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There will be an adjustment period when you first bring your dog home. If you go into this expecting there to be a long adjustment period, you will be prepared to NOT take it personally. And what a bonus if your dog takes almost no time at all to adjust!
New situations are stressful to many dogs…and a stressed dog can act different than he normally would. The dog’s behavior during the adjustment period generally has nothing to do with how well a dog likes you. It is about the dog learning he can TRUST you. Be prepared for this. It is normal. And it is nothing personal. In most cases, these dogs have been abandoned, ignored by their previous owners, or turned into a shelter, having little interaction with someone who cares about them. Others, we are amazed that no one came to look for them in the shelter! Most are extremely receptive to attention, but new situations are stressful, and this is why we suggest you read over this page carefully to get some idea of what can happen and some ideas of what might help the dog get adjusted sooner.
Please ask how long it took the dog to adjust in the foster home. This will give you a good indication of how long it may take them to adjust in your home. Adjustment periods can range from hours or days to weeks or even months. Keep in mind the adjustment period varies from dog to dog and situation to situation. It could take longer or go more quickly than it did for the foster.
Adjustment Behaviors and Timeframes
These depend on numerous variables including the following (keep in mind this list is not all-inclusive…every dog is a little different):
- The Dog’s Temperament-How it reacts to or interacts with humans and animals. This has both a genetic and environmental aspect. Especially important is how your new dog handles stress.
- The Dog’s Past Experiences-We often do not have any details on a dog’s past. That past can range from loving to abusive to abandoned.
- The Experience Levels and Attitudes of the Human Family-How you handle all aspects of a dog’s care, including his reactions to the upheaval in his life, can affect the types and duration of his adjustment related behaviors.
- The Pack Dynamics of the Humans and Other Pets in the New Home-This includes the animals in your home and how the humans and animals interact with each other.
Adjustment behaviors vary from dog to dog, and are not always negative or even noticeable at the time. In fact, for many dogs, you will really not even perceive the change; rather, it will gradually get more comfortable in its new surrounding and its behavior will gradually change as a result.
So what kinds of things can you expect? Chances are that for the first week or two, they will either be on their very best behavior or will revert back to behaviors they have prior to being with us. Here is a short and not inclusive list. After all, dogs are as individual as humans. For most any of these, in a short time your dog will have started to feel more comfortable and will show more of his normal self.
Symptoms of Stress Often Seen During Adjustment Periods
- Different Behavior Than at Foster Home. Don’t expect the dog to act just like it did in the foster home. Chances are it was there for at least a week or two and had already adapted to that home and felt comfortable there. As the foster family knows how long it took to get adjusted…and in about what amount of time, you can expect to see that same dog again.
- Attempts to Escape. The dog has not formed any bond or loyalty to you yet. Expect him to dart out any open door, jump the fence, dig out, run away if let off-leash, etc. And expect that if he DOES escape, he will keep going. Here are some things to watch for:
- The First Few Trips Outside in the Yard - Go outside with the dog and observe it. If he does not try to dig or jump, then go inside and watch through a window. This way you can find out if he will attempt to escape from the secured yard.
- Use Baby Gates or Barriers to Block Escape Avenues – If you don’t have a workable barrier or your home design doesn’t allow for this, be extra cautious when going through outside doors. The first few days, make sure the kids do not go out the doors without you controlling the dog.
- Don’t Allow the Dog Off-Leash in an Unsecured Area – Remember…he will likely run away.
- Destructive Behavior. A dog that is not normally destructive when left unattended may be so at first in a new home. This is because it is, to it, locked up in a strange place, not home. It is important to carefully monitor your dog and ensure that these do not become habits. Crate Training will also come in handy, and is something you can use in the future if you take your dog to hotels or elsewhere!
- More/Less Friendly and Outgoing Than Normal. Your dog may act somewhat more or less receptive to human companionship than normal at first. It may spend time in a specific room or in its open crate to avoid or limit contact with humans or other pets. Conversely, some dogs under stress may be more friendly, even needy, as they seek to be reassured.
- Nervous or Aggressive to Other Animals. The dog may be nervous or mildly aggressive with other pets as it seeks to find its spot in the pack.
- Refusal to Eat. The dog may refuse to eat altogether. You may want to entice the dog with something human or a bit of wet canned dog food on top of his dry food, but it is not something to be concerned about for a couple of days. If it persist into the third day, please call/email the dog’s foster home, your adoption coordinator. Know that the dog may refuse food or treats from some or all family members.
- Nervous or Agitated. The dog may pace, whine, bark or otherwise appear agitated or nervous. Let him check out his new surroundings if that is what he wants to do. If you prefer to limit the new surroundings by closing off some rooms at first, your dog may feel a bit less overwhelmed. Others will be insistent on getting on the other side of the closed doors.
- Refusing to Play. The dog may not play as much as normal with humans or other animals. Keep attempts at play light-hearted. If the dog acts disinterested, play with another pet to get it interested, or even play a silly game of keep-away by yourself in front of him.
- “Elimination” Issues. Your new dog may appear to have lost his house-training. This is normal. If it happens, see article on “Control and Monitor His Actions”.
