When I adopted my first dog Rory, who is now almost 7, many tears were shed in the early days. The feeling of uh oh what have I done was overwhelming at times. Rory had been picked up as a stray and was about 7 or 8 months old. She was unspayed and she was pregnant. I loved her the minute I saw her. The rescue spayed her and terminated her pregnancy which was very early along and by the time she came home with me I think her hormones were way out of whack and frankly, the dog had issues. She immediately showed signs of being very territorial with strangers visiting the home. She was horrible with the cats who took to the basement in fear. She was hit or miss with my parent's sweet old lab Sydney and she was guarding her space. She would bark in the middle of the night. She challenged everything I asked her to do. It was tough! I adored her but I felt very overwhelmed and I questioned whether I had made a mistake. I remember specifically crying to a friend about it over a cup of coffee and that was six years ago! But we stuck it out. After a few weeks went by, she stopped chasing the cats as much, she was nice to Sydney on a consistent basis and they became buddies, we got into a routine, she got used to being gated into her space at night and stopped barking, and the guarding behaviors quickly went away as she trusted me. We bonded and she started to respect me as the boss and as the weeks and months went by and our bond got stronger and stronger, I knew that adopting her was the best decision of my life.
A few years later I adopted Cy and although he was a senior and fairly calm and he and Rory liked each other immediately . . . I still had many uh oh moments and big concerns about whether this was going to work. He was very intense around the cats even slamming right into the glass screen door trying to get at one of the cats. I was not taking any chances . . . the cats moved downstairs temporarily and they lived separately for about a month but obviously aware of each other's presence in the home. Slowly we added some time in the same space while on leash and with lots of treats and rewards for dogs and cats to keep everyone happy. Then we added some free roaming times with gates. Then we built up a strong stay (always with a leash on) and Cy was frankly not even allowed to look at the cats. Once he got used to them moving around while he was in a stay things got really easy. I will never forget the day that Jake my oldest cat felt confident enough around Cy to walk up to him while he was in a stay and things were pretty much smooth sailing from there. As much as Rory and Cy hit it off from the get go, they had a couple of little squabbles in the early days that left me feeling worried and having a couple of sleepless uh oh nights.
Then came Cookie . . . While Cookie had no issues with the other animals, she had some medical issues but most fun of all, she was only "partially house-trained." There are a lot of dogs that get adopted that are not quite fully house-trained and sadly this is a common reason why dogs end up shelters. I did not immediately get on board with crate training her but once I did, I no longer had to wake up to middle of the night poops. :-)
The fact is, where there are multiple dogs getting used to each other, there are probably going to be squabbles. Where there are dogs and cats getting used to each other, there is going to be chasing and barking and hissing and growing pains. Where there is a dog who has been in a shelter for a long time, there will be confusion, maybe some resource guarding, and some other unwanted behaviors that will probably settle down once you get over that 3 month hump. There will be house-training issues, counter surfing, and shoe eating. Rescuing animals can be stressful business but if you hang in there, take things very slow and make the commitment to get over the hump, after 3 weeks you are going to see a big difference. And after 3 months you will probably be feeling pretty relaxed about your new family member and head over heels in love. If you are not up to the challenge of what is being described above, and you are not open to possibly working with a trainer if needed, you probably should not be bringing a dog into your home. Please consider a cute stuffed one!
(Stay tuned for my next blog on tools and tips you will need to manage your new dog and make the adoption stick!)