Rehoming our adult dogs is hard and heartfelt. We love our dogs and they have given so much love to their puppies, to us, and to the many families who have their progeny over very many years. (I say ‘families’ because if a single person acquires a puppy, a family has just been created.)
After many years of placing our adults I’ve come realise it’s a specialist area in its own right. There are the all-important boxes to tick on the practical side, and these will be varied and many in number. But once the match is good on paper, I believe it is unconditional love and acceptance that what will bring the placement through to happy fruition. Loving the new family member simply for being-them, with no expectation of reward. And, as the universe would have it, rewards should abound from day-one to day-end.
Decision to adopt
The decision to bring an adult dog into you life is of course based on practical reasons. Most of us don’t wake up one morning and say, ‘I feel unconditional love for a dog I have not yet met and now must find them‘. Of course not. Like any big decision, we weigh up the pros and cons and how we believe a new dog might shift our current domestic mix. Not unlike having a new human baby; we ask ourselves things like do we have the emotional and physical resources to raise another child?, will our current child benefit from a new sibling? and so on.
These practical considerations are without doubt the first important boxes to check as we embark on the adoption process. We consider what we can offer and what characteristics we must seek in a new dog. Our garden size, compatibility with other pets, compatibility with children, our lifestyle, time alone and so the list goes on. This is a vital first step because if there is a mismatch here, then the odds are stacked against a successful placement.
This stage requires good communication between the current owner and prospective owner. The two parties must share as much information as possible and together decide if the placement should proceed.
Fact is that taking in an adult dog can be tricky even when it seems be a perfect match (see article, ‘Adults are babies too’). But if this new relationship starts with a practical miss, then unconditional love might well pull it through but not without significant upheaval to the family.
In welcoming an adult dog into your life, care must be taken not to translate your practical requirements into an ‘expectations list’ of your new pet. For example, if one reason you wanted a new family member was to add to your current dog’s happiness (valid reason), don’t expect that to happen overnight. So the list of reasons for wanting a new dog should not become expectations you place on your new dog. These things and more will eventually flow, but not without considerable empathy and acceptance. It’s not the new dog’s job to bring to life your plans. It’s the humans’ responsibility to nurture the new dynamics of the family.
It’s unfortunately true that my current knowledge in this area comes from professional as well as personal experience. For example, a couple of times I have been most excited to place an adult with a family who has one of our puppies. Now a young adult, the owners feel a companion for their current pet would be a great thing. But in reality, the outcome can be disappointing in the immediate term. Far from adding to their lives, they find their original only child dog is quite put-out. So the gesture intended to enhance their dog’s life appears to have detracted from their dog’s existence. The placement fails within days because the reasons were translated into unrealistic expectations on the new dog.
In such cases now, I (the current owner) can better counsel prospective owners. In the example above, I would explain the goal of adding to their current dog’s happiness is a process which involves loving and accepting the new dog as another equal family member. In this way, all the whole family has the responsibility of finding the new balance; it’s not something for the new dog to magically achieve on their own. The ideal scenario can ensue through love, acceptance and time; it cannot be pursued and achieved in a few days or even weeks.
Puppy versus adult
When we get our new puppy, they are a baby and it’s easy to fall in unconditional love and place no expectations on them. We shower them with our adoration, think nothing of cleaning up after them and we actively engage them whenever we see them. We constantly communicate through our cuddles, our various voice tones and efforts to train. We show them off proudly and puppies are magnets to strangers for compliments and coos. In short, we give this tiny new family member loads of love and input, all the while expecting nothing in return.
Compare this to a new adult dog. Do they have this input, attention and unconditional love from the moment they arrive? Do they have zero expectations on their shoulders?
If anything the adult needs more of our love and affection than a new puppy. The new puppy is in a natural stage of transition; their arrival in your world is second nature for a species that has coexisted with our species for many thousands of years. They can slip in seamlessly, immediately identifying with you as their pack and their leaders. The adult dog, on the other hand, has been propelled into an alien world. They must negotiate the politics of other family pets and learn a whole new set of rules. They likely miss their previous life, grieve in fact, yet must somehow navigate and negotiate their current predicament if they are to survive.
I think the stark contrast between how behave with a new puppy and how we behave with a new adult dog is predicated on the increasingly prevalent human flaw of anthropomorphising dogs. A human adult knows where to go to the toilet. A human adult understands they have left one home they will never see again and are now in another. A baby human needs complete care and adoration; a human baby has to learn and can make many mistakes in the process.
