Expectations: Adults versus Puppies

Karen London and I are working on our edits to the new booklet on adopting adolescent and older dogs, and something hit me as I was writing that I thought was worth talking about. After considering my own experiences bringing “non-puppies” into my home, talking with folks in rescues and shelters, and working with clients for so many years, it strikes me that one of the biggest problems people have when they adopt an “older” dog (not old, but not puppy either) relate to unrealistic expectations.

I don’t mean that in the usual sense, say, for example, expecting a dog to behave perfectly on day one, but more in the sense that we have certain expectations of adults that we don’t have with puppies. Take house training, for example. Everyone expects puppies to have “accidents” in the house for a few weeks or so, but people are often shocked and angered when an adult dog urinates on the rug just hours after arriving. But of course, most dogs aren’t “house trained” in the sense that we define it (always go outside, never inside) but are trained not to go in a particular place. That doesn’t mean that they can generalize what “house” means, given that they don’t have access to our brains and can’t download the way we see the world.

In my experience people don’t realize how important basic house training is for the first few days when an adopted dogs enters the home. This is especially important for dogs who haven’t had much experience in a variety of houses. If they were taught to potty in one specific backyard and not in a specific living room, why would they generalize that to another location? The fact is, some do and some don’t, so it’s job one to pay attention when you first bring a new home dog. This doesn’t seem like rocket science, but I think it’s not intuitive, and I suspect that our reactions to an adult dog urinating in our houses are more like those we’d have if an adult human peed on our living room carpet. (Yuck, what an image, sorry!).

Staying close by and coming when called seem to present a similar disconnect between “puppy versus non-puppy.” Young puppies have an inherent follow response, and we don’t need to do much when we bring them home to keep them close by. Of course, we’re wise to start recall training right away, but it’s seductive to forget that and imagine your pup will follow you everywhere forever. All this relates to one of the biggest problems that I see owners, shelters and rescue group deal with: dogs who are either let outside off leash intentionally, or escape out the front door or through a hole in the fence and can’t be called back. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that this causes no end of grief for the dogs, the fosters and the new families. Yet, it seems ever so common to expect an adopted dog to behave like a puppy and follow you everywhere, leashes be damned.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this: What did you find surprising, or important to remember if and when you brought home an adopted dog who was well beyond puppy hood? I’m sure your stories will be helpful to us all.

MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Brrrr. Snow, sleet, hail, thunder and a ridiculous amount of stuff in between fell yesterday, but at least we escaped the damaging storms that plagued so much of the country. I hope you and yours are all safe and sound. Anyone out there need some sympathy?

This weekend some dear friends came to help with the sheep chores, and then we all got reinforced by being able to let the lambs out of the barn and go up the hill for the first time in their little lives. The day was warm and sunny (very rare this spring!), and we soaked up the breeze, the sun and the green grass like sponges. As you can see, the lambs seemed to like it too.



  1. Elizabeth says

    You bring up many great points. We adopted a dog from DCHS when she was seven (she just turned 12). Due to her background and previous home situation (abuse and neglect), the things that she needed most were love, attention, affection, and trust. With those things she’s turned into quite the dog! Even the vet commented last week that she couldn’t believe that she was the same dog that walked into her office five years ago!

  2. AnneJ says

    I love the leaping lamb photo. I’m in central WI and dealing with a sick ewe (mastitis in a bad way), and looking at all this snow, and have a cold. So yes, I need sympathy.

    My first dog was an adopted adult, untrained, so I can’t say I have been surprised by anything since then, except maybe by how much harder the first one was to train than any of the others.

    The most important thing is to keep the new dog leashed- I have known many people who lost a newly adopted dog. It was off leash before the dog could recognize them as a friend and it took off. The dogs don’t know the area and are very hard to find. Sometimes the stories end in tragedy.

  3. Joan says

    What a timely topic for me, as we just added a 3 year old Sheltie to our canine family a couple of weeks ago—she had been abandoned by her former owners and ended up with a rescue group. She seems very confused as to the whole potty thing, and rightfully so. She turns in circles when she has to poop, but if we don’t see her spinning, she’ll do her business right by the front door. We’re in the process of training her to ring the bell at the back door to go out, so there is at least audio to accompany her spinning visuals :-).

  4. Elisabeth says

    I’ve read The Other End of the Leash and was so excited when I found this on-going dog-learning blog! Thanks for doing this!
    When I first adopted a one-year-old Border Collie mix, Annie, I took her on three 20-30 minute walks a day for exercise (I didn’t have a fenced yard at the time,) but was surprised when she started pulling her head out of her collar and dashing around me in circles (I now know these are zoomies!) I quickly learned that biking with her running beside for the same amount of time, and letting her play on the playground equipment at the school across the street was the key… but talk about a stressful first couple of weeks! It’s all worth it though!!! Now she has a yard to play in and an Aussie mix brother (who is not catching on to biking like she did!)

  5. says

    I’m one of those people who often finds it difficult to bond with dogs that are beyond the puppy stage. I have no idea why this is, but it’s how I seem to be wired. I can certainly be fond of older dogs (as I often am of those I work with at the shelter), but I don’t attach to them emotionally the way I do when I bring a puppy into the house.

    Similarly, I have found that bringing a puppy into the house is less stressful on the other dogs in the home. My dogs will pretty much accept any puppy without much fuss. Rules get laid down early and there are few scuffles to deal with.

    When I brought home a two year old foster last year, things didn’t go well. They started out manageable, but got progressively worse as the issues between him and one of my boys started to get out of hand. Even though my dog was the instigator in almost all events, my “maternal instinct” kicked in and I got upset with the foster dog for participating in the scuffles. I have a feeling that had those situations occurred with a puppy, I would have done things differently. Instead, I ended up moving him on to a different foster home and vowed that I will only bring in puppies from here on out.

    Some people like human infants (something I will NEVER understand!) while others prefer children once they are able to walk, talk & dress themselves. I know plenty of people who want nothing to do with the puppy stage and have no problem bonding with an older dog. God bless them, because they are the people who are overjoyed to adopt the 12 year old Basset Hound or the 11 year old Pit mix.

    I believe I am guilty of having the expectations of older dogs discussed in this post. I have stars in my eyes around puppies. I am awash in hormones when I am around them and I think nothing of the occasional mess that they create. It must just be how some of us are wired. lol

    That whole off leash business is a matter of education, though. We always stress to adopters that they should take some time to train before attempting to let the dog off leash in an unfenced area. Because, after all, many of them did come to the shelter as strays, which proves they aren’t very good at sticking around home. :o)

  6. Marie Benson says

    From what I have heard separation anxiety is very often a huge problem with a rescue dog and people are not prepared for that.
    The fact that a rescue dog sometimes start to demonstrate difficult behaviour once he has settled in his new enviroment is another surprise for many new owners.
    I am speaking now about abandoned dogs, dogs that was never normally socialized.
    In the south of Europe abandoned and tramatized dogs get adopted to northern Europe and not always with happy endings.
    Greetings from Sweden!

  7. Alexandra says

    When I rescued Izzy at about 7 mos, we did ok on the housebreaking. We had no clue then about recall training, and she got away from us a few times to have wonderful adventures. Thank goodness she wasn’t running AWAY away, and came home in a reasonable amount of time. We were so lucky she wasn’t hurt or lost.

    It also didn’t occur to me at the time that this dog had no basic experience with every day things. In retrospect I would have been so much more patient with her, but I was ignorant about dogs back then. She barked hysterically at the phone jacks and several electronic items – I think they made an ultrasonic noise. She also panicked the first time I knocked on a neighbor’s door with her and someone opened the door. Bottom line is, I wish I had known not to assume that just because a dog is older that they will have had life experiences. They could be seeing all kinds of things for the very first time, and don’t take that for granted.

  8. academicsocialite says

    For me, adopting an adult dog was eye-opening in that he was a bundle of seeming contradictions. He was virtually housetrained from day one with a few accidents, but nothing major. He also was a velcro dog and so we could go off leash in the park from the beginning. But then there was the severe separation anxiety and leash aggression, plus ongoing stomach issues that I think may have been partially due to stress. I think we didn’t realy know anything – I had only ever raised a dog from a puppy before and the process is so different. Even though I expected the house soiling and lack of recall, neither of those came into play, which meant the other issues seemed all the more confounding and overwhelming.

    I think if we had done more research before we brought him home, we would have managed his behavioral challenges better from the start. Thank you for your book Trisha, I think it will be useful to those of us who are a year in to this learning curve!

  9. Debbie Schoene says

    Ah, what a timely post! Against my better judgement (note to self–never ignore that little voice in your ear that warns “no good deed goes unpunished 😉 ), I recently agreed to help a woman to whom I’d sold a dog a decade ago find another after hers died of cancer. A friend of mine had a year old female he wanted to re-home as he did not think she’d be a suitable field trial dog. The plan was I would take her and work on housebreaking and manners as she had spent her life living in a kennel and had had virtually no training in those areas at all. Well, my acquaintance decided she could not be without a dog for the time period I felt I would need to give this youngster a good foundation so she came and got the dog after only three weeks with me. And now, what a surprise!, she is finding out that this dog is not nearly as “perfect” as the one she’d had before…she is wild in the house, pulls on the leash to such an extent that the owner can’t walk her and her housebreaking is marginal at best. No matter how much I’ve tried to tell her that altho the dog is chronologically a year old, she is MUCH younger than that in terms of life experience and training, her new owner insists on handling her in the same way she handled the dog I sold her all those years ago even tho that dog was almost a year older at the time and had had lots of training and “house time”. So many people have unrealistic expectations and, as much as they might try to avoid it, they make comparisons to their departed companions who are so much more angelic in memory than they were in reality!

