Dog Adoption – How to Avoid Rescue Remorse

Adopting a dog from an animal rescue or a shelter setting is a rewarding experience. However, often, not much is known about a rescue animal’s past, especially if the dog was brought in as a stray. Sometimes a dog’s prior experience can make assimilation into a new home a little more challenging.

In fact, according to the ASPCA, about 20 % of adopted shelter dogs get returned for various reasons. As a foster volunteer, I’ve seen wonderful dogs returned to a shelter because they were put in a situation with high expectations and no guidance in how to succeed. Hopefully this post will help those of you considering adoption to be patient and together we can lower that 20% statistic. Read on for tips on how to avoid rescue remorse.

By the way, all dogs featured below can be found at

Accidents happen – don’t panic

Sometimes dogs potty in the house. It happens. The goal is to figure out why.  Most of the time, when my foster dogs have accidents in the house it’s either because I haven’t figured out the dog’s signals or it’s because the dog is marking its territory. Both of these issues are relatively simple to fix.  I’ve found that it takes 3-5 days for a new foster to get used to our household routine.

I use crate training as a method of allowing my fosters to have their own space in the house. Accidents happen. Patience, persistence and PRAISE are important for conquering house training.

Make proper introductions

two dogs meeting sniffingBringing a new dog directly into your new home where your current pet resides without proper introductions can be a recipe for disaster. The organizations that I foster with suggest bringing your current pet to meet the dog you’re looking to adopt before you adopt. This puts both dogs in a third-party territory, so neither one is on their own turf.  Let them sniff and meet, usually on a leash, with caution.

There may be a power struggle with both dogs to establish the alpha in the pack. I recommend that  pet owners seek training guidance from an experienced dog obedience trainer for tips to safely bring a new pet into your household. Shelter or rescue dogs that haven’t been socialized may panic in a new situation and act differently than they did at the shelter. The need to feel safe and loved before they can get comfortable in their new home.

If there is an initial power struggle, don’t return the animal. Get the help you need, be patient and it’ll all work out.

Take time getting a new dog used to children

dog and boy child

Initially, a rescue dog may not be comfortable with children. Additionally, some young children don’t have the understanding of how to act around a new dog. Introduce them slowly and always, always supervise their interactions. No exceptions. Chances are, a rescue will warm up to all members of the family, but it may take some dogs more time than others to do it. Again, be patient.

My dogs are patient and friendly but they aren’t around children very often. I’m extremely cautious when my friends bring their kids over just in case the child or the dog panics and reacts. One of my fosters was returned after nipping at a child. As it turns out, the 15 lb dog didn’t enjoy being picked up, having his ears pulled or having his food bowl taken away from him while he was eating. Even a small dog can be aggressive if not properly supervised. We were able to take the dog back and he was adopted by a new owner where he’s living the sweet life.  Without children.

Manage your own expectations

Raising and training a dog is work. Many dogs are returned because the owner had skewed expectations of what pet ownership was going to be like. Once they brought the dog home, if it didn’t act the way they expected or proved to be too much work, they returned it. Several of the groups that I work with have had animals returned for being “too active,” “too excitable” or, my personal favorites, “shedding too much” and “eating too much.”

Dogs eat. They shed. They play. They need attention. They have to go on regular walks. These are quintessential dog things. They vary dog to dog, but if these things sound like something that would bother you, you shouldn’t adopt a dog.

You will have to train ANY dog coming into your home. Think of it as having a fuzzy roommate. You’ve got to learn about each other. Eventually, you get to know a dog’s personality. Each foster I’ve brought home has amazed me but they all needed time. Do your research on the type of dog you want. Know how big the dog will get. Don’t want a shedder? I have taken in a Maltipoo and three pure-bred cockers in the past year who were all light shedders. They were all shelter dogs, too.

Adopt a dog – save a life

Adopting a shelter or rescue dog is AMAZINGLY worthwhile. There are some great dogs at your local shelter. Sometimes, they’ve been misunderstood, abused and not shown an ounce of love, but if you’re willing to put in the time, you’ll have a friend for life.

Check out sites like or www.  for your new best friend.  Also, all dogs featured in this article can be found at

Any other advice you’d give to anyone looking to adopt a rescue?  Leave your advice in the comments below!

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