All this leads to the need for empathy and love for the new dog. Love given freely with no expectation of reward.
It’s the responsibility of the relinquishing owner to spell this out to the new owners, especially so if this is their first rehome adult.
In our case we require people to come to our home and meet the prospective adoptee in person. Do they get on with each other? We ask them to bring any other dogs they have one so they can all meet. We talk extensively about the path ahead and we observe all the time for any signs it will not work. In only few cases people have made the trip to find the match is not compatible, but without exception they understood and appreciated the process. For example, our boy Lionel unexpectedly set up a low grumble and sideways look at the young family who had come to meet him. Uh oh. No go; Lionel had spoken and we heard.
Importantly we emphasise that if ‘for no reason at all’ they wish to return the dog then it’s full refund for the first month. After that time, we will take them back for any reason at any time too. For we do love them unconditionally.
In regard to success stories, there are way way too many to mention. By way of example though, let me relate what happened in this past week. We had an unsuccessful placement with Maisy and we welcomed her back on Saturday, after only a few days away. Our plan was to keep her a while so she wouldn’t have too much change to deal with. Indeed we might even keep her as a pet ourselves if we had any fear she might rebound a second time. If we were to get it wrong, so to speak, twice. But an important aspect of being a breeder is appreciating that there is someone who can love your dog as much as you and possibly offer them much more; a human bed to sleep on, perhaps, or a lap to snuggle on in front of the tele while dinner cooks.
Anyway, for some time now we’ve been in contact with a lovely couple, Charmaine and Mike, in WA who fell for Peach. They waited throughout her last pregnancy (indeed, if she was expecting at all), for birth of the pups, weaning, and eventual convalescence post desexing. I don’t normally break my rule of not placing a dog interstate, because the meet and greet here is really important. But we connected so well, this case deserved an exception. Right from the first contact I guess I subconsciously sensed the unconditional love of these people for our dog.
When I first told them I would make an exception in their case and Peach could become their dog to love, they were thrilled. Then – in no time – they contacted me to say they would fly over from WA to meet her and take her back with them. This is no small feat. They live a few hours from Perth. They flew to Melbourne and then hired a car to travel the three hours plus to our place. They stayed a few nights to break the journey. They especially sought out a dog friendly motel so their Peach could be with them at all times. So utterly thoughtful. Plus their adult daughter was also wanting an adult, so we felt Blondie would be the perfect match.
Mike and Charmaine arrived here as planned on Sunday, so just one day after Maisy had come home. They were greeted at the house by Rusty, Maisy, Peach and Sweetie. Peach was quite wary, being a particularly intelligent smooth haired mini dachshund. Sweetie was her sweet self and Rusty was all for belly-rubs – until he realised he didn’t know these people. So funny; I was actually amazed by his warm greeting at which point he suddenly realised he didn’t know the people and hoofed it with some accompanying woofs to restore his dignity. He soon came round though; classic dachshund.
We offered seats, but Charmaine preferred instead to be on the ground to be with the dogs. Peach kept her distance; I fully sense the dogs know something is going down. Then an unusual thing happened; Maisy came to Charmaine for a cuddle and pat, not unexpected, but then as time went on she was insistent with Charmaine. This gentle friendly little dog was literally tugging at the hem of her top. We all laughed as Maisy’s persistence did not stop.
Charmaine commented how she’d love Maisy, at which point I related her recent unsuccessful placement. Long story short, Maisy went home two hours later with Peach. The pix here say it all. Love the one of the two in bed (!) at the dog friendly motel (not sure that’s what the proprietors envisaged when they went pet-friendly!). But it speaks volumes. These pix were taken day 1 and day 2.
Owning a rehome adult dog is – in both my personal and professional experience – one of the most rewarding human-canine relationships that can exist. They have so very much to offer and the joy and love they can bring is unbounded. The trick is in understanding that such a relationship cannot be pursued, but rather it must ensue.
If you want to bring an adult dog in your life, check off all the practical aspects but when that is done, know the next step in the process is about what you can offer that dog and have zero expectations on what that dog might one day bring you. When that is the case, reward comes at every turn. From the difficult early days of establishing toileting (even for house trained dogs) to perhaps some insecurity or even wariness, it’s all rewarding. When you love the dog for the dog, you will empathise and take pleasure in helping them adjust and rejoice in their progress.