What to know when 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 there are no problems with the adult dogs in shelters. A great dog simply did not have a great owner and they unfortunately found themselves abandoned at a shelter. Sometimes your new dog has some issues that need to be addressed so you can say you have found the perfect fit. With the proper training and dedication, your new addition will enrich your life with the love and loyalty of a grateful dog whose life you saved.

Issues you may encounter when housebreaking your new dog

Many dogs coming from rescues have had the benefit of being in a foster home and have some understanding of housebreaking, but sadly many in the 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 pups as if they are not housebroken so they begin on the right foot immediately. Even dogs that are seemingly housebroken can have a momentary lapse in judgment with the stress that comes 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.

Rules to follow when retraining or housebreaking

Your pup should not be given unsupervised free reign of the whole house. If you cannot watch him, either crate him 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 (eg. sniffing, circling and whining). When you are unsure, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Immediately take him outside and give him 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 outside than inside! Try and make sure there are minimal distractions for your dog (eg. children or other pets) while they are 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 him outside to finish. When your dog does have an accident, remember it is just 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 schedule. You go to work and leave your new pup alone in your house. You come home to find your place 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 to curb destructiveness

The best remedy for a destructive doggy is to keep him 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 him 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. 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 allowing him to get 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 field. 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. There is no magic cure for aggression. It is an ongoing process of proper exposure while teaching the dog what is acceptable behavior and what will not be tolerated. There is no shame in saying you are not equipped or unprepared for a dog with aggression issues.

Fear issues

Some dogs at shelters are dealing with extreme phobias of certain things (eg. 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 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 fears. 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 his confidence in himself and you through the process. Remember, no 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 fears. 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 a dog will not change the world, but it will change the world for that dog” ~Anonymous~.

Jennifer Towers is owner of Lead the Pack Dog Training. You can also find Lead the Pack Dog Training on Facebook. Here’s a picture of some of her students!

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