From behind a wooden crate we saw a long black-muzzled nose poking round at us. We took him out—soft, wobbly, tearful; set him down on his four, as yet not quite simultaneous legs, and regarded him. He wandered a little round our legs, neither wagging his tail nor licking at our hands; then he looked up, and my companion said: "He's an angel!"
- John Galsworthy
Remember That You’re On A Brand New Journey
Hopefully you’ll have navigated the treacherous waters of adoption, and finally come home with the dog you believe will be the happiest with you.
However, when you bring a new dog home, you may find that they are reacting in a completely unexpected way. You’ve asked all the questions, and the rescue seemed honest when describing everything to you, but suddenly, you’re at home, little Toto is acting very strangely and it looks as though the rescue have lied to you!
Unless you’ve found a disreputable one, rescues don’t want to mislead you about a dog you’re taking on. A reputable rescue that has the best interests of the dog at heart wants you and your new pal to be together forever.
Most rescues with a good reputation will stipulate that if there is a problem, they will take the dog back - this is not just for the peace of mind of the new owner, but it’s the best thing for the dog too. Dogs don’t just come back to rescues because of ‘behaviour’ problems, but they can come back for all sorts of reasons.
People’s personal circumstances can change, they may need to move into a flat where animals aren’t allowed, a family member may become allergic, health issues of the human may mean they can’t cope with a dog any more - there are any number of unexpected situations that can arise that mean you can no longer look after your dog. Knowing that a rescue has made a commitment to be there when these things happen mean that you know it’s in their best interests to match the right dog with the right home.
It also means there’s no point lying just to get a dog in a new home; if it isn’t right and doesn’t work, then it just means the dog is coming back to them anyway. There are so many dogs out there needing to be rescued, that it’s in everyone’s interests for them to tell you everything they know and have observed about the dog.
However, there are two things to remember:
The people at the rescue are human, and are just as prone to misinterpreting behaviour as you are, and dogs react differently in different situations.
Unfortunately, no matter how thorough they are explaining all they know, a new adopter can still feel like they have been lied to, because the dog doesn’t necessarily behave how they expected, or how that behaviour was described by the rescue.
This can happen both ways. If a rescue has been told that Barrington, a huge Red Setter that has been handed in to them hates children, they will pass that information on to you. Rescues don’t generally have stunt children ready to test whether this is true or not, so they have to assume that the information they’ve been given is true. However, let’s say you’ve adopted Barrington, and due to an unexpected family visit you discover that Barrington actually loves children! In fact, the most likely reason Barrington got labelled as hating children is that he just didn’t like the previous owner’s children because they were mean to him. Dogs often get the blame even when it isn’t their fault.
The other thing to bear in mind is that dogs will react different ways in different situations with different people. The way a dog reacts in a large group of dogs can be different to when they are on their own. Some dogs feel safer in a large group where they don’t feel they need to be responsible for anything, but when they get into a home where they are the only dog, they may suddenly feel they need to be protective of their new people.
We had a dog called Scrap come back to us because he was a nightmare with the adopters cat. We found this very odd; we would always do a ‘cat test’ when adopters have cats. We wouldn’t even just let the adopters take our word for it; our own cats would come wandering in and we’d show exactly how the dog reacts with a cat around. Scrap really couldn’t give two hoots about cats. They could do anything to him, snuggle up to him, and even play with him. Generally Scrap just wasn’t all that fussed what they did.
However, this wasn’t what was happening in his new home. They described his behaviour, and it seemed very out of character. We gave advice, and they tried to work with him for a couple of months with no success. When they came back with him, he jumped out of the car, and one of the first things that happened was that one of our own cats, Whiskey, walked up to him, and started rubbing all round Scrap’s face. Scrap stood there and did nothing.
“I can’t believe it,” the adopter said, “he wouldn’t let our cat anywhere near him!”
At that moment, a couple of our other cats appeared and sat in front of him. Scrap, once again, was unperturbed. He acted as though the cats didn’t even exist, all while Whiskey continued rubbing around him.
So, when we delved into the story, we discovered that when they had first introduced Scrap to their cat, the cat slapped him across the nose with it’s claws and bolted. So every time Scrap saw the cat from that moment, the cat would run - so Scrap would chase this thing that had hurt him the first time they met. The problem wasn’t that Scrap didn’t like cats - Scrap didn’t like THAT cat - with good reason! So, it became a routine; every time the cat ran, Scrap would chase. It wasn’t that Scrap wanted to kill the cat; he was trying to get rid of a cat he’d seen as a violent threat.
The problem with trying to solve this issue between Scrap and the adopters cat was this - if when you first met someone they punched you in the face and ran off, would you ever trust them again?
What it did prove though, was that Scrap hadn’t associated the cat’s violence toward him to all cats; he recognised that there was one, single cat who had been horrible to him. He didn’t hold that against the rest of the feline species.
Scrap found a new home - with cats - who love him and don’t smack him round the face. He’s often cuddled up in his dog bed with a cat snuggled in with him. However, without knowing his behaviour with our own cats, poor Scrap would have been branded a cat hater for the rest of his life. And had we not been able to show that Scrap is actually really rather good with cats, the adopters may have thought we’d lied to them about him.
Sometimes Things Are As Good As They Say
There’s an unfortunate side-effect of a lovely, well balanced, happy dog coming into rescue: people don’t believe you. There’s a nagging “there must be something wrong if they are in rescue” that’s at the back of people’s minds.
Some dogs come into rescue purely because of a bereavement, and so a happy, loved, well cared-for fantastic dog needs to find a home. Even then, people will think ‘if they were that good, a member of the family would have them’. It’s more common than you would think that a dog, who has been a companion to the deceased is the first inconvenience out of the door. It’s very sad that some families see the dog as another thing to ‘get rid of’.
As an example of this, we once had a phone call from a family who said that they needed a rescue space for a dog they were keeping in the garage in about ‘three months time’. So we asked why they’d want to keep the dog in the garage for three months rather than get an immediate space. It was then they explained that this was their Uncle’s dog, and he’d just died. They needed to keep the dog for three months, and then they could get their hands on the money he’d left in his will to look after the dog.
People who ignore these dogs are often passing up on some of the most fantastic companions you could ever wish to meet.
Sometimes, you can be presented with a dog that seems ‘too good to be true’. Sometimes, they really are that good.