Why consider adopting a dog?
Adopting a dog seems like the perfect idea if you love animals; or even if you’re just daydreaming about making that sweet addition to your family. What could be better than giving those furry little cuties a nice, loving home?
The stats, however, show a completely different story. Experts from 14 shelters in the US have done some heavy-duty math and the results are in. While six dogs per minute find themselves in a shelter or a rescue situation of some sort and about 1.6 million of these dogs are adopted from shelters, one in ten of these dogs are returned to the shelter within six months of adoption.
Horrified? So are we and this is precisely we put together this article – so that dog owners can be educated properly and make sound, conscious decisions before adopting.
Let’s first look at some basic things people should absolutely be aware of before they adopt a dog.
Are you even ready to adopt?
This may sound excessive to some folks, but this question is the most important question. Think of it as having a child; would you have a baby if you didn’t have the time or space for it? Probably not and you also probably want to make a conscious decision. Carefully consider the kind of person that you are, your lifestyle, your activity levels, your living situation, your future plan. Adopting a dog does not mean shopping for a dog; it is a serious decision that one must make keeping everything in mind.
Let’s say you move around a lot and you mostly end up living in the city in smaller apartments. In this case, don’t get a dog that demands to be walked frequently, has high activity levels or would need more space. Compatibility matters immensely; don’t get a terrier puppy or retriever if your lifestyle is more laid back and you don’t get to go out more often.
Are your living decisions stable?
We don’t mean to scare off prospective dog owners with this but consider this carefully; is it fair to your dog to be given up after years, or even months, of being with you because your apartment building doesn’t allow dogs?
Many people adopt dogs without realizing that adopting a dog is more or less a permanent life decision. While this doesn’t mean that you keep your dog no matter what, even if the conditions are conducive to your dog’s well-being, quite the opposite in fact – be mindful of the responsibility that comes with adopting a dog. You adopted a dog and it is in fact your responsibility to give him/her a good environment.
Experts at animal shelters say that a good marker is considering where your life is headed for the fifteen years or so. Most people give up their dogs because they’re moving, getting married, they can’t afford the vet bills or they’re changing jobs and don’t have the time. If you believe any of these reasons could affect your ability to keep a dog, then you might not want to get a dog before these issues are resolved.
It’s a Life-long (12-17 years) Commitment
The average lifespan of a dog is 12 years while some even live for 17 years. For the reasons stated above, people tend to give up their dogs. Now the problem actually points to this issue: dog owners often times don’t realize that adopting means you’re taking on the responsibility of that animal completely and you have to provide a loving home and full-time care for that pet.
For any responsible dog owner, it should be crystal clear that a adopting a dog is a part of the family once it’s been integrated. More importantly, dogs become quite attached to their owners and have an extremely hard time adjusting back at the shelter when they’re given up. Remember, dogs understand the emotions of love and care at a much deeper level than we understand.
Understanding what ‘Responsibility’ means
We know we have thrown the word responsibility at you numerous times in the course of this reading. Now, let’s review what we mean by that. Dogs are heavily dependent upon their human owners for survival, especially domesticated dogs. Now consider adopting a baby. Think of the countless processes you would go through to ensure you’re a reliable parent and that you can provide a good home to that child. Think of your mindset; the weight of that responsibility is felt strongly.
Adopting a dog applies the same principle; you’re parenting your dog just as you would parent your child. The first few days, weeks in fact, are crucial for building love and trust between yourself and your dog. Take this time to understand your dog’s temperament and introduce them to your daily life as well. Consider questions such as who will take the dog out every morning? Who will feed the dog? How am I going to pay for vet visits? Is the house safe for the dog? Are the kids going to be okay around a dog? These are a few of the questions that outline what we mean by you being responsible for your dog.
Your adopted dog is going to be a part of your family; make sure that he/she is because they are highly dependent on you for all kinds of support. Be patient and take the time out to build a trusting bond with them. For example, you may get an older, house trained and even then, there will be some accidents in the beginning simply because they will take some time to adjust to a new place.
Lastly, set the tone earlier rather than later. This means that it is also your responsibility to establish a relationship based on basic obedience and love in the first few weeks of adopting.
Visits To The Vet Are Necessary
Just like people, dogs also need doctors. Especially dogs that are just adopted. Why would you want to do this, you ask? Simply because if your dog is from a rescue/shelter situation, you would not really know what prior health issues your dog might have had. Although people at the shelter could give you a good description of what your is used to in terms of food or any major problems he/she has had, they could be minor complications. A good place to start is to get a thorough check up at the vet’s within the first week of adopting a dog.
Most shelters include a health check in the adoption fee along with spaying/neutering but since you will keep that dog for the rest of its life, you need to make sure you have a vet from the beginning that understands your dog’s health. For example, your dog might be genetically prone to a condition and you may need to be prepared for this later on. This is where it is useful to have a trusted vet conduct a full check-up. Your dog could also be a carrier of some virus that could be even more harmful if you have other pets.
The bottom line is, understand that your dog will need a vet and carefully consider these expenses as they are a basic necessity.
Understanding The Body Language of Your Dog
We have many misconceptions when it comes to dog training; some of us still believe that being the dominating one with a dog is the best way to train him/her. This is the wrong place to start your relationship with your dog. Especially if you’re adopting a dog, it can be easy to misunderstand the dog’s body language. Throw out any preconceived notions about training out of your head and truly educate yourself.
Dogs, when they first arrive at their new homes, are also very confused. They might bark, display unusual hyperactivity, cause accidents, etc. This does not mean they are ‘bad’ or untrainable dogs. It only means that they might be confused or frightened. Why is understanding this important? Because dogs, like humans, work on operant conditioning.