  10. says

    We adopted an adult dog for the very first time about 8 weeks ago. Previously, we have always had puppies. We were lucky in that our new dog was impeccably house-trained, but he did come with some habits that surprised us: leash-pulling, barking, separation anxiety, had never seen a cat before, and he hated to be brushed. All of these behaviors were a surprise to us because none of our other dogs had a problem with any of this. The behaviors weren’t “bad”- just a surprise- I guess we always expect our pets to react the way we have seen others do in the past. Fortunately, our new dog is quite a quick study and has wormed his way into our hearts, so with a little more training, he will be just fine. Besides, he can jump through a hoop, and none of our other dogs could do that! LOL

    Best regards,
    Tammy Bollinger

  11. Cindy Martin says

    Notable thoughts on bringing home an adult shelter dog:
    1. Must SHOW him through our actions that we are friendly, trustworthy and will provide frequent guidance. Can’t expect him to feel bonded to us right away. 2. Take him on a tour of the property, accompany him as he explores. 3. Reinforce, reinforce, reinforce every few minutes. Don’t wait for a crisis and then correct. Begin to direct him to desirable behaviors and reinforce those, right from the start. 3. Give him a “comfortable space” where he can retreat and spend some down time. There’s a lot of processing in his poor brain: new place, new people, other animals, new smells, new routine. He needs a break from all that input now and then. 4. Work on recall over and over; call him from across the room, down the hall, out in the yard, so our voices become more familiar and he seeks us out.

  12. says

    I have adopted several Goldens who were breeder’s dogs, they were between ages 4 and 7 years when we got them. Some of them did not know how to climb stairs in a house. One was frightened of common household noises like a food grinder or microwave beeping. Right now our new 7 year old still wants to chew shoes like a puppy. You learn to expect the unexpected when adopting the older dog. Not all of them come from a typical home situation and need to learn very common things.
    I also learned to distinguish a smirk that signified fear from a dog’s happy smile.

  13. Michele says

    My dog was nearly a year old, a shelter dog who had been found on the street, when I adopted her. I quickly figured out what she knew (fully housebroken!) and what she didn’t (everything else, including walking on a leash), but the biggest challenge was managing the expectations of other dog owners. I found myself explaining “she’s a year old, but I’ve only had a few months and her previous owners didn’t teach her much” A LOT. Funny how even people who’ve raised a puppy themselves don’t seem to recognize that if they hadn’t put in the time on early training, their puppy wouldn’t have just magically absorbed good behavior while getting older. And sometimes even an adult dog who had training will forget or backslide in a new environment with new people. I joke sometimes that Lucy “reset” herself to 6 months old when she came to live with me. She’s now a boisterous but (usually) well-behaved three-year-old.

  14. Amy says

    My husband and I have adopted two adult dogs. Our first dog was adopted when he was 1 year old. We knew he had no training and wasn’t potty trained prior to his adoption. Knowing this about him certainly provided little expectations of his behavior. We treated him as a puppy in an adult body. We leashed him at all times (even in the house.) It didn’t take us long to learn adult dogs with no training mean BIG puppy house accidents. :)

    Recently we adopted a 6 year female. On paper and in person she was a doll. Virtually no behavior problems, she came from a “decent” home and had a basic understanding of house rules. When we first brought her home I mentioned to my husband, “just because we have been told she has no problems, we shouldn’t assume that it is true.”

    We had the same rules with our younger adopted dog, treat her like a puppy in adult body… This worked well and helped us to be realistic with her, however, what I didn’t anticipate was her stellar counter surfing abilities. In addition, she is an excellent jumper with an interest in eye balls. :) So we live the philosophy of “Treat your adult adoptive dog like a puppy”, and in our special case with the ‘agility of an adult dog.’

  15. Kay L. says

    I previously only had dogs from puppyhood, but last year I adopted a 14 month-old GSDxBC from a shelter, where he had been abandoned. My original intent was just a short-term foster, but my husband and I fell in love with him. He was honestly the worst-behaved dog in the shelter; he didn’t even know his name, wouldn’t give me any eye contact, and was wild on the end of a leash. I thought he was completely unadoptable like that, so I took him home to train some basic manners, and to allow him to heal because he had a host of injuries and infections.

    Although he wasn’t a puppy, I treated him very much like a puppy. I restricted access to all but a couple rooms in the house. I ‘housetrained’ him by taking him out whenever he woke up, and before sleeping, after play time, after eating – and rewarded him for going outside. I taught him his (new) name. He learned sit, down, walking on a leash – all as if he were a puppy. We went to puppy obedience class. He came to work with me. I did not let him out of my sight for the first 2 weeks unless he was in his crate. I ‘socialized’ him by meeting new people, dogs, situations, buildings.

    Probably the only way that I didn’t treat him as a puppy is that he gets (and needs) lots of exercise. Last summer he swam every day, and we have a 2-acre fenced field where we play ball or frisbee for at least an hour every day. Plus we go on long hikes.

    1 year later and he is the best-behaved dog that I have ever had. I can recall him from chasing a ball with 4 other dogs. He has never had a housetraining accident in my home (or anywhere we visit). He doesn’t bark, jump up, dig, chew or anything else destructive. He is great with other dogs, cats, kids and babies. He is a confident and happy dog with no behavioral issues or fears.

    I realize that part of this must be his natural temperament. But I think some is also that I didn’t take anything for granted. I assumed from the start that he had absolutely no training whatsoever, and I’ve spent tons of time working with him – really, no less than if he came to me as a puppy (and perhaps more). People say to me “You’re so lucky that you ended up with another great dog!” But I don’t think it’s just luck.

  16. lin says

    I think it’s good to be know that there could very well be a ‘honeymoon’ period, when the dog seems to be on his or her best behavior, and as they get more comfortable with you, they relax into different behaviors. Okay, that could be anthropomorphism, but it seemed as if the more our adult dog bonded with us, the less tolerant she became of other dogs. Her house manners were always impeccable.

  17. Kat says

    Ranger was surrendered to our local humane society due to a death in his previous family (no other details) so there was a description of his training and abilities provided by his previous family for us to go on. It said he was house trained so I figured he’d prefer to go outside but that I might not recognize his signals. There were two accidents one where he pooped in a cardboard box (good dog easy clean up) and the other where the cats trapped him in the middle of our bed and he submissively peed on our down duvet (rotten cats). I expected that he would generalize but that I might not understand what he was telling me initially. I suspect that’s a big problem with adopting a grown dog–with a puppy you’d naturally expect not to be able to interpret what the dog needs but with an adult it’s easy to forget that the problem may not be that the grown dog isn’t telling you, it may be that you aren’t understanding. The description also listed a number of commands that Ranger supposedly knew. He may have known them in his previous life but he didn’t know them when he came to live here. He learned quickly but initially he didn’t know sit or come or down or any of the basics when we asked him for them so he didn’t know what I was saying any more than I knew what he was saying. For the first week we kept him leashed to someone in the family just as a way to encourage him to learn the ebb and flow of life in his new house. Knowing he’d been surrendered due to a death I didn’t expect him to instantly bond with us. I figured he was a grieving dog who had been through a lot in a fairly short span of time–beloved person vanishes, others deposit him at a shelter, taken to pets walk (fundraiser for the Humane Society) where there is lots of chaos and confusion, then adopted by us so whole new house, new people, new rules, new everything. Day four was horrible. He whined and cried and I finally wound up sitting in the bathroom with him from about 2:00a.m. to 6:00 a.m. He circled and paced and whimpered but as long as I was there he didn’t cry or whine. About 5:00 I drifted off and he came and put his head inside the circle of my arms. It was a major turning point and we’ve never looked back.

  18. Susan Mann says

    Although Housetraining is definitely an issue that can take you by surprise when adopting an older dog, the one that startled me the most was when I brought Kyp! home (oh, and she was in heat- surprise, the shelter didn’t know or didn’t bother telling me!) was her complete willingness to get on anything- a window ledge (she weighs around 50 pounds!), the top of the refrigerator (where I fed the cats), my bureau (why?), etc. Added to that was her uncanny ability to open anything- refrigerator door, cabinets, crate doors (her own and other dogs!) and even my front door (which at that point I rarely locked!) Kyp! was a great teacher about both the value and mechanics of good management! And for anyone who wonders why I spell her name with an exclamation point at the end, perhaps this discussion answers that! We don’t know how old she was when I got her- best guess is 12-20 months old.

  19. Shalea says

    My experiences in bringing home retired greyhounds would indicate that not-puppies may not have had the exposure to human body language and habits of interaction (hugs, invasions of personal space, etc.) and may be less forgiving of such intrusions than a puppy might.

    With retired greyhounds in particular, unfamiliarity with stairs, slick floors, dog-level windows and window screens, and mirrors are all common.

