Booklet For Dogs from Shelters or Rescues

Karen London and I are planning on writing a booklet for people who adopt dogs from shelters or rescue groups. We’re both aware that often it can be intimidating to sit in your living room with a new family member, whose background you may not even know. Over the many years that we’ve worked with people who have adopted dogs, and with our own dogs that we have taken in from difficult circumstances (5 between us), we know that these dogs can present challenges, and generate questions that are not often answered by standard training books.

We have our own ideas about what to include in the booklet, we’ve already written an outline, but we’d love to hear from you too. If you have a dog that you obtained from a shelter or rescue group, or adopted an adult dog who might have had a difficult past, what did you want to know when you brought the dog home? What do you think are the most important things for adopters to know? Keep in mind that we are envisioning a relatively concise booklet, not a full-length book. Pat Miller has written a good full-length book on the topic, Do Over Dogs, and it’s a great resource. We’d like to create an affordable booklet for rescues and shelters to hand out to adopters that hits the highlights and emphasizes what is most important. We both know already that the challenge is going to be keeping it short, but we’d still love to hear what you think should be included. The readers of this blog have a vast amount of knowledge, and what a great thing it would be to share it . . .

MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Willie and I just got back from a long walk, working our way up to the Milford Trek in New Zealand. I still can’t imagine walking 13 miles with a full pack yet, but I’m getting a tad closer anyway. We walked for about an hour, as fast as I could, with a pack about half full. That was fine, but then when I came home we trucked up the steep hill behind the house and I was, uh, tuckered. Willie worked the sheep, which involved some good, fast runs, brought the sheep down to the grass in the front yard and worked with me to keep them there, safely out of the road, and then came inside, picked up his current favorite toy and begged to play fetch. Maybe he should go to NZ and do the hiking?

Here’s one of my favorite and easiest fall recipes; I got it from some dear friends who love good food as much as I do: Cut Roma tomatoes in half, drizzle with Olive Oil and sprinkle with Basil, put in oven on 300 til soft and condensed. They should shrink to at least half their original size. It can take up to 2 hours. Use right away or freeze, they last all winter in the freezer.  I use them in pasta, (Linguini with homemade Pesto–made that too last weekend–with braised greens & melted tomatoes, yummmmm) or as a side dish, etc etc. They are like concentrated tomato-ness; I think of them as Tomato Haiku. (The green on the side is basil I added after cooking just to make the photo pretty.)

And here’s one of my favorite prairie grasses, Little Bluestem, shining in the sun in the park where Willie and I walked.


  1. Kat says

    We adopted Ranger as a year old dog that had been surrendered due to a death in his family (at least that’s what the paperwork said). He’d been given a good start as far as socialization was concerned but hadn’t been taught any manners. I would have loved some really basic starters such as where he should spend the night. He hadn’t been crate trained, we had no idea if he was an escape artist so leaving him alone outdoors didn’t seem right but neither did locking ourselves in a bedroom with an unfamiliar dog or leaving an unfamiliar dog to roam the house getting into who knew what mischief. We ended up locking him in a bathroom where he tried to dig his way to freedom. The first couple of nights weren’t too awful since he did settle after awhile but the third night was a nightmare. I ended up spending most of the night sitting in there with him just being there while he cried and panted and paced after a time (seemed like forever but I’ve no idea really) he began to calm a little bit and I dozed a little until I felt his head come up inside the loose circle of my arms. After that night things improved steadily. Now by his choice he sleeps outside in his enclosure. But now that I think of it, if we adopt another dog I still wouldn’t know where he should spend the first few nights or what to do with him if I need to be away for a couple hours. Also how to keep an unfamiliar dog occupied safely if I need to be gone for awhile. Until I know how he chews I don’t want to leave him alone with one.

  2. says

    Have reasonable expectations. New dog may not be the buddy for whom she is intended.
    Attend pet obedience class, if just for the chance to bond and spend specific time w/new dog. Learn how to properly leash walk.
    READ books and read/watch your dog. Depending on background, don’t expect too much right away – I took in a dog who we knew had been beaten. I could initially only pet her under her chin – could not touch the rest of her body at all :(. Again, watch and let the dog adapt to you unless is dangerous to do so
    Prepare – have a good fence, puppy proof your house even for an adult dog who may have never had a chance for puppyhood…SURPRISE!
    Be sure all family members are on same page re: training, rewards, etc. Consistency. If won’t buy in, they do nothing with the dog. The dog should not suffer due to an ego.
    Offer and use a crate. Leave dog alone in it – don’t bug her. It is her space.
    Thanks for asking – I could go on as I learn from my adopters all the time.

  3. Eileen Anderson says

    Perhaps this is outside the scope of your booklet, but a reminder to folks not to assume the worst when the dog’s history is unknown might be in order. We are so curious about our dogs’ past that we tend to jump to all sorts of conclusions. Every tiny quirk of behavior becomes overly meaningful and a clue to their history. The dog is startled by the sight of a wooden spoon: that must mean he was hit with one. The dog is scared of men with hats: she must have been mistreated by one. Perhaps yes, but perhaps these are merely unfamiliar things. At some point we have to accept that we can’t learn as much as we would like about a mystery dog’s past life.

  4. Kimberly says

    From my perspective as a Rescue Co-chair for our local Newfoundland club… the most problematic thing when folks bring home a new Rescue is expectations. This dog is a stranger… new adopters shouldn’t expect to “bond” with a new owner on the ride home. It takes WEEKS of negotiating new rules and routines for that “bond” to form. It also takes time for a dog to learn how to climb stairs or jump up into a truck, these aren’t things a dog is born knowing how to do. You just can’t judge this new relationship by what happens that first couple days or even the first week.

    I’d also say that to have a simple framework for coping with behaviors you don’t like is really important in the first days. Many lifetimes of struggles with entrenched behaviors can be eliminated if they are responded to appropriately the FIRST time they occur in the new household. A way to clearly communicate to a dog “That may be how you behaved in your old life, but we don’t allow that here…” can make all the difference in a placement succeeding or failing.

  5. Judi says

    I’m not sure how to express this, but it’s the idea that because the dog is from a shelter does not mean the dog has been abused and must be coddled. See the dog, not the story. The dog needs gentle, consistent treatment and clear rules and expectations far more than she needs her new person explaining away inappropriate behavior while cooing and cuddling.

    There was a time in her life when my senior Aussie would immediately leave the kitchen if I opened the oven door. Is it because I, or the person who dumped her at the humane society where I found her, shoved her in a hot oven on a regular basis? No, it was because the smoke detector was hyper-sensitive and went off every time I broiled something. I happened to be in a broiling phase for a while, so the nasty noise happened frequently. She didn’t like the noise or my frantic attempts at hitting the shutoff button, so she left the room when the precursor happened.

    Also, limit the dog’s freedom(s) at first. For example, if you have no idea if the dog is destructive when left alone, don’t give her free access to the whole house the first time you leave her alone just because she’s an adult.

  6. jennifer says

    My husband & I grew up with family dogs but are first-time dog owners. We adopted our pitbull mix Agnes in late March of 2010. She’s the best dog ever, and she is part of our family now. But, I wish I had known more about her health background (and to ask about it). The humane society where we adopted her had only found her a couple weeks prior, so I’m unsure what they knew. I was expecting challenges in the behavioral realm, but I hadn’t considered the energy and expense we’d invest in her health. Turns out she had been spayed while in heat (she’s about 1 year old) at the shelter. That apparently threw her whole immune system off. She also has sensitive skin and allergies to everything: flea bites, environment, possibly food. Her digestive system became sensitive as well. We’ve spent hundreds of dollars at the vet and on different foods and meds. I think we’re at the vet’s a couple times a month.

    Some of her behavioral challenges include: learning to walk nicely on leash; impulse control on walks (squirrels and cats are big triggers); managing and minimizing her scavenging habit while on walks (she has a penchance for eating cat poop, which is everywhere in our neighborhood); learning to play more politely with other dogs; using a softer mouth (for that matter, no mouth) on the humans; finding ways to let her get out her extra puppy energy.

    Now for all the positives about her: She’s absolutely unaggressive, loves all humans, loves meeting dogs, loves going to the vet’s office, loves riding in the car, picks up quickly on training, has been getting less reactive with other dogs on the walk, doesn’t guard her resources (or is willing to trade), wags so hard she gets helicopter tail, and is generally a fearless, happy, social girl.

  7. Annie R says

    Hi, Trisha, what a great topic for a booklet! The main points I like to know in adopting older dogs, which I’ve done several times in the last dozen years, are mostly behavioral. Housebreaking & fenced-yard history, whether they can be left in the house while I work, etc. Are they chewers, what are their exercise needs, do they get along with other dogs, are they “assertive” or “shy” in general. If a shelter has the impression that a dog has separation anxiety and won’t do well with a single person who goes away to work all day most days, it’s terrific to make that known.

    The two dogs I had to return into rescue both had problems living with/sharing human attention with the dogs I already had. This is a deal-breaker for so many adopters; how many folks would ever consider rehoming the dog(s) they already have? So the poor adoptee can get stuck moving on again if they can’t get along. This is very important; if a dog has always had a person to himself — yikes. No one wants to have to make a decision that may make the dog homeless again and with a bad mark against him. One of my local shelters has many dogs they say have to be an only dog, and it makes me sad that they can’t be on my list, but at least they are being realistic.

    The other thing is, what kind of environment do they do well in (or not)? One of the above dogs suffered terribly in my fairly urban neighborhood as nearby sounds/noise made him very nervous and barky; he was terrified when walking and a truck or work van rumbled by, and this made him even more uptight around the (very gentle) dog I already had, whom he was very competitive with; the tension grew over 2-3 months, and when he finally attacked Cody and drew blood, I had to make the decision to return him to his rescue organization. I really think it was at least partially due to pent-up tension from his fear of noise nearby.

    It also amazes me when organizations on Petfinder don’t put in dogs’ ages and weights in the basic description; especially the smaller more rural shelters. I’m not going to drive 40+ miles to see a dog if I don’t have some pretty good idea that they are in fact what I’m looking for. Oh, and one more thing; it’s good to know if they have had their name for long, or if the shelter named them recently. It helps one set up more success in training to know whether the dog really knows their name or not.

    What I am not worried about: what they’ve been eating (I’m putting them on what I like to use unless they have known allergies or problems); whether they’ve had training on formal “commands” (I will find out quickly enough if they have, and I’m going to work with them in my own way anyway), and whether they like to sleep on a bed or the furniture (I don’t mind either way). But maybe I’m the exception about those things!

  8. Frances says

    I have not had a great deal of experience with rescue dogs, but I think that – particularly following recent discussions on this site – it could help many new owners to know which behaviours are likely to respond to treatment, and which are likely to need lifelong management. And also a reiteration that dogs do not have the same needs and temperament just because they are of the same breed. I have known several people who had a quiet, gentle, well trained border collie for their first dog, and a hell of a shock with their second (especially those who failed to take into account that they themselves now older and less able to walk for miles).

    Oh, slow cooked tomatoes put away for the winter! I can almost taste them from your photo. We used to make them with the glut from my father’s greenhouse … brings back many happy memories.

  9. Heidi Meinzer says

    I’m not a trainer, just a person who really wanted to rescue a Shepherd or Shepherd mix, and who has lived with dogs almost all my life. In looking back at having tried to adopt Sye, a dog with horrible fear based aggression towards men, and then getting my Sophie, the things that stoood out to me were: (1) careful introductions; (2) crate/potty training; (3) how to keep the dog occupied during the day; and (4) obedience training, particularly when to get private lessons and when to use group lessons. Had I not known about the 4th (training options), I would not have been able to understand and get through the first three things! Fortunately, I adopted Sye from a great shelter that carefully explained things to us and turned us on to a great private trainer who walked us through things like introductions to our current dog, crate training and the magic of stuffed kongs. People also need to realize the vast time commitment involved. At the local shelter where I work, it is heartbreaking to see dogs get adopted, and then returned right away because people just didn’t understand the commitment they needed to put into the dog. Thank you for tackling this topic! It’s a great idea to have something concise to give to all adopters.

