Adopting an Adult Dog

At our shelter we work closely with dog trainers and behaviorists to ensure they are prepared for a home with others in it, whether that may be other animals, children,  or even sometimes males or females. Each dog has its own special quirks and it’s important to know what to expect when adopting!

Here is an article written by Jen Towers, of Lead the Pack Dog Training. Jen works with our dogs to help us judge what kind of home they would work best in. She also helps us work with the animals who might have more special needs than the others. This article explains what to expect when adopting a shelter dog, specifically an adult dog, and how to correct any unwanted behavior.

Adopting an Adult Dog

When you choose to adopt an adult shelter dog you are opening your heart and home to a dog whose odds of being adopted are far less likely than that of a puppy. More often than not though, adult dogs will have the same problems as a younger dog might coming from a shelter. A great dog simply did not have a great owner and they sadly found themselves abandoned at a shelter. Sometimes your new dog has some issues that need to be addressed and dealt with so you can truly say you have found the perfect fit. With the right training and effort your new addition will enrich your life with the love and loyalty of a grateful dog whose life you truly saved.

Issues you may encounter with your new dog


Sadly many dogs in shelters were either never taught or have no choice but to do their business in their crates. I always tell all of my clients adopting adult dogs, to treat their new pup’s as if they are not housebroken so they get started on the right foot immediately. Even dogs that are seemingly housebroken can have a momentary lapse in judgment with the stress that comes along with a new environment and new “strangers” in their life.  So be patient, consistent and watchful as you would with a young pup until you are confident your new dog understands the house is not a toilet.

Some rules to follow when retraining or housebreaking:

Your pup should not be given unsupervised free reign of the whole house. If you cannot watch them, either crate them or put a leash on and tie it to your waist making the dog go wherever you go. The reason for doing this is so you monitor your dog’s behavior as to the warning signs they have to go (i.e. sniffing, circling, and whining). When you are unsure better safe than sorry, immediately take them outside and give them the opportunity to go where they are supposed to. Make sure you give your dog ample opportunity to go outside, and at first you may feel you are spending more time out than in! Try and make sure there are minimal distractions for your dog (i.e. children, or other pets) while they are out there attempting to do their business. If you catch your dog in the act, interrupt their bathroom break with a loud noise by clapping your hands and immediately bring them outside to finish. When your dog does have an accident remember it is exactly that, an accident. Clean it up thoroughly with an enzymatic cleaner and start fresh.


So now you have a new addition and you have to get back to your normal life’s schedule. You go off to work and leave your new pup alone in your house. You come home to find your house rearranged with the stuffing of your couch pillows all over the living room floor. Separation anxiety and plain old boredom manifest themselves in destructiveness.

Rules to follow:

The best remedy for a destructive doggy is to keep them occupied while you are out. There are many wonderful products out there to entertain your pup while you are gone. Natural products such as bully sticks, deer antlers and sterilized bones will satisfy your dog’s natural desire to chew. Hard rubber toys with openings can be filled with peanut butter and given before you leave. Placing them in the freezer will make the peanut butter last longer and make your dog work harder to get their treat. Interactive toys are another wonderful way to engage your dog’s mind through problem solving. These toys usually have openings that food or treats pop out of when the dog interacts with it by pushing or rolling it. Sectioning your dog off in one room or crating your dog while supplying them with entertainment is a great way to rectify destructiveness. Keep in mind your pup should have to earn the privilege of access to the whole house and if you are not there to monitor what your pup is going to get into, it’s safer for the pup and your household items to section them off in a safe area. You can also look into a dog walker or friend to come over, breaking the day up for your dog and getting some exercise.


Some dogs who find themselves at shelters are dog aggressive or human aggressive. Aggression can be a product of trauma, either abuse or an incident, or simply a lack of proper socialization. Aggression rehab is not something to be undertaken by anyone not experienced in this sort of field. Please consult a professional who can guide you by pointing out the dog’s triggers and how to manage your dog’s aggression properly. Depending on the dog and the owner, aggression rehab can be successfully managed and controlled. The owner has to be informed on the realistic expectations for their pup as well as if this new addition is safe and a proper fit for their family structure. There is no magic cure for aggression. It is an on going process of proper exposure while teaching the dog what is acceptable behavior and what will not be tolerated. There is no shame in saying that you are not equipped or prepared for a dog with aggression issues.

Fear issues:

Some dogs who are at shelters are dealing with extreme phobias of certain specific things i.e. men, cars, other dogs. Again fearful behavior can be caused by anything from abuse, trauma or lack of socialization. Fear is one of the most powerful emotions for anyone, dog or human, to overcome. Anytime you are dealing with fear issues you need to proceed slowly and consistently with your new pup. You need to be calm, confident and very, very patient. Overcoming fear issues could take anywhere from days to years. The key to overcoming fear is to find what truly motivates your dog. So if you have an incredibly food motivated dog, food is what you will use when you are trying to create a positive experience with whatever it is your dog is fearful of. If you do not have a food motivated dog you can try toys, praise or play as a reward. A great way to build confidence and trust is to try Agility with your dog. Agility is a great way to teach your pup to trust your judgment while navigating obstacles for a reward. Your dog will learn to deal with the stress of new situations and surroundings while having fun with you. Your dog will also be building their confidence in themselves and you through the process. Remember now matter what exercises you choose, fear rehab is a delicate dance between exposure and reward based training to repair the damaged relationship your dog has with whatever it is fearful of. Be careful to not push too far or too fast and keep your reward system fun, consistent and interesting for your dog.


Whatever you may encounter along your journey together most issues are manageable through training, patience and consistency. You have to be honest with yourself as to what you can and cannot handle. You also have to have realistic expectations of your dog. Remember: “Rescuing one dog will not change the world, but it will change the world for that one dog” ~Anonymous~.

By Jennifer Towers

Owner Lead the Pack Dog Training


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