Joanne Rice is a Canine Behavioral Therapist and Master Trainer with Bark Busters Home Dog Training. She agreed to chronicle her dog adoption experience as she and her husband adopt a new dog into their family. “Adoption Day” finally arrives!
The big day had finally arrived – it was time to head down to Canine Castaways’ facility in Arcadia, Florida to meet Sunshine! We packed Rizzo, our five-year-old rescue, in his crate and hit the road, full of excitement… but a bit nervous, too. We really hoped everything would go well, but you never know until you meet in person.
We pulled into the parking lot, where we were met by a volunteer and a lot of dogs out in the play yard. I had my husband keep Rizzo in the car while I went inside to meet Sunshine in an outdoor visitation area. She was obviously scared and barked at me for quite some time, even when I tossed treats on the ground. I did not try to engage with her at all – instead, I sat quietly in a chair and waited for her to calm down. After a few minutes, Sunshine still seemed unsure, so I asked the volunteer for some private time with her – that way, she would be less distracted.
Once I had the leash, Sunshine seemed to settle down. I coaxed her into the parking lot, where my husband was waiting with Rizzo. My husband and I stood apart for a while so I could assess the body language of both dogs – fortunately, neither seemed agitated (or even particularly interested in the other!), so we went for a walk.
As we walked around the property, I noticed Rizzo and Sunshine remained calm. We relaxed the leashes and let Rizzo and Sunshine get a little closer. Success – no aggression! At one point, my husband crouched down and Sunshine went over to see him. We looked at each other with relief – so far, so good! It looked like things just might work out.
The adoption paperwork was in order, so we were able to take Sunshine home immediately. We crated both dogs for the car ride (making sure they faced in opposite directions to keep any possible tension or anxiety to a minimum) and set off for home.
As we drove, we brainstormed a name change. After some back and forth – and careful consideration for contenders like Peanut, Gypsy, and Daisy – we settled on Pixie for our very petite new family member. To reinforce her new name we’ll be saying it frequently in a happy tone, then praising and giving her treats when she looks at us.
We also used the drive to schedule an appointment with our vet. We want to be sure Pixie is healthy, so a general check-up is in the cards. She also looks a little thin, so we want the vet’s expert opinion on whether she is at a good weight.
Once home, we walked the dogs again, making sure to stick to neutral areas to discourage conflict. I observed their body language was still very relaxed – a good sign! Since both dogs were calm, we moved to the backyard and dropped the leashes, which we could always grab instead of the dogs in case of conflict. Rizzo and Pixie continued to cooperate, so we eventually allowed the dogs onto the lanai, then into the house. Once inside, we continued to watch them closely, giving the dogs breaks from each other using pens and gates. I am so proud of Rizzo – he is taking this all-in stride and being a perfect gentleman!
Since we do not know if Pixie is housetrained, we are taking her out every hour or so, using a cue of “Go potty!,” and praising her when she goes. We will be closely observing her potty habits over the next few days in order to learn her schedule. She will also sleep in a crate in our room at night and will be crated when my husband and I leave the house (at least for now).
Rescue dogs need time to get comfortable with their new environment and owners. One big mistake I often see my clients make is to immediately take the dog to places like pet stores, dog parks, or other people’s homes – unfamiliar, stimulating environments that can cause anxiety and fear. It’s best to wait a week or two, get to know each other, then venture out into unfamiliar places. Luckily, we couldn’t have adopted Pixie at a better time – with current regulations, everyone is staying home more! I know we will eventually take Pixie to new places and to meet new people. We will also need to have visitors at our house, so Pixie grows comfortable with that scenario as well.
I hope we all get some sleep tonight – we don’t know how Pixie will react to sleeping in a crate. But all in all, today was a successful first day with the newest addition to our family. We’ll see what tomorrow – and beyond – brings!
Read our entire Adoption Diary here!