Rescue Dog Roadmap

This is for you if you adopted a dog over the age of six months. This roadmap will show you how to use the Academy courses to get your new dog settled in, plus provide some extra information you won’t find in the courses.

How it works: This roadmap links to lessons from different courses. After you’re done with a lesson, hit the back button on your browser/phone to come back here.

A lot of the lessons the roadmap links to are from Puppy Survival School. Adopting an adult or adolescent dog is a lot like raising a puppy, with some key differences. So our aim is to teach you how to adapt the puppy program to your older dog.

What you need to know first

The first few months with a new dog are time of major change and disruption. Go learn more about the Adjustment Period (and if any of the “what was I thinking?!” stuff from that lesson resonates, feel free to take the rest of that course!)

Being adopted into a new home is one of the most stressful things a dog will ever experience.

Did you get her from a shelter? No matter how nice the shelter -and there are definitely some nice ones- being an animal in a shelter sucks. She’s been taken from whatever life she knew, placed in a cage by stressed-out overworked humans, surrounded by stressed-out terrified dogs. And now she’s suddenly in your home surrounded by even more strangers. 

It’s a lot to deal with.

This is one of the reasons it’s critical to allow an adjustment period. Your new-to-you dog needs time to decompress from the adoption experience.

You probably thought about adopting a dog for a long time. You’re excited to get started. You’ve had plenty of time to adjust to the idea of spending the next decade with this animal. But the dog, unaware of what was happening right up until the moment it happened, has had NO time to adjust. You’re miles ahead of her in terms of getting used to the idea. The moment Sparky comes home, she is sitting at the starting line. It’s only fair you give her some time to catch up. 

I’m about to explain a few weird behaviors that are actually normal things to expect from a dog during the adjustment period. But since life is messy and complicated, each of these behaviors could also be a symptom of a medical problem. 

WTF, I know. Life. Ugh. 

So before we continue, I must assign you your first mission as a responsible dog owner: Get thy dog to a veterinarian. Rule one of adopting a pet: take them to the vet ASAP, even if they were deemed healthy by the breeder/rescue. 

 At a typical new-dog checkup, the vet will perform a basic exam: taking the dog’s temperature, inspecting ears, teeth, eyes, feeling up her guts, etc. Tell the vet about any concerns you have. 

Mention any strange behavior your dog is exhibiting, no matter how paranoid you think you’re being. Dog scratching a lot? Dog drinking a lot of water? Dog sensitive about being touched in a certain area?  Mention everything. The vet will tell you if there’s any medical reason for concern. If there’s not, carry on:

 What behavior is normal? 

It’s normal for your dog to act differently at home than she did when you first met her. It makes sense – people behave differently depending on where they are and what they’re doing, after all. Think of how you are:

  •  At home with your family
  • In line at the DMV
  • At work
  • Out with friends on Friday night
  • On a first date 
  • On social media

You’re a bit of a different person in each one, right? Different facets of your personality emerge to deal with different people and situations. 

Dogs are the same way. Sparky might act differently than she did at the shelter, for better or worse. You might see perfect behavior during the honeymoon phase, but then big changes as the dog settles in. 

Discouraging adjustment-period behaviors that are actually totally fine

Eating very little, or showing no interest in treats or toys. “My dog won’t work for food!” is a common concern. Lack of interest in food is a sign of stress in dogs. This dog has a lot to deal with. Scarfing Milk Bones is low on her list of priorities. 

No interest in cuddling or playing with you. Even extremely friendly dogs can be kind of aloof for a while. Again, this dog is dealing with a lot of things more important than belly rubs. Besides that, you and she are strangers. You have no relationship yet. I know it’s hard, but be patient.

• Restlessness. She may pace and pant a lot, wander all over the house, never sleep. On the flipside, she may want to do nothing but sleep. Dogs are creatures of routine, and your dog has no routine yet. She’s a little lost. 

Not listening to what you say. This is just a lack of training, that’s all. It might seem intuitive that a dog should know to come running when you call, for instance,  but it’s not. Coming when called is not a natural dog behavior. If your dog doesn’t do what you say, it’s because she has not properly been trained to do so. Even if she had some training in her previous life, she has not been taught to listen to you. 

All this is stuff you would expect from a critter who’s just had her whole world turned upside down. She has her guard up. She may even be depressed and mourning her previous life. Once she knows she’s safe and here to stay, you’ll see her let her guard down. 

If you’re trying to train your dog but she’s unmotivated by the usual rewards (treats, toys, play, affection, etc) it’s almost certainly a sign that you’re moving too fast. You probably have all kinds of plans for cool things you want to do with your dog. Which is great! 

But the first thing you must do? Earn her trust. Before you can accomplish anything else, the dog must feel safe. She needs to know what to expect on a daily basis. She needs to get to know you, and understand how to communicate her needs. Lucky for you, this is what we’re gonna work on.

