Adjustment Period for Older Dogs

Posted by kjd
Feb 19, 2010
This is for MaxHollyNoah, crazycrayonmom, and anyone else who has had experience adopting dogs of different ages.

My first dogs were all under two years when I got them. They all adapted to the new home almost immediately. Recently, I had a young dog for three days who also seemed to have no problem adjusting.

Thor was my first older dog (between 3 and 5). He was depressed for his first year. After that, he lightened up and became a great companion -- always willing to meet different people at nursing homes. (He had gone from home to shelter to trailer park home to shelter to rescue to me, all in the space of about 5 weeks. Part of the time he was under treatment for heartworm.)

Zoey was about 6. She had lots of fear issues, though she was very frienly and open to people as long as she didn't have to go with them. She went directly from her breeder to me a complete change in environment.

Sunna went from owner to shelter to rescue to me in less than a month. She is 5. She is shy, but friendly, with people. She doesn't have Zoey's fears.

Neither Zoey nor Sunna want to take a walk with anyone other than me. It seems to me that all the older dogs have had a hard time adjusting to a new home. They have no problem with the rules. Their problem is they aren't sure of its permanence.

Now: is this just my experience, or do older dogs take longer to feel at home? (They bonded fast; none have had separation anxiety -- I can leave with no problem.) They just seem to expect to be transferred again.

This is a request for information, the next post (Honey, This IS Your Forever Home) will be for problem-solving.

Posted by MaxHollyNoah
Feb 21, 2010
Hi kjd,

First of all, all of my current dogs came to us at the age between 1 and 2 so they are disqualified (I was watching Winter Olympics, thus this term) as older dog adoption cases.

The oldest foster dog that I ever had was Yuba and he died unexpectedly after 40 hrs since I got him so I didn't have a chance to see how long it would take him to feel at home in our household. However, I felt he was very relaxed after the first night. I was told he was 6 or 7 yrs old and he had one owner, who died recently, right before she was brought to the shelter.

Now, this is my speculation but the time they need to get to feel at home has more to do with their past experience rather than how old they are. It all depends who took care of them in what environment, if they ever had a chance to establish a strong bond to some humans, or if they were just given basic cares.

> Their problem is they aren't sure of its permanence.

kjd, I don't think dogs have a concept for "permanent" or "temporary". The importance for their feeling at home comes from whether they "trust" their owner and whether they like their "environment" including their buddies.

By the way, my 3 current dogs seem to LOVE their life here at our home. They all came from shelters to foster families to us. That's why I started fostering animals because I appreciated the head start that those foster families provided them. I want to give my foster dogs head start in return so that they will be able to bond to their new owners quickly and get adjusted to their new environments more easily.
Posted by kjd
Feb 27, 2010
Thanks, MaxHollyNoah.

You've given me some food for thought. With Thor, I understood his depression after a flurry of new homes in a few weeks. He didn't know what was going on and I think he sorely missed his original owner (who I am convinced was taken away in an ambulance). It didn't help that he was neutered and treated for heartworm while going through the revolving doors!

For Zoey, it was an entirely new experience. After 6 years in her birth place, to enter a dark box and end up in a new world -- was this going to happen again? (I also wonder sometimes if she actually was in a puppy mill.)

Sunna is more of a question. We are told things about her, but some of her actions seem to contradict some of the story. She is smart, loving, and happy. She is not a wanderer. I can let her out the front door while I am outside (taking the cans to and from the curb, picking papers up). She'll watch me, but is not interested in leaving the porch. Of course, she hasn't been tested with another dog yet!

I've never had a dog who, after some adjustment, hasn't loved being with me. Some were explorers, but they all wanted to end up back home.

Zoey and Sunna were the first ones with my new doggy door. Once they figured it out, they both were proud to use it -- even when I opened the door it was in, Zoey preferred to go through her door rather than mine. Sunna is not as proud of it, but she loves the freedom. I thought the door was to make my life easier; it actually seems to make the dogs' lives happier!

I have to think about getting Sunna a companion. Maybe I should wait until after our first obedience class. . .
Posted by crazycrayonmom
Mar 1, 2010
I think it's all about the dog's personality. Some dogs just take longer adjusting because they have a more fearful or nervous personality. I don't think age has a whole lot to do with it. I agree that if a dog is comfortable and trusts you they'll warm up to their new home situation faster. I have learned to watch their reactions to new things and slow down or speed up their acclimation accordingly.

When I was a teenager our family adopted a 2+ year old gsd mix. She was jumpy, nervous and a bit snarky with us for at least the first 6 months. After the first year with us she was a normal happy dog (except with my best friend, she never quite trusted her and showed it when she came over, never figured that one out. I think my friend was nervous around her after her first bad impression).

I do think having other well-adjusted dogs in the household helps them adjust quicker. They follow the lead of their other pack members, if they see your are loved and trusted then it is easier for them to follow too.

