First, I’d like to thank you. Deciding you will adopt or rescue a dog is a very honorable and brave act. You don’t know what you will get, you don’t know how things will turn out and yet, you have decided to open the doors of your home to a lovely soul that someone abandoned. Adopting a dog from a shelter is one of the most amazing experiences; I know that first hand. But I have noticed that people have a lot of preconceived expectations that can do (them & their dogs) more harm than good. This article will tell you the harsh truth, whether you’re ready to hear it or not. There are some crucial things about rescue dogs that you must know before you decide to adopt! Here’s what you need to know:
1. They might not always be thankful
When people hear my dogs are adopted, usually the first things they say to me is: “They must be so thankful!” Some are. Most aren’t. It’s hard to specify how a dog would show his gratitude, but usually people think the dog will lovingly gaze into their eyes, not damage the household and immediately come to them when called without even having to train them. Some adopted dogs really do come to us calm, house trained and recall trained. But most don’t. Most dogs will struggle with the new environment and most dogs won’t trust you at the beginning. Just because you rescued them doesn’t mean they know you won’t hurt them. They will be weary, they will avoid eye contact, they might not even let you pet them (either at all or in the way that you’d like).
If we expect dogs to be grateful to us because we rescued them, we’re being unfair.
2. They might be unpredictable
Adopting a dog means you don’t (always) know their history. You don’t know how they will behave in different situations and just because they get along with the dog you already have at home, it doesn’t necessary mean they’ll love the neighbor’s dog as well. Same with children. With caretakers. With bikes and cars. Basically, when you adopt a dog, don’t expect they will behave the same with all people and in all situations. Invest time into learning more about them, by easing them into different situations and seeing how they respond.
3. Their coat might be a disaster
Two of our pack of four have come to us with disastrous coats and it took months of proper food and gentle care for it to become healthy. People often choose a dog based on a picture they see online or in a newspaper and while that’s totally okay, they can be in for a surprise. The dog isn’t as fluffy as they look on the picture, their hair is falling off like crazy, their skin is flaky etc. My advice is to take it easy and be patient. Invest time and love into getting their coat back to being healthy. It’s like human hair – if you have poor diet and don’t take care of it, it will be dry and flaky. Dogs need a balanced diet and proper care of the coat as well. Whether you adopt a short-haired pup or a long-coated one, do make sure that you pay a little extra attention to the coat, at least the beginning.
4. Older dogs might not be (house)trained
People adopt an older dog and often expect them to be obedience trained, house trained and just a fully-functioning member of the canine society. Well, it isn’t quite so simple.
When adopting a dog from a shelter, puppies and older dogs are more alike than you might think. They need to be house-trained, they need to be taught basic commands and they also need restrictions. Older dogs can be just as much work as puppies are – if not even more!
When I got my Chilly he had a full set of adult teeth and a very strong bite. Because nobody had taught him not to bite humans (even if only when playing) this was a problem. It took a lot of patience, boundaries and re-directions in our first weeks together for him to learn that biting is an unwanted behavior.
5. The same rules don’t apply to all dogs
One of the common things I hear is: “I’ve had dogs before, I have experience.” While it’s true that you do surely have experience if you’ve had dogs before, you have to understand that dogs differ among themselves just like us humans do. Sometimes what works for 5 dogs just won’t work for the 6th one. Be it play, the type of boundaries, how you actively spend time together etc.
Take into account that every dog is an individual and that it’s unfair to expect of them to behave like all of your previous dogs did.
6. You can re-traumatize them
If you have a fearful dog you must be mindful of how you decide to conquer their fears. If you re-traumatize your dog, it will not only affect their mindset, but also your relationship. Don’t push them into things just for the sake of it. Don’t repeat my mistakes! When I got Bailey, she was a tiny puppy who had a million fears, one of them being the bathtub. I had no prior knowledge of working with fearful dogs, so I just assumed that she’ll get used to bathing eventually. I was very, very wrong. After I bathed her she didn’t move from her bed the entire day. She avoided the bathroom at all costs, wouldn’t walk past it at all, but if she absolutely had to, she’d run for her life. And the thing that hurt me the most – she wouldn’t allow me to pick her up. Because the last time I did, as she well remembered, she ended up in a bathtub. I totally re-traumatized her and once I figured that out (thankfully, within days) I started to use counter-conditioning to rebuild our relationship and later on, introduce the bathtub to her in a really, really slow pace.
7. Beware of emotionally abusive dog-adoption ads
This last one might stir some controversy and that’s okay. Not a week goes by that I wouldn’t see and ad for a dog in a shelter that says: “He only has one day left, please adopt or he’ll be euthanized tomorrow.” The ad provides absolutely no additional information about the dog and often, this leads to people impulsively adopting the dog, then quickly realizing they had no idea what they were getting themselves into. Upon this realization, they return the poor dog to the shelter, which only worsens the situation, as the dog changes the environment again.
Personally, I have nothing against urging people to adopt and to advocate for dogs who don’t have much time left. I think this is extremely important and helps a lot of dogs.
With that said, I think it’s equally as important to provide the adopters with all the information about the dog as well as vet them and make sure they are ready for such a responsibility and are not just impulsively taking it on. I believe there is always another way – preferably finding a foster home for the dog whose days are numbered (before we reach the last day) and then finding them a suitable home. I am not by any means stating that all death-row-adoptions end with the dog being returned to the shelter, not at all! But sadly, a large percentage of them does.
Final thoughts …
Well, this was the harsh truth. I told you, I’m here to tell you the truth and here it is. It’s important to know things in advance, so that we can prepare and be better dog parents. Taking everything I’ve mentioned above into consideration, to me, adopting a dog is still one of the most rewarding experiences in life, as you not only get a companion and a best friend, but also a soul that will genuinely teach you more about yourself than you ever could have imagined.
Are you thinking about adopting a dog? Was this article helpful? Let me know in the comments! And also let me know if you already have a dog that was adopted from a shelter – did anything about it surprise you? How were your first weeks? Let’s chat!