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.