Settle-in Time for a Newly Adopted Dog
Many pet parents I meet have acquired their furry companions through adoption. There are so many wonderful dogs available, just waiting to bring joy to your life. I know this from personal experience: of the 21 dogs I've lived with (5 of whom ended up being long-term fosters), 14 of them were acquired through adoption or rescue.
Whether you're adopting a dog or purchasing a purebred puppy, there's a lot of work involved to help your new family member settle into the home and learn how to successfully navigate life with another species. Neither "purebred" nor "puppy" means you immediately have the pet of your dreams. Training is always necessary, and there's never a guarantee the dog will tick all the boxes that describe your perfect pet.
I address some important aspects of the selection process in my "Be a Rare Bird" article, which I hope you'll read if you're planning to add a new dog to your home. By screening carefully, you can increase the odds of choosing a dog who is great match for your home and lifestyle. In today's article, I'll be discussing some things you can expect to see behaviorally, during the first three months or so after adoption.
We don't always know the history of the dog we adopt, although frequent backstories may include:
Picked up as stray
Found in poor physical condition / required medical care to restore back to health
Relinquished to a shelter by the previous owner (especially prevalent when dogs hit adolescence)
Spent X amount of time in a shelter
Spent X amount of time in a foster home
Transported from multiple states away
WHAT TO EXPECT
The first few days of living in your home
Being homeless -- even for a short while -- can be very stressful for the dog. So can bouncing unpredictably from one place to the next. Even though the efforts to rescue, house, and transport a dog are all in the interest of finding him a better life, he doesn't understand what's going on. As a result of all this turmoil, when he first joins your household, he's not likely to reveal his real self until some time has passed. Often, the dog will lay low for the first few days, just decompressing and trying to acclimate to his new surroundings. I can't tell you how many clients say: "He was so calm and well-behaved the first few days, but now he's [ crazy ] [ ill-behaved ] [ noisy ] [ destructive ]" or some variation on that theme.
When your new dog first arrives, it's not the time to have a slew of visitors traipsing through your house to meet him, nor is it ideal to cart him around to all sorts of stimulating public places. You really don't know the dog yet, and thus cannot predict how he might behave around strangers, kids, other pets, when in bustling environments, and when startling things happen. Give him some quiet time to settle in, as you get to know one another better. Create a predictable routine. Gently guide him so he gets the lay of the land in his new home.
The first few weeks of living in your home
Over the next few weeks, as your new dog settles in and learns his new routine, he'll start to feel comfortable enough to reveal his true self. Some things he reveals may be happy surprises, or they may be concerning, and some won't be of any great import to you either way. For example, he may:
Suddenly show an interest in toys.
Begin stealing food from the counter, or target other taboo items.
Play, or interact differently, with a resident dog.
Become more affectionate with you, or seek your attention more often.
Display some stress about being separated from you.
Show you that he has quite a bit of energy that will need appropriate outlets.
Show decreased signs of anxiety.
Begin to test boundaries.
Become protective of you, or the property.
As he reveals more of his personality, you'll need to adjust accordingly. This is the time to begin training or behavior modification for whatever issues crop up and cause you concern. Addressing the early signs is much better than allowing the problem behaviors to be rehearsed week in and week out. Rarely do these problems resolve magically on their own. Consulting with a professional trainer or behavior counselor can be really helpful.
Within about three months of living in your home
Your new dog is finally feeling comfortable and secure in your home. He has learned to trust you and has become very bonded to you. And as long as you've been consistent, he should now understand the daily routine and feel secure in its predictability. If you wisely began training within the first few weeks, your dog should also be catching on to your expectations and the household rules.
Please remember, it truly can take THREE MONTHS or so for a dog to completely assimilate to his new home. When you understand this, you to can set realistic expectations. A bit of patience, consistency, and training can go a long way toward creating a loving and cooperative relationship with your new furry friend.
An addendum to the original article, "Be a Rare Bird" --
Some thoughts on the age of the dog you adopt:
So many people find puppies irresistible, and target them for adoption. I can appreciate that! In many cases, puppies will be quicker than adolescent or adult dogs to settle into their new home. It can be easier to introduce young pups to other pets in the family. Just know there's plenty of work that comes with a new puppy. (So many puppy clients I meet express how overwhelmed they are by the work involved.) For instance, he'll need LOTS of potty breaks (even overnight) to reduce indoor accidents, and you'll have to deal with the usual issues like nipping, chewing, jumping, crate training, alone-time training, etc.
If the pup is younger than four months old, it's also very important to orchestrate lots of positive socialization experiences to have the best chance of raising a pup who is confident and comfortable in the human world. If the pup is older than four months old, he's already past his sensitive period of socialization. So think carefully if you're considering the adoption of a shy or fearful pup, because there will be a heck of a lot of work ahead to even make small steps towards building his confidence around whatever worries him, whether it's strangers, kids, other dogs, novel locations/sights/sounds, etc.
Adolescent dogs (roughly between the ages of 6 months to 2 years) are past some of the time-consuming puppy challenges, but they come with their own 'stuff' to deal with. If you've ever lived with a teenager, you're familiar with the challenges, and adolescent dogs are very similar. The New York Times recently published an excellent essay about teenage dogs, written by Dr. Alexandra Horowitz, a cognitive scientist who studies dogs. Understanding this sometimes tumultuous time in a dog's development will better prepare you for the reality of living with an adolescent, and hopefully inspire patience and a commitment to positive training techniques.
Some of the benefits of adopting an adult dog are that you immediately know the grown-up size, and the worst of puppy nipping, chewing, and house-soiling is usually behind him. His personality is well-formed by then, too. If you take the time to observe the dog's behavior carefully and ask the rescue group pointed questions, you can get a pretty good idea whether the dog will be a match for you and your lifestyle. This is especially the case if the dog has spent a few weeks in an experienced foster home, so they can share detailed observations about the dog's behavior in a home environment. (This is my preferred way to go when I'm adopting a dog.) How nice would it be to discover that the dog is sweet with kids living in (or regularly visiting) a foster home, if kids happen to be a part of your household or extended family. How helpful would it be to get input on his behavior around other dogs (or possibly cats) in a foster home, if you happen to have other pets in your home already, or if you like to regularly socialize with people who have pets. How helpful would it be to have info about things like his energy level, whether he accepts confinement calmly, and whether he can spend time alone without panicking. So much can be learned about a dog who is under the experienced eyes of a foster person. Having access to such valuable information reduces frustration and disappointment, and increases the chance for a truly wonderful match.
Virginia Dare is a certified dog trainer & behavior counselor with decades of experience. Her business offers live video consultations anywhere in the US for training and behavior help, puppy matchmaking services, and pre- and post-arrival counseling for new puppies. She also provides in-home, private lessons and behavior consultations in northern Fairfield and Westchester counties, western New Haven county, Putnam and southern Dutchess counties.
Please visit www.NorthStarCanines.com/services to learn more, or contact me at 804.784.0120
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