Say your dog was actually frightened and was unsure about being near too many people. You misread his signals and continued to be harsh with him. In response, the dog barks even more and lunges. This scares you off and consequently people back off. What has the dog learned in this instance and will continue to do so later on?
The fact that when he’s unsure, the one way to make people back off is to bark and lunge. Now consider how different the situation would have been if you had not reacted badly and communicated to the dog calmly or allayed his fears with a non-threatening gesture. Really puts things in to perspective, doesn’t it?
Your Dog Is A Part Of Your Family
This cannot be emphasized enough. The post-adoption return to shelter rate is 7% – 20%, which is upsetting. You wouldn’t return your adopted child back to the agency, would you? Similarly, once adopted a dog depends on you to survive and you need to understand what that means. Hence, we have emphasized understanding what kind of dog you would want before you adopt one and which one would adjust the best with your lifestyle. This is because there should be No Returns in dog adoptions as well.
Now let’s return to some of the most common mistakes people make in the first month of adopting a dog and what we can do to correct those mistakes.
Not Giving Your Dog Enough Time To Adjust
Everybody will agree that the day of moving your dog in is the most stressful day. Trust us, it’s even harder for your dog! Make sure that you can safely transport your dog from the shelter or rescue center and be prepared to make him/her comfortable. Be prepared for accidents even if they have been toilet trained.
Give them time to adjust to their surroundings and don’t rush them in to activities. Don’t use that first day to take your dog to the pet store; depending on the kind of dog you adopt, it could actually be too much to take in initially. Basically, be mindful of your dog’s needs and mental state and things will become easier from there on.
Not Making Time For The Dog
We have stressed this a lot previously and we’ll say it again: getting a dog is a lifelong commitment and you need to treat it as one. That being said, many people underestimate the effort it takes to build a bond and continue with their lives as usual. The best way around this is to ensure that you take out special time for your furry friend; if you can’t take time off from work, take your dog with you and don’t leave him alone especially for the first few months.
Not Training Right Away
Many people are confused on the subject of training and while some apply very stringent training practices (wrong), others become very lax and decide to train their dogs ‘in time’(also wrong). The sweet spot for training your dog lies right in the middle. You should not put off training your dog in any scenario and you said should start with some basic commands like sit, stay, down, heel and recall. An important part of this lesson is to also detect bad behaviors and correct (not punish) them. This could include leash pulling, barking, aggressive jumping, etc. You want to establish these rules early on, so it sets the tone.
Now, on to the actual training part. Don’t be too harsh and don’t try to establish dominance. Instead, try to establish assertiveness, sign them up for a training class and most of all, try to build a relationship based on obedience and not fear.
Shoving All Your Pets Together Right Away
If you have other pets, please don’t do this to a newly adopted dog. While it may seem like a good idea and you may think that all your friendly, passive animals will instantly become friends if they are put together in a room, you may be very, very wrong.
Cats and dogs, dogs and other dogs can live harmoniously but they need to be introduced carefully. For example, let your dog adjust to your house for a day or two. After that, maybe put them down at some distance from your other pet (remain in close vicinity, though) and see how both animals react. After a few minutes, you can separate them. Try this technique again the next day for a longer time if the reaction is peaceful.
The bottom line is to let them come to terms with it at their own pace.
Having (& Managing) Expectations
As dog owners, much like as parents, we want proof of our prowess as trainers and guides in the behaviors of our dogs (and children). By doing this, we immediately place too much pressure on ourselves and react badly if the dog is not responding in a perfect manner. It can be upsetting to witness bad behavior and have things in a chaos but understand that your dog also feels unsettled and he/she will have accidents, chew things, misbehave, etc. in the beginning.
Again, as with children, be patient and don’t punish them right away. Try to make them understand why certain behaviors are not acceptable and establish those rules level-headedly.
Another problem owners of adopted dogs face having expectations of temperaments. While it is true that certain breeds will have certain dispositions (e.g. Labradors tend to be friendly, German Shepherds tend to be protective), dogs do come with their unique personalities and you as a dog owner need to understand this personality, not the idea in your head. This is true especially for owners that have previously lost a dog and expect the new dog to be a clone of the first one.
The word of advice on this topic is to ride out the stormy seas (the first month or so) with patience and foresight and wait for results.
Establishing A Sleeping Area
Anybody with an anxious dog can vouch for the fact that they must have wanted to let their dogs sleep in their beds initially, just because they would not want to leave them alone. The sensible thing to do when adopting a dog is to allot and establish a specific sleeping area for your dog from the first night.
An easy way to do this is to get a pen or a crate. This not only establishes boundaries, but it also means your dog understands that there is a safe, comfortable space of his own every time he/she feels anxious. What you are doing with this technique is creating associations.
It may be difficult (physically and emotionally) to let your newly adopted dog crate for the night but you can try to make it as comfortable as possible. For example, set up soft bedding and maybe some calming music. Once the association is established, you won’t have issues with your dog sleeping anywhere they want, and they’ll also have a space of their own.
The point of this read was to help new and old dog owners understand the process of adopting and handling a dog better. Try to make a decision that will be best for yourself and the animal that you’re about to adopt. Understand your role in their development and their level of dependence on you.
While you may still make some basic errors, always educate yourself and be on the more patient side. Treat your dog the way that you would treat your child; with love and understanding.
Most importantly, adopting a dog if you have the means and resources because you can give a dog a safe, happy and comfortable life!
For more information, here are some of our other articles you can read about adoption: