New home brings out dog's worst

3/5/95

Dear Dr. Spiegel,

I'm a one year old Shepherd Mix with a problem. About two weeks ago my owner had to move so he gave me to a friend who really liked me. She didn't realize that she would also be moving and be unable to find an apartment that would allow her to keep me and her other dog. Now she has to find me a new home and I'm making it extremely difficult for her. I'm scared of people. If someone is around every day for a week, I'm fine with them. If they're not, I bark, growl, and occasionally go after them. My new friend's parents can't let me out because I won't let them open or close my crate. Another problem I have is with my new brother. I fight with him a lot because I'm afraid he's going to take my food, bones, or crate. I also think he gets way too much attention. I guess I'm just too protective of things, but mom says that's a big problem. I heard her crying the other day when grandmom mentioned the animal shelter. I don't know why but it upset me. Please help me. Thank you.

Yours truly, Candy


Dear Candy,

If only I could change my name to Dr. Doolittle, I could help you understand how very much one young girl cares for you.

Transitions are never easy. When your whole world is tied to a single individual, and you are now thrown into a new home, with new people and new animals, and right away you're expected to fit in, it can be pretty tough. All of a sudden it's new routines that you're unfamiliar with, new voices, new faces, new expectations and frustrations.

And to top it off, now you have to meet even more strangers who might come and take you away. The stresses you've had to face can be pretty scary, whether you're a dog or a person. And it follows naturally that when you're scared and feeling the pressure of a whole new set of circumstances, you may act out in ways that are out of the ordinary for you.

I fear you may have already been taken to a shelter because I called your owners to see if I could help and received no reply.

Where you are now, I do not know. I can only hope that you are with someone with whom you feel comfortable. Caring for a dog like you takes love, patience and commitment. You sound like a dog that cannot be forced into situations, but one that requires time and space to feel secure within your environment. Wherever you may be, I hope you have found an understanding and compassionate owner.

For most dogs it usually takes a few weeks to a few months to get completely relaxed in a new home. And whether the change is from fearful to friendly, reserved to aggressive, or virtually any other conceivable evolution of personality traits, the initial impressions formed by dogs about their owners, and vice versa, are extremely important to the relationship being established between the two.

Each animal brings to its adopting household its own distinct personality formed by a combination of inherent tendencies, early experiences and acquired preferences and aversions, as do their human counterparts. This is what makes every combination unique, and so no two cases are the same in history or in treatment.

One common thread, however, is always present. Transitions are stressful. They require patience, understanding, and an appreciation for the uncertainty these newly adopted animals are experiencing.

Establishing regular schedules for enjoyable activities like meals, play, walks, and training can go a long way to making for a more secure, predictable, and pleasurable life together.