  20. Mary Ann Martineau says

    I was in lala land when I adopted an adult dog after having one wonderful dog for 19 years and the other for 12 years. I had no idea I and all of us(dogs and cats) were in a rut….Adding one and then adding another older dog neither of which had no idea what I expected. I had to learn patience and tolerence again…I had to lower my expectations, I had to go slower think about fears the dogs might have..While my older dog knew what were household rules, these new “kids” had no idea. One dog NEVER had an accident in the house, but would refuse to eat if I gave a strong No to another dog….The other fur kid was having too much fun during our “last trip outside ” to even think about going potty, while I loved her cuddles during the night, I awoke every morning to Poop in the dining room., at present she is sleeping in her crate, and no more poop and she is settling down during the last outside to think about pottying…Yes the dogs have quirks, we are learning together, they are as patient with me as I am with them…

  21. says

    I’ve never adopted from a shelter but I did bring an older dog (as it applies here) into my home. Fortunately he was raised by my friend/breeder so we raise/train the same. What I found most difficult was bonding. After reading this article I realize I didn’t have realistic expectations at all. The fact that I even HAD expectations was unfair. But it is so true that bonding at this age is a different experience than it is with a puppy. Further proof not to blame the dog!

  22. Chris Zeltner says

    Over the last 15 plus years I have had several older rehomed and adult rescue dogs. They have required and and effort but I no longer wish for that new puppy. I have found that if I make sure I have several days at home so I can spend extra time while they are new to help them get settled in and get to know it more than pays for itself in the long run.

    My experience has been that while you have a pretty good idea of just who this new dog is after a few months it takes about a year to really see how they respond to things. My current new girl is a 4 year old Great Pyrenees and Anatolian Shepard mix. I have had her since last summer but this year I still need to do some more socialization. She was just too stressed when I brought her home and well it was a Wisconsin winter.

  23. says

    Having worked for many nonprofits over the years and taken many dogs out of shelters to train as Service Dogs, adult dogs have always been my favorites! Sure, they need structure and training, but their personality is already developed and they are so much easier in so many ways! :)

  24. Christina says

    The thing that surprised me the most was how little confidence my rescue had when I took her in (which we still struggle with sometimes 5 years later!) She didn’t know how to play with toys or really even how to play with humans. She was, just in general, so confused about life still and she was at least a year old. She still has a hard time with toys, especially since the corgi is a toy hoarder/thief. A good game of tug ends when I ask her to release.. she just releases, period. No amount of me trying to get her to reengage the game will get her to do it unless I ask her to mouth the toy for treats.

    We now have our games and rituals but they’re very specific to Arya and some of them are just silly. For instance, she lays on her back and squiggles around (I aptly call it squiggly butt and she can now be prompted by, “are you a squiggly butt?”) But she’s still a very atypical dog! Then, so is he corgi and he’s definitely not a rescue! Just an oddball.

  25. Kerbie C. says

    I adopted an adult dog from the vet tech school I attended. She lived most of her life caged before I took her into my home. I was not surprised to find that she “resource guards” her cage among other things. When visitors come over they seem to just see the behavior without questioning why she’s doing this. We’ve been working on this issue, but it’s clear that people have very high expectations for an adult shelter dog. I think that her cage was really the only area she could claim in the shelter(and possibly wherever else she stayed) as her own. This behavior has probably been going on for some time and isn’t going to just disappear. It’s not okay to give in to these learned behaviors, but I do think we should give more thought to them. If you can think about where, why or how they learned these behaviors then maybe you have a better chance at correcting them.

  26. says

    I think one of the most important realizations for new adopters is that the dog needs time to learn their patterns; to figure out what predicts what. Start on Day One with very short (2-5 minutes) departures and returns, so the dog can learn through repetition that even though they leave him, they will come back. Too often, new adopters spend 24/7 with the dog over a long weekend or holiday, or worse – summer vacation. The dog doesn’t learn how to be comfortable alone. (Come to think of it, I probably learned this originally from you!) Great blog. Looking forward to the newest booklet.

  27. Pat Wildgen says

    10 years ago I adopted a small dachshund mix – about age 2 -that my daughter found in TX and named “Angel”. She was calm in their house and with their other 2 large dogs. She was housebroken but had a few accidents until we cleared a spot in 2 feet of snow and showed her where to go. However, I quickly discovered that her motto around other dogs was “a good offense is the best defense”! She snarled and snapped and went nuts! When it became clear that she was afraid and not really aggressive, I spent the next 3 years – literally! -gradually getting her able to be near other dogs and greet appropriately. She is able to do this now with most dogs – not crazy young ones, though. I admit I sometimes regretted taking her but she was smart, learned basic obedience very quickly and is a really sweet dog. She loves people so her former owners obviously did not mistreat her. However, she has never been trustworthy around young children. I love her dearly but I will be much more careful if I ever want to adopt another older dog with an uncertain background. By the way, I changed her name!

  28. Pike says

    My biggest surprise – every time again – is how long it takes for older dogs to become their happy, confident selves. My little 10 year old Pom has been living here for almost 6 months now and she just had another big health and happiness spurt during the last two weeks.

    While she had steadily improved in small steps over the months, now it all happened at the same time: Gone are harness resentment, sound sensitivity (incl. clicker phobia), finicky eating habits, fear of driving in the car… and in came a playfully jumping and spinning little dog – just like something clicked into place and she feels at home now. Pretty amazing and who knows what else she has in store!

  29. em says

    Adopting Otis was certainly an eye-opener for me! Not about house or leash training, I figured I’d have to leash train, at least and I took no chances with the housebreaking, treating him just like a new puppy (out every hour or two for the first couple of weeks, watching closely for the restless sniffys, gradually increasing the time between potty breaks). We had very few accidents…an adult-sized bladder did make the process easier, I must say.

    What caught me off guard was how MUCH he had to learn. He was beautifully gentle, calm and generally confident, especially with other dogs, but he had no experience with basic human expectations. In hindsight, I think it was really two things that made his adjustment challenging. First, he didn’t understand most forms of human communication. He avoided direct eye contact, didn’t understand words at all for months. He was so adept at figuring out gestures and subtle cues that it was easy to forget that he had no idea how to respond to verbal cues, even his name.

    The bigger (sic) problem was simply one of physicality. Lunging on the leash, jumping on people, mouthing, chewing, poking his nose onto the dinner table or kitchen counter were all made much more difficult to manage because he was BIG. Even at his lowest point, he weighed 115 lbs. (He’s now at his ideal weight at 150lbs). Staying cool, calm, and collected is just harder when your dog can physically overpower you, and in our house, there is no such place as ‘out of reach’. This makes training and manners much more crucial, of course, and maybe the hardest part of the whole adoption was feeling rushed-pressured to stop unwanted behaviors RIGHT NOW, and frustrated because one written resource after another pointed out how important it was to ‘start training your Great Dane in puppyhood or face certain disaster’. I agree, but that ship had sailed.

    I would have killed for a copy of this booklet, and kissed the feet of someone who could have told me what turned out to be the truth. “It can be done. It will take time, probably not as little as you’d like, but not as much as you fear. In retrospect, we had it pretty easy. Otis was a fast learner with an easygoing personality. Still, even an easy case can feel overwhelming at times and a little reassurance would have been like gold.

  30. Jessica says

    When we adopted our 10-month-old Corgi mix, he was thankfully pretty well house-trained and had a good recall. What we were surprised about though, was the drastic change that took place in his personality within a few weeks of bringing him home. At the shelter he seemed sweet, calm and relatively mild-mannered. I think that being in the shelter for about a month had him in a state of shock, and after two weeks in our house, he became a completely different dog. He was still sweet, but high, high energy, easily frustrated and generally just a wild child of a dog. I think it’s important to take in to account that a lot of adult dogs don’t handle the stress of shelters very well and may need some time to really come into their true personalities.

  31. Carole-anne says

    What an interesting post!
    I am a adult dog adopter, last 3 dogs have been adults rescues. Truth be told I have raised 3 dogs from puppyhood and found it extremely difficult! Gosh, they are cute but so high maintenance!!! I know it depends on the dog and the breed, my last puppy (13 years ago) was a Border Collie…need I say more… she ruined me for all future puppies!
    Chewed walls, furniture, Gas-X pills, Nicorette gum, dark chocolate, rocks, balls, clothes, shoes…

    The 3 adult dogs I adopted needed some work on being clean in the house, crating 2 of them has helped this greatly. However, they are content with 30 minutes of play or walk a day and snuggling on the couch! I do agility competitions with one of my dogs, and I loved that I was able to start doing some serious training with her, whereas with a puppy you need to wait until they are a year old before you let them jump regularly.
    As for bonding, I have found that many rescues seem to bond even stronger to you than many people that raised dogs from puppies, ut again this does depend on the breed and family raising them. I foster many adult dogs on and off and they always seem so grateful. Warms the heart!

  32. Laurie says

    All my dogs have been adult rescues, aged two to twelve when I got them. To me it seems easier than a puppy. Kind of like getting a roommate. Spend from a few weeks to a few years learning to understand each other and you get the best friend ever, but you enter it more as equals looking for a common language. Perhaps someday I will try a pup, but even my dog with a story was a joy to work with from day one.

