“Oh No. What HAVE I done?” Ever had that thought after bringing a new dog into your home? Usually around day three? Here’s the good news: It’s almost universal, and it almost always goes away.
Here’s the usual course of events after bringing home a new puppy or dog: Like any responsible pet owner, you had done due diligence. You talked it over with the family. You thoughtfully chose where to find your new dog. You carefully selected the best possible choice. Or, because life doesn’t always go according to plan, a dog showed up on your doorstep and waltzed into your heart as if on Dancing with the Stars. No matter how it started, you spent the first two days in rapture, basking in an oxytocin-fueled haze of love, and grateful beyond words that this perfect little bundle of love is yours.
And then. You wake up on day three and think “Holy #%&! What was I thinking?” Often this reaction is due to your adorable bundle of furry perfection coming out of his own state of shock and beginning to behave like a dog. Perhaps your new Coon Hound/Corgi cross began barking like a banshee in his crate. Or your “We think it’s an Aussie but why don’t you do a DNA test?” snarled at your other dog, the one she appeared to adore the day before. Or that gooey sweet Chihuahua/Rottweiler cross who loves your lap devoured the sofa while you were gone in the afternoon.
Ah yes, the cold light of morning after regrets–the canine version. I was talking about this recently with a dear friend and brilliant dog trainer, who just brought a new dog into her household. The dog is lovely, truly wonderful. She knew a lot about the dog and where it came from. It gets along swimmingly with her other dogs. And yet, just as I have every time I’ve brought in a new dog, she began to worry after a few days. Who IS this dog, anyway? Are we going to love each other like me and my other dogs do? What if…”.
I’m guessing that many, if not most of us have found ourselves in this position. I talked about this, and what I call the “three day phenomenon” in a post from 2014, Three Ways to Confuse a New Dog. In it I mention that there’s just something about the number three–three days, three weeks and three months. Three days for your anxiety to arise like bubbles of sulfurous gas in Yellowstone, three weeks to begin to get a better sense of who your dog really is, and three months for the first sign that she is beginning to settle into the household routine. But what to do about those anxieties that crop up for so many of us, even experienced trainers?
I’ve started a list of things that can help, but I’m counting on many of you out there in the village to add your good advice to anyone going through this right now.
- You’re not alone: It helps, doesn’t it, to know that this response is common, not to mention that it goes away? You are not crazy, you have not done something stupid, and this reaction is common.
- Don’t do this alone: Have your village on speed dial, seriously. I don’t know what I’d do without friends who know me, know dogs and know when to listen, and when to give advice. If you don’t have friends like that, call the shelter, the rescue group, the breeder, or the cousin who always says the right thing.
- Write down what’s happening. It’s amazing how much less daunting problems are if they are written down. Pretend it’s for your friend’s dog. Be very specific (“He has started urinating in the living room by the door to the garage early in the morning” versus “They said he was house trained and he’s not!”). Write down a list of options. Let it sit for a few hours, then go back to it and choose the best one. Remember that if Option #1 fails, there is always Option #2.
- Remember the Rule of Three’s: There is no “Rule of Three’s”. I made that up. But there should be, shouldn’t there? Three days, three weeks and three months truly does seem to be a significant amount of time.
- Use all resources you can find: Whatever is happening has happened to someone else. Call your friends (if they are dog savy). Go online. Read books. Watch videos. Make a list of things to do, and then cross out anything that either doesn’t feel right or involves punishing your dog for being a dog. Don’t be too discouraged if you find lots of different opinions. Filter out whatever doesn’t make sense or doesn’t feel right to you, based on your own values. Pay attention to the credentials of the person you’re reading or watching. Relatives, close neighbors or handsome strangers on TV are not good advisors unless they have some credentials behind them.
- Call forth Patience and Faith, your new BFFs: Whatever would we do without them? They are easily underestimated, but they are just as important as knowledge, stamina and commitment. Welcome them in and pour them some tea. Ask them to say awhile.
- If worst comes to worst: It could be, as the weeks and months goes on, that you realize this isn’t the right dog for your household. Or you are not the right household for the dog. If this is true, you are not doomed. If the dog you brought home is truly not a good fit, trust that you can find a solution. It is just a fact that not every dog can be happy in every home. It doesn’t mean it’s a bad dog, or that the home’s residents have failed. It just means it’s a bad fit. Period. We are indeed ultimately responsible for any dog we bring home, but sometimes, in rare cases, that means respecting a dog for who she is, and acknowledging that we can’t make her happy. That’s not a failure, it’s the road to success.
I’ve returned a dog myself, and it’s not easy. Sometimes it is downright heartbreaking, but if you know in your heart that it’s the right thing to do, don’t beat yourself up about it. Be proud that you are taking the high road, even if it’s hard. You have not failed, you are trying to do the best thing for the dog and your family. Please invite Patience and Faith to come back and have some more tea.
Last thing: Dr. Karen London and I wrote a book about bringing a new adolescent or adult dog into your home, titled Love Has No Age Limit. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out, it might come in handy if this is a relevant topic for you or a friend.
What about you? What’s been your experience with moments of anxiety or regret when a new dog entered your life? How have you handled it?
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Never a dull moment. Several more storms have come through, making it the stormiest summer I remember since moving here in 1982. We never lost power during the worst one, but the winds were reported to be 70-85 mph, it rained four inches in a few hours and six of our trees came down, including two of our lovely white pines.
During the height of that storm I heard what sounded like a tree falling, but the yard light had gone out and between the wind and the rain we couldn’t see a thing. Turns out it was two trees by the driveway, which I will miss terribly but am grateful they missed my car by a good 20 feet or so.
That’s unlike what happened the next morning when Jim and I were chain sawing and brushing. A large tree fell across the county road in front of the farm, missing a car with a woman and two young girls by just seconds. It began to fall just in time for them to pull up. Ten minutes later a guy in a red pick up drove straight into the tree at 55 mph, even though the road was clear for at least 300 yards and you couldn’t miss the monster tree blocking your path if you tried. If you were looking, that is. Lucky for him, he hit the high side of the tree and was cushioned by the multiple small branches and leaves. Jim and I, who were out working on our own downed trees stood watching with our mouths agape. I actually said “Seriously?” when he hit the tree.
I took several photographs but none of them come close to conveying how huge these trees are. Here’s Jim and his trusty chain saw after a good 2+ hours of work already working on the upper branches:
The photo below gives you a better sense of scale. You’ll note poor Maggie is looking miserable, because the county is feeding the downed tree limbs on the road into a chipper, and she hates the noise. Thank heavens I had taken “thunder treats” upstairs last night. I think the dogs got an entire dinner’s worth of food, but without it I’m sure Maggie would be worse.
Below is a photo of some of what’s left of the pines. We’d take it up the hill and get it into the dead wood pile (aka The Perfect Home for Rabbits, who say “Thank You Very Much”) except the other downed trees are blocking the farm road that gets us there. Just herding the sheep every day now is quite the adventure, since sheep, dog and I have to wend our way through steep, muddy ground and fallen branches to get there.
Think I can skip watering this weekend? It rained another 2 1/2 inches the day after that storm that took the trees down. (See rain gauge below from the first storm.) On the right is one of the breaks in the pines. It looks tiny, but I’d guess at least 1,000 pounds of tree fell from it. Or 500. Really, I have no idea. My back says at least a ton.
Hope you are weathering whatever the climate has brought you. Several homes and business have been flooded or badly damaged by the storms, and my heart goes out to them. We’re all hoping for an entire night without thunder and lightning and trees crashing. So is Maggie.