Happily Ever After for Rescue Dogs—Expect Behavior Changes
The first several weeks after taking your new dog/puppy home are a period of adjustment that can be joyful but also somewhat stressful for all parties. During this getting-to-know-you period, your new family member is not only adapting to a new environment with different rules and daily routines, but also learning how to communicate and get along with each person and pet in the household.
Stress can both inhibit and contribute to unwanted behaviors, so the dog you fell for in the shelter will probably change—for better or worse—in the first few days, and then some more over the next month or two. Adopters report that new behaviors emerge as their new pet becomes more comfortable and figures out what works and what doesn’t work to get the good stuff and avoid the bad stuff.
According to behavior scientists, behavior is the product of genetics, past experiences, and current conditions. Since very little is usually known about an individual dog’s history, future behavior is not very predictable. And let’s remember that health has a big influence on behavior.
When you adopt a pet, the shelter or foster carers can only tell you about their observations in that environment. They certainly cannot guarantee any individual’s behavior under different conditions. But since you control most of those conditions, you can maximize the potential for good behavior and a happily ever after for you and your rescue dog.
To make this adjustment period safe and successful,
Leave your dog alone when he’s eating and sleeping;
Keep the first week or so low-key, to let him rest and get used to everything slowly
Stay home as much as possible for at least a week. Don’t bring him home on Saturday and then go to work Monday morning as usual, suddenly leaving him alone for 8-10 hours.
Notice and praise all appropriate behaviors rather than trying to “correct” ones you don’t like;
Use management, like crates and gates, to prevent jumping up and other unwanted behaviors;
Put him securely away before opening the door to guests or workers, instead of holding onto his collar;
Outside, keep him safely contained by a real fence, a leash, or long line; and
Seek professional help from a qualified positive trainer sooner rather than later for serious behavior issues.
Even if you and your new dog are happy together, remember that he doesn’t instinctively understand how you want him to behave—or that he is now safe and can trust everyone in his new family. Trust has to be earned and takes longer for some dogs than for others—like people. Don’t expect him to be like your last dog, even if it’s the same breed. And don’t rush to show him, with hugging and kissing, that you love him, especially if he seems timid or cautious. Physical affection can feel intrusive and threatening to worried dogs.
Listen to Your Dog
Observing body language is the best way to know when any dog is uncomfortable so you can respond appropriately—usually by giving more space and time, to take the pressure off.
Don’t assume your new dog—any dog!—is “fine” because his tail is moving (not all wagging is friendly!) or because there is no sign of aggression. Dogs reveal how they feel with a wide variety of signals that even experienced owners aren’t really aware of. To gain trust and live safely together, we all absolutely need to recognize and respect those signals, especially when kids are in the house.
Here you can see some of the many early signals dogs display when they’re worried—or worse: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bg_gGguwzg
Here is another great resource on body language, especially for parents, using color codes: green (enjoyment), yellow (tolerance), and red (enough already): https://www.livingwithkidsanddogs.com/learn/
And, finally, here’s much more advice for adopters via two e-books by the Whole Dog Journal. Volume 1: Adopt a Dog or Puppy the Right Way: Essential Steps, common mistakes, and What to Consider Before You Bring Him Home and Volume 2: "I Adopted a Dog. Now What?!" What to Do (and Not Do!) After Bringing Your Dog Home https://www.whole-dog-journal.com/ppv/default2.html?ET=wholedogjournal:p333534:811271a:&st=pmail&s=p_Adoption041519&product_id=21652
Copyright Lisa Benshoff 2019