  33. Kathy says

    We adoped our dog from our local shelter six years ago and her age was estimated to be about one year. She had been found near a woods, very thin, and covered in burrs. I figured that we would be starting from square one, as you would a puppy, and I was lucky to be able to spend a lot of time with her. However she progressed at a much more excellerated pace than a puppy. She only had two accidents in the house and has never had one since, even though I had anticipated that there might have been more. I never left her off leash until I was confident that she knew that this was where she belonged and would come when called. I also kept her gated in the laundry room while we were gone until I felt she was comfortable to be left out and I felt comfortable leaving her out. Having never adopted an adult dog before it was very remarkable to see her personality blossom over the first few weeks (perhaps she began to feel more secure?). She is my “forever dog” and my lucky find. She is also a therapy dog at a hospital and hospice. Hopefully it will be many years but I will definitely adopt another adult dog because they are certainly worth the time invested in them.

  34. says

    I actually really lucked out with Emma. She’s probably about 5 yo and had a very rough life before she came to me but has never had an accident in any indoor space she’s been in, and has been a bit of a shadow to me since about day one. I’ve never had a problem with recall when at off leash parks or on hiking trails and she really doesn’t wander at all even when off leash.

    What I have run into with her are potentially severe behavioral issues that the rescue group that I got her from completely overlooked. They mistook an extraordinarily shutdown dog for one with no behavioral issues. She’s been with me for almost ten months at this point and she’s still opening up everyday. Just last month she played with a toy for the first time, today she actually ran after a thrown toy for the first time, and even brought it back to me, wanting to play with me (previously she’d only wanted to chew on toys on her own). But she has marked reactivity to perceived aggression in people, even very simple arm movement and slightly raised voices. It’s gotten worse as she’s opened up, and even with ten months of working with her on it, it seems to swell up along with her breakthroughs. So it’s as important to realize that an adopted adult dog may have potentially severe behavioral issues that you won’t see at first, maybe the dog’s shutdown, or really stressed from the shelter environment, etc.

  35. Beth says

    Ah, what you say is so true and I don’t know if all shelters/rescues do a good job of prepping people on bringing home an adult. We have two Corgis, one of whom we got as a pup at the typical age (ten weeks in our case) and the other we got as a retired show dog who’d had one litter and was coming on five. She’d been a house dog and had been taken out and about a lot.

    The breeder had experience in rehoming adults before (both a few of her own and some rescues) and she insisted repeatedly that when we first brought her home, we were to treat her like a puppy in terms of confinement. That meant she was absolutely NOT allowed to be loose in the house unless we were right there to watch her. Since she was crate- and ex-pen-trained, that was easy enough to do but I was glad we were told to do it because my inclination would have been to give her more freedom.

    The breeder stressed that she was house-trained (actually had run of the house during the day and again overnight) but that in a new house, nothing was guaranteed. She also told us that females WILL mark, and that if she had any accidents inside it could trigger even a housebroken dog to think that the new inside spot was ok. So we followed the advice and had no issues. We also made sure to use a slip lead on the first few walks so there was no chance of her slipping a collar and bolting; I’d already heard of rehomed/rescued adult dogs running off, never to be found again because they were in a strange area and did not even recognize their new humans yet.

    As for puppies following automatically: I have both a funny story and a question for Trish, if she has the time to answer:

    When we brought Jack home at 10 weeks, he was a friendly and outgoing little guy, which was great and just what we asked for. We live near a busy park and wanted a happy-go-lucky, confident pup who would not be intimidated by all the dogs and people that go by every day. The breeder picked him out for us. We originally wanted a girl, but she said she had two with the personality that would fit what we were looking for and both were males, so we got a male.

    My experience with puppies is that they follow whoever was the last person to coo over them. So imagine my surprise when I put him down on the grass that first day home and he started heading to the front of the house to wander up the block! I thought it was first-day jitters, but over the next few days he tended to want to go exploring so often that I needed to leash the little guy from the get-go or he’d just see something interesting and go off to check it out. Even at night, I’d take him out to potty and he’d hear a noise in the bushes and bark and run TOWARDS it! At not even three months….

    I found this very unusual in a puppy and wonder if it is indicative of a particular personality trait? I don’t want to make it sound like he was ignoring me because he didn’t; like most pups he’d run over if I’d crouch down and clap my hands or laugh or waggle my fingers in the grass. He’d come running to the high-pitched “Puppy puppy puppy” that the breeder used to call the litter when they’d be out playing. He loved every person and dog he met, and still does to this day (he’s now nearly 4 and has his CGC and is certified as a therapy dog through TDI).

    But he was bold and fearless and had none of that puppy clinginess that I’d seen in almost every other puppy I’d ever been around. He’s grown into a bossy, confident yet sensitive adult. He still likes other dogs and other people and still wants to go check out every strange noise he hears. I guess he’s fairly dominant (other dogs will tend to lick at his lips) but not at all status-seeking and will walk away from another dog who’s aggressive rather than engage or submit.

    Does being extremely nosy and confident as a pup go along with a certain personality type?

  36. Dee says

    I seem to get adult dogs that have not been socialized. I have to start over as if they are puppies with introducing them to children, men, other dogs. The veterinary behaviorist put my English Cocker on the canine equivalent of Prozac for 9-months while I socialized her as she was a puppy. It worked! If they missed critical socialization periods, it can be tough. My mini Aussie is getting better, but we still have work to do after more than a year.

  37. Heidi says

    Well, I adopted my first dog ever about 13 months ago. She will be 4 in May. We were told she was a backyard breeder dog and seemed to have been loved but not socialized or lived with humans. The large Denver shelter we adopted her from has a purebred waiting list, so when we got a call that she was available, we had to get down to the shelter before any of the other people on the list (who had also been called). It took us 12 minutes. :)

    We had to do a quick evaluation of her temperment, using the steps in a book by Sue Shepard (sp?) and discovered she was not a resource guarder of anything and was very people-oriented (she is a Boston terrier, after all). We loved her sweet face and fell in love.

    Okay, it’s been 13 months and the sweet girl pees in our house nearly every time we leave her alone. She has severe separation anxiety and despite all the herbal, natural, and medical treatments we have given her, she’s up to about 2 hours alone without completely going into a tizzy. NOt to mention the visits by the animal behaviorist. Yay. Then, in December, we finally got a diagnosis of megaesophagus, which requires special feeding. Yay.

    While we did NOT expect a perfect, well-behaved dog (the three books I read before we adopted cured me of that expectation), we didn’t think it would be THIS hard.

    So my advice for new dog owners? Be patient, and be in it for the long haul. There’s a reason you chose that dog in the shelter. Sometimes you just have to visualize that initial meeting in the shelter (or wherever) to remind you why you were drawn to her. We are aliens to dogs. If I were living with an alien who peed in different places than I, or who thought about food differently, or didn’t have the same language as me, it would take me a long time to understand their culture. Same thing with dogs. They are trying to understand our culture. And perhaps more importantly, I am trying to understand (or at least appreciate the difference of) her culture.

    The advice I like best? You don’t get the dog you want. You get the dog you need. Now, if anyone can just tell me what the heck the universe is trying to tell me… :)


  38. Susanne says

    I think the best comparison I can think of to describe how I felt during my first few days with an adopted adult dog is that I think this is how I would feel driving in England in a car where all the controls have been moved around just enough to make me search for them.
    So while I felt some general connection to my new charge none of the dog’s own rules made any sense to me, even though they looked vaguely familiar. I am sure my own rules were just as strange to him! This is how I feel driving in a foreign country, just barely competent!
    Additionally even though I can tell the dog has had a lifetime of training and experiences i have no knowledge of what he has learned and this both frustrates and challenges me. I am frustrated that since he has grown up outside of my presence that we do not have the same communication i enjoy with my home raised fur kids and I am challenged to carefully observe his behavior so I may better understand him, his past learning experiences, and how to start the communication process. Just like figuring out where the moved around controls are in my imaginary car. Such a challenge but so worth the effort.

  39. Barb says

    I think one of the expectations people have when getting another dog is that it will be like the other one they had. If they had a good dog, they thought was smart and caused little trouble, they are shocked when the new dog doesn’t act the same way. Many people want another dog of the same breed as the great dog they just had, thinking they will get that dog again.
    Every dog, of every breed is different and it’s hard for some people to understand that. I don’t know, do they think a dog is a dog?
    I can not count how many of my students have said “but our fluffy never did that” “but my fideo knew that and I didn’t have to teach him” etc.

  40. says

    I still have to remind myself sometimes that the new dogs are not my old dog and can’t be expected to behave like her just because they’re mine now.

    Old dog had years of careful training from puppyhood. New dogs (ages 3 and 5) came with some basic obedience, but not the devotion and understanding I had grown used to. I love them to pieces, but sometimes they make me crazy. So we keep working on figuring each other out.

  41. L says

    I am one of those people who really prefer adult dogs. I also volunteer at a shelter, working with dogs who have issues that make them less adoptable. The adult dogs I’ve adopted have worked out really well. One was a 7 yr old basset, and my current (a cocker mix) was 3-4 yrs when I adopted him.

    I think it’s really important to understand that an adult dog is not a mind-reader. Just because the dog may already be housetrained or know a command or two, does not mean that it also knows *your* house rules and expectations. People have such different expectations for their dogs. The previous owner may not have cared if the dog jumped on the furniture or got in the trash. Maybe the previous owner kept the trash in a cupboard, or maybe the dog was not allowed in the kitchen (or house) in the first place. How is this dog supposed to intuitively know that it shouldn’t dump over the trash can it has access to at it’s new home, or know not to eat the couch if it was kept crated 20 hrs a day in it’s previous home and was never left alone with the couch?