I don't think there's a perfect solution, just train them, love them and give them what they need to be a well-balanced member of your pack. That's all we can do. Sunna is a lucky girl.
Posted by MaxHollyNoah
Mar 1, 2010
Hi kjd, and crazycrayonmom,

I do agree with "it's all about the dog's personality" but for rescued dogs their personality has a lot to do with how they have been treated in the past.

The difficulty is that most of the cases it is impossible to know what kind of life they had before they ended up at shelters.

Yuba had only one owner for his 6-7 yrs of life. I could tell that he had bonded to the owner. He was confident and had no aggression what so ever. Noah showed his teeth to Yuba but he got what it meant and tried to stay away from Noah. On the other hand, he came close to my kittens that weren't afraid of him. I trust animals trusting ability more than humans' judgement.

Bailey, my current foster dog is a young female Beagle. I got her on Wed and took her to an adoption outreach yesterday after being spayed the day before. She did great despite of her recovering period. She was not fearful, protective nor submissive. I don't know her past experience but I could tell that at least she didn't get abused by people from the way she opened up to me right away. Our Holly was abused so she was fearful and barked at my husband for the first couple of weeks. Now the problem with Bailey is that she has already so attached to me. I need to find her a new permanent home before she gets too attached to me. It is difficult to make her NOT to think this is her permanent home This is totally opposite case of your Sunna. Interesting, isn't it?
Posted by kjd
Mar 1, 2010
Hi, crazycrayonmom and MaxHollyNoah.

Sunna appears very happy with me. At this point, I think she'd prefer here over her original home. I'd like her to be more confident with others. She WANTS this to be her permanent home, just seems to be afraid it might not be.

Saturday, we went to an indoor doggie park. There weren't too many dogs and Sunna didn't play. She'd sniff them and let them sniff her. Mostly she hung by me. OTOH, the other owners kept calling her and offering a hand to sniff, then a quick pat -- had to be quick as she'd sniff cautiously, then quickly turn away. I'd been hoping it would be a car trip that ended in fun for her. That didn't happen, but, looking back, I think the exposure to lots of other people who seemed to know dogs was good for her.

Sunna has been very good with other dogs in her home. She follows them around, watching. Isn't upset when they take her food. With our 3-day foster, Booj, she played with him in the backyard. I am thinking of adding one more dog to our pack. Hopefully, a more confident dog. However, I am wondering whether it might not be better to wait until Sunna and I have had our first obedience class. . . Of course, that would push a new dog into late spring or summer.

Posted by MaxHollyNoah
Mar 5, 2010

I got a second thought.

You might not want to add a new dog, or even foster new dogs until Sunna gets more confidence both in herself and in the whole situation.

I would spend all my time with Sunna to help her build confidence. It won't take a long time, I hope.

Now that I look back, Holly came to our home late Aug 2004, 5 mos after Roxy died, survived by Max. Max was already like 12 or so at that time. Because of rainy weather during the winter where we live I started obedient classes with Holly from late Nov. She finished Intermediate and Advanced classes and passed CGC test right away in early May 2005. She has gained a lot of confidence through these classes as well as doing a lot of things that Max could not do due to his age.

Holly, Noah and Daisy were all added to our existing dog/dogs so they always had a role model(s) to become a permanent dog. Sunna doesn't have that. She doesn't have any dogs that have been living with you and she has been forced to move around herself. It might be a difficult situation.

On contrary, it is difficult for my foster dogs to think THIS IS NOT their home since they are already a bunch of dogs being comfortable in our house.

Does it make sense?:confused:
Posted by kjd
Mar 5, 2010

This makes a lot of sense to me. I've been torn between adding a second dog or doing the class first. I think the class is probably better even though she won't be going until the weather is better. OTOH, this also gives her time to get used to a change in living arrangements -- Sam, male human, should be leaving early in April. At that point, it will just be the two of us.

I've been taking your suggestion of treating her for riding in the car. Doesn't stop her from crying and shaking when we first set out, but she has started eating the treat. In the beginning, these were ignored, no matter how good.

After church in the morning, I let her out (on the leash, of course) to say hello to the people. She is getting more relaxed with them. Originally, she would take a quick sniff and turn away. Now she lets them pet her. These are not always people she has met before. I've also put her in the car, treated her, and let her go back in the house.

BTW, she happily returns to the car when we go out somewhere. It is only when leaving our house that she whines and shakes. This is the major reason I think it has to do with fearing a change in owner. Once I've gone in someplace and come back, she shows no more fear of the car.

I wondered whether it might be the garage door opening and closing, but I can do that with her our of the car and she shows no fear. As soon as she is in the car, even if the door is already open, she starts shaking. As we leave the property, she starts the whining.

I've had carsick dogs -- who still wanted to ride in the car. Sunna is the first dog to dislike it. She will get into the car on her own, just doesn't want me to take it out for a spin.

