By Judith K. Herman DVM, CVH
Q. I just adopted an older puppy from a rescue. He is from Mississippi. He’s lovely but is terrified of everything inside my home and outside. This behavior does not match what was in his description online. What is going on?
A. Adopting a secondhand dog from a local shelter or the internet is full of unknowns. Unless he is born in the rescue there is little history about his past. The best approach is to accept his history starting at the time you bring him home. Any assumptions before that are usually wrong.
When a dog or puppy go to a new home, there is an adjustment period. This is the honeymoon period. The puppy is trying to get acclimated to its new environment, new rules, new family. Older dogs need time to adjust too. They are uncertain what the rules are, what is expected of them, or not, and a new routine. The time period depending on the age, unknown past experiences, and genetics will be variable. Generally, it can take 6 to 8 weeks or longer to settle in.
In the first few days after adoption, the dog may be overwhelmed, scared, and unsure. He may not eat or drink, or just shut down and hide, or he may start testing the limits from the beginning. After a few more weeks, he will feel more comfortable and settle. This is where you start seeing his true personality. After that, he gets really comfortable with his environment, his people, and his routine. The progression through these stages varies and can take as long as a year.
We can’t tell by their behavior if they were neglected or abused. When you see a scared or timid dog, it may be genetics with little to do with the environment. Often the trip up from the rescue to your home can be unsettling for your new friend.
You need to accept the dog or puppy in front of you. From there, you can build a relationship that will last a lifetime. I tell all my clients, seasoned dog owners or first timers, to find a qualified dog trainer who understands the complexity of this little guy. There are trainers who have gone the extra mile to become certified in dog training. These trainers are educated in using non aversive training techniques. When you look for a trainer, go and observe a class without your dog. Look at the certifications the trainer has. If you don’t know what all those letters mean, go look them up, then check out the organization. When you see a well-behaved pup with a good relationship with his guardian, ask where they went for training.
You want to work with someone who understands the special needs of your best friend and with someone you feel comfortable with. Building this relationship with your new buddy will take time and patience.
The time you put into understanding and work to overcome his issues will be the most valuable investment in your relationship. That relationship will bring you unimaginable joy.
Judith K. Herman DVM, CVH
Animal Wellness Center