You’re in love. One look in those big brown eyes was all it took. You are convinced this is the dog for you. Maybe you have had dogs in the past. Maybe you have another dog at home already. Or maybe this is your very first dog. Whatever your case, you are confident this match is meant to be. Shelter staff counsels you on what to expect when you bring this dog home, and you nod your head enthusiastically. You got this.
Your adoption is approved and you take your new dog home. Another happy ending- maybe. Too many times we see our dogs brought back to us when the adopter is unhappy with that dog’s behavior. Sometimes it is only a day or two. Sometimes a little more. But almost always in these instances, it is the result of unrealistic expectations on the adopter’s part:
“He peed on the floor.”
“She barks a lot.”
“He chewed the furniture”
These are some of the most common things we hear. Others include: the dog jumps up on people- maybe scratching or knocking a child over, there is so much fur in the house, and the adopter doesn’t want to leave the dog alone in the house during the work day.
Can you imagine our frustration when this happens?
Can you imagine what it does to the dog?
You see, we go through all of these scenarios when we meet potential adopters. Old dogs, young dogs, dogs who came in as strays or dogs who were surrendered by their owners – they are all adjusting to a barrage of new and scary experiences. They are all nervous – even the ones with tails wagging at warp speed.
Think back to a time when you went through a major life change: moving out of the house, into a dorm, or into a new home. New relationships, breakups, new jobs, etc.: whether those were happy times or troubling times – they were anxious times with a lot to process. And you knew what was happening. You knew you were moving. You chose to move, or start a new job. You can communicate with others over a breakup or a loss or a change. And it is still stressful. Maybe you stop eating or sleeping. Maybe your insides are roiling and you are running to the bathroom. Perhaps you comfort yourself with food, or sleep. You might leave dishes around or on the flip side – maybe you turn into a compulsive cleaner or exerciser. Whatever your method – it is your way of coping.
Dogs need to cope, too.
Not only are they experiencing enormous life changes, but they are doing so with no forewarning or clear understanding of why this is happening to them: Why did I get picked up off the street and brought to a place with so many other dogs? Why am I in a kennel? Why did someone hurt me? Is someone going to hurt me again? When will I eat again? What’s that smell, and those sounds? And who is this person coming at me? Where am I going? Who are you? I have to go to the bathroom – where do I go? I have to go now! I’m so scared I’m going to be sick! I’m so happy I have someone to play with – I’m going to jump up and tell them how happy I am!
They are not intentionally misbehaving. They are not wild, or stupid, or mean. They are stressed, and nervous, and sweet. They are loving and playful and joyful and want to please you. They are dependent upon you to help them. They need you to understand what they are going through. They need time, and patience, and firm but gentle guidance.
They need you to give them the chance you promised you would when you adopted them.
It may take longer than you thought it would. It may cost you a pair of shoes, or require you to get up early, or in some other way alter your routine.
But it’s worth it.
There are things you can do to make this process easier on your family and your new dog: Pick up shoes from the floor. Follow the housebreaking tips we give you. Teach your children how to be gentle with the dog. Get outside and exercise with your dog! Remind yourself to be patient, and ask us some tips on how to humanely teach a dog not to jump, or chew, or mess in the house. Once you and your family work through this adjustment period together, your new dog’s true personality will emerge. And you will have a best friend for life.