I’d like to trade her in for a new one..

Maybe I’m overly sensitive to things, but I have become increasingly frustrated in recent months with people threatening to dump or actually dumping newly adopted dogs back at the shelter.  Now, not everyone is a dog expert but it amazes me that people expect newly adopted dogs (who often do not have a known history) to instantly fit in, have no transitional problems, and be perfect pets immediately and that just isn’t the case. They take time to adjust to the drastic change in their lives.  I’m not saying all adopted dogs have issues because that is not the case but that all dogs need time to transition and adjust to new homes.

In just the last few weeks I’ve heard complaints of “picky eater,” “really anxious,” “having accidents,” “growling at me,” “growled at my daughter,” “isn’t letting me clip her nails,” “is pulling on leash,” and “is reactive towards strangers.”  All from people whose dogs had only been in their homes for less than a month.  In and of themselves, the complaints aren’t that bad…but when the people then threaten to dump the dog (some going as far to contact shelters and rescues) because they’ve “tried it all” it frustrates me to no end (especially since their attempt at “trying it all” lasted all of a week or two).

When you adopt a new dog, even a well socialized and balanced dog (which actually aren’t that hard to find in shelters/rescues), there will be a transition time when the dog may not act their true character (both in good and bad ways) and will be displaying strange/undesirable behaviors.  There is stress involved with such a drastic change in environments and circumstances–think about the first day at a new job, the first day at a new school, the first day in a new neighborhood, etc.  You don’t know anyone, don’t know where things are, don’t know the typical routine, don’t even know if you are safe, and don’t know what to expect–you are probably acting differently than if you were in a place you know well, with a well known routine, surrounded by people you know.

Let’s look for a moment at some of the complaints I’ve heard recently…

He’s so picky about food! or He is refusing to eat!

Many dogs do not have their normal appetites during the first few weeks.  They are simply not feeling comfortable enough to eat in a normal manner.  Many dogs, especially those who may be recovering from injury or trauma will be very picky about what they eat.  Most of the dogs will come around over the course of a few weeks.  I’ve had some dogs in my classes who were brand new additions to the home.  For one of these dogs, the only treat he would eat the first two weeks was boiled chicken–not peanut butter, hot dogs, cheese, roast beef.   The owners were a little concerned but I reassured them that in a few weeks things would change–sure enough, by the third week the pup was eating hot dogs, cheese, and natural balance quite eagerly.

He’s pacing nonstop and is so anxious…

Wouldn’t you be incredibly anxious and hypervigilant if you were suddenly in a new environment surrounded by strange creatures, cohabitating with other people you didn’t know, following an entirely new routine, and you have no idea of the expectations/rules in this environment?  This is so common.  Honestly the dogs are just nervous because they have no idea what has just happened to them…  they just need to learn the routines, get to know the people, discover the environment, and be taught the expectations and they will settle into their new life without a hitch.

The shelter said he was housebroken but he’s having accidents

This could be a bunch of things but lets assume that he was indeed house broken.  Dogs are often under a lot of stress and they will often have behavior break-downs due to stress but the more likely issue is that the handlers haven’t shown the dog the appropriate place and given them ample opportunities to be rewarded for pottying outside.  Until dogs know the schedule, they often will have accidents simply because they dont know when they will next have an opportunity to relieve themselves outside–think about it.. if you are on a long road trip and suddenly need to use the restroom, you are much more likely to stop and on the side of the road to relieve yourself if you have no sign of an upcoming exit or rest stop.  If, however, you see a sign that there is a rest stop 20 miles up the road, you will probably think of dry thoughts and focus on making it to the rest stop.  The new schedule is like not seeing any signs for an upcoming restroom.  I treat new dogs as if they are not house broken for the first few weeks–frequent trips out, lots of praise and a ‘strict’ feeding schedule.  As the dog gets to know my schedule and they are rewarded for proper pottying, they quickly catch on.

Fido growled at me when I tried brushing him…

Look, you are a complete stranger getting very close and personal with the new dog.  Would you like a stranger to start grooming you?  Think about it… how would you feel if a person you just met recently started rubbing you all over and brushing you all over your body?  Creepy right?  You can be darn well sure I’d probably growl at someone if they tried to do that.  You have to work on building a relationship with your dog before you can invade their space with grooming, handling, snuggling, etc.

When adopted dogs come into the home, there is going to be a an adjustment period that the dogs must go through before they will show their true selves.  They need to learn the most basic things and need to build a relationship with you.  Their body chemistry must return to baseline and their stress levels must go down.  Until the dogs start understanding the routine, build a relationship with you, have time for their stress levels to go down and their brain chemicals to return to baseline, they will be displaying behaviors that are not representative of who they really are (in both good and bad ways).  Making drastic decisions within the first month or so is not really fair for the dog because their behaviors are often a result of either stress or lack of relationship with the handler (and lack of security/safety).

Please, when you adopt a dog, before you threaten to return him for behavior issues (that are not physically dangerous for you or dog), let him first acclimate to his new environment and build a relationship with you.  Being adopted is an incredibly stressful and potentially scary time for your adopted pal and it’s important for the humans to keep that in mind before getting frustrated and either throwing around idle threats or actually dumping a stressed out and scared dog back at the shelter/rescue.

