I adopted a dog from a shelter or rescue group...what do I do now?
Eve Torres is a Dog & Human Relationship Coach, certified professional dog trainer with over 6 years of experience and founder of Holy Doggie. She is also an energy healer, certified Oneness meditator and guardian of 5 rescued dogs.
It feels good to adopt! Knowing that you saved a dog's life, that you gave them a chance to have a home for the first time or again, and a life of dignity, fills any human being's heart with joy and hope. Regardless of why they ended up in the shelter or on the street, most dogs can adapt very well and be wonderful pets. However, much will depend on your level of commitment.
You came home with the dog and now you don't know what to do? Here are 7 tips to help you:
1. Give him time to adapt.
Consider that a dog that has spent a long time in a shelter or was rescued needs perhaps a longer adjustment period than a dog that is untraumatized and/or well socialized. For some dogs it may be a matter of hours but for most it takes months to feel secure in their new environment. During this time, you must be consistent, and the priority is to establish the basis for a relationship of trust and respect.
2. Avoid excessive love.
Excessive love will not heal him, at least not the love you would give to a person. Understanding that the dog is an animal of another species with its own psychology will help you treat it how it needs to be treated and not how you want it to be treated. Giving love is important but at the right times and in balance with a good structure.
3. Establish rules and boundaries from the beginning.
Knowing your adopted dog's past can give you a better perspective of what he needs to become a balanced dog, not to love him with pity. Total freedom in the home gives rise to the most common behavioral problems such as tearing, digging, biting, excessive barking, eating off the kitchen countertops, relieve himself inside the house, among others. Establish limits and rules in their routine from day one and be consistent.
4. Create a balanced routine.
Feeding, exercising, playing, taking him out to relieve himself, placing him in his area or cage at the same times will give him stability. Being able to anticipate the next activity will help him relax and he will gradually feel more confident. Consider that the routine should include time for physical exercise, mental stimulation and training. You must teach him everything, even where to relieve himself, even if he is an adult dog.
5. Seek help from a professional and train him.
Dog training is not a luxury or exclusive to purebred dogs, it is necessary to establish successful and above all compassionate communication with any dog. An experienced professional will help you better understand your adopted dog's condition and the areas of opportunity in his routine, in the way you are communicating, correcting, giving affection and how you are relating to your dog, beyond teaching him commands. Keep in mind that not all dog trainers have the knowledge and practice with dogs that have spent a lot of time in shelters or rescues and that an ill-advised training plan and/or use of incorrect tools can make your dog's situation worse. Also consider that the trainer's job is to guide you through the process, that you must dedicate time to his training and that for the dog to progress, you must do so for the rest of your dog's life.
6. Be patient.
Like everything in life, the process of adapting your dog to his new home, as well as his training, will not be linear. There will be accidents, setbacks, good days and more complex days, but it is part of the experience of bringing an animal of another species to live in a world of humans. Be patient and for that great love you have for him, show him your commitment.
7. Be conscious.
The connection with a dog can be one of the most genuine and loving we can experience. This is often why it is so difficult to see them for what they are: animals of another species. Being aware of this will motivate you to educate yourself about their behavior, their needs, their breed and everything that comes with being a dog guardian. Most of the dogs abandoned on the streets, that end up in a shelter, even those that are returned after being adopted, are discarded because of behavioral problems caused by lack of structure, boundaries, rules, sufficient exercise and unrealistic expectations of humans who one day had the best intentions and thought they had a commitment to care for them for 15 years or more.
Every guardian should keep in mind that adopted dogs also get sick and need to receive veterinary care, that they may grow bigger than we think, that they will have to deal with urine and feces in unwanted areas even when they are adults, especially in the adjustment period, and that having children or moving should not be a reason to return or abandon them. Adopting is an act of love but even more so is educating yourself, fully accepting the dog that "chose you" and doing whatever work is necessary to be able to enjoy the best version of him.
If you haven't adopted yet but are considering it, I don't want you to be discouraged but to make an informed decision and evaluate if it is something you want and can do, for the sake of that dog that deserves your unconditional commitment.