  10. Michelle says

    A couple of things off the top of my sleepy head this morning:

    (1) It’s okay to change the dog’s name. Really. Even if they know their old one, there’s really no reason to continue calling the dog Killa or Mary Jane or Gretchen (what if your Mom’s name is Gretchen?) if you don’t want to or aren’t comfortable with it. Just be consistent, pair the new name consistently with the best of rewards, and they will likely embrace the it in no time.

    (2) Assume the dog knows nothing until proven otherwise. Don’t expect lovely sits and perfect recalls…if it turns out he knows these, great! Reward heavily and count your blessings. But be prepared and don’t take unnecessary risks in the meantime.

    (3) Of course the whole emphasis on…no matter the age and training background of the dog, treat him/he like a new puppy until you get a feel for how the adjustment is going, especially
    – Tightly controlled access areas and frequent potty breaks until you are sure outside is firmly embraced as the potty area.
    – Crate training when unsupervised (unless there’s a strong reason not to…I took in a dog who clearly had severe crate issues so he was uncrated except for desensitization sessions)
    -Extreme puppy proofing, since you are making the house safe for a dog who potentially has a puppy’s lack of understanding of human rules, but with far more potential for harm in terms of physical ability, attention span, etc.

    (4) Don’t take your brand new rescue to the dog park. Really. I see it way too often and most of the time it’s scary. Form a relationship with your dog first…get a strong recall, get a first-hand idea what he is like around known safe dogs, etc. Then decide whether you have a dog park dog.

    (5) Keep training sessions short…short enough that the dog wants to keep training when you quit. And if you feel yourself getting frustrated, just walk away and train another time.

    (6) Maybe a short section on introducing the new pet to existing pets and children? Basically the big do’s/don’ts.

    That’s all that comes to mind this morning…good luck keeping this baby short!

  11. Sue says

    Two things gleaned from many adoptions are that the dog may be depressed due to recent life changes and may take some bonding time and that the dog’s behavior and personality in any case will likely be somewhat guarded/muted/subdued until the dog develops a sense of trust in the new situation. I’ve seen many dogs’ little personality quirks emerge over varied periods of time. The depression (only way for me to describe it) may be seen in seeming preoccupation, lack of interest etc. This is a recent observation in my close to 50 years of adopting/taking in. The behavior and personality changes are more consistent in my experience and of course varies with the dog and the dynamics present in your home. Even the dog that I recall as the most adaptable–immediate bonding on a field walk between my sweet female Lab (spayed, alpha type) and this amiable neutered male Lab/Akita–even he blossomed in our home as his confidence in us grew.

  12. Jennifer says

    For myself the biggest thing I needed to know was that any behavioral issues can take a long time to change and need patience, just like people trying to change a bad habit. I think it took about a year with my last rescue for her to not hide behind my legs at the sight of small dogs (she was a Belgian). Looking back at the end of the year made if obvious how far we’d come, but it felt like there were no changes when you struggle day-to-day. She had less issues than most and ended up being my soul dog, but if she’d had any trickier behaviors I would definitely want to be directed to consult a good trainer for help.

  13. Jessica Hekman says

    When I adopted Jack, what I had gleaned from lots of reading (and was really glad I knew) was a timeline.

    First 2 days: will be REALLY hard. Dog will be stressed. Dog does not know you are his new best friend.

    First 10 days: grace period during which dog doesn’t know if you are going to eat him and tries to be on his best behavior. Around day 11 or so he may relax and some bad manners may come out. (I read this a few places and I seem to remember it was the case for Jack, although hard now to imagine him ever being unmannerly!)

    Dog will really feel like your dog after about six months. I forget where I read this. This is probably hugely varied for different people! For me it was really true, probably because he was my first dog. It took us this long to learn each other’s routines. At that point he started really getting how things worked and it felt like he fit into my life perfectly. I loved him before that, of course, but things weren’t as smooth until we had a chance to really internalize each other’s rhythms.

    We make a tomato dish like yours, eat it with bread & goat’s cheese, and call it “Tomato Deliciousness.”

    Great idea for the pamphlet, good luck with it!

  14. brandy says

    The one thing that I wasn’t prepared for when I brought home my two 3-year-old basset rescues was having to do house training basically from scratch. I’d heard that dogs can have some issues going to a new home, but I figured it would take a few days or a week or so, and then they’d remember everything and be fine. It probably didn’t help that they were moving from having a yard to living in a condo and only getting out on walks – plus I now suspect that they may have spent most of their lives as outdoor-only dogs, and not really ever had to get housetraining down pat in the first place. It didn’t help that my boy has a weak bladder and has to go out every two hours, which I wasn’t expecting at all. I thought I’d be able to take them out three times a day and be fine!

    I honestly nearly gave up in the first few weeks because I was so unprepared for that, but once I started going back to potty training 101, things started getting better. Lots of crating, lots of rewards every time they did things outside. Keeping them out of the spots where they were most likely to go inside, keeping Fred where I could see him when he backslid. It actually took a very long time – well over a year – before they could be trusted in the house for more than two hours without pooping inside, but now, over three years after I got them, they’re actually very good. Fred rarely pees inside, even with his weak bladder, and the only inside poops are when they have diarrhea and don’t make it outside. I just wish I’d realized that I was going to have to go back to basics – I think if I’d started that from Day 1 things would have been much smoother!

  15. says

    I would want to know about how stress may affect a dog coming from a shelter, or coming into a new environment.

    I would want to know what the “top ten” issues that shelter and rescue dog might have, where one dog may have none and another may have all of them. Like resource guarding, chewing, barking, bad leash manners, etc.
    Things that people find are essential that many dogs never had the chance to learn yet.

    And I’d like to see a booklet highlighting the special aspects of adopting senior dogs, how when compared to the 8 month old adolescent dog – the senior dog may actually present an easier experience for the first time or less experienced dog owner.

  16. s says

    This is a wonderful idea! First, I’d say frame expectations, and then some preparatory steps for folks to take…crate, structure, etc. things to do and not to do…I see folks taking their little kids and other dogs to the rescue truck – is that even safe? how many dogs should your new dog come into contact with (one of my rescues had ghardia -spelling – but fortunately we had limited his exposure with other dogs so I had few folks to contact for risk besides the foster family who had a dog). how soon to start obedience classes or go to a dog park – and even some evaluation of what dogs can even tolerate a dog park.

    how to best utilize the grace period – we should have left our dog more often the first couple weeks to uncover his SA – would I have returned him? probably based on the amount of destruction and the headaches ahead of us, but hindsight is 20/20.

    basic behaviors to start from the very beginning – nothing in life is free – waiting for food, start with the VERY basics like sit, down, leave it, off and what order should they be done in – down is really tough. stay takes a LOT of work and its tiny steps. lots of the rescues have NO basics either bc they had little socialization or the family they came from spent no time training. just tiny little basics build the relationship and establish routine.

    exercise – walk walk walk! and small things should be discussed with vet – the dog we fostered leaked urine – I called vet thinking UTI and come to find out, she just needed a simple, inexpensive med to control her weakness – it wasn’t a housebreaking issue or an infection. as a non dog professional, I had no idea and could just see her being returned for housebreaking problems!

    list of resources and good books for non puppy owners – my vet was excellent at providing resources but how wonderful to have a good list to work with

  17. says

    A thought regarding some of the comments about not getting overly obsessed about a rescues background. I love Judy’s thought, “See the dog, not the story.” And Eileen’s reminder not to assume the worst is sage advice also. So I guess I I agree in principle. Current circumstances can be managed and adjusted but what happened in the past can never be known and can’t be changed, so there is little reason to be overly worried about it.

    That said, two weeks ago I worked through a rescue to bring home a nine week old CKCS puppy from a puppy mill in Missouri. Am I worried about his genetics and almost total lack of human socialization in the first eight weeks of his life? Of course. (I would hardly be be without worrying about it;)) Am I consumed that his being from a puppy mill has traumatized him for life? Not at all. He is young and smart as a whip, very confident so far, he will adjust. Often I think they adjust better than us!

    Are there area’s that I can see that background affecting him? Absolutely. Potty training is proving very difficult. Remembering that he spent eight weeks in a small crate with litter mates helps me understand why it would be difficult for him to grasp the “inside pottying not good/outside pottying wonderful” concept. Also he is young and I know house training takes a while, and takes patience.

    So in that case, not being obsessed about the “trauma” he has gone through yet still considering his background helps me understand him and be balanced. Very thought provoking sunject! Thanks!

  18. Jenny says

    What an excellent idea for a booklet. When I worked at an animal shelter, it seemed like we spent a good deal of time trying to impress upon the owners what to expect in the first 24 hours, then the first week or so. People do expect their new dog to be immediately grateful and loyal, and to fit into their routine. It is important that they understand that the dog will need patience and consistency in order to feel comfortable and learn. We wanted the new owners to establish a routine with their new dog that they could see themselves doing a year from now. If you won’t want your dog on the furniture long term, don’t let them sleep on the couch their first week home because you feel bad. In fact, don’t feel bad for your dog at all, no matter what history it may have. We always recommended taking an obedience class, even if the dog knows some commands. Nothing builds a bond faster than working together and creating a clear means of communication. If at all possible, don’t bring your new dog home late in the day, knowing you are working 8 hrs the next morning. Adopting a dog is a big decision, and it is important to have a support system ready when the new dog arrives. Get the house ready, set up a crate or a room for the new dog, and buy supplies. This is especially important if you already have a dog, as you don’t want to leave them in a room together all day and hope they get along after all. Also, expect to get less sleep- we’ve had many dogs returned to the shelter the day after adoption because they cried all night, and clearly don’t want to live there. My recently adopted dog, Skye, took a good 2 months to finally settle down and feel comfortable in her new life. It’s a big adjustment, but one that is completely worth while. Can’t wait to buy the new booklet, good luck!

  19. Donna in VA says

    I adopted Max 5 years ago. The shelter did a home visit that was really helpful. Some guidelines I would include: 1) Start with a few areas of the house for free access, but not isolated from everyone/everything. In our case, it was the kitchen with the entrance blocked by a coffee table turned on its side – he could see over but not leave. At night, he was leashed to my bedframe with his own bed on the floor next to me. Free to move but not wander. 2) figure out the ground rules ahead of time so everyone can be consistent from the beginning – walk and feeding times, furniture, treats, corrections. 3) be prepared to spend a lot of time the first few days – a 4-day weekend would be great. You cannot go off to work on the 2nd day and leave the dog alone at home all day. Set up the routine in the first few days and stick to it. 4) I would love to see instructions for giving the dog a cursory physical exam – eyes, ears, tail, teeth, paws. I did not realize Max had a crooked paw for a couple of months – reason unknown. I had never looked in his ears before the first vet visit. Fortunately the rest was fine. If the dog is going to be sensitive on some areas, best for the owner to know and get advice for desensitizing as soon as possible. I also wished for this when Max was attacked by a strange dog last week. Owner needs a systematic method for going over the entire dog to check for injury or problems and to know if the dog is going to object to this handling.

  20. R.D.L. says

    One of the things I wish everyone adopting a dog from our shelter would do or not do is allow the dog some time to decompress at home before inviting a crowd over or taking the dog to busy venues. We have a busy and noisy shelter and there is a lot of chaos due to the inadequacy of our building. At least one dog adopted from us was stressed but adopted by supposedly experienced people who unwittingly took the dog to a fair or something then expressed surprise that the dog didn’t do well.

