Adopting an adolescent or adult dog from an animal shelter or rescue group can be a wonderful experience, especially if you are well-informed.  You’ve probably already done some preparation to get ready for the homecoming, so let’s look at some of the common challenges and solutions for those crucial first weeks.

What to Expect:

No matter the care that your new dog received at the shelter, rescue or foster home from which you’ve adopted, every dog deals with significant stress when transitioning to a different living situation.  Dogs thrive on consistency, and your adopted dog will have dealt with lots of uncertainty.  So, adopting a dog can be a bit like peeling an onion, with owners learning a little bit more about their dog’s personality as the pooch rebounds and adapts. As a result, some adopted dogs are deceptively quiet during the first couple weeks in a new home; while others act in a frenetic, hyperactive manner.

It is not unusual for an adopted pooch to demonstrate some distress or anxiety upon separation or confinement.  This might mean that your new dog cries, barks, whines or scratches during early days and nights.  Expect this possibility, have a plan of action, and an iron will to avoid reinforcing your dog by attempting to soothe him, yelling or caving in.  Your neighbors may be much more forgiving if you let them know what is happening, too (a warning best delivered with baked goods!).

What to Do

How you act influences how your dog will cope with this transition and is reflected in his behavior.  You may feel sympathy for your dog’s previous history, and you’ll undoubtedly want to help him feel better.  Unfortunately, these kind hearted feelings often lead owners to shower excessive, emotionally-charged attention on new pets.  This simply continues the emotional roller-coaster for Fido, rather than having the desired effect.  The best way to comfort your dog is to set a predictable routine, prevent him from getting into trouble and provide calm, slightly aloof interactions.  Imagine your dog as a kind of foreign exchange student arriving in your home, knowing little of your language or culture.  Show him the basics-where the bathroom is, what time meals are served-without a tidal wave of gushing affection and excitement.

Your adoptee should have a quiet confinement area that is neither in the most chaotic part of your house nor completely isolated from daily happenings.  Confinement will ultimately be a safe haven and contain destructive behaviors.  Feed your dog his meals in the confinement area to sweeten his association with that place. Confinement time should always be accompanied by a novel and spectacular distraction for your dog.  Give Fido a durable food-dispensing toy stuffed with something tasty (e.g. peanut butter, kibble, bananas, biscuits, carrots, plain yogurt), a sterilized bone, deer antler of odor-free bully stick during confinement, and put it away when confinement ends.  Remember, too, that confinement isn’t just for when you are absent.  Use your crate or pen for cool-down times several times a day, while you read a book or have a cup of tea.

Repeat this mantra to yourself every day:  “I must manage my dog’s freedom in my house at all times!”.  Your dog must be directly supervised by a responsible adult, without exception.  Especially effective techniques are to either attach a 4-6 foot, lightweight leash to your belt, or simply let it drag from Fido’s collar [only with supervision]. This promotes bonding and allows you to keep your dog close, remove him from your couch, and deter him from eating the curtains.  Plus, your dog learns how to settle down and simply rest at your feet while you work, read, eat or watch t.v.  Beware!  This is the time when most owners get frustrated with attending to the dog or overly trustworthy.  But, when pooch pees on the rug or eats your best shoes, you’ve only yourself to blame.

Consistency, predictability, and tranquility are some of the best gifts that you can provide your dog and yourself during your first few weeks together.  But, don’t be afraid to ask for help from professionals if you are uncertain.  Whether you simply need some guidance or are facing a problem you cannot solve, we’ll help you start off right!