April 30th is National Shelter Pet Day so it is only fitting that we talk about adopting and giving a Snow Dog a second chance at a good life. Adopting a Snow Dog is a wonderful way of helping a dog who may otherwise face the reality of being put to death. Sadly, Huskies and Malamutes end up dumped off in shelters for no other reason than people get these dogs without doing any research or giving thought to what it takes to sustainably meet all the requirements of these dogs. Most often the dogs that wind up in the shelters have been given no socialization, no training, no guidance, no structure, and not much in the way of love.
The reality of the situation is that for the large part, these shelter dogs come with a lot of baggage and if a re-homing is to be successful, then the people adopting these dogs have to go into this process with their eyes open, armed with specialized knowledge, and an arsenal of tools to help deal with any maladaptive behaviours that they may see coming from their newly adopted Snow Dog. Admittedly, some adopted dogs come with very little baggage and the adaptation process goes very quickly and smoothly. But with other dogs, depending on the background and situation of the dog, they will require more than just love, patience, and time to be able to make a successful transition into their new home.
In order for these dogs to successfully make the adoption transition they will require rehabilitation work to address their mal-adaptive behaviours and triggered responses. It is not enough just to love these dogs, It is not enough for us to tell these dogs no, don’t do that behaviour. We have to go the extra mile and show them what we want them to do. Far too many owners never go past telling their dogs, NO.
The Key To A Good Transition
Snow Dog adoption, will it be a fairy tale with a happy ending or a nightmare? You do have a choice in how this turns out. While undesirable behaviours and challenging transitions are commonly seen in re-homed dogs, it does not mean that the experience of adopting a dog has to be a miserable and a problem filled experience. Far from it. The effects of most problems can be lessened or even avoided through education, good planning, the implementation of firm rules, and the understanding of what any given situation might look like from the dog’s perspective.
It is much easier to find the patience and compassion to work through the challenges of the dog when the owner understands why the behaviour is being exhibited. A dog’s understanding of its circumstances are often very different than our own. When we are willing to make the change of perception from how you see it to how they see it, the dog’s behaviours suddenly start to make more sense.
Understanding the Readjustment Process
When new owners are not fully prepared for the behaviours that may come from their newly adopted dog, very often the dog ends up quickly being returned to shelter and labelled as an aggressive or difficult to place dog. This is such a common and pervasive problem that I have written several adoption manuals for different rescues organizations in the hopes that the people adopting these dogs might better understand this transition and readjustment process. Very often the difficulties stem from the conclusions or expectations that people place on their newly adopted dog.
It helps to be able to understand that the human and dog will have very different views of this re-homing. The human beings’ view of adopting a dog: You rescue a dog and you give him a secure and comfortable home. You love it, feed it, and you look after all of its needs. You saved a dog from its awful previous life. You have improved the quality of its life. The dog should recognize this and be grateful to you. The dog’s view of the adoption and its new environment: I don’t understand what I did to get ejected from my last community. I am in a new group now and I don’t know if I will be accepted or rejected so I must be as submissive as possible in my new role as the lowest ranking member of this society. I must watch for signs and signals as to where and how I fit into this community. I am terrified that I might lose this community at any moment.
Regardless of whether your dog was surrendered by its previous owner or it was found as a stray, your dog previously belonged to a group or community. Whether it was human owners or a pack of wild dogs, your dog was a member of a society and now for reasons that he does not understand, he has been ejected or rejected from his community.
Since dogs naturally equate group membership with continued survival and safety, it is not hard to imagine how traumatic and terrifying it is for a dog to be removed from its known environment. Add to that, when a dog gets added to a new household, he equates this act as automatically relegating him as the lowest ranking member in this new environment. Dogs instinctively understand that the lowest ranking dogs within the societal structure of a dog pack can be subject to exclusion and rejection. A dog trying to survive on its own can often mean a death sentence for that dog. So if your newly adopted dog seems visibly uncomfortable or fearful in his new home, the fear of being rejected is weighing heavily on his mind.
I invite you to join us back here tomorrow for Part 2 of this article when I talk about why adopted dog’s behaviours can suddenly change and what you can do about it. As always, we encourage you to write in tell us about your adoption experiences, both the nightmares as well as the happy fairy tale endings.
It is in telling our stories and sharing our knowledge that we can help all Snow Dogs …. one owner at a time.