I often try to remember back to when I adopted my first shelter dog. I was so uninformed and inexperienced back then. I had never adopted a dog before. I had absolutely no idea what to expect with an adult dog, especially not one who had a whole history behind her that I didn’t even know about. I probably made a lot of mistakes and bad decisions in those early days (I am sure of it).
What I didn’t know then, but know now is that for a rescue or shelter dog, the first few days and weeks in their new home are risky ones. They are at the mercy of their new human to make the right decisions for them. One mistake, and the dog could end up back at the shelter, or worse, euthanized for a serious mistake that could have been prevented if the human had made a different choice.
I don’t want make pet adoption seem so serious and dire, but it kind of is. We can make a lot of survivable mistakes with our newly adopted pets, but there are a few that could place their lives, and others, in danger. Knowing what not to do can be the difference between life and death.
Here are a few things NOT to do when you adopt a rescue or shelter dog:
- Take him to a pet store – A dog in a shelter environment is already stressed out. Taking him from one stressful place to another stressful place, with a complete stranger (yes, that would be you), is a recipe for disaster. A stressed dog may do things they might not do in a another time and place. I remember one dog that was adopted from our shelter and taken immediately to a pet store to purchase some things for him. He ended up biting a child and as a result, lost his life. I know another dog who was adopted right off the rescue transport and taken to a pet store. He escaped the car and was missing for several days. When he was found he was almost 20 miles away from where he was lost. It almost cost him his life. Luckily, a stranger came upon his dehydrated body and saved him.
- Take her to the dog park – Not only has your new dog not had a chance to bond with you, but even more importantly, she doesn’t even know you yet. I still remember a couple who brought their new dog straight from the animal shelter to the dog park and ended up spending a couple of hours trying to catch her. She might have been having a ball, but they were not. Luckily, their dog was not aggressive, but many people have brought an adopted dog to the dog park who was. To assume a dog you just adopted is not dog aggressive or will not harm another dog is not only naive, but dangerous. Get to know your dog before introducing her to other dogs and people. You may also want to work on training her to come when called before letting her off-leash in a dog park.
- Invite friends and family over to meet her right away – People often want to show off their new dog right after they adopt them, but this can be a huge mistake. Strangely enough, dogs are very much like us humans in that they need time to get settled into a new place. Imagine how overwhelmed you would feel if your new neighbors came over and started making themselves at home while you are still unpacking from the move. Pretty uncomfortable, right? So imagine being a dog and having complete strangers invade your space and touch you and get in your face when you haven’t even had a chance to get settled into your new home. Not fun. It’s also a recipe for disaster. One mistake, one dog bite later, and you may have a dead newly adopted dog.
- Let him off-leash in a public place – See #2 above. No, seriously, why would you let a dog you don’t know off-leash in an unconfined area? You don’t even know if he likes squirrels or people or other dogs. If you have a dog like Jasper (my Sheltie), then you might find out that he likes to herd runners and bikers and skateboarders and…. yeah, you get my point. Once you let a new dog off-leash, you have no control. Not only do you risk him getting lost, but you also risk being liable to the danger he might do to another person or dog (see the news story I mentioned above).
- Leave him out in your yard unattended – This one might sound silly, but I really cannot emphasize it enough – Do Not Leave Your New Dog Unattended In Your Backyard. The riskiest time for a new dog to become lost is in those first few days and weeks in a new home. Your new dog is probably stressed and scared and disoriented. One strange noise or sudden movement or scary incident and he can be gone in a flash, right over the fence. Being in the yard with him tells him he is not alone. It also ensure that he won’t have a chance to dig under a fence or look for an escape route, and if he does, you have an opportunity to redirect him before he makes it out.
Most rescue and shelter dogs are not there because they were bad dogs or had behavioral issues. Most are there because someone had to move or was going through a life change that required them to give up their pet. They need time to adjust to all the changes.
Dogs are awesome pets and companions, they also have the potential to bite if backed into a corner or placed in a stressful situation (every dog has the potential to bite when placed in a stressful position with no way out). It is up to us, as their new owners, to protect them. It is up to us to do right by them. Spend time getting to know your new dog, and let him get to know you too. Before introducing him to all the new wonderful things in your world, take the time to bond. You have time. You have the rest of your lives to do all those cool things you want to do together. Why rush it?
Printed with permission from the author.