This blog post is the first in a multi-post series regarding dog adoption.
Most people that come to the shelter looking to adopt a dog have the best of intentions. Unfortunately, the excitement of bringing a new dog into the family often causes adopters to overlook the realities of adopting a shelter dog. So let’s get right into some of the common misconceptions potential adopters may have and the realities of adopting a shelter dog. We want every adopter to have the best possible chance of making their adoption successful!
“I want to adopt an adult dog because I won’t have to train it.”
Myth: Adult shelter dogs don’t require training.
Reality: All dogs, regardless of age, will require patient training as you introduce them into your family. Some dogs have spent more of their lives in an animal shelter than in a home, so they will need to be taught house manners and learn how to interact in their new world. This requires patience, time, and effort on the part of the adopter. The good news is most adult dogs are quick learners and are eager to please their new owners.
“All a shelter dog really needs is lots of love.”
Myth: The most important thing you can give a shelter dog is love.
Reality: While love is an important component in adopting a shelter dog, the most important thing you can give a shelter dog is structure and discipline. This means establishing yourself as their Pack Leader by patiently teaching and reinforcing in your new dog appropriate and acceptable behaviors (signaling the need to use the bathroom outside, sleeping in a crate or on a dog bed in a specified area) and correcting inappropriate and unacceptable behaviors (barking at the UPS man, climbing on the furniture without an invitation). Love and affection should only be used to reinforce positive behaviors, especially in those first weeks of dog ownership.
“There’s no telling what a shelter dog has been through.”
Myth: A shelter dog’s history determines its behavior.
Reality: Because so many of our dogs come into the shelter as strays, we often have no idea about a dog’s past. However, we would argue (and Cesar Romero, The Dog Whisperer, would agree with us) that a dog’s history doesn’t really matter anyway. Dogs live in the moment, and if a dog is established into your family/pack correctly, he’ll soon forget whatever traumatic events might be in his past. Again, this means being prepared to reinforce positive behaviors (not jumping on visitors) and to correct negative behaviors (growling at bicycles).
“Once I bring a shelter dog home, he’ll instantly become part of our family.”
Myth: There will be an immediate connection between you and your shelter dog.
Reality: It takes time to cultivate trust, and showering them with love and affection immediately is not actually the best way to build that trust. Often shelter dogs haven’t spent much time as part of a loving family, so instead you should give priority to establishing a routine, providing a safe place where your new dog can retreat (a dog crate or dog bed), and giving him consistent, loving discipline. Once your dog establishes where his place is in your family, trust will follow.
“My dog will have the run of my house.”
Myth: The best way to introduce a dog to your home is to let him do whatever he wants.
Reality: Not only is this a myth, it’s a terrible idea. When adopting a shelter dog, Priority One should be establishing yourself as Pack Leader. This means that rather than letting your new dog run free in your home, you should limit your new dog’s access to your home to one or two dog-proof rooms with a crate or dog bed as a safe retreat for the first couple of days. Rather than filling your new dog’s time with your presence, give them space to adjust to their new environment. After that, establish boundaries: for instance, don’t allow your new dog on the furniture without an invite. The goal is to firmly set in the dog’s mind who’s in charge, and it’s not your new dog.
“I don’t want to be mean.”
Bonus Myth: Establishing boundaries is mean and unloving.
Reality: Firmly establishing rules and boundaries is the foundation to forming a trusting relationship with your dog and ensuring a successful permanent adoption. Dogs, like children, crave boundaries and limitations. Setting those boundaries and limitations right from the beginning of your new dog’s introduction to your home clearly shows your dog you love and care for him, and he will be a loyal friend for life as he adjusts to his new home.