Dog adoption from an animal shelter. How to acclimate your dog?

Dog adoption from an animal shelter. How to acclimate your dog?

Dog adoption from a shelter is a great opportunity for it to have a new life. It is a great gesture and a gift from a human being. However, we should remember that the animal we take in, has experienced different, often very traumatic situations. And shelter is one of them. Therefore, before we decide to adopt a dog, we should prepare ourselves well and get to know the dog earlier, for example during pre-adoptive walks. It is also a good idea to talk to the volunteer who takes care of the dog in the shelter and ask them about the details.

The most important thing we have to do when we adopt a dog is to ensure it feels safe. To achieve this is really hard given that your dog has suffered much in its life.

The first thing we should do when we decide to adopt a dog is to bring the dog some objects, like a ball or toy, to the shelter, and later on, take them home with our dog. In a new place, it will have something that it already knows. In addition, to improve the comfort of the dog in the new environment, we should use products equivalent to pheromones from the inter-mammary sulcus of lactating female dog. In nature, their purpose is to calm the puppy. A similar effect will be observed in thenew member of our family. There are various ways in which such preparations may be used. A few days before we pick up a dog from the shelter, we can put on it a collar with pheromone equivalents. Another option is to use adaptation vaporiser which emits the pheromone equivalents in the dog’s new house.

The next important step is to provide the animal with a refuge, a safe place where it is not disturbed by anyone. It could be a bed, a cage or a material pen. It is important that the dog feels safe there. If you see that your dog prefers quiet places and corners or hides under sofas, use a material pen or a transporter covered on all sides. If you do not use any other pheromone preparations and you want to encourage your dog to stay in a pen, you can spray it with an adaptive spray in order to evoke a feeling of relief and reduce the level of anxiety. In order to get your dog used to staying in a given place, do the activities which your dog likes and which soothe your dog, e.g. petting, massages, stroking. You can also combine these activities with the lavender oil which has a calming effect. It is also a good idea to leave nice “surprises” like treats while the dog is absent. Your dog will learn that these gifts miraculously appear in this place which is its new home.

You should act comprehensively. Do not forget to change the diet of your dog as it can have a significant impact on its behaviour. For example, tryptophan is an exogenous amino acid, i.e. the one that our body is not able to produce on its own. Its deficiency may result in increased anxiety. It is essential for the proper functioning of the body and must be provided with food. Therefore, it is advisable to administer it to your dog before and immediately after the adoption. Tryptophan is a precursor of serotonin in the brain. It reduces stress and anxiety while enhancing relaxation. Supplementation can significantly improve your dog’s mood by alleviating stress, anxiety and even aggression.

At the beginning, we tend to “cut our new family member some slack” and put the training and upbringing off until later. This is the wrong approach! The rules should be established on the first day and respected by the whole family. A stable environment and clear rules are less stressful for your dog that constant changes depending on the family member or the mood. Regular and long walks adapted to your dog’s abilities as well as actions to meet its social needs are also important. The training is also something that you should initiate right from the start. Good training brings a great therapeutic value! Here some scent games, like nosework, should be mentioned. Nosework is a dog game which derives from the work of police dogs looking for explosive substances and drugs. Dogs learn to look for specific smells. In the competition, the scents of cloves, cinnamon and orange are used. Such games imitate dog’s natural way of acting.

In the case of younger dogs or dogs which require more movement, you should consider dog sports. Also, provide your dog with a mental stimulation: instead of putting food in a bowl, serve it using a variety of puzzle toys, preferably right before you leave home. This will ensure that the dog is occupied for the time of your absence and feels less alone. However, first few cases when the dog is left at home alone should be short and controlled because dogs adopted from a shelter have a tendency to have a separation anxiety. A good solution is to go to an animal behavioural consultant, even preventively. One visit may result in no anxiety problems in the future. If, after all, they occur, you cannot give up. A zoopsychologist is the one who can help you. And if you decide to return your dog back to the shelter, it is likely that it experiences another, even more traumatic event.

Agata Kokocińska-Kusiak
Etolog, zoopsycholog, trener zwierząt

17 April 2019