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Dogs that are up for adoption are looking for forever homes. Unfortunately, though, the reality is that around 10% are back in shelters or otherwise looking for a new home within six months of initially being adopted.
This can be one of the worst things for these dogs, as it can undermine their trust in humans, making it even more difficult for them to find a forever home in the future.
This is why many rescues and shelters put so much time and energy into getting to know potential pet parents and matching them up with the right dog to maximize the likelihood of a successful adoption.
However, if you are adopting a dog from an individual rather than a rescue or shelter, they might not have the experience to do this kind of matchmaking.
Additionally, not all rescues and shelters have the resources to do this properly. Because of this, you shouldn’t rely only on their advice. You should be proactive about making sure you and the pooch you are considering adopting are likely to be a good match.
A good place to start is researching breeds that are likely to fit in with you and your family in terms of their temperament – you can read our guide to the best breeds to adopt here. Once you have narrowed down candidates on that basis, it is then a matter of simply meeting the dog and seeing if you get along.
This is when you should be testing your affinity with the dog and looking out for any warning signs that they might not fit smoothly into your family.
Read on as we go through the main warning signs to look for when looking for a dog to adopt, negotiating with their previous owner or shelter, and meeting the dog.
Unless you are an experienced dog owner with the ability to take on a more difficult animal, you’ll want to keep an eye out for these signs so you can find a dog that is more compatible with your lifestyle and experience level.
Why Do Adoptions Fail?
A research study published in 2021 looked at how often adopted dogs were returned, why they were returned, and what factors could predict whether a dog might find themselves returned.
Behavioral issues and problems fitting in with new pets are the most common reasons given when adopted dogs are returned. Dogs that display aggression towards people and other animals are particularly likely to be returned.
Additionally, families that have young children tend to be more likely to return dogs than other owners. Aggression may be a particular concern when children are in the house, and balancing the demands of both active children and active canines can prove to be too much for some families.
Young owners and inexperienced or first-time owners are also more likely to return dogs, as it is more difficult for them to predict what will be required from them when caring for a dog.
Factors such as investing in professional training and letting the dog sleep in a family member’s bed seem to help adoptions run more smoothly and increase the overall chances of success.
Adult dogs are also significantly more likely to be returned than puppies. They may have already developed behaviors that make it difficult for them to adjust to their new home, while puppies tend to be more pliable and respond better to socialization.
Larger dogs are also more likely to be returned than small breeds. Since larger dogs tend to be more demanding in terms of space and exercise, this is not really surprising. The same reasons make it harder for larger dogs to find homes.
7 Warning Signs When Adopting A Dog
If you encounter any of the following red flags during the adoption process, the dog you’re looking into adopting will likely struggle to fit into a new household and will need the support of an experienced dog owner to successfully make the transition.
If you choose not to take them home, this is not you being selfish. If you are unable to support them in the way that they need, they might suffer and cause havoc in your home, meaning they will soon end up back on the adoption market.
1. Carefully Worded Statements About Behavior In Ads
The profiles that people write about dogs looking for new families are often very flattering. They want you to at least meet the dog to decide whether you might be a good match. In addition to positive traits, however, the ads will also often tell you about the dog’s potential behavioral problems.
As a result, you’ll have to be able to read between the lines.
Ostensibly positive statements such as “full of energy,” “needs a big yard,” “protective,” and “prefers to be around people” all indicate potential challenges. Energetic dogs also tend to be destructive, and they might need a big yard if you don’t want them galloping through your home.
Protective dogs often bark excessively, and dogs that like people often develop separation anxiety when left at home alone frequently.
Read descriptions carefully to get a true idea of the personality of the dog you are thinking about adopting. When it’s time to meet the dog, don’t be afraid to ask questions about any of the hints you may have picked up on.
2. Missing Information
If the person or agency that you are adopting from is ever reluctant to provide you with information or says that standard information isn’t available, this should be a warning sign. This often means they are hiding something they don’t want you to know.
For example, why would a previous owner be reluctant to share medical records? It may be true that they didn’t keep up-to-date with vet visits. Many pet parents have to give up their animals because they can’t afford these kinds of expenses. However, they may also be hiding something about the dog’s medical issues and history.
Seeing recent medical records for the dog you plan to adopt is important, or you could find yourself facing big medical bills after only a few months. Of course, an illness isn’t always a reason not to adopt a dog, but it is best to go into things prepared and with your eyes open.
3. Excessive Barking Or Growling When They Meet You
While you should expect a rescue dog to take a little while to adjust to new family members, if they can’t stop barking and growling when they first meet you, this is a red flag.
You will probably spend quite a bit of time with the dog, and they will be accompanied by staff or foster parents to whom they are already accustomed. If collectively you can’t get them to stop growling at you, it is a sign that your energies don’t mesh.
You should be able to tell the difference between excited barking because they are pleased to meet you and menacing growls. If they seem like they don’t really like you, don’t take them home and try to force a relationship with them.
4. Lethargy And Non-Responsive Behavior
Dogs are generally quite excited to meet new people and will pay attention if you give them pets and play with them a little. If they seem unresponsive when you approach them, be wary.
Some dogs are more tranquil than others, and if you are looking for an indoor dog, this can be a very good characteristic. However, if they seem too tired to have a little play or indifferent to your attention, there is probably something wrong health-wise.
Extremely lethargic behavior is usually a sign the dog is unwell. If the rescue staff hasn’t already picked up that there may be something wrong with the dog, now is the time to alert them. Don’t take the dog home if things seem off–instead, let the experts at the shelter spend a bit more time with them.
5. They Hide From You
While you can expect some dogs to be a bit shy when they first meet you, with a little bit of coaxing, they should at least be willing to come over for a sniff and, eventually, a pat behind the ears.
If they hide in the back of their cage, behind furniture, and otherwise do their best to keep out of sight, they may have a serious fear of people. Not only will this make it very difficult for them to settle into a new home, but they can also have a tendency to bite or snap if they feel afraid.
These dogs will need homes with experienced dog owners who can spend a lot of time working with them to build up their confidence and trust. If that’s not you, it’s best to leave this dog, as you might just create a negative situation within your own home and upset the dog even further.
6. Heavy Breathing
Just because a dog is interacting with you doesn’t mean they aren’t anxious. Just like with people, some are better at hiding their anxiety than others. Keep in mind, though, that a clear sign a seemingly happy dog is actually very stressed is heavy breathing.
Consider the situation in which you meet the dog. If they have just had a nice run or it is very hot, they could be panting for very innocent reasons. But if they seem to be panting for no reason at all, be aware that this could be a sign they are actually highly stressed.
While they might be coping with you now on an organized visit, their stress may get out of control when you take them home and they are faced with strange people, places, and smells. As a result, they could end up being quite a handful and require more of you than you initially expected.
In addition to heavy breathing, if the dog licks their lips excessively, this is a similar sign of stress.
7. They Are Too Energetic And Friendly
While most people want a friendly dog with lots of pep, if the dog you’re looking to adopt is overly hyperactive and energetic even upon first meeting you, be warned that they are likely to be a handful.
Dogs like this are likely to need lots of training with a firm hand in addition to lots of playtime and attention. Some people will love this, but not everyone has the time and energy to give to an overly needy dog.
Before agreeing to make them your new best friend, you should seriously consider how you will cope if you discover that the dog you’re interested in adopting is extremely high energy pretty much all the time.
Most Important Factors For A Successful Dog Adoption
Aside from finding a dog who is likely to be compatible with you and your family, there are several other factors that are likely to make your adoption a success. Consider the following:
Identifying Behavioral Issues
Behavioral issues are the most common reasons given for returning a dog, and this happens much more regularly when new owners don’t seek support when they first notice problems.
On the other hand, those who contacted a vet or the shelter when they started noticing behavioral issues were more likely to be able to get the help they needed to deal with the issues and adjust the dog’s behavior.
If you think your dog is having behavioral issues, don’t struggle alone or assume that it is normal for a shelter dog. Ask for help. Shelters and vets have a lot of experience in this area, and it may not be as challenging as you think to deal with certain problems with the right guidance and training.
Investing In Professional Training
Unless you are a very experienced dog owner, training an adult dog who may have come from difficult circumstances can be challenging. Investing in a professional trainer early on who can teach your dog what is required from them and show you how to control your dog will make a big difference in the long term.
While this can be costly, you don’t only end up with a trained dog. You will also become more experienced at training, making you better able to tackle new challenges that may arise with your pup in the future.
Know What To Expect
Many people return dogs because the commitment and work involved in caring for a dog was more than they expected. They may have had unrealistic expectations in general or chosen a more difficult dog.
Educate yourself on exactly what to expect so you aren’t confronted by any nasty surprises. Also, remember that things will get easier in time as the dog becomes comfortable with you and around your home and learns what is expected of them.
Bonding with your dog is essential for the two of you to develop a strong and stable relationship. Studies show that active bonding activities, such as letting your dog sleep in the bed with you at least some of the time, can make a big difference.
Make time for your dog in the first few months of bringing them home, and focus on having fun together and developing a closeness. This will ensure the bond you establish with the dog is strong from the beginning.
FAQs About Adopting A Dog
What is the “rule of three” when adopting a dog?
The rule of three suggests that it will take three days for an adopted dog to stop feeling overwhelmed and want to start exploring their new home. It can take up to three weeks for them to stop displaying fearful behavior, and up to three months for them to fully adapt to their new home.
Is it normal to feel regret after adopting a dog?
For first-time owners, it is normal to feel overwhelmed after you adopt a dog, especially if you have bitten off more than you can chew. It is not uncommon to consider returning the dog.
Keep in mind, though, that this often stems from a lack of knowledge and support, and investing in professional training and guidance can make a big difference. It is also worth remembering the aforementioned “rule of three” and that things should start to feel easier after the first three months.
When you are looking to adopt a dog, you are probably anticipating having them as part of your family for the rest of their lives. Sadly, though, the reality is that many adopted dogs soon find themselves homeless again as they struggle to fit into new homes and families.
Dogs that have behavioral issues and fail to bond appropriately with children or existing pets are very likely to find themselves “returned” within six months of the original adoption.
If you are an inexperienced owner or you have kids or other pets at home, when adopting, you want to avoid bringing home a dog that might have certain behavioral issues that will make them incompatible with other members of your home. Three other notable red flags to look out for when you initially meet the dog include:
- Excessively energetic or anxious behavior
- Growling or overly aggressive behavior
- Missing or purposely withheld information in the dog’s medical records
Choosing an appropriate breed is a good place to start, but then you also need to meet the dog to be sure of their potential compatibility with you and your family. When you do meet them, look out for the red flags that we have listed. These all indicate that the dogs might be inclined to have behavioral issues.
Of course, a dog whose life experience has taught them to fear humans or to be excessively territorial is still very worthy of adoption. However, these dogs tend to do better with experienced dog owners who will have a better chance of nurturing them back to a happy state.
Do you have experience adopting a difficult dog? Share your thoughts with the community in the comments section below.
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