    I think newly aquired adult dogs are in greater need of structure and consistancy than puppies. An adult already has previous experience with positve and negative human interaction. They are trying to figure out where on the scale of their experience this stranger fits in. If you are fair, consistent and very clear most adult dogs (regardless of background) will really attempt to follow the new rules. It may not be perfect, it may take some time, and like any training program you start from basics and move forward. Once they start figure out the new system and how this new human communicates, you’d be surprised just how far these dogs can go.

    I also find it disappointing how harsh some new owners are with a newly aquired adult dog. Some have no qualms doing things to an adult dog they wouldn’t dream of doing to a 4 mo old puppy, and do things that they would not have done to a dog they had personally raised. Considering this new adult has had it’s world turned upside down, harshness during this critical time can be traumatic.

    I’ve seen several dogs come back to the shelter in worse shape than they had orignally come in, when the new owner wanted to make them “behave” the way their current dog does, or the way their previous dog did. Some of these dogs have been set so far back it’s heartbreaking/sickening. These are homes that were screened, with previous dog experience and most already had current dogs at home that seemed happy & normal.

    It’s also important to remember that adult dogs are not robots. Even if they have learned commands in the shelter, it does not mean that they will automatically follow these commands from a complete stranger, particularly if the signaling isn’t obvious. That occurs in *plenty* of dogs who have never been re-homed.

    I really prefer adult dogs but some people expect too much from a dog they’ve just met. I am always pleasantly surprised to find out that a new adult dog already knows x, y, or z or obviously had some run-ins with a cat somewhere and is very careful & respectful of them. I am not shocked if there is an accident or they get into something I was stupid enough to leave out. I think the only truly bad surprised I’ve had is I did not fully appreciate what a dog who spent a month as a stray will do to access food. Even though I was careful to keep everything out of reach or behind doors, during the first month I had him, my current dog managed to pop open a closet door and nearly eat himself to death with kibble. He weighed 38 lbs and ate approximately 8 lbs of kibble. I rushed him to the ER where they spent 4 hrs trying to get the food out so he wouldn’t rupture his stomach. Thankfully he made it, but it took over 2 yrs for him to stop constantly searching for food.

  42. Shannon B. says

    One thing that I noted more as an observation than any sort of “issue” was the ‘coming out of the shell’ phenomenon. We adopted a youngish, 1.5 year old Aussie who was obviously on his best behavior the first few weeks in our home. As he and we became more and more comfortable with each other, the routine and the new altered reality of living together, his behavior began to change. It was wonderful to watch him come out of his shell and even act naughty on occasion. Watching this lovely boy become a real dog again was something I didn’t quite expect but was wonderfully surprised by.

  43. Janice says

    My husband and I adopted an “adult” dog when our beloved lab died two years ago. We got Hank — a beagle who howls like a hound — from a local beagle rescue. He had been found on the side of a highway on a cold February day, rescued with a buddy by a caring human, and fostered by a family with beagles and bassets. What surprises me — even two years later — is how much we don’t know about his life before he was rescued and how that seems to continue to affect him. The rescue organization thought he was about a year to 18 months old. Our vet thought he was older — 3 to 4 years old. Whichever it is, he is wonderful 99% of the time, but seems to have bad dreams and howls up a storm if my husband leans over him when he is tired or sleeping, or picks him up. It is as if he suddenly remembers some horrible experience from the past and begins to howl, then just as quickly snaps back to the loving dog. There is no violence, mouthing, or snarling, just this loud howl. And occasionally, he wets the bed, just like a child… no other accidents, just once every two or so months, he wets his own bed, then climbs into bed with our other dog. Bad dreams? Who is to say what’s going on in his mind. I wish I could erase that other part of his life, before he was warm and well fed (maybe too well fed) and safe. But I wouldn’t hesitate to adopt an older dog — they have so much love to give.

    PS Hank is NEVER off the leash outside, unless he is in a fenced yard, and even then I wouldn’t leave him alone for long. I don’t think he would knowingly wander off, but his nose might lead him far afield and he would forget everything else.

  44. Kerrie says

    I was looking for a show /agility prospect when I bought my adolescent BC (15 mos).( I had an older BC who was 7 at the time). He came from the breeder full of life and joy. But because of lack of socilization, lack of other stimulus outside of the kennel things were difficult. At the kennel he was lively, friendly and fun. At home I couldn’t touch him for a few days, he marked everything, he did eventually get used to the farmlife, and liked being with the goats. But he fought and picked at my other dog the whole time he was here. At the kennel he knew his place in the pack, here he didn’t. The 19 mos he was with us, I had to manage them constantly. It was stressful on the others in the house, especially my older dog he was losing his fur from stress.
    This was the hardest dog to work with, training was a constant puzzle, this dog didn’t know how to play with toys, didn’t bait for treats. He was fearful, didn’t like kids much, men were tolerated. He was so reactive that taking him to class, any class was too much for him. We only finished one class and it was a focus class that my friend taught . Yes this dog made me cry.
    I Honestly think he would have been better off staying at the kennel sometimes. His life was a constant there, he knew what to expect day after day. Here, he had a new experience everyday sometimes he enjoyed them sometimes (most times) he didn’t.
    I did eventually teach him to retreive a toy this took months (almost a year) , he was a beautiful obedience/rally dog(never got to compete though), and I did get him into the show ring, we made it to the group ring. He got his CGC just before his 3rd birthday last December, a week later he was put down because of complications and seizures caused by a suspected brain tumor. He taught me a lot those few months that I had him. This was the short of the story I am sure if I really thought about it I could have written more.
    I miss him but I don’t miss all the drama, and management.
    Would I do this again? Not sure yet, but the possibility has been presented. I am not sure I am up to it.

  45. says

    I’m one of the lucky ones. I got the dog that DID seem to understand that the new house(s) she was brought to were not places to do her business (no accidents, not even in the first week). I got the dog who came with no major issues, who didn’t jump up on people, who stuck close by us (in the first week she squeezed by out of the house and didn’t want to go anywhere but our side). The thing I have to keep reminding myself is that she is NOT “most dogs” and we will likely not be this lucky with the next dog we get! It’s good to read about other folks’ adoptions and what they faced.

  46. Lanette Yingling says

    I have two adult dogs that I adopted from a shelter that have been amazing additions to our family. The first one we adopted is a mixed breed named Diesel. We had had him a couple of months already when I he decided to take off one day. I let him out to go potty and he saw a rabbit in the front yard and decided it would be a good one to chase!! He took off without a trace! Fortunately, he had a collar on with his name and phone number. When we finally got him back later in the afternoon….he stunk to high heaven!! My husband gave him a bath and, not knowing this, I gave him another bath (1 obviously didn’t work!) when I got home! Being that he hates getting wet, he has NEVER run away again!!
    Our other dog, an adult Golden Retriever, a stray with no known history, has NEVER left the yard even given ample opportuntiy! That is why I think that someone dumped her and left her to fend for herself :( She is an amazing animal and is full of love and energy, even at 8 yrs old!
    You just never know what you are going to get with an adopted dog, however, I would rather give one that needs a home a chance than pay a breeder.
    On another note: Patricia, I am a great fan of your books which I have just discovered a couple of months ago. Karyn Inman referred me to you because I am wanting to learn more about dog behavior. I am currently reading “For the Love of a Dog” and have read “The Other End of the Leash”. I only wish that when I was in school completing my Biology major that I had thought of studying Animal Behavior to a greater degree than just one class (which happened to be one of my favorrites!).
    Thanks for all the information and for a wonderful website! I just discovered it today!!

    Lanette Yingling

    Mid-Day Play
    Dog Walking and Pet Sitting

  47. Rachel says

    I’ve never posted before … but I’ve been lurking for a long time. :)

    I adopted my first ever dog last May. His age was estimated at 4 years when I adopted him. He was formerly a hunting / house dog who was surrendered to a shelter (I don’t really know the reason why). As I’d never owned a dog before and I had spent several months volunteering in a shelter before I aopted him, I didn’t have any expectation that he would be perfectly well behaved. I did have some expectation that training happens reasonably quickly, which turned out to be completely untrue at first.

    He had a mix of excellent (no interest in chasing my cats, wonderful with other dogs, quiet, nondestructive, no separation anxiety) and challenging (noise sensitive, hand shy, nervous about people and moving objects) behaviors.

    I was initially set back because of the wealth of dog training info on tv and on the web. I’d done a lot of research beforehand, but it turned out that a lot of the techniques I’d seen were not the right techniques for my dog. Going for super long walks initially did NOT cement our relationship as my dog would be super nervous the entire time. Jerking on the leash when he pulled never reduced the pulling because it turns out he was pulling because he was nervous (and the jerking just exacerbated that problem).

    I was also surprised that he could back out of a flat buckle collar. He heard a scary noise (this was the first week I’d had him), backed out of the collar, then ran faster than anything I’d ever seen. And I was left standing, holding his collar (complete with tags) while he ran. I felt like the worst person to have ever adotped a dog. I managed to get him back (the next morning) thanks to a good samaritan and the help of my rescue group. Anyways … the point of this story is that I wish someone had told me to use a harness or a martingale collar from the start.

    Taking an actual training class was a turning point for me. The trainers were understanding and very discerning in picking up what my dog was trying to tell me. I started to understand his body language better and have more empathy for him.

