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.