After Adoption – A guide to help pet-parents deal with their newly adopted dog

Adoption is stressful.
This was Tigger before she came to us.
Notice the fear and anxiety in her eyes
Photo by Ramya Reddy

Congratulations! You have a new family member. Adopting a dog is a great decision. However, your new dog has most likely been in a very high stress environment. The move to your home is also stressful for your dog. Adrenaline is coursing through his/her body and can pose some challenges. But don’t worry. You and your dog will learn to cope. There are several guides on what to buy and how to puppy proof your house etc….This guide is not going to cover those issues. This guide is aimed solely at the emotional aspect of the adoption and how to help your new dog deal with the emotional roller-coaster ride that he has been put on, by being moved from one place to another.

First things first:

  1. Understand what stress hormones can do to your dog
  2. Give your dog space and time to settle down in this new home
Once your dog has calmed down, the effects of stress hormones should automatically come down and you will be well on your way to a happy canine family.

What can stress hormones do to your dog?
Stress hormones damage brain cells. This in turn reduces your dogs ability to be social with dogs & humans. Depending on your dogs memory, the asocial behavior might be directed towards dogs or humans or both. He is not being indifferent to you or your existing dogs. He just does not know how to cope at the moment. He needs time.

Adrenaline, interferes with digestion. Excess gastric juices are secreted resulting in a bad stomach, diarrhea, constipation and/or vomiting. This is not hard to imagine. In my case, I experience all of the above when I am nervous. Before an exam, I used to have a lot of acidity, I could be nauseous or not manage to get out of the toilet at all. Same with your new doggy. So bear with him. His stomach will settle down as he calms down.

Stress hormones increased sexual hormones too. Increase sexual hormones result in irritation or even anger. This could lead to growling, barking, fights etc…We all know that when we are irritable or angry, it’s best that we are left alone. Same with our dogs. Dogs with high level of sexual hormones will also mount.  This goes for spayed or neutered dogs as well as female dogs too. All dogs have some amount of hormones of opposite genders and even sterilized dogs will still have some residual hormones that are increased with stress. They are not trying to dominate anyone or anything. Your dog is merely stressed. So yelling at your dog in an attempt to dominate him will only worsen the situation by stressing him further.

High stress increases the Anti-Diuretic Hormone – the hormone that controls the water balance in our body. In humans we often see the effect of this manifest in excessive perspiration. In dogs, due to decreased perspiration, we see an alternate behavior – urination. This might result in urination inside the house, in what they consider safe spots etc…The dog is not marking territories. The dog is just dealing with increased ADH by peeing, just like you or I might have started sweating.

Stress hormones increase Neuro-peptides, which in turn weaken the immune system. When I was in college, I always experienced this. When I got too stressed due to exams, I would end up having a severe throat infection. Weak immune systems can cause infections and allergies in a dog. Pumping a dog with medication is not going to help much. What the dog really needs is rest and decrease in stress.

Another effect of stress is low blood sugar. Low blood sugar inhibits learning. The dog experiences a lack of concentration and a general inability to learn. Hence trying to teach a dog anything at this point is not only going to be futile but also frustrating for us and further stressful for the dog.  There will be lot of time for learning and training in the future. For now, it’s time to take it easy and just bond. 

In addition to all of the above a dog could exhibit hyper nervousness, hyper sensitivity to sound or touch, excessive barking and generally be hyper alert.

Now, that’s a long laundry list. The list is not here to scare new pet parents, but to let you know that these are normal. These don’t mean that your dog is sick or a bad dog. It simply means your dog is stressed and dealing with basic stress will address most, if not all problems.

What should you do?
Nothing! Just give your dog lots of space and time. Meet his basic needs – plenty of water and food. He is in a recovery phase and needs that nutrition.

He also needs lots of rest. Give him many cozy spots to sleep in, so that he has choices. Dogs are social sleepers. They can’t sleep alone and are in high alert mode if left alone. So ensure there is someone around, especially at night to give him the comfort and confidence to fall asleep. Our good old panacea of “curd rice” works wonders on dogs as well. Every noticed how hard it is to stay awake at work after a heavy South Indian meal. That’s the carb-crash. Carbs have similar effect on dogs. Combine that with the probiotic effects of curds and you have the perfect recovery-food for your pooch!

And don’t forget to provide plenty of reassurance. Talk to him in a calm voice from a distance. Tell him what a wonderful boy he is & that he is your miracle boy (or girl). The soothing calming tone will work wonders.
SPACE: DO NOT APPROACH HIM. LET HIM APPROACH YOU

Tuffy was one of the hardest cases we dealt with.
Her stress levels were so high that she refused to come inside the house.
She was most comfortable outside, in the garden.
All we did was to to keep our distance,
let her sleep and be there for her when she approached us
Photo by Ramya Reddy

What should you NOT do?
Don’t start training commands. Stress hormones reduce a dog’s ability to learn. So let him heal first. As I mentioned earlier, there is enough time to train in the future

Contrary to popular belief, long walks & games like fetch or tug actually increase a dogs pulse, adding to stress. What your dog needs is rest and plenty of it. Let him sleep. Keep walks short.

Interaction with other dogs and new people can also be very stressful for dogs. While you might be dying to invite friends home to show your new dog, hold off for a bit. Let your dog first get comfortable with you. Don’t be in a big hurry to visit the vet either. If you have seen a dog at a vet, waiting with several other highly stressed dogs, you will understand how that can do no good to an already troubled dog. Unless he is severely sick, hold off on the vet visit or find a vet who does home visits. Yep, those do exist in Bangalore

Children perhaps like to be cuddled. But dogs are not children and they hate it! They tolerate it, but they don’t like it. Hugging or cuddling is the last thing your dog needs. You want to comfort your dog? Leave him alone. He will approach you when he is ready. Give him his space.

And last but not the least: DON’T APPROACH YOUR DOG. LET YORU DOG APPROACH YOU!

Tigger today – A naughty, impish little puppy
who is so happy at all times that
her constantly wagging tail is a mere blur in all pictures
(Another Turid Rugaas Lesson)

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