problem is when newly-adopted dogs become possessive and start resource guarding. Do not fear: it happens to many people and it IS resolvable!

When new dogs go to their adoptive homes, initially, the new dog may attach itself to one family member and follow that person around, always staying by their side. This is great, and really does make you feel good about your new family member plus it helps the dog learn the ropes and get settled. There’s nothing wrong with this at all.

However,you need to be very careful to not allow the dog to become possessive (resource guarding), which can easily happen if the situation isn’t managed correctly. Dogs that have come from very deprived backgrounds are more likely to become possessive over food, items,and humans.

  • Resist the urge to fuss over the new dog a lot and allow them to get away with things they shouldn’t ‘because they’re new’ or ‘because I feel sorry for them’. Let them settle in and fit into your routine.
  • Ensure that the newbie spends time with ALL family members, not just their favourite. This will help to reduce chances of separation anxiety when their favourite leaves the house, and the potential for them to start ‘resource guarding’ that person.
  • If they’ve become attached to one person, that person should encourage other family members to approach and interact with the dog, and other family members should call the dog to them and play with or pet them (brushing, stroking, etc.).
  • If the dog is on a sofa or someone’s bed and doesn’t want to allow someone into the room or near the coach, stop allowing them onto the furniture until the resource guarding has stopped. Ideally, dogs should only be allowed onto the furniture when you invite them and they should get off if you tell them to.
  • The dog’s favourite person should also leave occasionally (even if only for 10 minutes) to allow the dog to get used to being around other people.

NB: If a dog displays unacceptable behaviour if other people or animals approach ‘their’ person, this is not ok. Immediately tell them ‘no’ (don’t shout or punish them – the dog is doing the right thing by communicating its discomfort) and move away from them. 

Do NOT Shout, chase, hit, or grab the dog. Not only is this not fair to them but it could cause a nervous dog to snap or bite.

Remain calm but assertive and make sure the dog understands you are not his/her possession and you will not tolerate the behaviour. Please contact the welfare you adopted your dog from or an animal behaviourist ASAP if this happens before things get out of hand.

The good news is: if this has already started happening, you CAN nip this in the bud if you handle things correctly! And then you’ll have a happy, well-balanced dog to bring you years of joy.



  • Stay calm and in charge
  • Be gentle and consistent
  • Be patient
  • Keep an eye on interactions with other pets in the beginning
  • Introduce your new dog while holding onto the leash
  • If they want to investigate other pets, walk with them; pulling them away makes them more excited
  • Remember that they don’t know this is their new home yet
  • Contact FAW if you have any questions or concerns with your new family member!


  • Shriek, shout, or use loud, high-pitched voices.
  • Panic – calm you equals calm animals.
  • Expect perfection immediately, although it can and does happen.
  • Let your new dog ‘replace’ or bully existing pets.
  • Punish them – they need to associate each other with good things, not bad.
  • Force things – let the animals set the pace; all you do is supervise.
  • Get a new dog and then leave them the very next day for long hours, especially with other animals if you are not absolutely sure no fights will break out.

©Copyright Jennifer Davies 2021

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