    I would like something that told people how to handle the dog-to-dog interactions in the home. We do meet-and-greets before the dogs go home, but, as we all know, dogs don’t perceive that the same way as the home environment. And this makes me think about how starry-eyed some people are and how I think they don’t hear everything they are told as they are loading up their new dog into their cars. We used to give people a huge packet of information but I don’t remember it being adequate at all. People need more information on how to manage their new dog with their old dogs.

    Our return rate is less than 10% but the #1 behavior we hear about, besides not getting along with another dog, is separation anxiety with destructiveness. Explanations of this and how it isn’t some kind of retribution for being left alone would be handy for an adoption booklet.

  21. Jen Gibson says

    GREAT idea! Gives more dogs more chances to find forever homes! Yay!

    I’d want to know how long until the dog is really settled? Can you even pinpoint it? What are some signs he/she is settled or signs he/she is NOT settled? How do you introduce a new member to your pack, especially when it’s a rescue? How do you make sure your pack feels safe? How do you make sure the rescue feels safe? Do you keep them separated at first? How do you know when they’re ready to mingle when you’re not at home? What if it’s not working? Do you take the dog back? Are there special considerations when dealing with an adult dog and trying to expose it to all things: other animals, new situations, new people, kids, new noises, etc.? Are they different than when you’re doing the same with your new puppy? What if they show signs of previous abuse? What if the mild mannered rescue turns into super-dog with way more energy than you expected or can handle, or worse, turns into evil-mutt? :)

    Just a few questions, some repeated, I’m sure. Good luck!

  22. says

    Another booklet I would like to have has to do with puppy temperament training.

    I.E. bite inhibition, resource guarding prevention and handling exercises.

    Please do one – I will order it by the caseloads as a puppy class handout.

    Janet Smith
    Good Dog! Training
    Okemos, MI

  23. Alison says

    Six months ago, I adopted a 2 year old Border Collie (my first) from a rescue group. I had done my research, spent hours talking to her foster mom (I had specific requirements of a new dog and my girl’s foster mom was great at helping make sure I brought home the right dog that was a good match for our household). One of the things that would have been helpful to know was how long it can take a dog to fully settle in. I didn’t expect Meg to fit in right away, but after about 6 weeks, I thought she was settled and ready to take on new challenges. Looking back, I think I may have rushed things a bit. Our trainer said it takes an average of 4 months before the dog really settles in and trusts their people and sees their new environment as ‘home’. That seems about right from what I saw with Meg.

  24. Alexandra says

    With my rescue Izzy the biggest thing that I wish I’d known is: Don’t discount fear/lack of experience as a reason for weird or “bad” behavior. Case in point, our second day with us Izzy barked hysterically at half the phone jacks in the house. I can only assume they make some kind of ultrasonic noise and she’d never actually been in a house before. A section on how to encourage a large, adult dog to go down stairs when you know she has to pee and somehow had no problem going UP the stairs is another similar item! Izzy also backed out of a collar and bolted down the street the first time I run a doorbell and a person suddenly opened the door. It never even occurred to me that that would be a terrifying experience… inretrospect, I’m sure I missed some red flags about her level of anxiety and shyness, and a booklet identifying signs to watch for and stress behaviors would help a new, relatively inexperienced dog adopter.

  25. Marcy G. says

    Many of the posters have already made my comments. I just want to support Judy and Michelle’s posts. I don’t know how many people have come to me and said their dog was abused, when the dog may not have been socialized instead.
    Also, I actually recommend changing the name. You don’t know what associations the dog has with his/her old name. Great posts, I can’t wait to read the booklet.

  26. Michele says

    The NYC shelter where I adopted my pit bull mix (who is my “one in a million dog” and an absolute joy) hands out a small photocopied flyer with general information for adopters.
    The part that I loved and kept repeating to myself during those first few weeks of learning about my dog’s personality was something like: “You cannot ‘make up’ for your dog’s past experiences.”
    Also, the flyer made the point that adjusting (or readjusting) to home life after living in a shelter is enough excitement; don’t throw a whole bunch of new people and experiences at him or her in those early days, as if you are afraid of being boring.

    Patricia, I love your books and your blog — you’ve helped me and Lucy so much!

  27. Kathy says

    Thank you in advance for writing this booklet! It will be much appreciated by rescue groups and new adopters.
    My suggestion is to encourage new owners to let go of their rescued dog

  28. Beth says

    Love the little bluestem, and I have some clumps of it planted in my large landscaped hillside.

    As far as adopting dogs, I ditto the caution that not every fear-response is a sign of abuse. My male Corgi is distressed by high-pitched sounds. Because bacon set off the smoke detectors several times, he went through a phase where he’d bolt from the room and run upstairs to hide whenever we turned on the stove exhaust fan. We also have a fridge that beeps if the door is open too long, and he will get distressed and start jumping on us, then run upstairs if we spend too long standing in front of the fridge (smart dog, because opening the fridge door does not upset him, but LEAVING it open does).

    He also does not tolerate raised voices and will look nervous and start jumping if humans argue, even calmly. This dog was raised with 99.99 percent positive training, and his strongest correction ever was to be held by the collar for a couple seconds and scolded briefly in a stern voice. Yet the nervous behaviors listed above might make a new owner think he’d had bad experiences with shouting or fridges or, er, exhaust fans.

    I also “adopted” a rehomed adult Corgi who was a retired show-dog and had one litter before we got her. We knew a TON about her when we brought her home from a lovely breeder. I think this gets more into the heart of your question of what people need to know, and I will say this:

    It took a solid two months for her “real” personality to show through. When we brought her home, she seemed terrified of big dogs on walks (would hide behind us, in fact). This did not match the description we were given. I called the breeder, who said she can’t recall a single instance of this dog being afraid of big dogs in the past. Sure enough, as she fit in and gained confidence with her new “pack”, her fear disappeared, though she doesn’t like to be crowded on leash and can sometimes be a tiny bit snarky if another dog looms over her.

    She also acted like she didn’t know how to play with another dog, which again turned out not to be true and the issue resolved itself once she got comfortable.

    This dog was a house dog who was with the same owner from birth through the age of four. She did not seem terribly upset with moving homes (she ate, had normal potty habits, was not destructive, and bonded with us instantly). However, it took her a little while to relax enough around our other dog and strange dogs to want to play or interact with them.

    I think the worst thing we could have done was hauled her off to lots of classes and tried to “fix” a problem that was not really a problem at all, but merely an adjustment period. This would have added more stress. Think how long it takes us to feel comfortable in a new home, a new job, a new neighborhood.

    I think that owners of rescue dogs need to realize that they are not quite so quick to adapt as puppies and just give the dog a month or so of calm, steady routine with no big expectations before starting to really assess what they have and what work might need to be done. We were in a slightly unusual situation in that we knew huge amounts about the dog’s background. She exhibited some behaviors early that would have led us to different conclusions if we did not already know so much about her. And as I said, these early quirks pretty much resolved on their own as soon as she felt comfortable and confident of her place.

  29. JJ says

    I wanted to know: how do you know when it is time to start obedience classes. Obviously it is not the next day after bringing the dog home. And it probably depends on the dog and situation. What are the factors to consider?

    If you find yourself with a dog who knows absolutely nothing about living with a human (not even “sit”), how do you pick the 2 or 3 vital things to teach him when everything seems vital? You just can’t have a 135 pound dog without manners. He’s no longer a puppy. How to prioritize?

    Like a previous poster, I wanted to know what to do with my dog the first few nights. I still suffer from tremendous guilt over what I did with Duke on his first few nights with me. I had read about confining a new dog to very few places in the house when he/she first comes to visit. So, the first night, I put Duke in a small mud room (with plenty of water, bedding and toys). There was a terrible thunderstorm that night and because the room was on the far side of the house, I didn’t hear anything (like crying). I opened the door the next morning and Duke looked like he had been through hell. A terrible trauma. For one thing, animal control had given Duke to me the day after his neuter surgery. Over the night with me, he had chewed off the stitches.

    The next few nights I kept Duke in a bathroom right next to my bedroom. He literally cried the entire night for several nights. He is an incredibly sensitive soul with (as it turns out) mild barrier anxiety. The first day that I let Duke sleep at the foot of my bed, all was well. No more trauma. No house destruction. No “dominance” issues. All was really great. I wish I had read somewhere that it is OK to *not* confine your dog if it seems warranted. I was just trying to do what is right. Now I know that dogs are different and to follow my instincts. At the time, I was a brand new owner and didn’t know what to do.

  30. Jane says

    I agree wholeheartedly with one comment above that the new dog not be coddled, but receive gentle consistent training from the start. They need to fit into YOUR life–slowly and patiently, of course. With my own dogs, adopted as adults, I almost felt at the start as if I needed to fully respect who they were already and had a hard time setting any limits. It was almost as if they were human houseguests and I was afraid to make their stay unpleasant by making house rules! It was partly a sentiment born of the idea that they had had a rough life, and I wanted now to make them happy. But we all know dogs are happier when they know what to expect, and have some boundaries put in place.

    I also remember well a statement (paraphrased) from Turid Rugaas, that you need to take the time to develop a relationship with a dog before you can expect big things from your training of that dog. This can’t be rushed, and yet the tendency with adopters is to want great behavior after a few sessions practicing in the living room. It may take several months before you and your new dog understand each other to the point that the training really starts to click.

  31. deborah ryan says

    Hi Trisha,

    Great topic, and so near and dear to my heart! Having worked in a shelter environment for the last seven years the most important thing I will coach new adopters is to have Patience, lots of patience. Give the bonding process time to happen, the dog has so much to learn in his new environment, and adopters have much to learn about the dogs particular quirks ect. Be consistent, gentle and positive in teaching the new dog the rules,but please do not overwhelm him with great expectations– give him time to decompress and learn to be comfortable in his new surroundings– some dogs can take months to be totally trusting of their new people.

    I usually recomend classes for the whole family to participate in with the new dog, using crate time for happy quiet time is a good thing,

    Always Always supervise when the new dog and children are together,-teaching children appropriate behavior when interacting with dogs is so important, I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have seen potential adopters simply expect that the dog will do nothing as their child is trying to hug and tug at the dog….

    the tomatoes look absolutely yummy!

  32. Lyn says

    I can’t wait for publication! I would love a book on the basics. Basic housebreaking; basic crate training; basic puppy proofing; basic commands; basic caveats about existing pet introductions, dog parks, pet stores; some basic healthcare, such as vaccine schedules and what should be in a canine first aid kit; and certainly references to other publications with more detailed instructions on all of the above. Please emphasize that bringing home an adult dog doesn’t change the rules. They must be treated the same as you would a puppy until you know what they know. A short discussion on the behavioral differences between a dog from the shelter and a dog from a foster home would be great. I spend hours on the phone with potential adopters about all these things, and it would be so great to have a reference from the experts to give so they don’t forget everything!

  33. Pike says

    Oh dear, that brings back so many memories…

    Street dog Megan, the hound mix who managed to escape house (yes, she could open windows) and fenced yard for years to cruise through the neighborhood in the San Francisco Bay Area while I was at work. It finally stopped – for the most part – when I bought my own house so I could have an 8 ft. fence and a second dog to keep her company.

    Enter Portuguese Water Dog Sparky, a shelter dog who was so afraid of men and bit a guest the second day with me. How frustrated I got when I would take him places telling men to please NOT touch him – and, of course, they did anyhow. Sparky now loves all people but it was years later – when reading your book “The Other End Of the Leash” that I finally understood that all those folks were just being primates that couldn’t help themselves because Sparky looks so very cute and cuddly.