    Even though I’ve had him in my house for nearly a year, I feel like we have breakthroughs all the time. I remember the first time he took a cookie from my hand, the first time he wagged his tail, the first time he played with a toy, the first time he playbowed towards me, the first time he solicited affection, the first time he sniffed at a stranger rather than bolting in the opposite direction.

    And about bonding … I’m easy. I was in love with him when I first picked him up from his foster home. And while I’m sure he didn’t consider me trustworthy at first, time, patience, and a gentle touch have since convinced him. :)

  48. LynnSusan says

    Ahhh, the days of PUPPY-BRAIN!!!
    Gracie was 10 months old when I brought her home–and she had spent 7 of those 10 months in a kennel. She was a complete tabula rasa,yet she looked, at 72 pounds, very much like an adult dog.
    She is soft, and sweet and smart, so on some levels I was very lucky—and she was one of those dogs who really wanted to bond. For the first 48 house I kept her tethered to me. She soon caught on to the idea of house breaking, and within a week she never had another accident in the house. But she had had so little mental stimulation, and she was so starved for attention and affection, I did have some problems with her experiencing life through her mouth—she redesigned my kitchen cabinetry, made pesky bills and magazines disappear, and I found she had a taste for the finer things in life when she ate my mother’s pearls!

    The largest problem I had was trying to figure out what she knew ,and what she didn’t know—-and she didn’t know a LOT! She learned her name almost immediately, and she watched my every move, so I had to be very purposeful, not only in my larger movements, but a frown or a raised eyebrow could upset her. We worked a lot on basic commands before her obedience class started. But one day, the handyman closed but neglected to latch the gate. We went into the yard, and Gracie took off on a romp! I was terrified because even though I live on a lightly traveled street, Gracie was not car savvy! Fortunately I had read The Other End of the Leash and I clapped and ran away from her. She only slightly terrorized the young family looking to buy the house across the street (cost my neighbors a sale–but they are too good to lose, anyway) When I ran away from Gracie, she wanted to join in the game, and came close enough for me to get a hand on her collar.

    But we worked things out for the most part, and I had to adjust my thinking to her developmental level. It was my job to fill her life with different places, people, and situations—because there was no way for her to know these things until she lived them.

    Now, at 4 years old she is a wonderful, stable, polite dog. And please don’t let Gracie know, but sometimes I really miss that puppy-brain. I sometimes still see it —the gleam in her eye when she pulls the socks off my feet and rushes around with her prize, or the big smile when she has somehow managed to loft her 115 pound bulk on top of the outdoor fireplace, and is “King of the Mountain”.
    The “puppy brain” will always live a little in both of us.

  49. Katie says

    As always, such sound and common sense advice. Whenever I have another adult dog foster or stray I treat it as a puppy, because I know I cannot expect a dog to know what the rules or boundaries are in my house or yard. Treating all new dogs the same way and starting from square one with teaching and leading is SO important! :)

  50. Lyn says

    What a timely subject for me, too! I’ve fostered many adult dogs, and I always assume they won’t be housebroken or have any real training. What came as a complete surprise to me with my latest foster dog, a 5-year-old, 140 lb. Rottweiler, was that he had no vocabulary whatsoever. It wasn’t just that he didn’t understand sit or stay. He didn’t understand Anything. You get accustomed to communicating with your dogs in an off-hand manner and don’t realize how much they pick up just from every day repetition. Although they may not move in the direction I want, when I tell one of my dogs “out of the way”, they at least respond by moving one way or another, simply because they know that means I’m on the move. Other informal requests like “come on”, “let’s go”, “eat your dinner” all went unheeded with Ben. I described him as a 3-foot moving brick wall. I’ve worked with deaf dogs who had a better understanding of body language than he did of either non-verbal or verbal cues. Our assumption (he was picked up as stray, so we have no idea what his background was) is that he had extremely limited human contact, but he’s such a sweet, affectionate dog, it’s hard to imagine. It’s possible that he just doesn’t know English, but his lack of understanding of non-verbal cues doesn’t support that. Fortunately, he does have the Rottie smarts, so he learned quickly, but the first couple days I had him, I was ripping my hair out thinking he was just being stubborn. Learning to treat a huge, adult dog like he was only a few-weeks old puppy was a very good lesson in patience!

  51. says

    Can’t wait for the book! I’ve fostered for several years, and adopted all of my own from either 1) shelter, 2) rescue, or 3) released from a SAR training program. Some things I’ve found…

    The problems are not so much different as they are BIGGER, and RIGHT AWAY – instead of the issues coming along slowly as a pup gains size and mobility. I think people don’t expect this, and are often overwhelmed with the amount of issues they see in the first days/weeks. Deciding to manage and/or avoid some of the issues for a while, and letting go of the idea that everything needs to be “fixed” right away, seem to help.

    Don’t be surprised (or angry!) if your newly adopted dog shows problem behaviors the shelter/rescue didn’t tell you about. Foster families and shelter staff are mostly just regular people who are generous enough to volunteer to help these dogs, sharing their homes and their time – this should be enough, we should not expect them to all be dog behavior / breed / age experts too! For some reason this one seems to surprise the most people, who have expectations that the group they obtained the dog from is full of all-knowing dog experts. The more experienced ones also might do some prevention and management of the dog’s environment without even knowing it that kept those behaviors from appearing. And as others have pointed out, the dog’s stress level might have inhibited a lot of behaviors from appearing – their confidence might rise over weeks/months, so expect some behavior changes over a longer time than just that first week.

    I’ve had more than one new adopter (usually brand new dog owners) be very freaked out by their dog’s frantic behavior, until they call me in a panic, and when they describe what’s happening I give the very technical diagnosis of “the zoomies.” :) I think people don’t necessarily expect adult dogs to zoom around like this.

    Don’t let assumptions that the dog “must have been abused” keep you from also assuming that your dog can and will get more comfortable with its world with your help (the dog is more likely just run of the mill shy/undersocialized anyway.)

  52. Lacey H says

    Please be sure to include the tips from Cindy Martin and Marie; I think these cover the most common failures in rescue dogs’ placements. Lots of great stories here.

  53. Lynn says

    Like Shalea, I have a retired racing Greyhound, and in my experience the Greyhound adoption groups actually tend to do a pretty good job preparing potential adopters by educating us about the range of things Greyhounds can’t be expected to know about (like stairs, slippery floors, windows, etc.). Once you start to think about those things, you start to extrapolate to all the other things they might not have been exposed to, like people on bicycles, wind chimes, and squeaky toys.

    Trisha, you just said a little bit in your post about generalization, but I think that’s a huge key here, especially with adult dogs. Understanding it certainly changed my perspective. Once I started thinking about my dog’s behaviors as distinct and separate as we moved from from one context to the next, we started to communicate much better. Every time a variable changes, I try to think about it as a new behavior — watching me in the living room is different from watching me in the bedroom, which is different from outside in the backyard, which is different from outside in the backyard in snow, which is different from outside at the dog park in snow, and so on. Sometimes she’s able to extrapolate and figure out the new context before I have to start from scratch, by but getting rid of the expectation that she would just figure it out — that watching me is watching me, no matter where she is — I can be pleasantly surprised by her genius when she gets it, instead of being highly annoyed when she doesn’t.

  54. jackie says

    “What I have run into with her are potentially severe behavioral issues that the rescue group that I got her from completely overlooked. They mistook an extraordinarily shutdown dog for one with no behavioral issues. ”

    Exactly the same problem we had: we found out quickly that our 1 year old dog was terrified of everything, had no idea what a lead was for, and after two days became a velcro dog and so separation anxiety reared its head. The aggression towards humans and dogs emerged after about three weeks, and we have come to realise that he was profoundly undersocialised when a pup. We were only told that he was ‘a bit nervous’ and ‘worried by small children’.

    What we didn’t have a problem was with housebreaking, because from his history I never thought he would be, so I watched him like a hawk and took him outside frequently. We did have a few accidents at night to start with but I had him in a room with an easy to clean floor.

    Two years on he still has serious problems. I have often thought that we adopted the wrong dog, due to our lack of preparedness and experience, but if he’d gone to most ordinary dog owners I think he would have been pts by now. I’m too stubborn to give up!

  55. Cassie says

    One thing I find people have a hard time understanding that often the dog they bring home is a much more muted version of the dog they will start to see in another few weeks or days. Many people seem surprised when the timid, well mannered adult dog they brought into their home starts acting like a real dog a few days or weeks after it moves in. It’s like being a guest in someones house versus living in a house- once they feel comfortable they can let their whole personality show.

    I see a lot of post adoption exams at my vet clinic and try to emphasize the idea of setting rules and expectations that first day that you would like to live with for the next number of years you and the dog are together. Many of my clients want to spoil the dogs because they feel sorry for them instead of giving them the safety of clear rules and expectations for life in their house. When the dog starts to feel comfortable he/she will often act in ways that the people are not happy with (digging through the garbage, being pushy with the other dogs in the home, tearing stuff up, etc). I spend a lot of time reminding them that even though these are adult dogs, we still need to start them in situations where they can behave well and be reinforced for it, and then slowly give them freedoms in our house or social situations.

