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Helping Rescue Dogs Transition to New Homes

Adopting Pet Dogs

Many dogs get dropped off at shelters more than once, often because the behaviors that were behind the first relinquishment continue in the new home.

Common reasons for the initial abandonment most often revolve around the owner’s inability or unwillingness to give the animal an appropriate level of care, and include:

  • Lack of obedience training
  • Lack of adequate veterinary care, including spaying or neutering
  • The owner did not anticipate the time and attention a dog requires each day
  • Housebreaking issues

Specific behavior problems described by owners who returned their adopted pets to shelters include:

  • Fearfulness
  • Once stray dogs that persist in straying activities
  • Puppies with more and bigger behavioral problems than older dogs
  • Excessive barking
  • Aggression toward other dogs 
Dr. Becker's Comments:

Most canine behavior problems can be resolved with effort, time and patience.

When a dog is surrendered more than once to a shelter, it means at least two sets of owners weren’t able to help the poor pup make the transition from rescue dog to family pet.

Each successive surrender decreases a dog’s chance of finding a suitable forever home. That’s why it’s so important for adoptive pet parents to understand what their new dog may need in order to reach his full potential as a beloved family pet.

New Home Jitters

Each rescued or adopted dog will react a bit differently when introduced to a new home, but common behaviors can include:

  • Fearful body language and facial expressions
  • Finding places to hide
  • Wariness and general inhibited behavior
  • Lack of appetite

This conduct may or not linger as your dog adapts to his new family and living situation. You should keep in mind your new pet’s personality and temperament may not emerge on his first day home, or even during the first week or two.

Acclimating a Rescue Dog to a New Environment

The safer and more comfortable your adopted dog feels in his new home, the less fearful and anxious he’ll be, and the quicker his true temperament will reveal itself. If you haven’t had a pooch in the house before, consider watching my video on how to puppy proof your home. Even if you adopt an older dog, you may still have to make your home a safe environment for the new addition.

It’s a good idea to put his bed and a few toys in a slightly out-of-the-way spot where he can still see and hear his new family, but from a safe distance.

If you plan to use a crate as a safe place or bedroom for a dog that hasn’t been crate trained or is fearful of small enclosures, be careful not to force the issue right off the bat. Many dogs have had negative experiences in a crate. I recommend you view my crate training video and read the accompanying article for lots of tips on how to successfully crate train your dog.

When it comes to attention, affection and new experiences for your dog, set a slow, consistent pace. Lavishing excessive attention on your new addition can set her up for separation anxiety behaviors when you must leave her later on.

It’s preferable in the beginning to have a slightly bored pup than one that is over-stimulated. Mealtimes, in particular, should be in a calm, quiet setting. This is especially true with a dog that doesn’t have much appetite in those first days at home. Continue with your normal daily routine, new pup included, from the get go.

Daily walks and other forms of exercise, and playtime with favorite toys are critical to the physical and mental well-being of all dogs, but especially a new furry adoptee or rescue.

If your dog isn’t leash trained or has bad leash manners, consult with a positive-reinforcement dog trainer immediately to begin working on forming new, appropriate manners.

Building a Bond

Bonding with your adopted pet means building a trusting relationship with her. This will happen primarily through your interactions with her and the way you respond to her – especially when she misbehaves.

Anyone who adopts a dog from a shelter or rescue organization should anticipate certain behavioral problems and gather the resources necessary to deal with them.

The majority of behavior problems in adopted dogs stem from a lack of proper socialization and training, so those are good places to start.

Physical punishment should never be part of the equation. It’s not effective long-term, it can cause harm to the animal, and it will tear away at the still-fragile bond between you and your pet.

Addressing Behavior Problems

Dogs learn desired behavior through positive reinforcement. There are dozens of techniques you can learn to effectively control your dog and eliminate problem behaviors.

There are countless books, magazines, TV shows, internet sites, canine behavior experts and other resources available that can address any difficulty you encounter with an adopted dog’s temperament and behavior. Here are just a few I recommend:

The keys to successfully transitioning most dogs from a shelter to a forever home are:

  • Consistent daily exercise
  • A species-appropriate diet
  • Good veterinary care
  • Socialization, obedience training and behavior modification as required

However, if you discover your rescued or adopted dog has a deep-seated behavior issue you can’t resolve on your own, I encourage you to talk with your veterinarian or an expert in canine behavior.

The sooner you address your pet’s behavior issue, the better the chance of a satisfactory resolution to the problem.

+ Sources and References
  • Clinician's Brief December 15, 2010, Debra F. Horwitz, DVM, Diplomate ACVB, Veterinary Behavior Consultations, St. Louis, Missouri