    And now, Beahound Ronja – also from a rescue – with her reactivity towards dogs and children and her very primal houndness…

    Anyhow, to answer your question: For me, the two most important aspects of a booklet about living with a shelter dog would be philosophical rather than technical:

    a) Don’t dwell on mistakes but be very forgiving towards the dog and yourself
    b) keep a good sense of humor.

    It will take time – but most everything can be tackled successfully with forgiveness and laughter.

    I can’t wait to see your booklet!

  34. says

    The best three pieces of advice I got for a new dog in the household was to
    – take a vacation day or two next to a weekend, so you have time to spend with the dog
    – tie the dog to your waist by a 6 foot leash, and just go about your daily routine without paying much special attention to the dog. It lets them learn your routine without demanding anything of them other than that they have to follow you around.
    – crate train, and start slowly but right away

    I, too, would have liked to know how to decide what to do with the dog on our first night together. I ended up letting my new dog sleep wherever she wanted in my bedroom, but with the door closed so she couldn’t wander. I knew she was already well potty trained, so I didn’t worry about that. It worked out fine

  35. Amy says

    When we adopted our dog, I could have used some advice on house training a dog who didn’t want to be outside. I would walk her on a leash around the house, and each time we passed either the side door or the front door, she would pull me desperately trying to get back inside. I tried taking her to a potty spot in the yard, and couldn’t get that to work either. It took her a while to gain enough confidence to be outside without fear, even though she was never out there alone.

    Next biggest needed advice would be crate training. Our dog hated the crate. We had her sleep in it at night and she would do that manic running around thing when I let her out in the morning. The one time I left her in the crate when I left the house for a period of time, she defecated in it and broke out. We tried to confine her to the kitchen instead (big area with glass door to look outside, tile floor in case of accidents), but she jumped the baby gate. Luckily, other than the house training issue, she was a trustworthy dog and we were able to just leave her out in the house.

    The third thing is it would have been nice to have direction in how to pick a training class. I foolishly went to one recommended by my husband’s relatives (who, looking back now, don’t seem to have particularly good control of their dogs) and it turned out to be more of a preparation for obedience competitions than one that taught me how to train my dog. I really needed help because my dog and I had not yet formed a bond (she’s a hound mix and very independent), and I had no idea how to keep her attention and shape her behavior. The class was a waste of money and a frustrating experience.

    Best of luck on this project!

  36. says

    I am so happy to hear you are putting together a booklet! I work at a shelter and counsel many prospective adoptors as well as have my own training buisness. I was just thinking out loud to a co worker how great it would be to pass out your other booklets (leadership,housebreaking, leash reactivity, seperation anxiety etc) to new adoptors! Patrons are so emotional when they adopt a pet, I always try to stress that some dogs go through a ‘honeymoon’period and that they may not see their new family members true personality until weeks after they go home. I cant stress managment pulling harnesses, crates,tethers, baby gates…not allowing too much freedom at once. Basic leadership stuff. Dogs are generally returned because it isnt a good fit…usually becasue the dog has too much energy for the family, so maybe touching how to work on arousal. Also housebreaking and crate training!! I am trying to start a crate training boot camp with our shelter dogs so that they already leave familiar with a crate. Thank you again..I cant wait for the booklet…our shelter needs this!!

  37. Susan says

    What a wonderful and helpful idea! Today is our second anniversary of rescuing Oscar. Most of my thoughts are repeats by now, but here goes:
    1. It may take a while for the dog to fully be himself/herself. The dog may not know this is the last stop, as many have transports, quarantines or foster homes along the way and depending upon the state’s rules.
    2. I would also note the importance of socializing and tips on how to do it. The checklists I have seen were almost exactly the items Oscar struggled with at first (as a one-year-old). Seeing them sooner would have been awesome!
    3. Don’t get a dog on a Saturday and go to work on a Monday. This goes for any new dog owner. If it’s unavoidable, find someone to visit or *something.*
    4. Be prepared for an upset stomach. If possible or if known, try to transition the dog with the food it has been receiving. Regardless of the situation, they are under stress to be in a new place, and some dogs may display evidence of it. This may also compound the initial house training.

    I look forward to seeing the finished product.

    P.S. I do the same with my tomatoes and love pulling out a jar from the freezer in the middle of winter. :)

  38. em says

    All of my dogs have been shelter treasures and I would agree with many of the comments above about not second guessing the past, expecting too much, or stressing your new dog too heavily. I’d also say:

    Remember that the more things that you are working on at a time, the longer it will take to accomplish them all. If you are starting training and housbreaking from scratch, the first few weeks will be very hard as your new dog struggles to assimilate lots of new information. Keep your expectations consistent, and be patient. Often times dogs are absorbing information about house rules and behavioral boundaries even as they seem to be paying no attention to you at all.

    Adjusting to a new home is mentally and emotionally challenging, and many dogs struggle to learn new information when overstimulated. Keep your new dog’s activities and environment as calm as possible during the first few weeks: avoid rough, boisterous, and highly stimulating play like wrestling, tug, or chase games. If your new dog is also learning leash manners, bear in mind that walks may not be a relaxing experience for either one of you. If at all possible, mix leash sessions with quiet outdoor activities off-leash (in secure enclosures) to allow you dog to decompress and become more comfortable in your company. Even just walking around a fenced backyard together can be a bonding opportunity.

    Create target areas for rest everywhere in the house that the dog will be spending time. It is much easier to teach a dog to lie down and wait on a bed or a rug while you eat dinner or work in the kitchen than simply to ‘go away’. For that matter, remember that it is much easier to teach a dog what you WANT than what you don’t. Not only does establishing a ‘resting place’ make teaching house rules easier, it helps a new dog transition into your household routine by providing a default behavior for a dog unsure about what to do in a new environment.

    Watch you dog closely as you establish boundaries and begin training. Not all dogs will respond in the same ways. While patience and persistence are necessary to break bad habits and establish good ones, don’t keep bashing away with a method that is not working, even if you have used it successfully in the past. If your dog is showing signs of confusion, anxiety, or distress during training, stop, re-evaluate your expectations, and find a different approach.

    Enroll in an obedience class, but choose carefully. The wrong environment or approach can do more harm than good. Not all professionals are equally well-suited to work with a particular dog, and no dog benefits from a class in which their owner is unhappy or unsure. Find a class in which you and your dog are both comfortable.

    Don’t let the work and worry get the best of you. Enjoy your dog. Celebrate his or her good qualities, encourage any hint of good behavior and don’t take setbacks to heart.

  39. Eliz says

    I’m so excited! I think this so necessary. I give out your puppy primer as a new puppy gift, but was disappointed that there wasn’t one to give out to all my friends adopting dogs.

    When I adopted my dog I think there were a few key pointers that really made a difference. Knowing that having the dog fit into your home isn’t instantaneous and that it is normal for it to take a variable amount of time and work this is probably common sense but its nice to have validated.

    As for specifics, personally what really helped my dog adjust was at first keeping the basics on a strict routine, eat at specific times, walk at this time, sleep at this time, wake up at this time, and keeping that strict routine 7 days a week.

    What would have really helped me, is a specific plan. Or maybe two specific plans. What to do those first hours and then the following weeks. For the first few hours having some pointers on introducing him or her to your house, what training to start the moment she or he gets into the door and how to do it, how to deal with the stress and nerviness of your new dog. Then a plan for the following weeks – maybe covering one or two common specific problems, barking, food guarding, pulling on the leash, potty training.

    Some pieces of advice I was given that seemed to help me was not to smother the new dog, instead giving him or her time to soak in their new environment; not to take any good behavior for granted, instead rewarding simple things like laying down on a dog bed, peeing outside; and finally it was suggested that I start alone training right away.

    I guess I could just summarize that I’m looking for in a booklet to get at is a simple plan with several clear concise key steps to help make that transition as smooth as possible for the dog and his new family in order to set them up for success. (Okay, maybe I want two booklets, one for bringing the dog home and one for once she or he is there.)

  40. says

    What an education just reading the comments! LOVE the link to nhpbr. Their information really helped me adjust a Coonhound to a pack environment. The time to adjust, the lowered expectations, the don’t think everyone was abused – thanks, thanks. So looking forward to the booklet, er, perhaps book….

  41. Jeanne M says

    Well I thought about what I would say about Gris-Gris who is the dog you are describing.
    So here goes:
    1) Just because a dog is an old, arthritic, with rotten teeth, heartworm, and stinky breathed stray it doesn’t mean he can’t be trained. Gris-boy is house broken and I trained him to sit and come to the call of his squeaky ( I had to figure a way to stop him from acting like Son of Rambo when he saw strange dogs) So you can teach an old dog new tricks you just have to find his motivator.
    2) Just because a dog is an old, arthritic, with rotten teeth, heartworm, and stinky breathed stray it doesn’t mean he won’t be affectionate or bond with you like a puppy. Gris-Gris follows me pretty much everywhere with a goofy grin on his face and when he, Eva, and I are on the couch together he is the one plastered against me.

    The scariest thing for me is knowing he won’t be able to stay with me as long as a younger dog so I thank him every day for coming to live with me. Which brings me to number 3.

    3) Just because a dog is an old, arthritic, with rotten teeth, heartworm, and stinky breathed stray it doesn’t mean he won’t be a positive addition to your family. Rescuing a dog in need is by far a more rewarding experience than raising a cute cuddlebug of a puppy, in my opinion because you are truly saving a life.

  42. Laura Anne says

    My experiences have been so varied with my different dogs, I would like to have a “bullet” list of behaviors that one can expect when a dog comes into a new home(positive and negative) and what to look for regarding interactions with the established dogs in the house.

  43. mungobrick says

    How about links to useful websites? You’ve probably thought of that already, but things like – if your dog seems anxious, or if your dog seems hyper, or if your adult dog isn’t housetrained, here’s a useful site – the web has just about everything and it would certainly save space in your booklet, since you can’t deal with every possibility without writing an encyclopedia.

    I agree about the assumptions – I hate that people assume Daisy has been abused (or worse, perhaps that WE are abusing her) because she’s overwhelmed in some situations (so cringes behind me) and is very shy genetically. I know she’s never been abused, but if I adopted her at her current age I might wonder…and it wouldn’t matter much in the end why she behaves as she does, what matters is how we handle it.

    Thank you SO MUCH for the recipe. We had a bumper crop of tomatoes this year and I’ve made so much tomato sauce I’m ready to brain my poor husband when he comes inside with yet ANOTHER batch of Romas…Here’s me praying for frost, how awful.

  44. says

    What a great topic for a booklet, wow so many things already mentioned but here are some:

    It would be good to outline some ideas about changes that might occur after the “honeymoon” phase is over – i.e. dog has been great the first two weeks, but uh oh, week three and he’s guarding his toys and bed – what do I do? …

    Also, ideas on how to introduce the new dog to children would be very very helpful. Just some bullet points like, what should I do if the dog initially growls at the baby, how do I handle that?

    How to introduce dogs to cats – most shelters haven’t a clue about how to advise potential adopters and there really isn’t that much info out there. I’m sorry, but I have a soft spot for the kitties and far too often I think adopters take the stance, “Oh the cat will get used to it” and then kitty ends up terrorized for the rest of her life or living in the basement. Furthermore, if this info was more readily available, maybe people w/dogs would adopt a cat esp. if they knew what to expect and how to handle a multi-species household.

    Explaination on the types of aggression would be nice too – just basic, wouldn’t want to scare people, but let them know that they can expect that a dog might bark when someone comes to the door or potentially growl – this way, they don’t freak when it happens.