  56. Joyce says

    My husband and I have adopted older dogs for years. Our two dogs that we have now are the 2 of the youngest dogs we have adopted in a long time. They were 6 months to a year old and the second was 1- 1/2years old. We have learned many things over the years. We have learned to have a ton of patience,intestinal fortitude, perserverance and love. How a dog is handled also depends partly on their personality type. Our first dog would rather go out of his way to please me then to be yelled at or corrected. He has been christened an old soul. My second dog is completely opposite. She is high energy, very alpha female, and thinks she is the center of the universe. she spent the first 6 months of her life in a junk yard and the next year with elderly people whose neighborhood had gone to pot. She acted like a maniac and they let her. They didn’t teach her anything and what little they did teach her was not good like feeding her from the table. The first 6-7 months with her were hell. We spent so much time teaching her and constantly correcting her that we couldn’t even love her. What kept us going is that we knew underneath it all she was a good dog and that if we re-surrendered her she would be put down. Now 2 years later we can’t imagine our lives without her. She keeps us on our toes but she also makes us laugh. The other thing we have learned about older dogs is that sometimes they come with personality quirks that are just a part of who they are and that can’t be changed. We just learned to accept them over the years. It isn’t always easy working with and dealing with older dogs but in our experience it does eventually pay off for the dog and for the human.

  57. Joy says

    I didn’t expect my 2-year old to be mouthy like a puppy. He was just short of his first birthday when I adopted him. Zero socialization, never been in a house and everything frightened him – especially people. I expect housetraiing problems and difficulty wiht a leash but not to be working on puppy-like behavior a year later. We’ve gone through many phases in his socialization: the frozen in fear stage, followed by the “I’m going to eat you if you approach me” because I’m afraid stage, and finally, we’ve reached the current stage of I’m wary but can be convinced to interact. He’s slow to warm up to people now but if allowed to do it in his own time/way, he can be friendly. I was pretty excited to reach this last stage that was until I realized that he acted like a 3 month old puppy around people once he’s comfortable. He is mouthy, pulls on clothes, attacks shoes, nips at hands….(all things he doean’t do to me). Teaching an adult dog the proper way to interact with people has proved difficult – especially as I don’t want to back track on the socialization. Didn’t see this one coming…..

  58. Donna in VA says

    I adopted my sheltie Max at about 4 years of age. He was not neutered at the time and the humping behavior was very embarassing. He was neutered within a month (shelter rules) and that behavior subsided. I had not had a dog for about 20 years so I did not really have an expectation about how he should behave. I was going to deal with whatever happened and expected to go through a learning curve.
    Initially I took him outside 5 times a day and we did not have housebreaking problems. 5 times a day then evolved to 3 outside breaks daily at a minimum – 2 long walks of 45 minutes or more, and a last quick trip outside at bedtime. However in the 2nd winter I had him, he started sneaking to the basement in the middle of the night to defacate. I was surprised that after a year and a half this should start happening. So I did 2 things: I leashed him to my bedside at night for 2 or 3 weeks so he could not leave without my knowing it. And I started ALWAYS rewarding him for defacating outside, I still do. I think it is important to continue to communicate what we DO want by rewarding it. Don’t just assume the dog knows what you want, reinforce it daily.

  59. em says

    Lyn…I know this feeling EXACTLY.
    “What came as a complete surprise to me with my latest foster dog, a 5-year-old, 140 lb. Rottweiler, was that he had no vocabulary whatsoever. It wasn

  60. Kim says

    My youngest two dogs were adolescents when I adopted them. They were both unclaimed strays. I’ve also helped my sister and a friend adopt pound dogs. I think the most surprising thing about all these dogs is how few problems or behavioral issues any of them have. They all came out of the pound and quickly adapted to their new lives. None of them had any noticeable formal training, but I wouldn’t really expect any. People who put a lot of effort into their dogs tend to go to great lengths to find them if they get lost. I think the biggest problem with any of the dogs has been housebreaking. On the other hand, one of my dogs has never had an accident in the house and the other one had a total of two or three accidents in the house, so even that wasn’t a problem in my dogs.

  61. Ellen Pepin says

    Our first adopted dog was a little over a year old. Neither my husband or I had had a dog since childhood so we knew nothing. Nikki had been on the streets for at least a month when the shelter got her. She was also pregnant. We adopted Nikki a few months later. When we took her home, it was a study in what not to do. We took her into the house where she promptly urinated in the dining room. We were too naive to know to let her wander (on a leash) outside first. Looking back, I now realize how scared she must have been. We learned very quickly to take her out often, and we had no more accidents in the house. We know that she must have been in a house at some time, because she really was house trained.

    We were quite lucky with our second dog, Dakota. He was about 2. When we got home, we took him all around the house on leash until he found a spot to relieve himself. He was quite well trained when we got him. He had been in two other houses.

    Our newest dog, Tess, was adopted from a collie rescue group in northern VA. She was found wandering in DC and picked up by Animal Control. She was very sick and spent a month in the hospital. Before we got her she was in a foster home for a month or so. She also was trained when we got her. She did have accidents during sleep, but the vet put her on medication and there has been no problem since.

    However, the biggest issue I have seen with these dogs is getting their trust. Nikki never did trust many people, and was hard to manage in public. Over the course of 11 years, she did improve, but not completely. Dakota loves most people and other dogs so we have only a few problems. We’ve had Tess almost 2 years, and she approaches people somewhat cautiously. She does like to go over to new people, and she is very good with children.

    All of these dogs had a basic obedience course, Nikki 3 times) which I think is extremely important. Tess’s recall still needs a lot of work, but now I can work with her.

  62. Deedra Climer Bass says

    Maxx (3 yo GSD) came to us in February after bopping between foster homes & shelters for several months. We already had Ezra (10 mo GSD) who was well bonded with us and wouldn’t go more than a few yards away before stopping to check with me for direction. Maxx not only takes off down the street whenever the door is cracked open, but Ezra follows. We’ve been working on bonding and “watch me” as he never looked me in the eye when he first came. When we go hiking, recall is almost nil (working on that, too).

    My biggest fear before Maxx got here was that Ez & he wouldn’t get on. No worries about that now. I wasn’t expecting to have to chase Maxx all over the neighborhood.

    We are also working on “mat” – his place to go when the doorbell rings. Having two teenagers who constantly have friends over means that our door is opened 100 times a day unexpectedly. My hope is that the more this feels like “home” to him, the less desire to run he’ll feel.

    Dee w/ Maxx & Ezra

  63. Gail Lawson says

    We have had seven Alaskan Malamute rescues over the years, some more difficult than others. In January we brought home a 20-month old who was afraid of everything and everyone. He didn’t know how to do stairs and had never lived in a house. There had been no abuse but he needed lots of attention, love, encouragement, and play. He has earned his CGC, is doing Rally, and is learning to be a sled dog. He is a sponge and needs a job. Exercise (he has his own large pen), daily walks/runs, and play have been the foundation.

  64. s says

    I agree that there are different expectations for adult dogs. The biggest thing is not to assume much – even if you have been told by the fosters or the rescue group that a dog is good with cats and kids, be cautious. I also think folks overload their dogs – they take their kids, their other dog(s) to the pick up and shove them in the car and off the go – its amazing to me that you’d put a new dog uncrated in the car next to your existing dog and kids (especially very young ones) within 15 minutes of picking up the new dog!!! I limited what my kids did with our dogs when we adopted them – something I was glad of for our 2nd dog which started as just a foster dog – she was VERY rough taking treats (very toothy) and it has taken quite a bit of work to get her to take treats gently. If one of the kids had given her a treat right off without me assessing her, they would have been bitten and started off the relationship on a bad note, no fault of either the dog or the child!!

    Don’t assume your dog knows manners in the car, don’t send your kids down the street with the dog until you’ve walked the dog yourself many times in different situations – maybe he likes to run after squirrels or bark at cars or whatever – you don’t want a child being dragged or letting go of the dog’s leash. Don’t take your new dog to the dog park right away or to play with your neighbor’s dog – get all its vaccinations checked (I know we had additional ones to get in New England vs down south) and a fecal sample – one of our adoptees had worms and I was told by the vet to notify any dog owners we had come into contact with but luckily we hadn’t let our dog play with any other dogs at the time, we had just walked him a lot. We did however email the foster family with the update as they had other dogs in the home. don’t assume your new dog likes a bath…go SLOW

  65. Marieke says

    First I volunteered in a shelter. Then I adopted (elderly) cats, and only after that I got my first dog. She was nine years old and pretty easy. I already knew a lot about what to expect and not to expect. I was very stern with her in the beginning. No surprises with potty training or being home alone.

    About a year after she died (at 16.5 y.o.) I adopted a 1 year old female terrier mix (Spanish rescue), who also pretty easily adjusted to my life. But when I adopted a 1 year old male spaniel mix two years later I had much more trouble fitting him in my/our routine. I felt I didn’t understand him. He was/is much more outgoing and demanding. We really needed some time to adjust to each other (though I loved him from day one). He also had some problems the rescue hadn’t been aware of (separation anxiety, barking at people and dogs), but I knew it was a risk adopting a Spanish rescue. And I was prepared to work on things.

    So all in all I knew beforehand that you can expect to run into some (unpleasant) surprises, esp with dogs like this.

    I think one of the more important things for new dogowners to know is that dogs won’t show their true colours until at least three weeks after adopting, sometimes even months. And also that they might not behave the same way with them as they did with the foster/rescue. Dogs can react very differently to different people or surroundings.

