It’s hard to find the words to express just how traumatizing abandonment and the subsequent time spent in a shelter is for a dog. All animal shelters are doing God’s work, so I don’t want to sound like I’m minimizing them- but shelters can be quite literally hell for dogs.
Dogs really require a steady routine, comfortable space and social interaction to feel comfortable. All shelters do the best they can but ultimately they really are prisons. Dogs that are sheltered for any medium term length of time become highly stressed and pick up some bad habits (that they may never break) just to keep themselves from going insane.
Once when I was volunteering at this truly fantastic animal shelter in Denver, a beautiful terrier mix named Lacey came in. I don’t remember the exact details of her arrival but she was very sweet and timid the first couple of weeks. After about of month her behavior deteriorated to the point where she was a total disaster. She was “fence fighting” with dogs passing her cage, jumping and nipping anyone who came in with her, eliminating in her living space etc.
(Nipping during play is very common. However, it’s important that you recognize the difference between gentle nipping and a dog that can seriously injure you. Two of our dogs had to be firmly trained to avoid nipping us during play.)
Behavior like this is really difficult to live with when you first bring a shelter dog home. Especially if you have children.
It’s so important to keep in mind, though, just how difficult life is in a shelter for these dogs. They are losing their minds.
And that’s why I want to encourage any new dog owner to please give your pup a chance to adjust.
The adjustment period can range up to several months. It’s so, so worth it.
If you’re looking to adopt from a shelter, especially a dog that’s 2 or younger, expect some kind of an adjustment period. An older dog can be better behaved. But that all depends on where they were before the shelter and their individual circumstance.
But, nonetheless, please give them a chance to adjust!
With love, comfort and gentle but firm training your dog can be a wonderful family pet.