Rescue dog from abroad

Miley before and after his rescue and adoption

Miley the Romanian rescue dog before and after he was saved by Oakwood dog rescue.

Are you thinking about adopting a rescue dog from abroad? Maybe you’ve met a ‘Rommie’ rescue dog out on a walk and become curious about what the adoption process entails?

Many dogs from overseas have found loving homes in the UK. But dogs with a background of living on the street and in public dog shelters have different needs to the average UK rescue dog.

This guest post from our friends over at Oakwood Dog Rescue outlines some essential information for future adopters. From advice on the best way to find your new canine pal, to tips on how to help your rescue settle in at home.

To view all the super dogs currently available for adoption at Oakwood, pay a visit to their website or facebook page.

Shelter conditions © Oakwood Dog Rescue
Dogs in a Romanian public shelter normally have very little or no protection from the extreme cold in winter or the intense heat in summer.

What life is like for a rescue dog from abroad

Many dogs from overseas have been born on the streets. They have never been owned by a person and some have never had a positive experience with humans. Understandably, this can leave them extremely under-socialised and fearful of people.

Oakwood work with Romanian dogs primarily, but many other countries also use the same methods with their street dog population. The governments pay dog catchers to go out and catch the dogs from the streets using nets and metal catchpoles. Dogs are thrown into vans and taken to public shelters.

Life in a public dog shelter

The public shelters do not name the dogs. Often they’ll punch plastic cattle tags through their ears and the dogs are identified by a number.

Pens are poorly built and maintained. Dogs escape the shelters frequently, with some squeezing through into the pen of an unfriendly dog that may attack or even kill them. Disease and illness spreads like wildfire and many dogs die from parvovirus, other illnesses, or starvation.

In a good public shelter, the dogs will be fed once a day. In others, the dogs may only be fed 2-3 times a week. It is not unusual to have a rescue arrive in that is skin and bone. Some of the dogs arriving at Oakwood would have starved to death in just a matter of days if not rescued.

Oakwood rescued a Romanian collie type dog in that was so thin, she weighed 8kg. Happily, after a few weeks in the home she reached 12kg – a much healthier weight for her.

Pre-travel checks

Oakwood works with International Dog Rescue, another rescue organisation that reserves shelter dogs. Once reserved, IDR then raises travel sponsorships via their followers.

IDR are not a government-funded charity; they survive purely on the kindness and donations of their supporters.

Before travelling to the UK the dogs undergo several important health checks and procedures. Dogs will be microchipped and, if necessary,  neutered. They are then treated for fleas and worms, vaccinated (including for rabies), and go through blood and faecal tests.

Once they arrive at Oakwood all the dogs are assessed and matched to families waiting to adopt.

Jessie Before and After © Oakwood Dog Rescue
Jessie was extremely underweight when Oakwood Dog Rescue saved her from the Romanian public dog shelter. With proper care she gained weight and is much happier.

What sort of home does a rescue dog from abroad need?

Since the start of the COVID pandemic, IDR volunteers have not been able to go into the public shelters in Romania and choose the dogs to be rescued. Instead, they have been sponsoring dogs from the euthanasia lists.

All the dogs that go to Oakwood would have been put to sleep if they had not travelled across to the UK. But working with the kill list dogs means that each individual is much more traumatised and frightened than usual.

Often this means that the dogs are not suitable to live with young children. Street dogs have been through very traumatic experiences, and some will have been subject to abuse inflicted by people. This leaves them incredibly nervous, and not a good fit for a home with children under 16.

Patience is vital

Adopters need to be very patient and not have any expectations of the dog. Some of the rescues are so frightened they do not want to be touched by staff at the rescue centre.

Oakwood’s most timid dogs can take up to three months to allow touch, and some will not be ready for walks for at least six months or more.

These dogs need homes that will allow them to progress at their own pace and allow the dog to fully settle into the home, which will take a good while.

Street dogs have never been in homes before and they have always looked after themselves. They will not love their adopter for weeks or months and they will not instantly want to be friends.

But the rewards are huge!

Over time, however, a rescue dog will start to build up their first relationship with a human and that person becomes the dog’s world. They become the first person the dog has ever wagged their tail at, the first person they have willingly allowed to touch them and the first person they have ever loved.

The best way to adopt a rescue dog from abroad

If you are looking to rescue an overseas dog, you must first do your research. Street dogs are not the same as your average UK dog. A nervous UK dog is a world away from a nervous overseas dog.

Although the topic of street dog backgrounds and history can be very upsetting it’s important that you look into it. Adopters need to understand exactly what these dogs have been through to make them behave in certain ways.

It is recommended that you approach a registered charity that has worked with street dogs for a good amount of time. The more information a rescue can give you about settling the dog in the better.

Oakwood also recommend that you choose a rescue with a UK based location, in case the dog needs to be returned to the rescue for any reason. It saves the dog from uncertainty or being placed in boarding kennels.

Adopting an overseas rescue has become popular over the years and some organisations use this to capitalise from it. Some dogs enter the UK without extensive testing, neutering etc. and so dogs can bring in diseases or live with on-going health conditions that affect UK dogs or go untreated.

How to help a rescue dog settle into their new home

There are many unknowns when taking on an overseas dog, even if they have been in a rescue prior to being adopted. No rescue organisation can guarantee the way the dog will behave in the home.

Oakwood always advises adopters to be more hands-off at the beginning and allow the dog to come to them when they are ready.

Often it is recommended that adopters ignore the dog and get on with their life as normal so that the dog does not feel forced to make friends or cornered. In time they will want to be your friend, but it will not happen instantly.

You can’t expect them to have manners as they have never been taught them! They will not respond to commands – not because they don’t understand our language, but because they have never been taught commands or tricks by people before.

Home environment

It’s impossible for a rescue environment to emulate a real house. Even if they have sofas or TVs around for the dogs to interact with; everyone’s house looks different, and everyone behaves differently in their home.

Many of the dogs are very timid and have never seen TVs, hoovers, dishwashers, or even stairs before, everything will be scary until the dog learns that they are not going to hurt them.

An overseas rescue should have somewhere in the house where they can take themselves away from the hustle and bustle of the house if they need to. Oakwood recommends that all our adopters give the dog access to a dog crate with a blanket over the top (so it’s like a den) so the dog can hide if they need to.

Garden needs

Homes must have a garden directly connected to the house. Many rescue dogs cannot walk on leads to begin with therefore cannot be walked downstairs or through a corridor to get to the garden.

Gardens MUST be secure as these dogs will escape if given the opportunity. Many go into flight mode when they arrive in the home. If there is no secure boundary, they will jump over, push through or dig out of the garden.

Some dogs are a higher escape risk than others, but few will be suitable for lower fencing.  Some will be suitable for medium fencing but most need 6ft solid boundaries.

Understanding behaviour and training a rescue dog from abroad

Many dogs will not be ready to go on walks to start with. Owners should provide them with mental stimulation and enrichment to keep the dog busy and tire them out. We recommend an appropriately sized Kong as a starting point for many adopters.

Adopters need to understand that many of these dogs will experience or display behavioural issues. Some will become reactive to other dogs, people, or traffic on the lead.

If you think about it from the dog’s point of view, in their native country if something frightened them they would have had miles and miles to run away from it. Attached to a lead they cannot retreat away from the scary thing. The dog may feel restricted and that they have to tell the scary thing to go away.

Positive reinforcement

Oakwood has found that overseas dogs respond very well to positive reinforcement training.  If you are taking on an overseas dog, look for a positive reinforcement trainer in your area that has experience with street dogs.

Adult dogs learn differently from puppies and so need a trainer that understands this. Harsh methods such as prong collars, spray cans, or shock collars are extremely frightening to an overseas street dog and can create behavioural issues rather than fix them.

Toilet training

As they have never been in homes before, an overseas rescue dog will not have any toilet training.

In their home country they have been able to go to the toilet wherever they wanted to, whenever they wanted to. They have never been shut into a kitchen and only been given access to the garden when a person opens the door. There will be toileting accidents until the dog is settled.

Introducing a bedtime routine

Bedtimes will be a little unsettled to begin with until the dog settles in. Some dogs are fine overnight, but others prefer to be around their humans and can panic if they are left alone. Dogs should never be shut into crates or cages until the owner has worked them up to this.


Food is going to be viewed very highly as the dog has not had a regular meal all of their life. Allow your rescue dog their own space to eat their food in, and leave them alone at mealtimes.

People poking at the dog or putting their fingers in the dog’s bowl or mouth can make the dog uncomfortable. They may start to fear people coming towards them when they eat.

If people push the dog it can lead to food guarding. We advise swapping items with the dogs. Offer a treat and direct their attention to it if you need to remove a bowl, toy, or another item.

Give your rescue dog space at mealtimes © chalabala /
Give your rescue dog space at mealtimes
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