What You Need to Know About Adopting a Rescued Dog

As the book " The Second Hand Dog " aptly points out :




"Be sensitive.  It's culture shock, pure and simple.  Just imagine that you've been snatched away from home and suddenly find yourself in an aboriginal forest community.  No language or gestures in common.  Communication is by trial and error.  Put yourself in his place.  Then be patient and supportive.  You'll succeed.


The stray who has been "previously owned" enters your home with a completely different set of baggage.  Leashes, hands, rolled up newspapers and magazines, feet, chairs and sticks are just some of the pieces of training equipment that may have been used on this dog.  Words like "come here" and "lay down" may bring forth a reaction other than the one you expected.  This dog is the product of a never-ending series of miscommunications and surreal expectations.   


When you get him home he's confused and disoriented.  Sights and sounds are simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar; things are jumbled up.  He jumps on the couch and bed, he drinks from the toilet bowl, barks at the phone and makes wild lunges at strangers.  In another life these behaviors may have been encouraged or maybe just not discouraged.  Don't worry; he'll catch on.  He'll get past it all.  He'll become your dog.


Taking on the responsibility of a dog with a past is hard work.    Most of the problem behavior you'll encounter is an expression of the dog's inability to cope with the demands of your personality and lifestyle.  Things may proceed slowly; you'll hit frustrating learning plateaus.  But if you're committed you'll get there.  Remember that the basic period of adjustment can be anywhere from six to twelve weeks.  Go into this with your eyes open and then stand back and marvel at the transformation." 1




1.  Excerpt taken from "The Second Hand Dog :  How To Turn Yours Into a First-Rate Pet ",

      by Carol Lea Benjamin;  Wiley Publishing Inc., New York, NY (1998)  pp: 11-13

     ( Bold names above are clickable links )


Helpful Tips to Help Your Leo Adjust to Her New Home:


Leonbergers that are turned over to Leo Rescue Canada come from various situations.  They may be dogs that have been surrendered because they didn't live up to their owner's expectations.  They may be dogs with behavioural or health issues.  Or they may be dogs that have been abandoned, abused, or neglected.  Whatever the reasons why the dog has been recycled, it is important to understand that these dogs come with a history, or to put it more bluntly - "baggage".


Because of that "baggage", if your new friend has a history of being abused, neglected or battered in any way you'll want to change your rules and standards for her.  Although it is true that any dog needs structure and rules, the rescued dog needs more than that.  In fact, she's going to need more of everything, especially patience, love and understanding.


While each of us has certain standards of behaviour for our pets, a dog that has been previously owned may not be able to live up to yours, no matter how fair you may think those standards are.  Something in her past, something you may or may not know about, may eliminate the possibility of using a crate, for example.  There are some dogs that will not tolerate confinement.  Some dogs may be destructive when left alone.  This isn't because they are bad dogs usually this is because they get flashbacks to their old life and are so afraid of being abandoned again that they act out inappropriately.  You need to understand this and take time to learn how to reassure your new dog in a way that lets her know she is yours to stay.  With patience and love you will be able to help her work through this.


Remember that the history of most rescued dogs is unknown so it is very important that you are reasonable in your expectations of your new friend. 


The chore of convincing the dog that the past is the past and this is now will take time and cannot be done with words.  The old saying "actions speak louder than words" rings true.



Here are some guidelines for helping your new Leo adjust well to her new home.


1.   Prepare your home before the dog arrives.  The process is similar to baby-proofing a house.  Put away anything that might be a choking hazard.  Tuck away your valuable and/or sentimental possessions just in case there are some chewing issues to resolve.  Buy the appropriate supplies in terms of bedding or a crate (see #2), a collar and a leash of relevant size and strength.  Buy a leash that is no longer than 6 feet in length to keep your dog close to you at all times when out and about.  A word of caution is necessary here about retractable leashes.  Not only are the majority on the market insufficient to properly restrain a dog the size of a Leo, if she manages to break free from your grasp, the handle's weight and size may startle her and cause her to run away in an effort to escape the clatter and noise of the handle hitting the ground. 


      You may also want to buy some toys, but be careful not to select small or even medium sized toys that may be choking hazards to a large Leo's throat.  Larger dogs usually need larger, strong toys.


      Consider getting baby gates or x-pens if you plan to block off one or more rooms for an initial restricted area.


      Make sure you have a couple of weeks of food supply already bought (see #7) together with a selection of healthy treats and water bowls. 


      Finally, if there are children in your home, you should discuss potential issues and rules before the dog arrives so that the children know how to act around the dog and so that you can give clear direction to your new friend. 