Most of us dog lovers are NOT dog trainers. Keep in mind that your family’s interaction with the dog can
cause it to display behaviors that it may not have displayed in its previous home(s), including the foster home. So if the dog always lived with someone who was very proficient at dog training and behavior and you are not as well-informed on that subject, the dog may begin to show behaviors aimed at trying to play leader of the pack. Likewise, if the first family was the less-informed one and you have trained dogs for years, you may not see any of the negative behaviors a previous family may have reported.
In addition, having dogs for years does not equate to being well-informed on dog behavior and training issues. Many people have owned dogs for years and have been very fortunate in the individual dog(s) they have owned. They may have never dealt with a dog that needed a calm, firm hand to handle its confident and maybe even dominant temperament. It is important to understand that these issues are normal and to ask for help when you need it. Most of us are not provided with training or teachings on how to interpret dog behavior and handle dog training issues. We learn as we go along. And if we have an easy dog, we may have had to learn much less than a family who had Cujo or Marmaduke living with them. Spending some time taking an obedience class or two can really help improve you and your dog’s relationship. Include the entire family if possible!
Helping your dog past the Adjustment Stage
While there is no specific formula for determining how each dog will behave during its adjustment period or how long that adjustment period will last, the good news is that there are things you can do to help your dog adjust~ So, what can you do? Here is the way to start.
- Establish a Routine. Routines can go a long way towards creating comfort and trust for your dog. While keeping with the same general timeline can help your dog to catch on to routines even faster, the routine does not have to be so much time specific (exact time each day) as much as issue specific. There is no need to feel you cannot provide an adequate routine if your day to day life is relatively “unstable” time-wise. So if you feed twice a day, once in the morning, once at night, always do so. And if one day a week you walk in the morning, twice in the afternoon, and all others in the evening, you are still giving the routine of daily consistent walks. The same with play and training time.
- Provide Adequate Exercise. Walks are very important right from the very beginning. They serve to both relieve stress and strengthen your bond as leader of your dog. Dogs that have a clear leader to follow are not only less stressed than those who feel they are not sure where they are in the order of things, they are also less likely to try and become the leader themselves.
- Exercise involves YOU. It is not enough to simply let the dog(s) in the yard to play. Yes, they certainly may play quite actively and get physical release that way, but a big part of providing adequate exercise is that it gives you and opportunity every day and in a pleasurable way to enforce your leadership over your dog’
- Exercise Needs to Be of Adequate Duration. When you walk your dog each day, make sure you are doing so for a period of time that is adequate for your dog given his level of health and activity. Contrary to what many think, exercise is especially important for those dogs with certain joint ailments. Build up the length and intensity of your walks/jogs gradually and with consideration to the health of each dog. Consult your veterinarian for specific details.
- Exercise Needs to be Controlled. Remember that a big reason for these walks is to work on your relationship, not just to get physical exercise. YOU are in control of the walks…where you go, the pace, when you stop, even when your dog relieves itself. See Being a Pack Leader for more information on the subject.
Control and Monitor his Actions
It is important to carefully monitor your dog the first few days (sometimes longer) and ensure that he does not develop negative habits such as digging, chewing inappropriately, and various house-training accident (soiling the home, dumpster diving, counter surfing, etc.). However, do give the dog as much free time as you can manage to watch him so he does not feel isolated. We highly recommend crating the dog when you are unable to monitor the dog’s behavior. Please see “Crate Training” for more specific information on why this is a good idea and how to go about it. Whether you crate train or not, allowing your dog free roam of the house or yard immediately is risky to your other pets and your home and yard itself. As you begin to see the dog doing well, you can begin to allow him some test of “free roam” for short times while home, gradually expanding the time and eventually testing his behavior while you are gone. Keep in mind that free roam unattended will also depend upon what other pets you have in the home and how well they get along. It can be dangerous to your pets to leave them all free without someone there to intervene if things go badly. See “Pet Introductions” for some thoughts on this subject.
Don’t Be Pushy About Being Pals
If your dog is acting nervous of attention or somewhat unfriendly, taking it easy the first week…letting them come to YOU for attention…goes a long way towards building trust. Don’t push the dog into accepting affection immediately. This can make a huge difference in the dog’s perception and can greatly reduce their anxiety and stress level (and yours!). This does not mean to have no interaction with the dog, just don’t try to force it to be overly friendly or be petted. Keep attempts at play light-hearted. If the dog acts disinterested, play with another pet to get it interested, or even play a silly game of keep-away by yourself in front of him.
Be your Dog’s Leader
Be your Dog’s leader and enforce consistently that your dog is to be calm and submissive (as in compliant, not afraid of). Dogs are pack animals, and most are followers. Your dog will be happier and more well-adjusted if you are a good leader so that he can be the merry follower. For specific information about why this is important and some hints about how to accomplish this, see “Being a Pack Leader”.
Let the Dog Explore
Let him check out his new surroundings if that is what he wants to do. If you prefer to limit the new surroundings by closing off some rooms at first, your dog may feel a bit less overwhelmed. Others will be insistent on getting on the other side of closed doors.
Introduce the Dog to Your Current Pack Slowly
If you have other pets or children, introduce them one at a time and in a monitored environment.