Columbia Star

Great Expectations vs. Reality


Terri Cypher’s Maggie and Gabriel had different adjustments to make. Maggie needed house training help and Gabriel needed confidence building.

Terri Cypher’s Maggie and Gabriel had different adjustments to make. Maggie needed house training help and Gabriel needed confidence building.

Shelters and rescues are overflowing with dogs (and cats) that need homes right now. But the saddest part of this situation is the dogs that are adopted and then get returned. That’s a stressful situation for both the humans and the dogs.

The results of a study conducted in 2021 by the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania with the Charleston (SC) Animal Society examined the expectations for dog ownership prior to adoption and the adopters’ experience with dog behavior in the first days, weeks, and months following adoption relative to the risk of return.

The investigators found that “owners who returned their dog to the shelter within three months of adoption had higher expectations for their dog to be healthy, exhibit desirable behavior, and for the human–dog bond compared with adopters who did not return their dogs. There were no differences in expectations for ownership responsibilities.” The investigators also “found two-thirds of owners experienced some behavioral problems following adoption, although behaviors such as training difficulty and fear decreased over time.” The investigators surveyed 132 dog adopters, and 29 returned their dogs to the shelter within three months of adoption. The median length of ownership was eight days. About 36 percent of the returned dogs were returned due to behavioral problems, and another 18 percent were returned due to incompatibility between the adopted dog and the existing pets.

Pam Newell’s Debbie Dog came from Pets Inc. Pam took Debbie Dog through basic training classes taught with positive methods to help her assimilate into her new home.

Pam Newell’s Debbie Dog came from Pets Inc. Pam took Debbie Dog through basic training classes taught with positive methods to help her assimilate into her new home.

The study found that, “Returning owners were more likely to expect their dog not to be fearful in new situations, to be friendly towards children, to be responsive to training, and not to dig or chew inappropriate objects. Returning owners also had significantly higher expectations for their dog to be healthy when they brought him/her home from the shelter, to be a form of emotional support, to be sensitive to their feelings, and to be excited to greet them when they come home.”

June Carter Cash came from the Lexington Animal Shelter. Her adopter, Fran Wilkes, reports that she is a loving, happy dog who loves to chase cats.

June Carter Cash came from the Lexington Animal Shelter. Her adopter, Fran Wilkes, reports that she is a loving, happy dog who loves to chase cats.

Are these returns preventable? There are ways to ensure a successful adoption and prevent returns. Part of the solution is for adopters to have realistic expectations about bringing new family members into their homes. Adopted dogs are undergoing a huge change, and in many cases, their prior situations before arriving at the shelter are unknown.

Shelters are busy places with little opportunity to get to know all about the dogs in their care, and some of the dogs’ behaviors may not be evident at the shelter. Ideally, a shelter will have volunteers or staff who spend time with or provide evaluations of the dogs, but this is not common. Many reward-based trainers are happy to help potential adopters evaluate the dog the family is considering adopting.

The first step in a successful adoption is for the potential adopters to honestly evaluate if their lifestyles are suitable for adding a dog. This includes having enough time to exercise and train the new dog. An adopter should expect to allow a newly adopted dog to decompress and give it time to feel safe and comfortable in the new home. If the dog has a shy or fearful temperament, the dog should not be forced into new situations.

Becca was adopted by Fran Cardwel l through the Hear tworm Project . Even though Fran reported that Becca was an easy and fun dog, Fran’s original dog was not happy with the new adoption, and Becca was placed in another home.

Becca was adopted by Fran Cardwell through the Heartworm Project . Even though Fran reported that Becca was an easy and fun dog, Fran’s original dog was not happy with the new adoption, and Becca was placed in another home.

It can take a newly adopted dog several weeks to months to relax in a new home before the dog feels comfortable enough for its personality to show. Sometimes new, possibly undesirable, behaviors appear then. A reward-based trainer can help the adopter understand the cause of the behavior and provide training solutions.

Growling or aggressive behavior should be addressed immediately only with the help of a reward-based trainer. Punishment based training can increase the aggressive behavior.

If the adopter has another dog or a cat, the shelter dog may be screened for compatibility with other animals. However, the adopter should honestly think about whether the current pet would be happy sharing its home. Some dogs are content to be the only pet and are not happy sharing their owners’ attentions or their toys and space.

Ryan Dawkins’s George from the Newberry County shelter needed very little adjustment or training. But Ryan had to learn how to help him adjust to new environments because George is blind. George is now a registered therapy dog wi th the national organization Pet Partners.

Ryan Dawkins’s George from the Newberry County shelter needed very little adjustment or training. But Ryan had to learn how to help him adjust to new environments because George is blind. George is now a registered therapy dog wi th the national organization Pet Partners.

Now that the cautions have been addressed, the good news is that in the study, only 22 percent of the 132 dogs were returned.

An adopter should plan in advance for the adoption and have management tools such as baby gates or crates available. Leave the expectations at the shelter door and give the dog time to adjust.

Adopters should expect it will take weeks or months for a new dog to assimilate into their home environments. Some shelter dogs may not have ever lived inside a house. Expect the new dog to not be housetrained. The new dog may be shy and there is not a specific timeline for the dog to relax in its new home. Do not expect the new dog to understand the meaning of basic obedience cues. The adopted dog may chew, may not be comfortable in a crate, and may not like other animals.

Adopters can begin to teach a few basic cues such as sit and stay. These basic cues will help alleviate problem behaviors such as jumping on people or furniture or running out the door. If the cues are taught with food rewards, the training will help build the dog’s bond and trust. Limiting the dog’s access to areas of the home and supervising or containing the dog will speed up house training. Problems or questions should be addressed immediately. Successful adoptions save lives and enrich the adopters’ lives.

Fruit Loop (aka Loopy) was adopted from SQ Rescue by the Fuhrman family. Loopy has been a beloved family member since 2016.

Fruit Loop (aka Loopy) was adopted from SQ Rescue by the Fuhrman family. Loopy has been a beloved family member since 2016.

Kathy Smith’s Rebel and Indy were adopted from Samoyed Rescue. Rebel helped Indy learn and adjust to life in Kathy’s home.

Kathy Smith’s Rebel and Indy were adopted from Samoyed Rescue. Rebel helped Indy learn and adjust to life in Kathy’s home.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.