The rehoming experience can be stressful for many dogs, much like it may be stressful for one of us to suddenly be thrown into living with a bunch of strangers in a land where nobody speaks your language or understands your customs. When a dog enters a new environment, the entire world changes. There are new sights, sounds, people, animals, and rules.
Some dogs seem to adjust immediately to their new home, automatically relaxing into a new environment. However, many adopted dogs go through a transition period which may last anywhere from one or two days to a couple of months.
During this time, the dog is testing his environment. What works here? How are these people different than other people I have known? What is “safe” and “dangerous” in this new home?
Dogs transitioning to life in a new home require patience, commitment, and consistency from their handlers.
Reflecting the importance of extensive and appropriate socialization during critical periods of development is the fact that for all animals, once these windows of socialization have closed, the policy on evaluating the relative safety or danger of a new stimuli is as follows: “dangerous until proven safe.”
Fearful dogs especially take time to blossom in a new environment. Fearful dogs are often painfully shy, with a tendency to initially avoid contact, hiding, sometimes trembling, growling, or barking in fear. They may exhibit signs of anorexia, submissive urination, whining, pacing, or self-mutilation through licking or chewing at themselves.
Allowing fearful dogs to feel as though they have control over the rate at which they engage or interact with new people, animals, and other stimuli in the environment will help build establish confidence. Do not attempt to force your fearful dog to “get over it” by putting her in situations she cannot comfortable handle. Consistently rewarding prosocial behavior (high value treats for initiating engagement) will help your dog acclimate to her environment more quickly and will help establish trust.
If your dog is very fearful or is biting people out of fear response, do not hesitate to contact a behavior professional immediately. Here are some tips on evaluating a prospective behavior professional. Behavior problems tend not to disappear or get better on their own. More often than not, behavior problems intensify the longer they are allowed to continue unaddressed.
Adolescent dogs (whether they have grown up in a home or are adopted during adolescence) tend to exhibit a lot of demand behaviors – jumping, barking, pulling on leash, nipping, etc. These behaviors are a natural part of this life stage, and many of the behaviors may have been reinforced by previous owners. Practice careful supervision, management, and training desirable replacement behaviors to help your newly adopted dog quickly learn the rules of her new environment.
For the first few months of living with your new dog, keep the following in mind: