getting to know your adopted dog

Living with an adopted dog is a wonderful journey. Once your dog had had a chance to decompress after arriving home with you, they will start to come out of their shell and show you their true personality. This can be an exciting and even frustrating time. Exciting because you will see your dog’s fun and silly sides. Frustrating because you may also start to see a “naughty” side.

After a couple of weeks in your home, your new dog begins to settle in and feel more comfortable. They start thinking maybe they are staying (varies depending on how much your dog has been bounced around). They start to explore their new environment a bit and get into a routine. The most fun is seeing your dog’s real personality start to show as they let guard down and stop being on their nervous best behavior. You may feel like your dog starts to act out and you may see some behavior issues. This is totally normal. Your dog very likely has never been taught how to live successfully with humans.

During this time, many people feel overwhelmed by their new dog’s “sudden” misbehavior. For example, maybe in the first few weeks (sometimes called the “honeymoon” period) your dog was meek and mild but now is barking too much and chewing on the furniture and you think you are going to lose your patience. This is the time after adoption when most dogs get surrendered back to the shelter because their new owners don’t know what to do and give up in despair. You don’t have to despair because some basic behavior training will solve most of these problems (and management solves the rest). For an expanded guide of what to do during this time, download our free ebook for adopters.

The silver lining here is that this is a sign your dog is getting comfortable living with you and that is a good thing. Yes, it’s frustrating and you loved those shoes he just ruined but this is the moment I warned you about and it’s al solvable.

The solution to unwanted dog behavior is training, pure and simple. Remember, for the vast majority of dogs who are surrendered, the reason given is that the dog has “bad” behavior. Those very same dogs have been given zero formal training by their owner pre-surrender. Here’s a secret about dogs, everything they do is based on gaining pleasure or avoiding pain. Dogs never do anything to spite their owners or to try to dominate humans. Your dog wants very much to please you and stay with you forever. Just like any other parent, it’s your responsibility to teach them how to behave.

In addition to eliminating behavior problems, training also has the following benefits:

  • Teaches your dog how you want him to behave
  • Helps you and your dog get to know each other better
  • Builds your dog’s confidence (as well as yours) and deepens your bond

ONLY take classes or work with trainers who employ modern science-backed training methods (look for words like positive reinforcement, force free, pain free and click & treat in their description). So-called “traditional” training is based on outdated research and old fashioned beliefs about animal learning. Traditional is used here in a negative sense much like it was traditional to beat children many years ago – some folks still do it but most people realize it’s wrong. Traditional/old school trainers use methods that punish and cause pain such as shock collars and prong collars which can appear to be successful because they suppress behavior but are bad for dogs, do not result in long term success and can damage your relationship with your dog. Positive reinforcement training focuses on teaching dogs what you want (vs. punishing them for doing something “wrong”) and redirecting unwanted behavior. Learn more about the different styles of training in this article.

Here’s how to get started training your adopted dog:

Step 1: Implement a management plan which is a fancy dog trainer way to say keep your important stuff out of your dog’s reach. Put away anything you don’t want your dog to destroy. If the item can’t be moved, block your dog’s access to it with baby gates. You get two main results from management: (1) you feel better because your dog can’t destroy your things, and (2) the dog ceases to be reinforced by those activities which will make training a more desirable behavior that much easier. Management is also effective for keeping your dog safe from chewing things he shouldn’t.

Step 2: Train your dog to do something different. If he barks out the window when the mail carrier arrives, train your dog to go lay in his bed instead. You may want to hire a professional positive trainer for help changing unwanted behaviors. If your dog is showing signs of reactivity or aggression (which can happen whether your dog is adopted or not), there are professional positive trainers who specialize in this area (this is actually one of my specialties). Remember that your dog is just doing what dogs do. He isn’t trying to disrespect or dominate you. He simply hasn’t yet been taught how to behave appropriately. That’s your job.

As you get to know your dog, you will learn what types of treats, walks, games, etc. he likes best; how much exercise he needs; what new behaviors you want to teach him, etc. Every day will be new and fun and you will enjoy one of the best relationships a human can have.

For an expanded guide of what to do during this time, download our free ebook for adopters.