Second Hand Dogs

Tricia Breen

Lately I seem to be seeing more people that adopt dogs from rescue or shelters who seem to be rushing things and to be analyzing and analyzing. Often when I ask clients how long they have had their dog, they might say 3 weeks, a month, two months. There is a desire to have the perfect dog in that time, to have an ideal partnership. Yikes! That's asking for quite a lot in a short time. Regardless of the dog's history, whether they came from an unfortunate prior life, or a loving and wonderful place, it is a big adjustment to learn the new people, the new environment, the new expectations. We are all creatures of habit and our own routines, dogs and people. So to expect a dog to settle in and understand the new rules within a short time is asking an awful lot. When we make change in our own lives, we have a lot of control over our comings and goings, get to make choices about tomorrow's plans, when to have a meal, when to go to the bathroom, when to get out of the house. Dogs have none of these choices. They may have left behind a person or persons that they really loved and cared for, requiring time to help get them past that. They may have come from a situation that did not allow them to experience the world, now being thrust into an enriched world among humans.

A recent visit to a client revealed several books piled on the couch, corners folded, post-it notes marking pages, notes taken. I cautioned that they would be finding an awful lot of contrasting opinions, authors contradicting each other, leading to confusion and possible frustration. I loved the dog they adopted, and suggested that they trust themselves, relax, enjoy the transition and growth, observe how the dog is adapting to new things, help her find her place, but expect some things along the way that might not meet long term expectations. And I would be available at any time to try to answer questions that come up along the way. The desire to make things perfect in a short time, all coming from a nurturing and caring place, puts pressure on the dog, on the relationship, on ourselves. When people feel that they must jump right into formal training, before getting to know the dog, and letting the dog adjust to its new life, that feels to me like unnecessary pressure on both parties.

With all the literature and popular media highlighting dogs nowadays, I can't help but notice that people are failing to trust their own gut. I have often said that the further we all get from any rural roots, the less we seem to be able to relate to other species, so the learning curve is certainly necessary. And there are many people who really don't seem to have much give and take, nor much understanding of others, so they need coaching. But many people seem to be walking on eggshells, afraid to do what might feel natural, afraid that a natural interaction might lead to a dire consequence or disapproval from others.

A dog is supposed to add value and joy to our lives. I don't think there is anything wrong with relaxing, hanging out, getting acquainted, putting the training books down, going for hikes, sitting on the deck, giving the dog and ourselves a break and some time to get to know each other. After all, they don't need to get on the waiting list for the best pre-school as soon as they leave the delivery room. Enjoy, learn from them, marvel at how amazing they are, and be patient with newly arrived household members. They haven't become part of the instant everything internet world yet.


Of course, obtaining a pup vs an adult means getting in there right away to establish acceptable behavior, start with training right away. They are sponges, ready to soak up everything, so the sooner we start, the better. They should be shown the right path from the start, so that they aren't unfairly given new rules after they have gained 30 pounds, and some of it isn't so cute anymore.

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Comments: 2
  • #1

    Valerie (Thursday, 16 May 2013 10:55)

    Excellent observations. Also there is a tendency on some rescues/rescuers to focus so much on the 'story' real or imagined behind the dog - or the reason for 'rescuing' - that the dog itself seems to be left out of the picture as it relates in the present day situation.

    Also, the statement that rescue dogs are 'grateful' and will act accordingly. LOL. Well, maybe some do, but don't count on it and as humans be ever-so-grateful that they don't expect the same from us on an ongoing basis as we arely, as humans, to disappoint at times.

    Enjoy your blog entries - common sense in an uncommon time.

  • #2

    Mary (Saturday, 26 October 2013 19:57)

    This is very helpful information. My new (3 weeks) rescue seems hard to work with, but you are right that I need to relax and be patient. He is sweet and good in the big ways, so I must give him time to settle and develop.