What’s the absolute best thing you can do as a dog owner? Learn the basics of Dog Speak! When you understand the many subtle ways dogs communicate, it’ll help you:

  • Pick the right dog
  • Make training more effective
  • Get the dog to trust and love you
  • Keep your family safe and prevent dog bites
  • Understand how to better handle behavior problems
So go take Dog Speak 101


Get yourself set up for success

This is a simple strategy you can use to deal with almost anything. Use it both to solve existing behavior problems and prevent new problems from appearing. It’s a major key to successfully navigating the adjustment period and beyond.

Go learn about the Core Strategy

Using food in training

For any big training project, like getting a dog settled in her new home, you’ll use a lot of food. So I don’t recommend actual “dog treats.” You don’t want to screw up your dog’s diet or make her sick. 

Go learn more about how to use food.

What to do if your dog isn’t interested in food. Many dogs have no interest in treats in the early days of the adjustment period. If you follow the suggestions in that link and they don’t work, take it as a sign to slow down. For now, stick to managing to prevent bad habits, and giving the dog a chance to just chill. Also start using real-life rewards, described below.

Real-life rewards

Treats are great, but they barely scratch the surface of what reward-based training is all about. 

There are situations where even the highest-value treat isn’t gonna cut it. Food just isn’t what the dog wants most. Like when he’s got the new-home blues and he’s not interested in chicken as a reward for peeing in the backyard… but he DOES want to go for a walk. 

A reward can be anything the dog wants in a given moment (within reason). 

As you get to know your dog, make a list of everything she finds reinforcing. (It’s okay if she doesn’t seem to like anything right away. As she becomes more comfortable, you’ll start noticing more things that motivate her)

Learn more about real life rewards here

What to do if you have other pets

Take all the lessons in the Dog to Cat Introductions category in the Dog Intros Bonus Content course, starting with this one: a crash course in cat communication

Integrating an adult or adolescent dog into another dog’s home is more complex than with a puppy. Take the Dog Introductions Demystified course.

Getting settled and establishing communication

Go slooow. No pressure. Even if your dog seems relaxed, you still need to make sure the early days are full of time to just chill and get used to this new life. If you move too fast without giving the dog a chance to process, you could be pushing her toward a meltdown later on. 

Give the dog time to experience each new experience before adding another. Sparky needs time to get to know your immediate family. Don’t throw a “meet the dog” party on day two and expect her to get to know all your friends and extended family, too. There will be plenty of time for that later.

Keep your expectations in check. Maybe you have big dreams of trick training or having the best-behaved dog in town. That’s awesome! Just don’t get ahead of yourself.

When you have great expectations, its easy to get discouraged. Like if you want Sparky to be a champion disc dog, but she doesn’t even seem interested in playing with her new Frisbee.

Think of it this way: when you move to a new city, there are a gazillion things you need to focus on. I need to find a job! I need to make sure my house is safe and that everything is working properly! I need to get to know people! I need to locate the Starbucks! Playing Frisbee is probably low on your list of priorities.

Sometimes, the opposite is true. You may end up with a passionate fetcher, like my border collie Merlin. From day one, Merlin wanted nothing but to chase Frisbees 24/7. This was how we bonded. If you find that there’s something your dog really loves to do, latch onto it and use it to help them settle in.

The only expectations to place on your dog right now is that he should become comfortable with your family and learn some very basic manners and rules of the house.

Potty training isn’t just for puppies! When you adopt an adult dog, you usually don’t know their house training history. And even if they were house trained, they might need to be retrained. Because:

  • Shelter life can mess up good bathroom habits. Living in a kennel, dogs can develop the habit of eliminating in their living space out of necessity.
  • They might have been taught not to pee indoors at their old house. But guess what – peeing in YOUR house still technically counts as peeing outside of their old house! They might need to be taught that your house counts as indoors, too.
So bottom line, treat this dog like an un-potty-trained pup. Take the House Training course.

Take these lessons:

Getting your dog to listen and follow cues

So far, you’ve been doing a lot of the important work of setting the dog up for success and creating good habits. After that, you can start doing more of the classic “dog training” type of dog training.

If you followed the roadmap, you’ve seen bits and pieces of the Dog Training Essentials course. This is a good time to take a quick look through the rest of it.

The first things I recommend teaching your dog

The marker

This makes training clearer and more effective.

The name game

Teach your new dog a solid response to his new name.

Sit on cue

This is the only formal “obedience” cue I suggest teaching in the early days with a new dog. Sit gives
Sparky a polite way to ask for what he needs. “I don’t want you to jump on my visitors, Sparky. But they’ll pet you if you sit nicely!”

And it trains you. Once you’ve mastered the humble sit, you can use the same principles to teach your dog the really important stuff, like coming when called or fetching you a beer from the fridge.

Most of the training in our programs build on some foundation attention/focus/relationship exercises. Exercises that get your dog to pay better attention to you, and want to be with you, out in the world. They teach your dog core concepts that make all other training/behavior problem-solving much easier. 

The three exercises:

The Practical Leash Manners course has four additional lessons to help you get the most out of foundation training: