Your Foreign Rescue Dog: The First 3 Months

If you’ve applied to adopt a foreign rescue dog – usually a street dog from Romania, Cyprus, Greece or Spain, then here is a guide to help with those first few months.

Even if you’ve already got your foreign rescue dog but are hitting some roadblocks, going back to square one can help, especially with nervous dogs. This advice is useful for any dog, even UK rescue dogs, as moving to a new home can be an incredibly stressful experience.

Sometimes the advice can seem over the top, but taking it really slowly in these early days really pays dividends in the long term. You can’t ever go too slow. When in doubt, slow down.

My Romanian Rescue Dogs

Enclosed dog field Cumbria 28

I’ve had Alma for 7 years and she was found as a 6 month old stray who wandered into a cat rescue. She has had her face burnt, her ear and tail cut off, and is completely deaf (born deaf). She is a typical livestock guardian breed and so is very territorial and will bark at any strangers, but apart from being a bin-raider and quite stubborn about training, she’s been your typical dog and isn’t too much bother… in comparison to Rudy.

Rudy on the other hand is a different kettle of fish. What can we say about Rudy? I wasn’t looking for another dog, but agreed to be an emergency foster for Rudy whose adoption had broken down to showing aggression and reactivity in his adoptive home. I thought I’d take him in for a few weeks to assess him before helping to rehome him or until he found a kennel space in a partner UK rescue. A year on, he’s still with me, and will stay here for the rest of his life.

The point is, I have two Romanian dogs, each quite difficult with very different behaviours. I’ve fostered other foreign rescue dogs, and helped other foreign rescue adopters with settling advice and guidance on common behavioural issues that foreign rescue dogs sometimes exhibit.

The journey to the UK for your Foreign Rescue Dog

The journey from the rescue centre in whatever country you’re adopting from to your home will be incredibly stressful for your rescue dog. There will be dogs barking and whining on the transport buses, dogs will be being sick, weeing and pooing themselves in their crates. Not every dog, but it won’t be the happiest time of their lives.

They probably won’t have eaten or drank on the journey and they’ve been on the road for days, handled at different points by strangers. Your foreign rescue dog will be terrified. Even if they don’t look it, they probably are scared. Most people make the mistake of seeing a dog running around playing and think it’s absolutely fine – there’s still lots of stress hormones in that dog’s body following the transport that need a good rest to come back down to zero.

So an important stage of the entire process is you as the adopter recognising what an incredibly noisy, stressful and long journey your dog has been on. You might want to cuddle them or stroke them, but there’s 15 years to do that.

The first 3 days

For any rescue dog, not just foreign rescue dogs, 3 days of decompression is critical once they reach you.

  • Create a quiet area with puppy pads and a covered crate where they can retreat to.
  • Put food and water down, and only go in the area to change the food and water, and to change the puppy pads.
  • If the dog is fairly young and/or not used to living in a house, don’t worry about toilet training for these three days – just leave the puppy pads down. Trying to put a lead on a scared dog to get it outside to go to the toilet will only cause more stress.
  • Keep noise to a minimum – if a dog’s not used to living indoors then boilers, washing machines and coffee machines are all pretty scary.
  • No stroking, intense watching, luring with food or cuddles at this stage. It’s just too intense and scary. And remember, a sniff is not an invitation to stroke – it’s the dog’s way of gathering information about you so keep still and let them sniff you for now.

The next 3 weeks

  • Decompression is over! Or maybe it’s not – assess your dog and decide if it’s ready to enter the rest of the house and garden.
  • No walks! For 2 – 3 weeks – this is the time for your dog to find out about you, your household, your garden and your routine. The outside world and beer gardens can wait (I’ve known people take their new foreign rescue dog to the pub beer garden the day it arrived and wonder why it growled at people!)
  • The first time you take your dog into your garden, it might be in ‘escape mode’ where it’s worried and trying to get back to familiar surroundings. I’d recommend putting on a slip lead (so it doesn’t involve you messing with harnesses) for the first trips into the garden until you know how they’re going to react. Are they assessing and looking at your fences to jump?
  • Keep everything calm, still avoiding cuddles and too much attention. Just get on with what you’re doing, and let the dog come around on its own.
  • Avoid having visitors around to the house and definitely not visitors’ dogs. This is an important time to build a bond between you and your dog without introducing other scary people to the mix. I know everyone will be excited to see your new dog, but it’s really important and often when some difficult behaviours come up.
  • Your dog won’t be showing their ‘true self’ at this stage. They’re not fully settled, so as they settle more, that’s when you might see more ‘challenging’ behaviours come out. It’s a sign they’re getting more comfortable in their environment. But all the more reason to keep your routine and boundaries really clear.
  • As the weeks go on, you can start seeing if your new dog will accept a harness. I recommend a three-bar harness that has three bars – one around the neck, one around the chest and one around the stomach. Street dogs can be notorious escape artists and most normal two bar harness won’t stop them wriggling backwards out of a harness. I also use a double ended lead (like a Halti) one which I clip to their collar and their harness. Therefore, if they slip their collar or harness, you’ve still got a lead attached to your dog.
  • Your dog might be too stressed to accept a harness at this stage, in which case you’ll have to
  • Obviously no dog daycare at this stage as it would be too overwhelming for a new dog.

The next 3 months

  • If your dog seems confident and settled, then you can start venturing out after 2 to 3 weeks for a walk. Keep the first walks close to your house – that way, if your dog does somehow escape, they have some idea of where to return to, instead of driving somewhere far away.
  • The first walk could even be standing at the end of your drive and just watching the world go by.
  • Babygates are your best friend with a dog – they let you separate the dog physically without removing them entirely from the situation. If you have visitors over, you can separate your dog into another room behind the babygate where they can watch and get comfortable before being introduced.
  • Don’t force introductions to visitors, have your dog on a lead and let the dog sniff and explore safely.
  • Don’t throw your dog into scary new situations – holidays, pubs, busy towns and so on are all unfamiliar and bizarre experiences for your dog so bear that in mind when introducing them to new things so you don’t end up trigger stacking and overwhelming them.
  • If you have a fearful or nervous dog, there might be some things your dog just can’t manage. I can’t take Rudy to a town for example as he is so fearful of strangers. I have to have realistic expectations.
  • Remember, as dog guardians, it’s our job not to put our dog in a situation where it can let itself down. That means, if you don’t put your dog into a scary new situation with lots of people then it can’t bite anyone, and so on.
  • Introduce the world slowly to your dog. It’s an exciting, scary place and they need to know you’re on their team looking out for them.

I’ll also do another post soon on common behaviour issues that come up in foreign rescue dogs, such as guarding, barking at men in the household or escaping.

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