It’s bound to be one of the most exciting days of your life. From this day forward you will forever have dog hair on your clothes and in your mouth at least one (or two) meals a week. But the future is bright and full of long walks, snuggles, and trips to the park.
Today is the day you adopted a dog. Everything is waiting for your new friend at home: bed, bowls, toys, treats, food, the works. As time goes on you love the dream life of dog ownership. Everything is going great – until it isn’t.
Most people understand dogs have an adjustment period when they enter into a new home. However, what most people don’t realize is that the adjustment period can last for up to two months. If the happy, bouncy dog you met in the foster home isn’t quite the same as the one hiding under your table when guests come over, don’t be surprised. And more importantly, don’t push it. Go easy on your new pal in those first couple months while you build a positive relationship together. It takes time and trust.
I’ve known people who thought they brought home a lazy dog, but after that initial period of adjustment, turned out to be extremely playful with a have a high work drive. I’ve also seen the opposite – friends brought home a bouncy Sheltie cross only to have a couch potato. I’m not at all saying that this is the norm, but it does happen.
You see, the issue is this: a lot of dogs who are adopted haven’t been in the shelter or their foster home for the two months it can take to fully adjust.
This means the dog’s true personality, phobias, and fears can be a big question mark. He may be shy, anxious, and destructive in those first few weeks, but calm down as he adjusts to a new home. Or, you could get the opposite. Maybe she started out as energetic and playful, marked: “friendly with dogs, cats, and children”, but then starts reacting when she sees dogs while out on your walks together. We all understand that dogs take a while to come out of their shells, but not everyone is ready to cope with an unexpected behavioral issue or disorder. We expect shoe-chewing, accidents, counter-surfing and begging, but what about separation anxiety or fear aggression.
So, what can you do?
Understand that if some behavior pops up that concerns you, it’s unlikely to get better on its own. In fact, behaviors usually escalate within those first 60 days. Look at it this way: your new dog now trusts you enough that he is opening up, and showing you his greatest fears. Consider it a call for help and be ready to answer.
I’m not trying to scare you off of adopting dogs; in fact, I encourage it. There are too many lovely dogs out there just waiting for a home. However, when browsing for your new best friend, keep in mind that there is no such thing as perfect. Be prepared to help your new friend acclimate in their new environment. Find a local, positive, reward-based certified trainer or certified behaviorist in your area and save their contact info next to where you saved the veterinarian’s. Reach out and ask for help or advice when you need it. That’s what we’re here for. And the sooner you do, the more likely you are to succeed in building an amazing and unbreakable lifetime bond with your new canine companion.
Ann Marie Silverberg
Ann Marie has been working with animals professionally for over a decade. From dogs and cats to pigs and turkeys, her many positions in animal husbandry have taken her from volunteering in animal shelters to veterinary medicine. She recently started her own training and behavior consulting business in Massachusetts, Brainiacs Dog Training.