What to consider before you rescue a new pet

Getting a new pet shouldn’t be a ‘quick and easy’ decision. It’s a lifetime commitment and you need to seriously think it through, speak to as many people as possible, and do as much research as you can. You need to know that you will be able to take care of your new pet on all levels, whether you’re adopting a rescue pet or getting one from a reputable breeder.

In this article, we speak to experts to find out what we need to consider before we adopt a rescue pet. Although the adoption process might be quick and easy, you need to know what to expect before you take on this new responsibility.

Before taking the big step

It is currently very trendy to adopt a pet. Celebrities all over the world are doing it and people tend to follow in their footsteps, especially when something becomes fashionable. Before you take the big step of getting a new pet, you have to ask yourself why you want to do this. Do you really want a pet, or are you doing this to be trendy?

Behaviourist Kathy Clayton feels very strongly about this. “It has become a ‘thing’ over the last few years to scream the slogan ‘adopt, don’t shop’, with breeders being slammed for actually having a litter of pure-bred dogs. There are some very good responsible breeders around and they take great care with their breeding programme to ensure that the puppies they breed are healthy, and also genetically healthy (with the parents having been tested for genetic disorders, and X-rays for hip and elbow dysplasia) and with good temperaments.

“Sadly, there will always be those ‘so called breeders’ that are only there for money, and these will give the responsible breeders a bad name, and of course, a band wagon for anti-breeders to jump on,” says Kathy.

She adds that the biggest problem is dogs that breed uncontrollably in townships and at puppy mills. Shelters then rescue the puppies and put them up for adoption. “This is a never-ending problem and one that I don’t see an end to as not enough sterilisations can happen to stop the breeding. Unfortunately, these puppies are usually quite sickly with a variety of health issues, as the people don’t have a proper breeding programme.

“Adult dogs that come into rescue shelters will always have problems – they come with baggage. They have probably had no early socialisation, so they won’t be good with other dogs, and they can also be scared of humans if they have been mistreated. These are a few of the things that potential new pet owners have to be realistic about and keep in mind,” warns Kathy.

She says that the biggest problem she sees when consulting with a client with a rescue dog is aggression. “It is mostly ‘fear aggression’, but it is aggression towards other dogs and to humans. And this needs to be addressed.”

Before you even take the big step, you need to ask yourself if you have the time, patience and financial resources to take on this new, big responsibility. Then you have to be certain as to what kind of pet you want and what you are looking for in a pet. And if you are sure that you are ready, you need to do a lot of research to find reputable shelters or breeders.

“People go to so much trouble when deciding on buying a car, yet getting a doggy is a quick decision and usually an emotive one. If people put as much time and effort into getting a dog as buying a car, less problems would occur,” advises Kathy.


What to consider

Gordon Banks, senior behaviourist at Dogtown South Africa, agrees that a dog is a huge commitment. “Remember that the average life span of a dog is 13 years, and you will be responsible for the dog for his whole life, not just until the ‘novelty’ wears off.” He shares the 10 most important factors to consider before taking this big step.

  1. Can you afford a dog? 

Owning a dog is expensive. Apart from good quality food there are other expenses like baskets and bedding, equipment such as a lead and harness or collar, toys and treats as well as grooming to consider. Veterinarian costs also need to be factored in – vaccinations, deworming, microchipping (highly recommended) and then there are the general and emergency medical expenses. Having a dog sterilised is also expensive but fortunately most shelters will have this done prior to homing the dog. These are lifetime costs and do not cease after the initial purchase of your dog.

  1. Do you have time for your dog? 

Dogs need both physical and mental stimulation every day to avoid boredom which is one of the most common reasons behind unwanted behaviours. Destructive chewing and excessive digging in the garden are two of the more frequent of these behaviours and are the primary reasons why many dogs are surrendered to shelters. It is essential that you are able to spend quality time with your dog daily.

