Holistic vet Vicky Simon has recently welcomed a rescue dog to her family. We asked her to tell us how he is getting on and to highlight what people need to think about when getting a rescue dog.

Badger – a work in progress

Badger is a 9-month-old Border Collie and a bit of a lockdown casualty. His owner became ill during lockdown and consequently, Badger has not been well socialised. He’s an awful car chaser and is afraid of people due to lack of exposure, so he’ll lunge and bark until he gets to know you, whereupon he is a real sweetie. 

Slowly does it

We’ve had Badger for four weeks now and he is doing fantastically. As anyone with a rescue will know, at the start it’s all about not flooding them too much, and slowly building up their confidence, so when you work through their problems you can all feel as comfortable and confident as possible. We’ve had our challenges – the wet weather for one! Ever tried to hold an energetic young dog as he rushes off whilst standing in a puddle of mud and still stay upright?! 

Badger is doing well in many areas and our two cats are now freely roaming the house again. Everyone is getting on fine. He’s got to know the chickens and what an electric fence is! He’s fine to be left alone in the house with his animal friends. He can sit at about 3-5m away from a road of cars and watch the traffic without reacting now, except to look at one of us for a treat (we were at 10m plus initially). We still have the odd reaction when the car is unexpected, but no dog is perfect! He’s still quite unpredictable in his reactions to meeting humans, but he’s a work in progress and generally, it’s all been great steps forward so far. 

How can you support a new rescue dog?

Give them time to settle

The first thing is to give them that settling in time, so they can learn about their new life and new companions. We had about 10 days where we did very little with him, just allowing him to settle, decompress, learn who we are, where we are and who his new dog friend is and so on. A lot of this time is just about building their trust and confidence in you. Some dogs may need up to three weeks before they feel comfortable enough for you to start working properly on their problems. Others may settle in exceptionally fast. 

Holistic calming support

We gave Badger some extra support to help him to remain calm in the form of a calming supplement containing L-tryptophan and a calming herbal tonic which he is still taking. These:

  • Tone down his stress or anxiety levels
  • Help him deal with all the changes in his life
  • Help him remain as calm as possible in the face of stimuli

We have also given Badger a few homeopathic remedies specific to his personality and issues to try to help ease the transition. Our cats also had some of the calming supplements to help them adapt to a new dog in the house. 

Safe space

Badger didn’t need one of these specifically as he settled down with us quickly, but some anxious rescue dogs like to have a specific safe space, such as a covered crate or a bed under a table, where they can retreat to be undisturbed and away from the hubbub of the house. 

Walk on a long line

Having a long line for walking allows the dog the freedom to run and play, sniff and explore. At the same time, you are all safe and you are in control until such time that their reactivity and recall improves enough for them to be let off for periods of time. During the walk, you can practice their recall with the help of the long line. You can also get them used to paying you regular attention and just checking in from time to time – a great habit to cultivate.

Walk = fun time

Keeping the walk and the specific reactivity training separate is a good plan, at least to begin with, as it allows the dog time to sniff, relax, have fun, enjoy themselves and explore their environment.

Sniffing helps dogs to relax so I think it’s important to have walking time as relaxation with some basic training only. As time goes on, elements of specific training around their problems can be incorporated into walks, but having separate ‘work’ sessions can help manage severe reactivity, whilst avoidance of triggers (where possible) on walks gives them their chill time and helps you work on their basic training away from stimuli.


A good diet I think is always key in behaviour cases, as the wrong food can aggravate the behaviour problems. I tried to keep Badger on the cooked food he had come with for a few days for familiarity, but when he saw Meg was eating raw, he decided he’d rather have that and left his! So we switched him straight to raw (with lots of tripe to help with the switch). He’s doing great on this and has gained a little weight to now be in peak condition. 

Find a high value treat 

This is essential for working on highly reactive stimuli using positive reinforcement. It took us a couple of weeks to find his favourite, but we have found for him that it’s cheese! Between the humans, we are vegan and dairy intolerant in our house so we had to go out and get some especially for trialling, but he is certainly excited by this. Dried fish or meat, or even cooked chicken don’t quite cut it for Badger when there is a big stimulus, although they work fine for recall and basic training! 


Having a set routine for the first few weeks can be helpful with any anxiety, as the dog can then learn that life isn’t as scary and unpredictable as they may feel on arrival. You can then ease back into your usual routine (or lack thereof!). 

Training advice

Consult a dog trainer or behaviourist for some help on the best way to manage your new dog and any potential issues they may have. We’ve got advice from a few friends who are trainers and it has been exceptionally useful. Even if you feel you know the basics, discussing specific issues and reactions with them can give you great ideas on how to tackle issues you keep getting stuck on. 


Make sure they have things to entertain themselves with, especially if they are young. I have never been so grateful to an object as I am to the buffalo horn we bought Badger when he first arrived! He will happily sit for ages next to my desk chewing away, and it means if he finds something to chew that he shouldn’t, then we can do a swap and everyone is happy. He also entertains himself playing with toys when I’m working so he is less likely to get into other mischief. 

Give the cats a room

If you have cats I think it’s important to give them a specific room or area where the new dog can’t get access to. Ideally, the cats should have access to both outside (if outdoor) and into the rest of the house. This means they always have a safe space to retreat to and can choose whether or when they want to enter the rest of the house and have interactions with the new dog.

Supervising the initial interactions between them is important too, especially if the new dog hasn’t been cat tested. The last thing you want is for your cats to no longer feel safe in their home.

And finally – patience 

It’s hard work for sure, and you don’t realise how tiring being alert all the time is: Where is he now? What’s that he’s chewing? Is there a person or traffic nearby?

Remember that you are all learning how to manage things best and how to work together. Forgiving yourself and your dog for any errors in training or poorly managed individual situations is essential. None of us are perfect every moment of every day and we all make mistakes! Just do your best and get some external help or guidance if you’re struggling.

If you put in the time and effort at the start, then you should all feel content in your loving and trusting relationship in the future. Then, even if you don’t get a “perfect” dog at the end, they will be perfect for you. 

Having a lockdown project as gorgeous as Badger is a delight, despite the challenges 
So remember that a holistic vet and a dog trainer may be useful to help you settle your new rescue dog
There’s also masses you can do from home to make their transition to a new life as smooth as possible

Useful links

Rescue animal blogs

Species appropriate feeding

Blogs about herbs

Blogs about homeopathy

Vicky Simon BVetMed VetMFHom MRCVS

Vicky is a veterinary surgeon practising integrated veterinary medicine by combining her knowledge of conventional medicine, with that of various complementary approaches. These include herbal medicine, homeopathy, acupuncture and species-appropriate feeding.

Vicky spent her first 7 years in two small animal integrated veterinary practices, where conventional medicine, surgery and diagnostics were used alongside herbal medicine, homeopathy, natural feeding and acupuncture. Holistic medical approaches have always appealed to her, so she was lucky to be able to pursue these immediately.

Having qualified as a veterinary surgeon in 2012, Vicky established ‘Holistic Vet Vicky’ in 2020 in Wiveliscombe, near Taunton, Devon. She takes referrals for holistic veterinary medicine, and offers general holistic health advice. Vicky always aims to work closely with referring veterinary practices to optimise the health and well-being of her patients. She mostly treat dogs and cats, but also sees horses, rabbits and guinea pigs and other small furries, as well as the occasional chicken.

Visit Vicky’s website here and follow her on Facebook here

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