Things You Need to Know Before Adopting a Shelter Dog

Team Stepevoli

Posted on May 29 2021

Things You Need to Know Before Adopting a Shelter Dog

When you make the decision to adopt a shelter dog, it’s hard to contain your excitement. You’re anxious to visit the shelter, scoop up your new pup, and smother him with all the love and attention he deserves. That shelter dog also longs to be in a forever home with you, but it’s not always quite that simple. Embarking on this second chance may be more of a process for your new pet than you realise so here are some things to keep in mind about the entire process. It may take a few days or a couple of months, but remember you are giving them a new life so be resilient! 

1. Each Shelter Pet is Different and has unique needs. While many of you may be concerned about behavioural issues in shelter pets, a vast majority of dogs that come from a shelter are evaluated for behaviour and health before being put up for adoption. Most pets are returned due to constraints such as size, management and money and for no fault of the dog. Usually all shelters offer prospective reports of the animal's behaviours and can successfully match pets with owners after studying their behaviour. Remember no two shelter animals are alike. All dogs are individuals and each breed, age and size of dog have different needs.Getting to know your dog’s unique personality and supporting it and working around it is the most important thing you can do.

2. They each have a different history and personality traits. Some shelter dogs have been rescued from known abuse and neglect. Other dogs arrive as a stray, so it’s impossible to know their background and what they know and think of humans. We do know however, that  these dogs want a forever home where they can be loved and give love. If you’re adopting a shy or fearful dog, it’s important to take things slowly and let them go at their own pace and they can show you undying loyalty once they feel safe with you. Get to know them and give them some time to call you and your family their best friend especially if you are introducing them to children.

3. Initial Impressions at the shelter aren’t very long lasting. While some dogs may be shy and scared when you visit the shelter, others may jump up on you or bark a lot and get very excited. But don’t let a dog’s unbridled enthusiasm scare you off; they have not been around a lot of people. It usually takes at least two weeks for a dog to relax and get accustomed to a new home and a new family. After that, pet parents can slowly incorporate training lessons and start trust bonding exercises. Just like people, it can take a little time for dogs to warm up and that doesn't mean the dog isn’t social or that it wouldn’t make a great family pet just because they were too shy or too excited at the shelter.

4. It may take some time for them to adjust and open up. Be prepared to take things slow. It's only a small percentage of shelter dogs that are returned for behavioural problems. Taking a shelter dog into a new environment may be a bit of a shock for the dog at first. As a result, they may initially appear overly shy or anxious in their new surroundings. Don’t force them into situations that they find scary, which can just make matters worse. Build confidence through environmental enrichment, practicing new skills, and positive experiences and of course showering them with love!

5. Prepare your home and family for the initial process. Moving into a new home is not easy for anyone. Imagine getting a new family as well? Dogs are like humans, they adjust to change in different ways. A lot of dogs may need time to ease in. The first three days a dog comes home, you’ll likely see a lot of stress because the dog has no idea how to behave or where they are. Be extra patient during this time. After the first three weeks, your new dog should feel a little settled, at least as far as knowing their routine and the family. At this point, you’ll start to notice their true personality start to come out. By the first three months, your dog should feel secure in your family and their place in it. After three months, your dog knows they are home. Once you get to that point you can start exercises such as dog parks, walking off leash and travelling.

6. Things to do at home: Avoid trigger-stacking. If your dog is over excited this may lead to unruly behaviour and if scared may lead to panic attacks and a further retreat into their shell. Triggers are anything that can cause a dog anxiety or putting the dog in any sort of anxiety-inducing situation beyond living in a new home with a new family. Common triggering activities include throwing parties, loud noises or music, having lots of strangers over, dog parks or groomers, travelling or forceful or aggressive encounters with the pet. Some shelter dogs may have been technically house-trained by their previous owners, but that doesn't mean they understand the rules of your home and all the things and people in it.

7. Safe Spots or Crate Training: It can be disorienting for a dog to have to learn a new routine. The first thing a shelter pup might do in a new home is to run to find a dark, safe spot to hide and feel safe in. A sheltered corner or crate is perfect for this! Make sure you take them out frequently for the first few weeks and praise them when they pee in designated areas. When you can’t supervise your dog, confine them to a small area or crate and not give them free roam of the house. If you are consistent and stick to a routine, and in a matter of  days or weeks, they should adjust to the new schedule. Let your new dog have all the time he/she needs to feel comfortable, and be affectionate and gentle whenever they choose to come to you so you build a safe and supportive relationship.

8. Many shelter dogs have separation anxiety. After being abandoned perhaps several times, they are “needy” when you leave them alone or without attention. Dogs are pack animals and feel the most secure and comfortable when they are physically close to their human family. We recommend leaving soothing music on, giving the dog a food-filled toy or bone, safe toys or blankets and then slowly working up to leaving them for  longer and longer periods of time alone. Make sure you give them extra praise and love when you get home showing them that  you will indeed be back for them every time! The same training can be used to get them to sleep alone or during working hours when you do not want to be disturbed.

9. Shelter Pets Can be Good for Kids or Old People as well! Although not without careful planning. We strongly advise that families with kids bring the kids to the shelter and facilitate a meet-and-greet with your kids and the dogs before adoption. Children need to be taught how to interact with the dog in a gentle, non-threatening manner and should never be left unsupervised with a new shelter dog. Once they learn more about each other they can start doing more activities together building up to a lifelong friendship! 

Your relationship with your dog can be one of the most meaningful things of your life, if you just give it the chance. It's an incredible act of compassion to take a homeless lonely animal and give them a happy home and a family to call their own.

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