When we see a dog leave the shelter with a new family, we are elated. His long wait is over, and he will have a chance at a new life.
When we see that he is back in the kennel because he was returned, our collective hearts sink. We want every adoption to be successful and every dog to find his or her forever home. Dogs get returned for all sorts of reasons, but one recurring theme is that they are not given enough time to adjust to their new home—too much was thrown at them too quickly.
Think Like a Dog
Try to put yourself in the dog’s head for a minute. You are coming out of a highly stressful kennel environment where there is constant barking and little human interaction. You can hear and usually see the other dogs, but you can’t interact with any of them, which you find very frustrating.
What human interaction there is may involve medical procedures, getting surprised by water coming through when the kennel behind you is hosed down, or other things that further frighten you and keep you on guard. You may be house trained, but not have gotten outdoors enough—so you were also stressed from trying to hold it in for hours or days at a time.
If your family surrendered you to the shelter, you feel the pain of loss of your family, your home and everything you knew that brought you comfort. Or, if you arrived as a stray, you may have been traumatized on the streets, had to go hungry or fight for food. Further, if you arrived at the shelter with a humane police officer because your family was neglecting or abusing you, you may have suffered even greater trauma.
Now, you walk into a new home, and your new family is so thrilled that they are able to provide you with the comforts of home again. They know you’re safe. But you don’t. Right now, this is just another strange place with strange people and maybe other animals you don’t know.
Help Your New Pup Get Settled
Every shelter dog needs TTA – time to adjust. Adopters may be eager to have a new dog meet their friends, family, and resident pets and establish friendships. That’s understandable, but it’s a very bad idea. Meeting more new people and animals in this mental state is often overwhelming to dogs just leaving the shelter.
Here are some tips for successful integration of a dog into your home:
- He will need days, if not a few weeks, to adjust and learn that he is safe. Give him a separate place, including a crate if you have one, away from children and other pets to relax, catch up on his rest and adjust. Do NOT have him interact with children or other animals right away.
- Do not introduce him to any resident pets until he is adjusted and relaxed and then, do it slowly. Let them see each other with a baby gate in between. If that goes well, try walking both dogs with one following the other. Keep control over the situation by keeping them leashed until you see that they feel comfortable. Look for low slow tail wags and relaxed—not stiff—body language.
- Do not leave the dog unsupervised with small children. They do not know how to act around dogs and may hurt or scare them.
- Do not visit dog parks. They can be overwhelming for lots of dogs, particularly dogs who have just had a major change in their life. The fewer new exposures early on, the more likely your new family member will work out in the long run.
- Do not leave toys around where children or other dogs may compete for them.
A week or two of down time is usually plenty to make your new dog feel like a member of the family. Make that investment, and it will pay you back many times over. Here’s to may happy adoption “tails”!