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About Success Just Clicks

I'm a dog trainer and enthusiast who moonlights as a blogger and custom tug-toy maker.
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14 Responses to I’d like to trade her in for a new one..

  1. Brad says:

    A great book for anyone looking to adopt a dog from a rescue group or shelter is “Do Over Dogs, giving your dog a second chance at a first class life” by Pat Miller.

    I wish it were required reading for adopters.

  2. I could not agree more, give an adopted dog a chance and don’t put him/her in any situation where they are domed to fail, PLEASE.

    • Exactly… they don’t even give the dogs a chance to acclimate to the new environment and build a relationship with the people before the dog is dumped.. oi. It can be so frustrating to see good dogs being dumped because of humans …

  3. Maggi says:

    Tena,
    Fabulous blogpost. I’ll be sharing this..a LOT. 😀

  4. Kim says:

    I can’t even imagine “returning” a dog. I say it often, but I truly do believe they all come to us for a reason and if we open ourselves up to them they have so much to teach us. I have often been told that Asher was meant to be mine. It would have been so easy to give up on him, send him up to the main rescue and let them euth him, but I would have missed out on so much.

    • I couldn’t imagine returning a dog less than a month after getting it because of ‘stupid’ reasons. I do understand when people who have to make a hard choice when they get a dog and after adjustment time and after some work realize instead of a family pet they got a project dog. I think people need to be honest with themselves and what they can handle and work with… but you are absolutely right, i think if people CAN work with a dog and they CHOOSE to do so, they will be rewarded with so much knowledge, so many wonderful moments, and just the amazing experience of really changing a dog’s life.

  5. I have two rescues who were with the wrong people when they were abandoned. I have a slightly different perspective. Both dogs have had their challenges, but I grew up with dogs. I did not expect them to be stuffed animals, I knew they were animals. Not everyone who approaches a rescue or even a puppy from a breeder understands the commitment and the challenges of dog ownership.

    Bailey was an impulse purchase and the owners realized soon after purchase that it was he was more than they were willing to handle. Since he was so young he was easy to train. Katy was kept for two years and received little time or attention. If her owners had been honest about their lack of commitment, she could have gone to a home that could have provided her with the support she needed. I would rather see people admit they can’t handle a dog than see a dog neglected or abused. It is always better to help owners learn the skills to manage the challenges, but not all are willing to commit to the work. If they aren’t willing to do the work, it is better that the dogs find someone who has the commitment.

    One of the things that helped us the most was taking obedience classes with Bailey. As owners we learned more about our behaviour than Bailey learned. It made dealing with Katy’s issues manageable.

    We were fortunate in having a vet who believes there are no “stupid” questions who has helped us mature as dog owners. We took obedience classes with Bailey to learn how to be the master in the relationship. We also had the maturity and commitment to understand that dogs are not just about kisses and snuggles. There is work and challenges involved in the relationship.

    • QUOTE “It is always better to help owners learn the skills to manage the challenges, but not all are willing to commit to the work. If they aren’t willing to do the work, it is better that the dogs find someone who has the commitment.”

      Exactly… if people are unable to do the work needed, that’s fine, the dog probably would be more successful (and ultimately that family happier) if they rehomed the dog. But I dont think those decisions should be made without allowing the dog time to properly acclimate to the new life.

      Thanks for supporting rescue and the dogs who aren’t always the easiest!

  6. Deb says:

    I have a rescue dog. The first few weeks were hard. The dog was adjusting to us, we were adjusting to him. The big reason we had some ‘accidents’ in the house was not just due to the dog, Jake, learning the household schedule, but the humans not knowing his cues to go outside to potty. He tried to tell us he needed to go out but we were too dense to understand him! Once we figured it out everything was smooth sailing. Even with that, it was over a year before Jake really wanted to be touched. He tolerated petting and grooming, now he actively seeks out both.

    Patience and training (for the humans) will do wonders. Just as they will do wonderful things for our four-footed companions. I can’t imagine not having Jake with me any more.

    • Such a great response!! It really is about everyone adjusting to the new situation… canines, humans, felines, etc. Everyone needs to learn to co-exist and build a relationship before things really start to settle in!

      I’m glad you hung in there with Jake and made it work… it’s not easy but it is so rewarding in the end!

  7. Anita says:

    When we adopted our first rescue dog, both our shelter and our vet warned us that it could take six months for him to really settle in and for us to get a really good sense of his personality. He’d been bounced aroundt to a couple of homes before us and had absolutely no manners, but he wasn’t at all a “project” dog – he just needed a home where people were willing to exercise him and teach him how to behave. They were right, though. We made progress from the start, but I wouldn’t say Red truly settled in until he’d been with us about six months.

    • I think for some dogs who have more challenges than others–repeated returns, anxiety issues, fear issues, other issues… they can CERTAINLY take 6 months to really adjust. i didn’t want to terrify people about the prospects of adopting a dog and having an awful first 6 months LOL! But you are absolutely correct… I mean, I think back to my first year of college… I’m a pretty well-adjusted human being but it still took me probably 3 months to really settle in and I had all the advantages in the world… common language, same species (well mostly LOL!), a culture I was familiar with (in the big sense of being American), customs I was used to… yet it STILL took me 3 months to really find my place in that new sub-society. Dogs don’t have any of those advantages…

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