2.   Buy and use a crate.  Make sure you get a size that is large enough for the dog to turn around and stand in comfortably.  In most cases, a crate will offer security to the dog that badly needs just that.  Some dogs will do better with the crate in the hub of the house – the den or the kitchen.  Others need a quiet place.  Some like a good view and even some conversation while they rest.  Others need a towel draped over the crate or the comfort of a semi-closed-up, airline-type crate rather than the all-wire models.  This can be discovered only by trial and error.


      If your new dog has trouble adjusting to a crate, there are many excellent books available to teach you how to teach her to accept and love her crate.  In some extreme cases, if your new dog has confinement issues, etc., a crate may not be deemed appropriate.  In these instances, it is strongly suggested that you consult a qualified animal behaviourist for help on how to proceed.  Your Rescue Coordinator will be able to recommend someone.



3.   Set up a mat or crate in your bedroom so that your dog gets seven or eight hours of bonding time at no cost to you.  Again, it's an important message.  You belong to me now I will take care of you.



4.   Bonding with your new friend is crucial.  Spend quality 'alone time' together every day, free of the distraction of other pets, kids, etc.



5.   Explore with your new dog but don't be in too much of a hurry to expose her to too much too soon.  Take it slow and easy so that you don't put her on sensory overload.



6.   The Leo's majestic presence is one of the reasons people are attracted to these wonderful dogs.  For this reason, it is hardly surprising that people often can't wait to show off their new friend.  For many, this usually means taking their new dog to an off leash park and allowing her to greet everyone and everything you meet while out and about.  If you try to do these things with your rescued dog within the first few days or weeks, you are almost guaranteed a recipe for disaster.  Your Leo is going to need time to adjust and feel secure around you and her new surroundings.  Trying to introduce her to too much too soon will set her up for failure, as it may trigger unpleasant memories which force her to behave inappropriately.


      Until your Leo is fully settled into her new environment, we recommend not taking her on too many trips.  Vet visits of course may be necessary, as might be appointments with a trainer or groomer.  But perhaps wait a couple of weeks, or even months, before you take her to visit family or attend an event with a large crowd. 



7.   Give your new pet the best diet you can afford.  She needs it to combat the stress of change.  Even if the change is for the better, it will still cause stress at first, which can appear in the form of diarrhea or loose stools.


      If your Rescue Co-ordinator has informed you of the type of food your dog has been eating most recently, it is best to stay with that food for at least a couple of weeks.  If you wish to make changes, slowly introduce the new food into her diet once she starts to settle in.



8.   Grooming time isn't just for getting rid of knots and mats.  Grooming her relaxes both of you.  It's another quiet way of getting the message across – I love you, kid.  You're here to stay.  Grooming is a nice ending to a walk, a training session or a hectic day.



9.   If your dog isn't suffering from any mobility or breathing issues, take some long, quiet walks together.  Get to know her away from home.  Go someplace quiet and pretty.  Sit for a while and just "chill" somewhere peaceful without distractions.  You'll both love it.



10. Be patient when training your new dog.  Remember, she may not understand what you expect from her.  You need to be consistent but gentle in letting her know the new ground rules.  Working with a qualified positive reinforcement trainer is highly recommended and will help your dog learn what is expected from her in a loving, structured way.



11. If there are children in the house, even if your new dog is used to being around kids, it is important to remember that the kids are going to need training so they know how to behave appropriately with their new family member.  Young children can inadvertently hurt an animal which can result in disastrous consequences for everyone concerned.  A good rule of thumb to remember is to never leave a young child and dog, especially one that has been rescued, together unsupervised!



12. Please take precautions if there are other animals in your house.  Slowly introduce your new dog to other pets – one at a time.  Opening the front door to let the new dog explore on her own is not a good approach.  Keep her on leash when you first walk her through the door.  You may want to limit her to just one or two rooms for her first few days.  You should likely keep other pets in a separate area of the house during this initial period.


      To introduce her to any other dogs you might have, consider letting the dogs meet at a neutral location – perhaps at a local park in a very quiet area.  A friend or family member could bring one of your dogs to the park, and you casually "meet up" with them with your new arrival.  Watch to see how they react to each other from a distance.  Don't force them to have a direct encounter.  You want to make sure their first meeting is a friendly and positive event.  Walk them back home together.  Watch to see if your 'first dog' is willing to invite your new friend in.  If you need more help with how to introduce an additional pet into your household, please check the internet or contact your Rescue Coordinator who will be able to recommend some excellent resources and advice.     



Your Rescue Coordinator will also be available to help discuss behavioural issues and to answer any questions that may arise during the trial period.


If, after reading all the relevant information on this web site you are confident you are able to provide a good home for a rescued Leo, please fill out our Adoption Application Form.