    I was brought up that a dog should never ever growl….so naturally when this first happened, I thought, “oh my god, my dog is aggressive, what’s going on ??” Some explanation about canine communication and body language would go a long way in helping dogs stay in their homes.

    Defintely some language about resource guarding and crate training/sep anxiety. In my training, I’ve noticed that the novice owner doesn’t really understand the importance of resource guarding prevention and end up causing the problem. It would be helpful to have some focus on not always taking things from the dogs and trading instead.

    Can’t wait to see the booklet.

  45. Heidi Meinzer says

    After the benefit of reading these great comments, I have to agree about not taking your new dog out to dog parks or other public events unless and until you are very sure of the dog’s temperament. I’m in the DC metro area, where we have had recent dog shootings — one by an off duty officer at a dog park and one by an on duty officer at a public festival. Both very unfortunate circumstances. The shooting at the public festival event was of a rescue dog. Very sad. I can’t agree more with folks who put this at the top of their lists. Controlled puppy playdates and other kinds of classes are great, but the stress of dog parks and public events — and the inherent risks to everyone involved, including the dog — is not worth it.

  46. Kris says

    A few things that have worked for me:

    1. Introduce the dog slowly to his new home. Don’t let him have access to the entire house right away. Many people feel sorry for rescue dogs, especially if they’ve been cooped up in a shelter/kennel for months, and think their new dog needs to run around the whole house from the start. This can be overwhelming. Introduce him to the core room(s) of your home and the next day another room or 2 and work your way to the entire house.

    2. Structure and routine. Many rescue dogs have led chaotic lives up until now. Giving them predictability will increase their own sense of security.

    3. Training, training, training (positive, of course!). This will immediately increase the bond between the new dog and adopter. Most shelters and rescue groups have recommended trainers (who will also give discounts to rescue dogs), so that would be a good start of where to look for a good, positive trainer.

    Great idea for a booklet!

  47. Margaret T says

    Maybe a checklist would be helpful, one that led people to better choices, even:

    Where do you plan for your dog to sleep? (on your bed, in your bedroom, in the kitchen, in a crate, in a run outside….. Certainly some of those are not ideal for some dogs.)

    What commands do you expect your dog to learn? (come, sit, down, stay, fetch…..)

    How do you intend to let your new dog meet your old dog? (in a neighbor’s fenced yard, in your own fenced yard, on leash across the street from your house….)

    What toys have you chosen for your dog?

    I would also suggest that the people start as they mean to continue, kindly, of course. If the dog is not going to be allowed on furniture, don’t let him start now because you feel sorry for him and then change the rules when you get annoyed about dog hair on the couch and your clothes.

    If I could get through one and only one thing to the people who adopt my fosters, it would be to prevent problems. Don’t let them happen, and you won’t have to fix them. Several days with the dog, as others have suggested, particular if he is on leash or in the same room with you at least, can help you make sure the dog is housebroken, stop him from chewing inappropriately, warn you about how he feels about your old dog. Don’t feed two dogs who don’t know each other in the same spot. Don’t have any toys down if you have a new and an old dog who both love toys until you can figure out how they are going to get along.

  48. Tara says

    I love the booklet idea! We adopted an 18 mo old dog from a shelter 4 years ago. This was the first dog I owned as an adult. I got really interested in reading about training etc, and when I did, I was shocked how little most of us know about dogs! We had a bad experience at a dog park because of my lack of knowledge. Luckily it wasn’t too too bad. But I was very naive! Here are my suggestions based on my experience:

    * How to keep your dog safe when meeting, interacting with, and playing with other dogs.
    * Dog park pros and cons; dog park red flags.
    * Signs your dog may show of fear reactive behaviors and suggestions for effective responses.
    * The importance of taking at least a beginning training class (for the owner to learn not necessarily the dog). * How to choose a trainer (what to avoid in a trainer).
    * The importance of varying forms of stimulation (mental, fetch, chewing) and dogs not being left alone to “play” in the backyard
    * The amazing world of clickers!

  49. Jackie says

    I think the single thing that would have made most difference to our ongoing struggle with our rescue would have been told not to rush things, that ‘not rushing things’ might involve waiting weeks or months before gently moving him on to the next stage.

    Perhaps also a recommended book list for dogs that show particular issues. If I’d read the right book the day we brought him home I don’t think we’d be in the place we are now.

  50. Brenda says

    My best comment, which I would love to tell people who own any dog, is Don’t expect “Lassie”! Remember, It is a DOG, not an ornament for your collection. Train in what you can, and accept your new dog for who he/she is. Imperfections and all.

    Give the dog about 3 weeks to adjust to you and yours before you decide the dog is not right for you.

    My dog, Chula, didn’t come into her real temperament until after about 1 month. I had much adapting to do for her as well. He papers said she was turned in because she couldn’t be kept in a yard. I put her in a large outdoor kennel the first day I was gone all day. She tore the chain-link gate and was sitting on my porch when I got home, after also tearing off the trim on the sliding glass door. She had made no attempt to get out of my fenced yard.
    The next day I left her in the house and was only gone for 5 hours. She was happily sitting there when I got home. She has never even attempted to get out of the yard. She must have nothing to get away from here!

    I find many people who adopt from a shelter want to do a good deed, but know very little about actual dog behavior. Thus the need for a booklet such as yours.

  51. Lisa W says

    This past summer, a friend came over for lunch. After the I-can-greet-better-than-you chaos, she looked at all three dogs lying in the kitchen and asked, “Are these all rescue dogs?”

    Yes, indeed. In age ranging from 13 1/2 to perhaps 1 1/2, all three came from either a shelter, a “rescue” or an owner who couldn’t “handle” her. All females, all sweet as can be, and all with her own sets of issues.

    That is what I would like to see addressed in the book(let). It’s not that the dog can’t move beyond her past, it’s the triggers she brings with her from her past that are constantly challenging my assumptions of what her response should be. It’s learning how to work with those triggers and work with the dog you have not the dog you wished you had gotten. Some instruction on how to work around or move beyond in a general way that could be applied to a wide variety of specifics.

    A few examples: The sound of tape being pulled from the dispenser triggers an ears back, freeze, eyes wide, reach for the tail that was docked (there actually is such a thing as phantom tail syndrome!). It took my middle dog one year to realize that getting in the car meant a fun trip and a walk and didn’t warrant a puppy fit and a game of hide and seek. Or that singing is harmless; no need to stop, stare, and get nervous.

    The list goes on, but my point is every dog is different, and I would love to see a basic primer on how to readjust and maybe little tips or tricks to help people re-address their expectations, thus their interaction with dogs that have a different and varied response to things we think of as “normal.”

    One question: Both my 5-year-old Lab and my 1 1/2-year-old terrier mix spent the majority of their young lives in a crate or cage. They both have pretty bad hip dysplasia, and I know there is a lot of research and studies done on this, but I am wondering about the effects of being caged during those months of tremendous growth and muscle and bone development. Genetics of course has a role, and some studies cite rapid growth early on as a possible cause, but I would love to know if anyone has seen any studies looking a too little proper physical development?

  52. Heidi says

    Seven months ago I adopted my first dog, a Boston Terrier, who was almost three. She was a backyard breeder dog, but seemed to be in otherwise good health. She has always been very comfortable in her crate, so on the fourth day, we left her in her crate in the living room for 2 hours exactly. When we returned she had tried to get out and was distressed. Separation anxiety.

    So I agree with everyone else’s comments, but to me, the most important thing to know would be: how do you test if your dog has separation anxiety, so that you know to deal with it right away. We dumbly assumed that since she liked her crate and seemed to be a mellow dog, we could leave her for a short period of time. We were wrong.

    Could I also suggest that a companion booklet be created for people who are looking to adopt a dog? I know there are tons of books out there, but something with the nuts and bolts of how to adopt a dog that fits your family’s needs and lifestyle. And how to get an idea, while you are in the shelter, of what type of dog you will be bringing home with you.

    Thanks for all you do!

  53. Lori and Marchelle says

    These may not be original thoughts, but here goes:
    – What is a reasonable adjustment period to expect? We’ve found that our rescue dogs didn’t reveal their true personalities for quite some time and there were surprise behaviors we didn’t see from the beginning. There will be an adjustment period for both the adopter and the rescue dog.
    – Remind adoptees to have realistic expectations, not pie-in-the-sky. If they EXPECT there to be issues/challenges going in, then they won’t be disappointed when they crop up.
    – Offer multiple strategies for introducing the rescue dog to the existing pets in the household. One method doesn’t work for everyone every time. Adopters need to remain open-minded.
    – Encourage adopters to make a list of local resources (trainers, behaviorists, vets) before they need them – that way they’ll know who to contact when a behavior issue arises.
    – Have the rescue dog evaluated by a behaviorist so the adopter can learn more about the dog they’ve brought home. The behavior can help them set up a strategy for getting the dog off on the right paw.
    – Remind adopters not to tolerate unacceptable/dangerous behaviors just because they feel sorry for the dog.
    – Set up rules and a daily routine from the very first day so that the rescue dog can feel comfortable and know what to expect and what’s expected of them.
    Thanks for letting us share our experiences/thoughts!

  54. Joanna says

    I adopted my wirehair named Crumb from a shelter about two and a half years ago. I got him at one year of age and knew that he was VERY active, could not be contained by an invisible fence, needed a strong leader and had nipped at his owner when grabbed by the scruff. I also knew he had been at the shelter twice before he came home for good with me. When Crumb began displaying aggressive tendencies in the first two weeks home, I called and called to no avail. To this day, I would have liked far more information on his past. Not so I could return him, but so that I can understand him better. Giving pointers on questions to ask about behaviors when taking puppy home would be great. And ensuring that the new owner has a number to call about issues, even just a friendly local vet or behaviorist.

    It would have been good to know how to ease a new one year old in to my life – I just plopped him in and assumed he had no big issues. Any pointers on how to go about integrating a new dog would be great. Like, maybe dont take him to a cafe the first weekend because he just might want to eat the waiter! Also, ideas for how to continue socializing a juvenile/adult dog. He got very little socializing in his first year without me, but I didnt know how to keep on socializing him so that he was comfortable around many types of people. He went to the dog park and on walks and met new people, but in the end, his lack of intentional socialization coupled with high energy and a history of abuse (made evident by his hatred of men in suits – he is at his worst with them) has made him a fearful aggressive dog. I know i could have done more intentional training and socialization, i just didnt know it at the time.

    so! ways to be proactive about bringing pups home – support systems to access, ideas for integration and training/socialization, and how to go about making a new family rather than just trying to be the alpha.

  55. Carrie says

    I would like to see the booklet remind people that a dog with a past is not “damaged goods.” My crazy dog came from a breeder while my super smart dog as well as my dog with the temperment of an angel were rescues. If you expect problems you are probably going to make them yourself.(Not that there aren’t problem dogs in shelters and foster homes out there) Very few of my fosters have actually been problem dogs. The issues they had were more to do with unclear expectations and dog/human translation errors.

    I would also like to see the booklet say something about respect, especially in the beggining stages of developing a relationship with your new buddy. Each dog has things they like, dislike, and will or will not tolerate just as we all do. Showing the new dog respect from the get go seems to go along way (at least in my house) with future training.

    Everyone’s suggestions are awesome. I have one more thing to add. Along the lines of the importance of routine, sometimes it can be helpful to ignore the new dog. I have had plenty of fosters sit back and just observe us the first 24-48 hours. I find if I just do my thing with my dogs and let them join us on their own they are a lot more comfortable. We often watch movies the night we bring a new dog home. That way we are distracted enough the dog doesn’t feel like we are focusing all our attention on them. I would feel overwhelemed if I went somewhere new and was the main attraction, and from my experiences a lot of dogs do as well. 😉

  56. says

    Great comments from everyone already! I have one to add:

    Let readers know that just because the dog was housetrained in their former home, or in the foster home, it doesn’t mean that he’ll be housetrained in their home. Going to a new home can be stressful, and a dog has to learn the routine – doing housetraining 101 for a few weeks is a good idea.