  1. Do your homework 

Before adopting a dog, you need to research what breed of dog you would like and even more importantly what breed would suit your lifestyle and environment.  If you want a dog that will curl up on your lap while you watch TV, then a 75kg Saint Bernard might not be the wisest choice. Likewise, you need to consider the physical environment that your dog will be living in – a high energy working dog may find it difficult to cope in a small, confined garden setting.

  1. Fostering before adopting

If you are a first-time dog owner, consider fostering a dog before you commit to adopting. Most shelters have this option and it’s a great way for you to determine if you are ready and able to make that permanent commitment to adopting a dog.

  1. At the shelter

Gather as much information as you can about the dog you may be interested in. The caregivers will be able to give you vital information regarding the dog – things like his general health, where he came from, his personality, if he is fearful or anxious, how he reacts around unfamiliar people, and in particular children, and how he reacts to other dogs or cats. Asking these questions will give you a better understanding of the dog’s background and needs, and whether you can provide the necessary environment for him to live happily. If the shelter cannot provide any of this information, you might want to rethink your choice of shelter and consider another shelter.

  1. Dog-proofing your home

Dogs like to roam (remember many shelter dogs are there as strays) so it is essential that your property perimeter is firmly secured. Gates, walls and fences need to be jump proof. Special care needs to be taken regarding storing toxic or poisonous items like garden fertilisers and pool chemicals. Puppies especially love to chew anything they find lying about.

  1. Introducing your new family member

If you’re adopting a dog into a family where there are existing dogs, then a proper introduction is essential. Take the resident dog/s to the shelter to meet the prospective new addition prior to bringing him home – this will give a good indication if the match is suitable. Again, introduce the dogs on neutral territory before entering your property for the first time.

  1. Mealtimes

Mealtimes are very important to your dog, so it is crucial that they are not put under any stress whilst eating. If you have more than one dog, make sure they are fed a suitable distance apart to avoid any potential resource guarding issues – behaviour that is common in shelter dogs. Feeding twice a day is recommended, but do not leave food out all day for the dogs to eat if and when they feel inclined to.

  1. Daily enrichment

Dogs are high-energy animals and require both physical and mental stimulation daily. Taking your dog for a walk or playing games like fetch or hide and seek will help him release energy and give him exercise. There are numerous brain toys available on the market that are designed to give the dog mental stimulation and, when combined with scent work-type games, will keep the dog happy and contented.

  1. Part of the family

Make your dog part of your family. If you lavish him with love and affection, he will respond in a like manner and give you years of fun and enjoyment.


Give it time

When you are absolutely sure that you and your family are ready to adopt a dog, you need to know that it will take time for your new pet to settle in. Gordon says that you need to remember that every dog is unique and will adjust differently. Give them a chance. In general, the 3/3/3 rule is a general guideline for the adjustment period of a dog after adoption. “It doesn’t happen overnight – you have to be patient,” says Gordon.


3 days to decompress

In these three days your new dog will:

  • Feel overwhelmed
  • May feel scared or unsure of what’s going on
  • Not comfortable enough to be himself
  • May not want to eat or drink
  • Shuts down and/or hides under furniture
  • Tests the boundaries
  • Be clear from the start what you want from your dog. (For example, will he be allowed to sleep on the bed) and be consistent!


3 weeks to learn your routine

In these three weeks your dog will:

  • Start settling in
  • Feel more comfortable
  • Realise this could be his forever home
  • Figure out his environment
  • Get into a routine
  • Let his guard down. May begin to show his true personality
  • Behaviour issues may start to appear
  • Test boundaries – so consistency is key!


3 months to start to feel at home

In the next three months he will:

  • Finally feel completely comfortable in his home
  • Begin to build trust and a true bond
  • Gain a complete sense of security with his new family
  • Settle into a routine



It is possible to rescue the right pet for your family, but you have to be absolutely certain it is the right choice for you. It is brave to rescue a pet, and you will make a big difference and give him a new life. Speak to behaviourists, vets, shelter assistants, breeders, and other rescue pet owners so that you can make an informed decision. Rather spend more time on your decision than regret it later on.



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