There are thousands of happy animal adoptions painting a rosy picture of perfect friendships and love at first sight. So it can be terribly disappointing if things aren’t plain sailing straight away; people think they’ve done something wrong or that they’re the only ones for whom it’s not working out. As a result, animals get returned to shelters and people are put off adopting – all because normal behaviour was misinterpreted as ‘bad’ and the new family didn’t realise it could be resolved.
No matter where your new pet comes from or what age it is, there will be some initial jitters; the outcome is entirely down to how you handle it. Think of yourself as a guide helping a foreign ‘visitor’ settle into their new country. You opened your home to them so you need to be the best host you can be and make them feel part of the family. The best way to do so without feeling frustrated is to see things from their point of view. So, here’s what your newly adopted pet would tell you if they could:
1 “I don’t know that I’m ‘adopted’ so please be patient with me.”
Even if you met your new pet before brining them home, you’re essentially a stranger to them and they don’t know what your intentions are. They don’t know this is their ‘forever home’. They don’t know you’re their new family. They don’t even speak the same language.
It usually takes two weeks before they realise they can settle down; several months to understand that this really is their home…forever. They’ll look to you for guidance and that guidance needs to send a consistent message on what their place is in this new world and that they are there to stay.
2 “This is not my first home so I’m a little bit confused.”
Before they came to you, your new pet will have had at least one other home. They may have gone from their original home to a shelter to you, or been born in the shelter and never even known a proper home. They may have lived in a bad home and been fostered, or come from a good home but one which is very different to yours.
Wherever they’re from, each previous home had different rules and ways of doing things so it’s not surprising that they’re unsure what to do at first. The good news? Animals adjust incredibly fast if you just show them how with calm and patience.
3 “Routine makes me feel safe.”
Just like us, a calm, consistent, routine environment makes animals feel safe because they know what to expect. The best way to introduce routine is set feeding, exercise and bed times and a safe spot (bed/basket), which is always in the same place, to call their own.
4 “If I do something wrong, it’s not because I’m bad; I just don’t know what to do.”
New pets may ‘do their business’ in the house because they simply don’t understand the concept of ‘inside and outside’ yet. They may slip out and run off, not because they don’t like you, but because they don’t know where their new home begins and ends – it’s ALL strange to them. If they growl when eating, it may be because they’ve had to fight for food before.
None of this means they are bad or stupid or ‘problem animals’ nor does it mean the behaviour should be ignored or tolerated. All it means is that they’re new and don’t know the rules yet. Correct the wrong behaviour, praise the good behaviour and they’ll soon get the hang of things. And don’t be afraid to ask for help from an expert if you don’t know what to do.
5 “I’m not really myself right now – but I will be soon!”
Even the most laid–back pooch or kitty is likely to have a slight personality change when they first arrive. That bouncy dog at the shelter may be subdued. The friendly feline may hide under the bed. The dog that hung back behind all the others may suddenly be pushy. It’s all down to being a bit nervous and learning about their new surroundings. Within two weeks, most animals let down their guard so that their true colours shine, although some take longer. Be patient with them – we were all new somewhere once.
6 “I’d like you to put yourself in my paws.”
If you were taken from the place you call home (nice or not), where you’re used to a certain way of doing things, by strangers who don’t speak your language and you didn’t know what was going on, wouldn’t you be a bit nervous or confused?
Please, give me a chance and show me what to do here so that we can learn about each other and become good friends – forever. If we get through these teething problems, we’ll have many years of happiness together. I want to make it work. Let’s do this thing!