  57. Kelsey says

    As a new adopter of an adult dog, I would have really appreciated more information on the socialization window– what it was, when it closes, what’s ideal to get in that time period–and ways of working with an adult dog who wasn’t properly socialized as a pup (counterconditioning, the Look At That! game, deciding when is a good time to start introducing supervised off leash play with other dogs, etc.) When I first got my dog, I spent a long time looking for reasonable, science-grounded explanations of why she was over the top reactive to other dogs and most moving things: that’s when I started reading about the socialization window and realizing that a lot of her problems stemmed from improper socialization (and probably not abuse, which is often tossed around but rarely true). However, most of the work on socialization was geared toward puppy owners (Ian Dunbar’s Before/After You Get Your Puppy, etc.) and given that the point was to impress the importance of socialization on new puppy buyers, lots of that work had a pretty dire tone (“a puppy with improper socialization turns out to be A BROKEN DOG FOREVER!”) This left me, as someone without a time machine and with, through no fault of my own, an undersocialized dog, feeling really hopeless and like lifelong management would be the only solution (it wasn’t: my dog, much like Willie, went from being an utterly hopeless and fear-aggressive dog to a great, well-mannered, social dog who even plays sports these days and who only occasionally gets reactive .) But I felt very at sea for quite some time, and I think having a commonsense guide on how to deal with issues stemming from inadequate socialization would have been incredibly useful to me. I do think that while not all dogs in shelters have behavioral problems and certainly not all dogs were abused, many many many dogs who wind up in shelters weren’t properly socialized (which makes sense: a family who dumps a dog in a shelter because they’re moving or there’s a divorce is less likely to have put a solid socialization foundation on that dog.) Thanks for doing this. It is going to help so many people.

  58. Nancy Holleran says

    My husband and I are seniors, who love love love dogs. When we’re in Wi for the magical summer we are lucky enough to have our granddog Jetta, a 12 yr old black lab rescue dog. It’s too sad to leave her so we put tons of time and effort into research leading to our own rescue dog.
    “Ella” was in a puppy mill for her 5 years of life. She is a cocker; gentle, sweet, smart and with just enough of an attitude to make life interesting. The problem? Eliminating in the house(of course on the carpet)vs outside. She doesn’t seem to know the difference and although we understand that, taking her out every hour(sometimes even more often)and for many many walks doesn’t do it. She’ll come in from a walk and pee in the house. HELP! We’ve had her for just 5 days, so are trying to be understanding, but we’re not so sure we’re making progress. (she only pooped once and that of course was on our carpet.

  59. Nancy Holleran says

    so…in other words, how specifically does one deal with a dog that has not been introduced to “inside/outside” and where to eliminate? When taking outside OFTEN and the dog relieves herself after getting back into the house—then what is the new “parent” to do? Please include info like that in your booklet. Oh yes, of course we’ve richly rewarded her when she’s peed outside, she thinks that’s pretty silly, like “what the heck’s the big deal?” and for her, I’m sure that’s it. I just pee wherever, whenever.

  60. elizabeth says

    all of the above! plus, how to identify truly problematic behavior and what to look for in a trainer. i had no experience training a dog when i got my hypervigilant 7 yr old BC with OCD behaviors and serious aggression issues (none of which had been revealed by the rescue organization). i was in way over my head. the rescue organization recommended a trainer who was absolutely awful (and incredibly expensive). from there i went through my cesar milan period (everyone was recommending him to me and what did i know?) i finally found some excellent trainers but the worst part was that NO ONE diagnosed my dog’s problems (not even his vet). i had to figure it all out for myself and then seek appropriate training. not an easy task for a novice.

  61. trisha says

    To Nancy: Ah, so hard with a dog who has learned to potty where she lives. It’s going to take lots of patience, and lots treats for her when she goes outside (go out with her and give her a treat immediately when she’s doing going as it sounds like you are, but be sure your timing is great.) Check out the booklet Way to Go from my website…. treat her as if she was a baby puppy. Eventually she’ll figure you guys are crazy, but humor you and start going outside to get treats.But mostly, patience patience patience… she’s had 5 years going potty where she lived and you’ve only had her 5 days. But how wonderful you are trying to help her, I’m sure everyone reading the blog has their paws crossed for you. And also, keep in mind, lots of dogs don’t want to potty when beside their human, or when they are on a leash, so you walk them outside and they walk with you, then potty the second you get inside and take them off leash or take your attention away….

  62. Nancy Holleran says

    OMG Trisha, thank you. How we’ve missed your advice and esp your humor. My husband has developed a ritual that has worked a few times. She wants attention just for being outside, and gets it. He then stops walking(she did NO sniffing at the beginning of the week, but is now and I get that)lets the leash out all the way and ignores her(or so she thinks)and she pees. Praise the Heavens!
    How we have 3 days of dewormer on board, and no stools except for the nice one on our carpet pre deworming. She’s on tile only since yesterday unless she’s on our lap! The weekend will be hectic which is not good planning but no way around it. We’ll try to keep up a routine of sorts, poor thing. She is more than adorable and we are so happy to make the rest of her life a pleasure, she deserves it.
    Were your ears ringing alot this past week? How we miss your show, ….. and the question: “what would Trish say?” came up more than once. Thank you so much! We will check Way to Go.

  63. em says

    Yes, Yes! I’d like to heartily second what Kelsey said above! Otis didn’t struggle too much with socialization. He had very good skills with dogs and seemed to extrapolate those skills to humans, which, if not always ideal, was at least not TOO difficult to work with. But during the first couple of months that we had Otis I thought that if I read one more piece of advice that told me how imperative it was to start socializing, leash training, and preventing behaviors like jumping, mouthing, and bumping “as a puppy, before your dog gets too big to manage,” I would scream. That ship had sailed. It wasn’t my doing, but even if it had been, what I needed was advice about what to DO, not what somebody should have done a year before. Practical advice about introducing basic behavior training and socialization to a big, strong, adult dog truly would have been a pearl of great price.

    I would not, however, dwell on “ideal windows” for training and socialization-just as an assumption of cruelty or neglect can undermine an adopter’s expectations for their new dog, as Kelsey and so many others have pointed out, I’d be afraid that such statements might cast a dog as damaged goods and create the expectation of failure. Instead, I’d give the same information without the technical explanation. (i.e. If your dog is doing X, it is possible that they missed out on the opportunity to learn appropriate behavior early in life. Try doing W,Y or Z to address the problem.)

  64. Amy W. says

    How to deal with a dog that jumps on you.

    I use to volunteer at a shelter, and I was helping a lady who had just adpoted a dog to her car. The dog was yanking and pulling on the lead, and the lady was so overwhelmed, she asked me to take the leash. As I did, the dog began jumping on me. I did a simple body block (your advice) and said no. I didn’t think about what had happened, but the lady stopped and said “how did you know to that? I would have been scared if that was me.”

  65. Alexandra W says

    Not only was Romeo a shelter dog, he was also my first dog. I was incredibly disappointed when I first got him that I wasn’t totally in love with him, and that I didn’t feel happier to have him in the house. It’s not just a matter of the dog bonding with you – it’s also you bonding with the dog!

    I was exhausted the first few weeks as Romeo got rid of his stress through walking and walking and running and running. My mother teased me that I’d just had a baby – and I guess it does feel like that, a bit! You’re tired, you’ve suddenly got this enormous new responsibility, and you don’t even necessarily have that “instant love”.

    I think a lot of people give back adopted dogs within the first few stressful weeks. They haven’t given the dog a chance to bond with them – and they haven’t given themselves a chance to bond with the dog.

  66. Karen Harmin says

    This won’t be much use for your book, but I’m directing at everyone who posted here, and anyone who is reading who has ever adopted a dog.

    I had to rehome 2 of my 3 rescue dogs when my husband died and I had to sell our house. Because of a perfect storm of bad luck and disasters, our three dogs received very little training or guidance. (They did, however, receive lots and lots of love and attention.) One dog went to live with a family member, but the other dog was a real problem. I lived in Los Angeles and couldn’t find a place for him anywhere; it seemed that all the no-kill shelters west of the Mississippi were full. A friend in Seattle pulled strings and found a shelter that would take him because they’d had a family inquiring about getting a dog just like him. So I drove him to Seattle in the dead of winter — but I would have driven him to the North Pole, if it had meant finding him a good home.

    Anyway, I just want to thank everyone who adopts these dogs. It’s not always true that dogs are given up because the owners are clueless or lazy or uncaring; sometimes circumstances are such that we simply can’t keep them. It was almost more painful to lose Truman Coyote than it was to lose my husband, mostly because I felt I’d done everything I could for my husband, but felt like I’d completely abrogated my responsibility for Truman by not taking care of him. The fact that someone was willing to take him and give him a good, loving, stable home kept me afloat until I could get back on my feet. Thank you all!

  67. Ellen Pepin says

    I’m on my third rescue dog. Two were found as strays in the city. The other was surrendered by a family, adopted, and then brought back a month later. He has been the easiest dog to live with. He loves everybody, and is well behaved. I had to teach him basic obedience. Our first dog was the hardest, and for her the issue was trust. She accepted others, but really only trusted my husband and me. Our latest dog is a white collie, and she also has trust issues, but not a bad as the first one. So for me, I would like to know if there is some way to quickly get the dog to trust, or does it just take time and patience like with my two dogs?

    I would also like to know if training for a dog found on the streets is different from the ways we use to teach dog basic obedience?

  68. Theresa Mecklenborg says

    We got our first dog in January, from a local rescue group. He’s a sweet boy who came with great house manners but no real training. We’ve taken him to a bunch of classes and gotten a Canine Good Citizen certification. However, it turns out that he has major problems with other dogs — he’s all right in a nice structured class setting, but nervous shading up into reactive when we encounter dogs on walks and stuff. We had no idea when we got him that (a) he might have issues with other dogs, because he was living with other dogs at the foster home and got along well with them, or (b) how big a deal not getting along with other dogs could be — we knew he needed to be able to cope with our small pets, which he quickly learned to ignore, but we didn’t realize how many times a day he’d need to cope with strange dogs. Because he doesn’t *look* nervous and does okay in classes, it took us a long time and some discussion with our trainers to figure out what the problem was, and we bungled some of his early encounters with other dogs with us.

    So that’s my suggestion for a rescue booklet — especially for a first-time owner of an adult dog — some explanation of what to look for in the dog’s interactions with other dogs, what kinds of socializing are appropriate, and maybe what you can do with an adult dog that missed those key socializing periods (or maybe this applies to a small enough number of dogs that a reference to more specialized information would be enough). It seems like there’s all this structure to support puppy socialization, in terms of both instructions for what to do when and organized groups, but very little information about what an adult dog might need in that area.

  69. J.D. says


    I’m a regular follower of this blog but this is the first time that I have ever felt compelled to post a comment.

    The notion that shelter or rescue pet are damaged goods or “do-over dogs” or “second hand dogs” is tragic.

    A lot of research was done to explore why some people object to adopting a pet from a humane society/rescue organization, and this was one of the leading reasons…the notion that these animals are damaged goods/second-hand/do-over projects, etc… The national Shelter Pet Project collaboration was developed to counter this myth and portrays shelter pets as innocent bystanders of human life drama. Not second-hand, not emotionally insecure, not challenges or do-overs.

