The word “comfort” conjures images of a big, cozy bed on a late Sunday morning. Feeling relaxed in your environment, however, is about more than fluffy pillows and a fleece blanket. It’s the feeling of both safety and confidence. It’s knowing that wherever you are and whomever you’re with, you’re secure, satisfied, and feeling happily at home.
Rescue dogs—regardless of their background—deserve homes where their comfort is a priority. After life in a shelter and overcoming whatever past experience earned them their “rescue dog” title, achieving ultimate comfort isn’t as simple as freshly cleaned sheets on a pillow top mattress. There’s physical comfort, and there’s also emotional restfulness to think about. Here are tips that address all angles of what it means for a rescue dog to be as comfortable as possible.
1. Make Sure the House is Dog-Proof
Like toddlers, dogs have a habit of finding new and unexpected ways to find trouble. Whether they’re digging the dirt out of your potted plants or about to ingest dangerous cleaning chemicals found under the sink, there’s a lot they could potentially get into. There’s nothing wrong with their natural curiosity, but it’s your responsibility as their guardian to make sure their investigations don’t end poorly.
Being safe from harm is a big part of being comfortable, and your rescue dog should be free to explore their environment without putting themselves at risk. It’s best to dog-proof the house before the curious canine comes home. This article has tips on how to cover all your bases.
2. Keep Calm
Imagine yourself going through the most difficult time of your life, and as soon as things seem to settle down, you’re taken from the last familiar place you’ve known and dropped somewhere with strangers speaking a language you barely understand and with rules and expectations you’re not accustomed to. Sounds stressful, right? Now imagine the people you’re with are regularly loud, always active, and seem to be bubbling over with their own emotions.
That’s what it’s like to be a rescue dog adopted from a shelter and placed with a new family. The people are always smiling, but even happy emotions can be overwhelming. Your dog needs time to decompress, and they won’t be able to do that if your family is overly excited. Skip the big parties and rowdy behavior until your dog has a chance to sort through everything they’re feeling.
3. Establish a Routine
Rescue dogs aren’t the type to enjoy living spontaneously. Instead, they thrive on structure and predictability. Not knowing what to expect puts added stress into their lives, and it’s impossible for them to feel comfortable when stress of the unknown is clouding their mind.
To combat this, the best thing you can do is establish a routine. Start as soon as you bring your dog home by committing to a regular schedule. Wake up at the same time every day, feed them at specific times, exercise, play, and train. It should all become a familiar pattern. Eventually, they’ll get in the groove, and you’ll both settle into a comfortable way of life.
4. Start Training Early
It doesn’t matter whether the dog you adopt is an old pro when it comes to obedience or acts like they’ve never heard the word “sit” before in their life, training is an essential part of helping them feel comfortable. It can be hard to believe when they’re running around getting into trouble at every turn, but dogs like knowing the rules. If they’re not taught how you want them to behave, they’ll have to guess. That uncertainty and the confusion that will inevitably accompany every reprimand they receive will keep them from feeling at home in their environment. Make sure training is consistent and easy for the dog to engage in. Whole Dog Journal tells dog owners,
“You don’t have to do a lot of fancy stuff to help your dog become more confident in his world. Simply teaching him basic good manners – to respond appropriately to your cues – will make his environment more predictable. It builds confidence to understand what you’re asking of him, and to understand the consequences of his behavior.”
5. Make Them a Priority
We all wish we could devote our lives to staring into adorable puppy dog eyes, but life obligations get in the way. At the same time, it’s easy to let things like work and chores take over your life. Having a dog is a full-time responsibility, but some people find themselves taking care of the dog’s basic needs and falling into a lull when it comes to everything else.
Feeling loved is a huge part of feeling comfortable with a family. Your dog needs to know you care about them, and spending time with them is the best way to show it. It might mean rearranging your schedule, but you should devote about an hour a day to spending time with your dog. Do the things they like best and spend that time making sure they get enough exercise, socialization, training, and fun. And remember, they’ll know if you’re distracted by looking at your phone or doing something else.
6. Don’t Be Pushy
You’ll need to find the line between spending time with your dog and overwhelming them with too much attention. It depends on your dog’s personality for how much interaction they actually want from you. Some rescue dogs are thrilled about the prospect of meeting new people and starting a new life, and others are more timid and afraid.
If your pup is showing signs they’d rather be left alone, don’t force them to come out and play. Forcing them to do anything, even if you think it’s in their best interest, will make them feel the opposite of comfortable. Follow their lead when it comes to interacting. Always present them with opportunities to engage with you and have fun with you, but don’t force it. They’ll let you know when they’re ready, and when they are, don’t disappoint them by ignoring them or not giving them 100% of your attention.
7. Give Them Something to Call Theirs
Even after your dog has settled into your home, they’ll always be the most comfortable when they have an area that’s all theirs. When they first arrive, they’ll use their “spot” as a place to escape all the newness of their situation. It’ll eventually morph from being a refuge to being the ultimate comfort zone.
A crate situated in an area of the house that isn’t isolated, but at the same time, isn’t in the thick of things, is a good option. Make it as comfy as possible by providing a thick foam dog bed or crate pad. Put a cozy blanket in there along with a chew toy or two. Don’t forget to leave the door open so they have easy access.
8. Don’t Be Stingy When it Comes to Food
Every family would benefit from saving a buck, but there are some things you simply shouldn’t skimp on. Your dog’s health and happiness is an example. Take a stroll down the pet food aisle and you’ll see a wide range of products from budget-friendly to especially expensive. It’s tempting to reach for the bag with the lowest price tag, but you get what you pay for when it comes to dog food.
Like people food, not all dog food should be treated the same. There’s the healthy stuff that provides all of a dog’s dietary needs, and then there’s the stuff made from things like meat meal, meat by-products, and other cheap fillers with basically zero dietary value. Unfortunately, the good stuff is going to cost more. Helping your dog feel good inside and out won’t be cheap, but it’ll be worth it.