Think back to your first day of school or perhaps your first day at a new job. You were in a new environment, around new people, and you didn’t know the ropes just yet. You probably felt a little excited, a little disoriented, and it took some time before everything became routine and comfortable. Experiences like this can help us better understand how a newly adopted dog feels. If your new pet is not settled within the first couple of days, don’t fear! It is normal for a new pet to go through an adjustment period that can take several months.
I’d like to tell you about my SPCA Albrecht Center adoptee, Django, and how he had adjusted after three days, three weeks, and three months.
For those first few days after I brought Django home, he was fearful. He didn’t understand where he was, who I was, or what he was supposed to be doing. He spent all of his time hiding, pacing nervously, and barking at me and my husband if we made any sudden movements. We couldn’t pet Django or really get near him for days. While this was a bit stressful, we understood that he was scared, and we never once thought about bringing him back to the shelter.
For any new pet, time and space are key. Django had several beds (a crate will work too) tucked away in quiet areas around the house where he could go to feel safe. We gave Django lots of space, never pressured him to interact with us, and we certainly didn’t try to introduce him to our friends and family at that point.
Since we couldn’t get close to Django, we occasionally tossed small pieces of cheese and hotdog in his general direction so he could begin making positive associations with us from a distance.
Around the three-week mark, Django began to approach us on his own and he was starting to relax a bit. He would hang out near me and would even let me pet him gently as long as I didn’t make any sudden movements. He had a good sense of our daily routine and knew when he would get meals and walks.
This is often the time when a new dog may become comfortable enough to test the limits of the house rules and express problem behaviors. Stay calm. Just like a small child, your new dog doesn’t understand the rules yet, and training will help him learn right from wrong. Fortunately, Django did not have any problem behaviors come to light.
At three months, Django was really starting to bond with me and my husband. He would come and greet us at the door, and he even tolerated being picked up and held. He was more at ease around the house and his playful personality started to come out. He would run around playing with his toys for hours!
At this point, Django was mostly settled in and was comfortable and content. Of course, all dogs are different, and for some this adjustment process may happen faster or take even longer.
As we’ve seen, welcoming a new pet into your home takes time, patience, and a game plan. So, if you don’t feel like your new pet is fitting in from day one, don’t give up on him just yet. You’re not alone and there are many resources online that can guide you through dog-dog and dog-cat introductions, confidence-building, crate training, housebreaking, working through problem behaviors and more. And of course, the SPCA Albrecht Center staff is happy to answer questions and provide additional resources for navigating life with your new pet.
Returning your new pet to the shelter should come only after you’ve done your absolute best to help him adjust to your life together, which often means just giving him time and space.
After all, he deserves more than a few days to show you just how wonderful a companion he will become.
Jessica Gladkowski is the Director of Community Relations at the SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare. Jessica received her Bachelor of Arts in Japanese from The University of Vermont, and over the next several years she traveled around Asia where she taught English and immersed herself in different cultures. Jessica is inspired to combine her passion for helping animals, teaching, and serving a diverse community through a career in animal welfare. Jessica lives in Aiken with her husband David and their rescue dogs Django and Ollie.