    Have you done similar research? If so, I would be very interested in reading it. To me, these kinds of materials, while maybe well meaning, will only perpetuate this myth.

    Although I am not an expert in this area, given the current research and what messages work to keep rescue animals alive, I would strongly caution you against this approach. Again, unless you have done similar research and found something different.

    I hope that I am not the only one of your readers that feels this way (& strongly – for the millions of dogs, cats, and other animals who are killed every year).

    Please reconsider or share your research.

  70. trisha says

    To J.D. Oh my. Nowhere did I say, or suggest that dogs from shelters or rescues are ‘damaged goods.’ My Lassie was from a shelter, and she was one of the best dogs I’ve ever had. If you read the comments above your own, you’ll see that lots of people would appreciate a bit of help when they get an adult dog who has had a history behind them… that history could have been wonderful, challenging or very ordinary, but it means that the new owner is not starting from scratch. I can not imagine for the life of me how a booklet helping people to ease an adult dog into their lives would prevent people from adopting a dog from a shelter or a rescue group. The point of the booklet is to have a concise booklet that rescues and shelters can hand out to people who DO adopt a dog, and perhaps prevent some of the dogs from coming back . . .

  71. says

    I’ve worked for an animal shelter for 6 and a half years, and was a volunteer for 3 years before that.

    To Ellen Pepin regarding strays. All the word “stray” means is that the dog was at large without an owner. A common misconception is that a stray dog is feral or has been living out on the streets for months or even years. Your dogs may have only been loose for an hour or two before they were picked up, and before that lived in a home with a family their entire life.

    It doesn’t make sense as to why someone wouldn’t claim their dog. At our shelter only 50% of stray dogs are claimed (sadly the number is much, much lower for cats). And many times these are animals that obviously are well socialized, or are obviously a purebred. It could be that the owners can’t afford the fees to get them back, deliberately dumped hem because they didn’t want them for some reason, or lost them by accident and then decided for whatever reason that it wasn’t important to them to look for their pet.

    To J.D. Most shelters are already giving new adopters packets of information on what to expect from their newly adopted dog, how to deal with training and behavior issues, etc. Our shelter gives people a fairly thick folder to go home with their new family member. The book Trisha and Karen London will write will be contained in a single book, and hopefully take the place of all the articles we have shelter volunteers photo copy, collate and put into folders. And I think it will be easier for new adopters to read a booklet, than sheets of 8.5 x 11 photocopies. I think it’s a wonderful idea!

  72. Jennifer Medlin-Lloyd says

    The rescue where I got my failed foster Austin from recommends what they call a “two week shutdown” when you first bring a dog home. This lets the dog get used to your household but they don’t have to react. The dog stays in their crate except for going outside for potty times and to play for half an hour a day. I thought it really worked well with Austin, and it might be a good thing to include in the new booklet.

  73. Nancy Holleran says

    To J.D.
    Shelter dogs may, or may not, hold more challenges than brand spankin’ new purebreds. Point being, there are no guarantees with either and each of them has will display it’s own unique set of behaviors, good and bad. To suggest that addressing the challenges of a shelter dog “labels” them, and therefore limits their chances for adoption, is like saying we shouldn’t have a kazillions books in stores on how to deal with the challenges of a newborn, for if we did, people would stop preocrating. Seriously.
    Issues will occur and it’s nice to have a “now what?’ source. Go Trish.

  74. J.D. says

    The reason I took time out of my day yesterday and today to write – is to urge you to PLEASE (for the sake of millions of lives) be careful with the LANGUAGE used in these brochures/books. To me, using the language “second hand” and “do-over” dogs only propels the myth that there may be something wrong with shelter pets.

    Again, the number one objective of the multi-million dollar national Shelter Pet Project is to eliminate the stereotype that there is something wrong with shelter pets. Patricia, you are a well-respected and powerful leader in your field….you might consider (if you have not already) collaborating with The Shelter Pet Project on this endeavor.

  75. Sonja says

    Don’t panic. :) Be informed but don’t look for problems that aren’t there. It isn’t fair to the dog and can be a self-fulfilling prophesy. Also, ask your dog’s backstory! Even if it isn’t relevant to your adoption decision, it’s so cool to know! In my experience, shelters/rescues don’t make a point of telling adopters their dogs’ stories when they aren’t particularly tragic. I think that in itself can be tragic. I asked and learned so much about one of my girls’ past! I’m even in touch with the woman who adopted one of her litter mates. Last year, they had a family reunion. :)

    My rescued dogs summarized:

    1. shelter adoption/former stray–Corgi mix–world’s most perfect temperament–had CLEARLY lived indoors before–came house trained and had apparently learned “sit” in her previous life. You know those dogs who just fit seamlessly into any setting and never do anything wrong? That was Love.
    2. adopted as an adolescent puppy from a foster-based rescue/part of an abandoned litter–almost perfect, sweet and gentle Cattle Dog mix but definitely wary of strangers. Love of my life. :)
    3. shelter adoption/former stray–Beagle mix–possibly the quickest learner ever (despite the dull hound reputation)–likes to destroy toys and all things plastic–had CLEARLY been an outside dog in her former life.

    My first dog (who just passed last year at 15) was also arguably a rescue. He was was a big, beautiful labby/houndy mix and part of an unwanted litter. He joined my family when he was only 7 weeks old. :( He fit the stereotypical lab mold in the sense that he was super-friendly and sociable. C.D. never met a person/dog/cat/hamster/mouse/grasshopper/frog he didn’t like. The whole world was a game and every creature was a friend. He was a puppy for about 12 years and toy-obsessed until the end. He used to wake my diabetic grandmother up when her blood sugar dropped. <3

    My four have all been very different from one another but all extremely trainable and ridiculously lovable. <3

    I didn't know Lassie was rescued! Very cool! :)

  76. Ellen Pepin says

    To Khris Erickson,
    What you have to say about stray dogs is true, but our first dog was on the street for probably a month or more. She was extremely thin and full of ticks and fleas. Our most recent dog, a collie, was also in very poor shape when she was picked up in D.C. She was flea infested, thin, and had pneumonia. So in our case, both dogs were on the street for a while. I don’t think of my dogs as “damaged goods”; they have all had a bad start in life, and I have given them a better life. Just like all dogs, they also need to learn how to live peacefully in the world.

  77. Kathy says

    What a wonderful idea for a book! I’ve had dogs all my life and my current dog is my first rescue dog. She was a stray (left in the woods in the middle of January) but was fortunately rescued by our local humane society. I was amazed at how her personality blossomed as every day passed. I was informed by the shelter workers that black dogs (which she is) are the least likely to be adopted. I feel that having more information to assist people in acclimating a shelter dog to their home will only help and encourage adoptions. She is now an amazing therapy dog at a hospital and hospice and is my forever dog.

  78. says

    I like your idea of focusing on how to integrate an adult (or more likely, teenaged) dog into a household, so that you can avoid the implication that shelter dogs are going to be particularly difficult. My extended family has adopted about 15 shelter dogs over the years, mostly as adolescents. And while some have had the usual adolescent challenges, they’ve all been wonderful dogs, each in her or his own way, and our lives have been immeasurably enriched by each and every one of them.

    You might also want to remind readers of your booklet about the benefits of adopting an older dog: they will need much less time for housetraining, and their general personality may be clearer (although sometimes hard to detect in a shelter environment).

  79. Sharon says

    I have been a foster home for rescued dogs for the last 6 and a half years. I work with a rescue group, and we pick up dogs from the shelters, see they have vet checks , are spayed or neutered, and keep them with us in our home until they are adopted. I have fostered 50 dogs in that time; each of them different. One of the nicest things anyone can do when bringing home a new dog is to take a few days off work or bring it home before a weekend; whatever works for you. That way the dog can get used to you AND its new home and learn what is expected of it before you go off and leave it alone. It can learn that the home is a safe, secure place, and what you want and don’t want it to do, and that it is loved. It will still miss you when you are gone, but it will have a better sense of what is going on and be more relaxed.

    As for names; I have found that it takes a dog about 2 or 3 days to learn a new name. They have no sense of “self” like we do; a name is just a word that you say when good things are about to happen; treats, attention, walks, etc. They pick up on it very quickly!

    And YEA! for everyone who adopts a rescued dog and doesn’t get one from a back-yard breeder!

  80. liz says

    I’m so delighted you are doing this! You are absolutely my favorite author and guide for dog/human behavior, and I’m a huge fan.

    I read and learned a lot before we got our wonderful rescue, but one thing I didn’t understand (and thus mishandled) is that rescues can be more at risk for separation anxiety. In hindsight, I think I did everything wrong in this respect! At the point that I began working from home, I felt like we finally had the time and resources to dedicate to make a wonderful home for a dog, so fulfilled a dream and adopted — but we should have conditioned her to spending time alone at some point relatively soon after adopting her, instead of (inadvertently) doing the opposite. I wanted her to feel safe and loved — which, yes, we did… but also succeeded in making her fear being alone by creating an expectation that we would always be there. Perhaps (and chances are) she was already predisposed to this by her history, but that makes it all the more important to establish reasonable separation as a completely natural and safe condition.

    Since many people may not adopt until they are in a position to spend a lot of time with their dog (retirees, cyberworkers, home-business owners, lottery-winners :P), they may not factor in the necessity to make *not* being there for reasonable periods also a part of the dog’s learning experience, and this one can be quite hard to reverse. There are other important things we didn’t know, but in our situation those things were soon and easily researched/understood/overcome/corrected. My one big regret is that I wasn’t aware of the specific S/A risk (as more than a relatively unusual problem), and it’s the one thing I feel most guilty about regarding our dog’s welfare. She is a joy, and has exceeded our expectations in every way (though I agree that it probably takes 6 months to really see the dog’s true personality begin to fully emerge!), but I’m very sad to say that we let her down on this issue.

  81. liz says

    Oh! I just noticed this, and must say that my comment about S/A wasn’t in response to Sharon’s comment! I completely agree that one should spend several days with your new rescue to establish a feeling of safety and security! Absolutely! I’m saying that *we* did it wrong, because I didn’t have to leave to go to work, and neglected to establish reasonable “alone-times” after the initial adjustment period. We live in a pedestrian-oriented place, and take our dog with us on shopping trips, going out to have a meal or a drink… which was all in effort of giving her as much outdoor exercise and exposure to different environments and as much various socialization as possible, which has worked *great* as far as that goes. She can handle just about every situation comfortably — except for being home alone! Completely our fault.

  82. Andy says

    Hi Tricia – I love your work and have thoroughly enjoyed your books. I’m delighted to pitch in.

    My own dear dog was a rescue from the local humane society. As a single working person, I just didn’t fully comprehend the challenges that my dog would face dealing with my regular absence. Even though I don’t go out much in the evening it was awfully difficult for her to be separated, and I learned a lot about home repair as a result :).

    I would *love* it if you would include a section for single people who must go to work. I do not agree at all with Victoria Stilwell that single people must hire a dog walker or not get a dog (dog walkers are prohibitively expensive most of the time), but providing a good quality of life for a dog takes a great deal of time, flexibility, and willingness to change one’s own habits for the good of your dog. Single people can be fantastic, loving owners, but the challenges they face are unique and can be very serious.

