By Meg McIntire
Have you heard of the adopted dog “honeymoon period”? Just like with human relationships, everything seems happy and carefree.
Every bark sounds angelic, and every playful jump seems positively charming. How long this period lasts varies; I can say with my first dog, Harvey, the honeymoon period was over about four seconds after we began our first walk together. He backed out of his leash and took off running down the busy streets of Raleigh, N.C., with me frantically trailing behind him in my slippers.
For some adopted pet owners, the honeymoon period may last from one to three weeks. That’s when the dog is feeling out his or her surroundings and the new rules before being comfortable enough to express certain sides of their personalities you hadn’t planned for.
It’s important to be aware of this adjustment period and be patient when a so-called “problematic” behavior pops up—like when the dog doesn’t respond to affection the way you expected, or the dog starts acting differently than the shelter or foster home prepared you for.
The truth is that no matter how ready you think you are to rescue a dog and how well you’ve prepared your home, you can never fully know what they experienced in the past. They obviously can’t tell you, and while a shelter may be able to offer some details, many times they simply don’t know.
It’s not uncommon for a rescue dog to duck away from affection, have separation anxiety, or act skittish and suspicious of everything new person or animal around them at first. It doesn’t necessarily mean they were abused—it could be your new furry friend was never around other animals or humans all that much. That was the case with my co-worker after she adopted a female English bulldog who had spent all four years if her life being bred in an Amish puppy mill.
A good trainer can make all the difference
It’s up to you not to give up on your rescue and help them learn to be a good family member. And if you find navigating all of this is overwhelming, there’s no shame in hiring a professional trainer for help.
That’s what we did with Harvey, and today he is a happy, well-adjusted dog. A little training can go a long way—Harvey quickly learned what’s expected of him, and he’s overall more confident and secure.
Some trainers hold group classes while others will come into your home for one-on-one, personalized sessions with you and your dog. I suggest researching the trainers thoroughly and make sure they use positive reinforcement techniques.
My fiancé and I attended a class with a trainer and didn’t like some of the methods he was using to train the dogs, so we switched to hiring someone to come to our house. It was the right choice for us.
You can always try training on your own. We learned that you should find out what motivates your dog, whether it be food, toys or praise, and use that to make training fun. Do 5 to 10-minute training sessions a few times a day, teaching basic commands or more complex ones. Not only will you be creating a stronger bond with your dog, but they will become more confident.
It’s been a learning curve with Harvey but worth every second. He has become a beloved family member who brings us so much joy. It’s disheartening to me to read how some shelters are still overwhelmed with surrenders and returns as people reacclimate to normal schedules following the pandemic. People shouldn’t adopt a pet if you they are not ready for a lifelong commitment.
If you are struggling with a rescue dog right now, don’t give up. The bliss of the honeymoon phase can continue throughout that lifelong relationship. I promise.
Here are some other tips to set you and your dog up for success:
Walk your property a few times before bringing a new pet home. Make sure there are no areas that your dog can escape from, including holes in or under the fence. Our second dog, Cooper, was surprisingly skinny and wiry enough to fit his head between the four inches of space that existed between the aluminum poles in our fence. He learned to stretch the fence with his shoulders, and then shimmy through the space and into our neighbor’s very enticing yard to play with their two dogs. Our quick solution to this was putting up garden netting on the vulnerable areas of the fence to ensure he couldn’t get his head through to start the exciting process of escape. Other solutions included walking him in our yard on a leash to gently guide him away
from the problem areas when he expressed interest in them and then eventually planting large bushes so that he no longer has access to the area.
He still thinks about it sometimes, though. I can tell.
Invest in the right tools before bringing your pup home. We made the mistake with our first dog of not arriving at the shelter with an escape-proof harness and a good leash. The shelter handed us what was essentially a piece of string attached to our horse of a dog. The first thing he did when we took him on an outside walk, as mentioned above, was back out of the leash and run away. He almost immediately came back to me (thank goodness), but in hindsight, this should have been extremely predictable considering he was most likely kept outside his entire life and had never been on a leash before.
Establish boundaries with your dog right from the moment they enter the house. We’ve found it’s great to keep them on a leash during the first time they enter the home so you can explore the home by their side and introduce them to areas that are safe and as well as the ones that are off-limits (like the cat litter box area).
After the first day, your dog should be familiar with the layout of the house but might not have picked up on the boundaries you’ve set, so it may be good to limit the amount of freedom by shutting doors and/or putting up gates. We have three gates that are used interchangeably around the house to discourage the dogs from entering certain areas—like the kitchen when I’m frequently opening and closing the oven.
Create a routine and reward them when they behave they way you want. At the beginning, don’t overwhelm your pup with new visitors or take them to the dog park. It’s great to socialize them and expose them to new things, but wait until they have a chance to get to know and trust you. Give them plenty of quiet time to settle in as well as a safe area to decompress.