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University of Illinois Extension

What to Expect When You Adopt a Shelter Dog

November 5, 2013

We spotlight shelter adoptions, these tips will help prospective owners navigate the choices and challenges at any time. There are so many shelter dogs in need of good homes, choosing a canine companion may seem overwhelming.

Dr. Kelly Ballantyne is a veterinarian at Furnetic, a small animal primary care practice that is part of the University of Illinois Chicago Center for Veterinary Medicine. She is a resident pursuing board certification by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, and has advice for making an adopted shelter dog's "forever home" a happy one.

Dr. Ballantyne suggests that potential owners ask if their veterinarian offers pre-adoption consultations, in order to match the pet's breed with the owner's lifestyle and personal preferences.

When it comes time for a shelter visit, first impressions can be important. Which behaviors can offer clues to a dog's temperament? Dr. Ballantyne advises potential owners to "watch out for fearful behavior, such as not approaching the front of the cage, trembling, crouching, pulling the ears back, and turning away when approached."

While an animal may eventually warm up to its new owners, it may continue to be fearful and potentially act aggressively towards people or animals outside of its immediate family. If possible, observe how it interacts with other animals and a variety of people (men, women, and children).

When you bring a shelter dog home, dogs may exhibit some negative behaviors, such as destructive behavior (e.g., chewing), and attention-seeking behavior (e.g., barking or whining), or even house soiling.

"Moving into a new home can be very stressful for dogs," says Dr. Ballantyne. "There is often a 'honeymoon' period that can last from days to weeks, where the pet appears calm and quiet before these problems emerge. "

It's also possible that negative behaviors could have an underlying physical cause. Dr. Ballantyne always recommends an evaluation with the new owner's regular veterinarian soon after the adoption.

The good news is that there are many things that new owners can do to modify their dog's behavior during this adjustment period. A consistent schedule of feeding, play, and exercise is important. Though it may not always be easy, it is also important to ignore attention-seeking or demanding behavior such as pawing, barking, or whining.

"Teach your pet to sit for everything it wants, such as food and attention," advises Dr. Ballantyne. "This will reinforce calm behavior and help teach the pet self -control."

To prevent unwanted behavior, keep your pet under direct supervision for the first month, and confine it to an area where it cannot get into trouble when you are not at home.

By following these suggestions, you will lay the foundation for years of happiness together, and both you and your new pet will be glad you chose to rescue a shelter dog.

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