  83. Nancy Holleran says

    As of today, our new family member, Ella, 5 year old cocker, has kennel cough. We’ve had her just 8 days. Taken to a vet shortly after adopting her, her stool was checked for worms, + for whipworms and hooks….3 de-worming treatments needed over the next few weeks/months. Our grandson suggested we keep sweet Jetta, our 12 year old black lab granddog here to help Ella adjust. Seemed like a wonderful approach. Not so much now. I would highly recommend that a newly adopted dog is kept from other dogs for perhaps 14 days, (the general incubation period for kennel cough). Not only do our two dogs need to be dewormed 3 different times(3 days each time)but now Ella is gasping and coughing and spewing fluid, complete with a runny nose. She is on a broad spectrum antibiotic and a cough medication, and we’re hoping she doesn’t develop any complications. It’s pathetic to hear and watch. But we’re also holding our breath that Jetta doesn’t get kennel cough. Yes, she’s had the vaccine, but that’s no guarantee, and the virus can be shed, hence spread, for literally months, to other dogs. My advice is that if you have other dogs in your home or friends and relatives have dogs that want play dates, I’d hold off, just to see what develops, sometimes the dog’s past history isn’t complete and illnesses from foster homes or shelters haven’t presented themselves. Ella is a joy but this has been a rough 8 days. Mostly for her.

  84. Kathy says

    We adopted Buster from a shelter two years ago. He’s made great progress in those two years, but it’s been a long slow road. I think I would have appreciated knowing how long it might take to acclimate him to our family and home. For that matter, how to acclimate him to family and home would have been helpful too. I know I read basic instructions on how to introduce him to people, but something in depth would have helped.

    We received very little information when we adopted. I had seen his picture listed as a rescue curtesy posting on Petfinder, but when I called I was told he’d run away ‘last week’. When I found him at a local shelter (he has very distinctive markings) I was told he’d been there for two months. I don’t that he was abused, but he is terrified of everything, especially raised arms or items thrown nearby (items thrown in a lake for retrieval are very much enjoyed). We’ve tried to pay attention to what seems to bother him the most and modified those actions.

    Aside from a disturbing fondness for the creepy insurance sales guy, he’s a wonderful dog and well worth working out compromises to make things easier for everyone. We’ve been fortunate to have the time and resources to help him adapt and thrive.

  85. trisha says

    I wanted to get back to J.D. with thanks for taking the time to write and assurance that Karen and I will be very thoughtful about our use of words. I don’t think of many of the terms commonly used as being negative, but if some people do then we absolutely shouldn’t use them. The more we think about the booklet, the more we realize that all adult dogs brought into a new home, whether strays at the back door, dogs from a shelter or rescue, or dogs adopted or purchased from someone else, present owners with a different set of challenges and questions than do puppies. Even dogs who have had wonderful lives come with a history that the new owner didn’t share, and knowing how to bring an adult individual into your home has its own set of challenges.

  86. Sheyna says

    This is probably common sense but well…maybe I’m lacking common sense.

    Don’t let your new dog off-leash in an unenclosed area until you are very sure of their personality and what may spook them.

    Maybe a month after adopting my dog I took him to an off-leash dog beach. He was approached by a couple of bigger dogs and he took off! Dashed down the street, through a path, across a (usually busy) 4-lane road and waited for me at home.

    Ugh that was a hard walk home, I sprinted most of the way and just about died from relief when he popped up from behind a bush in front of the house.

  87. says

    I love to tell my clients that they need to be their dog’s tour guide through this crazy human world they have been dropped into!

    This is from one of my handouts:

    “Be proactive, not reactive. Give your dog a house tour the first day you have him. That means you walk him around his new home, on a leash, with a boatload of treats in your hand. Whenever he sniffs something politely, tell him he’s wonderful and give him a treat. When he tries to pick up something he shouldn’t, say “uh-uh,” show him a treat, turn him away from the item and then tell him he’s wonderful and give him a treat! Finish the tour by saying “Let’s go outside!” Take him out and wait for him to potty, and rain treats down on him! Then say “Come!” and run inside with him, and rain more treats down on him!
    Instead of waiting for your dog to do something wrong, why not teach him what is right, and reward him mightily every time he does that right thing? Then when he does do something inappropriate, you have a great behavior to return him to, one that has a great reward attached to it.”

  88. Krystal says

    I have 2 German Shepherd rescues and the best advice I know of regarding adopting rescues is something the trainer I worked with told me was to give it time. Romeo was about 9 mos old when I got him and the transition was fairly easy but my other dog Roxy was a CHALLENGE. She’d been bounced around for almost 6 months between friends of the original owner for the first few months and then finally a kennel for the last 2.

    By the time I got her, she was very “reactive” – easily startled – and would randomly charge at people. I questioned my sanity many, many times during those first few months but luckily the Tampa German Shepherd Rescue who arranged the adoption were committed to helping me and recommended an excellent behaviorist/trainer who helped us both so much.

    One of the first things Kathy (the trainer) said to me was “with rescues, it can take them a while to figure out that they can relax and trust the new situation. Just be consistent and loving and help her figure out the new rules, and she’ll be a different dog a year from now.” And she was right – it seems like it was almost a year to the day when I realized that I was no longer holding my breath every time we walked into a new situation or someone new came to the house.

    So (1) give it time and (2) work with a *good* trainer, esp. for the more difficult cases

  89. Kate says

    What a great idea for a booklet!

    My husband and I are first-time dog owners, though both of us grew up with dogs. Our dog is a Border Collie mix, adopted as an adult from the local shelter. We had wanted a BC, and I was fine with the amount of exercise that a BC needs, and had planned on taking the dog for agility training in order to stimulate it mentally. That said, here are things we discovered on our past year.

    1. Resource guarding. While we nipped this one in the bud, we saw our dog snap at the cat (adopted from the same shelter on the same day), when the cat decided to drink out of the dog’s water bowl, which was close to where the dog’s food was. I had been advocating feeding at specific times, and this incident showed my husband that we could not leave the dog’s food out. Later, as a result of other behavior problems, we (well I) started to hand-feed the dog. Since then, there have been no problems with the food bowl, but I have had my dog growl at me when we’ve been working with toys (another issue, see below).

    2. Reactivity. Our dog was a “neutral” dog in the temperament tests. We had no idea what this meant, but it was soon apparent that our dog was very reactive to other dogs and to bikes, which didn’t seem very neutral to us. I would want to let people know that you can modify the dog’s behavior. It takes working with a specialist, and we were lucky to find a trainer who uses operant conditioning. My trainer prefers using positive-only, but due to the specific nature of the reactivity and the degree of reactivity, she ended up teaching me how to apply corrections. I know that there are great philosophical differences in the use of positive punishment, but a good trainer will ask if the client is okay with teaching that “no” can have consequences, and if the client is comfortable, will also spend a significant time with the client before the client is permitted to apply correction.

    I see many other people in town with reactive dogs, and invariably these are adult rescue dogs. I would want people to know that if you are patient and consistent, you can overcome the extreme behaviors, though you will need to know that even if the behaviors aren’t there, the dog still is reactive–just with a better coping mechanism.

    3. Crate training. I regret not crate training from the get-go, but my dog was completely house-trained from day 1. Also, he was crate and confinement-averse. We think he may have spent either too much time in a crate or have been punished by being confined to a crate. I would have loved to have had a handy resource in how to get a dog to like his crate. As it is, I’m doing the crate training now, and we’re finally at the point where I can begin something like Susan Garrett’s crate games.

    4. Toys. Our dog did not play with toys when we got him. You could throw a ball, and he’d just look at it. He was completely shut down. Our trainer suspected that he’d been punished for playing with inappropriate toys. It has taken a year, but we now can see that he prefers chase toys, and I can throw plush frisbees (he doesn’t like hard frisbees) for him to chase. I worked with food toys, and discovered that if I got him to tug a food toy that was filled with kibble or other really good food, that we would have problems with the Out. He’d never been trained on Out, and he wanted to guard his new, very exciting toy (this is where he growled at me and once snapped). Teaching him that an Out involves a fair exchange has been a challenge, and he’s still not good at it. That said, teaching him how to play with toys has been good for seeing behaviors which might signal a kind of ticking time bomb, if we didn’t teach him how to channel his drive and desires. It would have been easy for us to have left him as a primarily food-trained dog. However, even very early on in our training, the few times we could get him to play, it was as if something snapped inside the dog. He was free, excited, and zoomed around because he just didn’t know what else to do. Teaching him to play and how to play has helped him with self-control. I think some kind of guideline on how to teach play would be useful (and how to teach an Out would be a godsend).

    5. Separation. My dog latched onto me from the first moment we met. He was a velcro dog, and it took me about 4 weeks before I could get out of the door to go to work in the morning. Thankfully we’re past that now, though he still thinks it’s his primary job to watch me. Even so, we can now work at a distance. For others, whose dogs have more issues, how to deal with separation anxiety, or just the insecurity the dog faces in its new home would be helpful.

  90. Claire says

    A few things that I came across while working at a shelter…
    Many good responses above!!!
    1. How to load a skeptical new dog into the car after leaving the shelter doors/what to do if the dog panics.
    2. Basic dog language helps new parents with many things.
    3. Re-introducing or new intro of new dog to resident dogs… steps so it is a good/safe experience.
    4. Resource guarding: Identifying and resolution. Safety precautions.
    5. Getting a dog used to you leaving during the first week.
    6. Figuring out the dog rules ahead of time with family (make visible “dog laws” list in house and also a training cheat sheet so they remember how to reinforce laws) 😉
    7. How to acclimate new dog to new surroundings.
    8. Common house training mistakes that interfere with reliability. Also tips on odd problems. Tools (bellyband etc.)
    9. A breakdown of acceptable and questionable behaviors in dog play- How to play with new dog.
    10. A list of good resources to find more info.

  91. Claire says

    Also! Dogs may or may not bond right away… but don’t expect them to! My dog was friendly but didn’t show any sign of a bond to me for a year! Now, 5 years later, he’s goo in my hands. :)

  92. Molly says

    Late response and lots of good posts already. Based on what I’ve seen with recent adopters, I’d say:

    Don’t overwhelm a new dog – introduce people, pets, and places gradually
    Patience during the adjustment period
    Bonding takes time.
    The foundation of a good relationship is trust. Trust takes time.
    Be consistent. Be fair.

    Assume the new dog knows nothing, regardless of age – that means puppy-proof, housetrain, chew toy train, crate train, and separation train. You may be happily surprised at what s/he already knows, but won’t be caught off guard by what s/he doesn’t know.
    A reminder that most dogs are abandoned during their “teenage years” so they need the consistency, guidance, and boundaries (such as NILIF) any other pet needs during that age.

    How to recognize the top shelter-dog health issues (UTI, kennel cough, mange, coccidia come to mind)
    How to recognize and where to find the best resources for help with the top shelter-dog behavior issues (shyness/poor socialization, separation anxiety, resource guarding, sensitivity to handling…)

    Calming signals and how to respond
    Aggression signs and how to respond

    Introductions to pets and children
    Proper greeting rituals between dogs
    How to tell whether dogs are just “sorting things out” or there’s a real problem

    I don’t know where you’d slip this in, but it would be nice if more people used a martingale collar or harness in the beginning. We’ve actually had several newly-adopted dogs slip their collar and of course they won’t return to the stranger who adopted them. Staff have had to go out and help, since the dogs will come to them.

  93. Kathleen Fitzgerald says

    Hi. Yes, I couldn’t read all of the messages, but I would like to really stress one thing. Understand when you adopt a shelter dog, it is a COMMITMENT! I volunteer at a rescue shelter, and all too many times people adopt pets and only give it a week, sometimes even just a day to work, before they bring the dog back to the shelter. The shelter does its best to match the right dogs with the right people, but the adopters have to understand too that a lot of these dogs had really been “put through it” before they were rescued, and it will take time to build trust and social skills. The dogs have no idea who these new people are or what is going to happen to them. Of course, we would never want a dog to stay where it is not wanted, but perhaps people need to understand more beforehand that special needs dogs require special care and patience. Not everyone is cut out for it.

    Thanks for the work you’re doing! We’re trying in the U.S. too!

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