I spoke with staff from Muttville Senior Dog Rescue in San Francisco—the shelter that WIRED art director Elena Lacey has fostered pups from. They offered a ton of advice and a peek at their take-home paperwork (you can find copies here) that can apply to all new pets, whether they’re babies or seniors. The shelter you adopt from may have their own paperwork for you to take home too.
★ Expect some skittishness and indoor accidents, even for housebroken animals. Don’t hit them or push their faces into it—that form of training is confusing and cruel. Be patient, show them where they need to go, and praise them effusively when they go there. If you’re adopting a senior pet, they may have a harder time holding it. No one says you have to live in filth, but if the sight of a little, uh excrement, will send you into a rage, maybe reconsider getting a pet.
“Just as the humans are going through a transition with a new family member, the dog is going through a big transition too,” says Kristin Hoff, Muttville’s Adoptions Manager. ★ “Setting up a schedule is really important for dogs so they can start knowing what to expect—twice a day feedings and more potty breaks than you think your new pup will need (expect mistakes and don’t get mad when they happen).”
Muttville staff also emphasized what they call the ★ rules of 3 when it comes to dogs. The first three days might be overwhelming, and they probably won’t act like their true selves. Even eating might be hard. In the first three weeks, they’ll start to get comfortable, recognizing your (and their) schedule, and will hopefully form a bond with you and any other animals in the home. By three months, your pup should be fully themselves and completely comfortable in their home. For dogs, Muttville says, predictability is comforting.
If You Have Kids or Others Pets at Home
★ Kids may not be as in tune to cues of anger, fear, or discomfort, so you should supervise interactions, showing them exactly what’s appropriate. You want everyone involved to be safe and happy, and you can’t blame an animal for acting out if little hands are yanking at their tails, stealing toys, or interrupting meal time.
When it comes to ★ introducing two dogs, Muttville says to take a “loose leash walk” so neither of the dogs feels anxious. Keep them 10 to 15 feet apart and slowly let them get closer if all goes well. You can eventually take their leashes off and let them play, if you find they’re comfortable together. At home, Muttville says to put away all the toys and food bowls that belong to your other dog, so there are no territory fights. When you won’t be home, you should keep the dogs separated at first, start with a week of that and see how things go. You can use crates or separate them using baby gates or doors.
★ Cats can be more difficult, whether they’re meeting another cat or a dog. Keep them separate, but let them get used to each other’s scents. You can use a blanket or towel for this and then allow each pet to smell the other within different areas of the house—so let the cat roam the living room and kitchen today while the dog is in the bedroom, and then switch the rooms tomorrow. If you’re introducing a dog and cat, keep the dog leashed at first, just in case. Be mindful and supervise them until you’re sure all is well.
More Tips (for Adoption or Fostering)
Foster parents, especially of senior and special-needs animals, are much needed and can help the pets get used to living in a home rather than being stuck in a cage at a shelter. You should have all the essentials listed in this guide for whatever animal you’re fostering, but Elena Lacey offered some advice based on her own experience as a foster parent that we think works for newly adopted pets too: Get some canned chicken, cream cheese, and hot dogs. “Often, they’re scared and don’t want to eat, or their tummies are upset,” she says. “Canned chicken is a pretty universal treat that won’t upset their stomach, and they almost always are excited about it.” If the animal will need medication, Lacey says cream cheese and hot dogs are a fail-safe way to get them to take it.
She also suggested looking into ★ pet insurance. There are a lot of pet insurance companies out there, and we haven’t tried enough to offer one best answer. You can see if your employer offers it the same way they might offer health insurance for you, that way the cost will come out of your pretax paycheck. We also suggest asking around in any pet-specific groups on Facebook or Reddit and then doing your own research.
Find a Vet and Trainer Stat
If you don’t already have a veterinarian you like, try to find one before bringing your new pet home and set up an initial appointment. Ask if they use any telehealth services, too (we have recommendations if they don’t). This will come in handy when you have questions that might not require a trip to the vet. It’s a good idea to ask your vet what pet insurance they accept, too.