    I always say that I want to adopt a puppy once in my life, but I seriously doubt that will ever happen. Not while I know there are so many adult dogs that need a home…

  66. Andrea says

    I adopted my first dog three weeks ago from a shelter. They knew nothing about her because she was a stray. She is a beautiful Rott/Sheep mix and is around a year and a half. I love her to death. We are in basic school and she is learning quickly. She is great around people and other dogs. We are working on walking on a leash because she pulls so much. But, that is getting better also. I was able to house train her in a couple days.
    Where I am having such a hard time is separation anxiety. It is so bad. I am reading everything I can. I have talked to my trainer and my vet and listening and doing all that I am being told. But, she is miserable if I am not around her. She whines, cries, and tears her blanket to little pieces. I have tried Kongs (which she loves but could care less about when in her crate), music, short intervals, tons of exercise, constant praise when she is ok, everything) Yet, she turns into a Tasmanian Devil as soon as I walk out of the room. Yet, she sleeps in the crate every night in my room with no problem. In fact, I have kept the crate door open at night and she spends half the time on her dog bed and half the time in the crate. Short of medication (which has been suggested) I do not know what to do. I am reading The Other End of the Lease, Culture Clash and Do Not Shoot the Dog, but none truly address separation anxiety. If anyone has advice, please let me know. Thank you!

  67. Sarah says

    I am a huge fan of adoption and over the years many of the dogs that have found their way into my family have been adults. My current dog, Levi, was 4-5 years when I adopted him, his breed was anyone’s guess (grey and 45 pounds…), and he didn’t know any commands. But the moment Levi arrived in my house, he made it clear he wasn’t going anywhere. A year later, Levi is a velcro dog who does better off-leash than on. He has gone through numerous levels of training and has passed his Therapy Dog International certification. He is quiet, gentle, and well-mannered. He still has some odd behavior around cars, but he has improved. Most important, though – he is a perfect dog for me.

    But here is what really made the difference for us: I know that I am not the type of person who can manage a high-energy/working dog. I am a walker, not a runner. I don’t want to play ball for hours each day. My garden is extensive and I wouldn’t be patient with a dog who trampled the plants. So when looking for a dog, I looked for an adult who could fit into that world. I spoke extensively with the staff at the rescue organization, explaining the way I live and what I could provide. With this information, they made a great recommendation. Just like I didn’t want a dog who wants to play catch for hours, Levi would have disappointed a family who DID want to play ball. So the key is knowing what you would like in a dog and less about the age.

  68. trisha says

    Andrea: Sep Anxiety can be so challenging, but there is hope. Try reading my booklet I’ll Be Home Soon, and following the steps to the letter. It is also reasonable in severe cases to talk to a veterinarian about adjunctive
    medicine. Drugs will not cure the problem, but they can help during the early stages of treatment. The good news is that most cases of SA ARE treatable, it’s just tiresome and tedious to do so, but you clearly love your girl so much, I’m sure you can pull it off. Good luck, we’re rooting for you!

  69. s says

    hang in there Andrea – I have an SA dog and even though he’s been helped quite a bit by the steps from Patricia’s booklet “I’ll be Home Soon”, meds that he is still on, thyroid med as well to correct an imbalance, and another dog we fostered then adopted, he is still anxious but much less so. I dreaded leaving the dogs because I’d come home to a disaster – it was extremely stressful. 2 years later, there is still some anxiety but much much much less destruction. We never leave the dogs alone for longer than 3-4 hours max which has meant a HUGE lifestyle change (vacations not possible unless we split and someone stays home with dogs or at minimum puts dogs in daycare and picks them up for night) and a LOT LOT LOT of work. Trisha’s booklet was a LIFESAVER as was my vet, who was also a behaviorist. There is no quick fix for sure, and I can’t say my dog is treated as he is still medicated and still anxious (drools, paces, fixates on window) but at least he’s not throwing himself at the window or scratching down the door, clearing out everything off furniture near the doorways, etc. Its MUCH better most days. I just started working on some more triggers as most of them I’ve gotten the dogs used to – they don’t even get off the couch when I go get the mail or take kids to bus stop so they are clearly ok with my absence when they know its short or routine. So there is hope. A long road ahead of you but I can so sympathize with you – hang in there!!!

  70. says

    I’m very much looking forward to your new pamphlet! Great topic. I adopted my dog, Quinn, at age 2 years and for the first week we kept him on leash in our house, always moving him with us depending on our location so that we were never too far away. We provided a cozy bed and stuffed toy for him, and took him outside every 1.5 hours to relieve himself, still keeping him on-leash. Our goal was to not overwhelm Quinn with an entirely new (and pretty large compared to a shelter kennel) space, and I really believe that this choice made the adjustment less stressful for him. Because he was kept to a specific space he was, in a way, “forced” to relax, which helped Quinn who showed a tendency to be a bit nervous and reactive.

    Thanks for your wise words and continued inspiration!

  71. Leah says

    We adopted Gaia, a retired racing greyhound, when she was five years old. I had done a lot of research and knew what her life had been like at the track and knew that she wouldn’t understand stairs. What I didn’t realize until the day I brought her home was that every entrance to our house has stairs! Poor Gaia – I took her around to every entrance and she refused to even attempt the 3 or 4 stairs up to the house. She weighed 65 lbs and my husband was out of town, so carrying her wasn’t an option. It was 90+ degrees outside and I worried about her being so nervous and being stuck outside for so long. I finally realized that, while she wouldn’t attempt the stairs on her own, she was trusting enough that I was able to pick up her feet and move them one at a time to “walk” her up the stairs.

    Fortunately that was our biggest surprise. We followed the books’ advice and let her view our life from her crate for most of the first few weeks, since that was what she was use to at the track (she would get overwhelmed if we left her out of her crate for more than fifteen minutes at first). Now she is an awesome, well-adjusted dog. It was great to watch her slowly rediscover her doggy side over the past few years. She just discovered that chasing pigeons is a rediculously fun thing to do :)

  72. Catherine says

    We adopted a 4 1/2 year old dog about 9 years ago, who had spent 4 years in a no-kill shelter. He was part pit, very strong and very curious, and to still have such spirit, also very resilient. He was terrified of the steps (up to the 2nd floor bedrooms), so we slept in the den with him for a week. That way he was not left alone in a new environment and got to know his new “pack” 24/7. He was not house trained when we got him, but we let him out the back door to the yard frequently and he never messed in the house. He was anxious to please, and we in turn stayed very attuned to his quirks, reactions and needs so we could guide and protect him as he got used to life outside of a kennel regimen. We stayed close, loved him, played with him. We gave him time, lattitude and understanding as he adjusted, and he is still one of the easiest, sweetest dogs we have ever had.

  73. Stephanie says

    When I brought my 2 “older” dogs home from the shelter I was surprised at how much they DID know and how quickly I screwed it up. *sigh*

  74. Deborah Armstrong says

    Having adopted and fostered for rescue for 3 decades, I’m convinced that more dogs are neglected than abused. And neglect means the poor animal has no idea how we wish him to behave. I remember golden retriever Jupiter, who I immediately re-christen Jumpiter, who leapt and mouthed constantly, so eager was he for human contact and play. Poor Jupie had spent most of his seven months chained in a yard; the adults who surrendered him had even meticulously fed him on a regular schedule and kept monthly heartworm reminders in their calendars. But he’d been given no attention and had no idea how to get it any other way.
    I tied him to a post in my yard for his training sessions, (his comfort zone!) and on each approach where he showed a bit less reaction clicked and treated. Within a week, he could lie calmly under my husband’s desk for hours, just happy to be petted and talked to occasionally. Shape the behavior you want, add love and patience and more often than not you won’t need more to get far more!

  75. Kate says

    We have adopted 7 dogs over the last 25 years. The first one (adopted in 1987) and the most recent (May 2012) were the only puppies, with the others ranging in age from about a year to about 4 years at the time of adoption. I find it much easier to adopt adult dogs, and all of them have bonded with us beautifully.

  76. Nancy Anderson says

    I have never raised a puppy myself. I have adopted several adult dogs over the years, with varying results. My first one, a Springer-Lab mix, had such terrible separation anxiety and destructiveness I just couldn’t deal with her. She was the only one I gave up on. I couldn’t provide her with what she needed. Another, a Collie-Finnish Spitz mix, was extremely dominant, surly, and bitey all her life. I learned how to handle her mostly through trial and error. The others (a purebred Lab, a Lab-Whippet mix, and a Lab-GSD mix) were basically good dogs with minor, if any, problems: fearfulness in some situations, occasional lapses in housebreaking, etc. I showed a foster dog, a Border Terrier/ Soft-coated Wheaten mix, how to go up and down stairs. He hesitated coming down, because of the hard floor after the carpeted stairs. I put a rubber-backed rug on the floor, and then he was fine. He just needed to be sure of his footing. I’ve learned so much over the years.

    My most recently acquired dog is a Chow-Labrador mix. I got her from a local Humane Society when she was 18 months old. She was surrendered because her owners’ landlord wouldn’t let them keep her. Aside from a little leash pulling and jumping on me sometimes, she has been the perfect dog from the start: quiet, not destructive, no accidents in the house ever, friendly but not obtrusive, good with cats and other dogs. I always tell people I didn’t do anything to deserve such a good dog!

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