Posted by MORY
Mar 21, 2010
I have adoptd my first dog when he was 5 y.o. It took him 1 year to feel a little bit more relaxed, but this is just because he spent 4 years of his previous life at the shelter. The second dog adopted, one year later is a female named LUNA (= Moon, in italian). It took her very little to feel at home, but from the first day she suffered from separation anxiety.
The third dog, and the 3 live now all together, was 13 y.o, abandoned half year before. At the shelter they told me that she was shy and had a very nice and lovely character. I tok DANA at home and after 2 days problems begun. She vas immediately very nervous, didn't know me at all, didn't understand what i wanted from her, had never seen my home before.. She didn't eat for 3 days. Then I wanted to take her out for a walk (we have a big garden), and she didn't allow me to put her the leash on. What I saw were all her teeths, she barked and growled very badly. I wanted to take her back to Italy where she came from, but the shelter told me that this wasn't possible. After 2 weeks I took the decision to call an expert. He teached me not to touch her if she doesn't want (maybe, because of her age, she feels pains), and to use the clicker and good things to praize.
She is now 14,5 y.o, I love her, eventough she still doesn't love to be touched for long time
She eats a lot and she is the boss between the other 2 dogs. Usually if I am not at home, I leave the 2 in the garden and her inside. It's not safe to leave them all together inside.
Posted by kjd
Mar 22, 2010
Ah, Jasmine,

It is hard when your dog doesn't like being touched! One of my brothers "inherited" a doberman bitch who'd been cruelly abused. In the beginning, she sat on a couch in his office and shivered. You could touch her -- there was no aggression, just fear. I saw her several years later, when she'd graduated to a house dog. If you sat on her couch, and were female, she would gradually move over towards you and demand loving. If a man entered the room, even my brother, she would spring up, ready to flee! She'd gradually calm down, but it must have been heartbreaking for him. [Her original owner wanted a vicious doberman. He tied her to a tree and beat her and burned her with cigarettes. She was submissive by nature and couldn't be turned. Finally, he dumped her into the trunk of his car and took her to a rescue woman. Fortunately for him, the woman's husband was not home. She gave this poor animal to my brother.]

Posted by kjd
Mar 22, 2010
We went up to Philadelphia to my youngest brother's house Friday evening. He has a pit bull, Earl. Unfortunately, it was raining and we couldn't let the dogs out to play. There were also papers we were working on all over the rooms, so they couldn't roughhouse inside either. Earl ran the house until . . .

Sunday I left Sunna behind when I went to church. Then my brother left the two dogs alone while he went shopping. When I returned, Sunna seems to have decided we had moved into this new house. The next time Earl came between me and her (before, she had stood off looking forlorn), she attacked him. For the rest of the day, Sunna had established her ownership of me, while Earl owned my brother! Of course, when I started packing the next day, she realized she was returning home and this was really Earl's place! They got along very well except for a bit of squabbling. Earl, at 90 lbs, could have easily hurt Sunna at 60. There was a lot of snarling, but never the slightest bit of blood. Had we not been so into what we were doing, we would have let them work it out. (Instead, we hollered at them everytime they began to squabble.)

The trip does seem to have done her a bit of good. Before, she was suspicious of every new piece of food. Now she is eager to try all treats. Still doesn't like to travel in the car. [She had to pick up my absolute terror driving up US 95 in the driving rain, going 35-40 in a 65 mph zone! Much better coming home except for the time on the Baltimore beltway.]

I'm still planning on one obedience class before another dog, but I think she will do well with a companion -- and it would be great if the companion likes to ride in the car.
Posted by timirving
Mar 22, 2010
I have rescued dogs from 9 weeks to 5 years old. I think the best plan of action is to maintain alpha dog status, especially for the scared or hesitant dogs; this definitely helps them feel more at ease.
I rescued a 4 year old "Chessy" who had been bounced around for a while because he was a little food aggressive. I had to take him for daily rides in the car, increasing the distance gradually and rewarding him immesely for his participation. It took about 3 months for him to realize he was here to stay..... then, we were buddies and he seemed to settle in.
Unfortunately, I lost him to cancer in 2006.....
I think older dogs can potentially have more baggage than younger ones but the reward is great when you can help them though their issues.
Posted by MaxHollyNoah
Mar 22, 2010
Hi kjd,

As I read your weekend trip story, I thought about the first time you take your young baby to his first trip. You would have been sterilized all the formula bottles, fed him only "baby food", let him sleep only in a quiet room, etc. until then.

However, when you are on the road, things are different: You can not do things as you always have done; you could not sterilize the bottles in the hotel room, you tried to give a little bit of " real human food" at the restaurant...your baby ate it and didn't get sick. He slept well in the living room of your relative's home...etc.

I think Sunna has adjusted really well, including how to deal with your brother's dog! I would expect some squabbles when dogs meet for the first time. Most of the cases, they would stop fighting at your "Hey!".

I think this trip really made a great improvement in Sunna's confidence level, as well as her sense of where and who she belongs to. Driving together for hours have definitely bonded you guys together.

Posted by kjd
Mar 22, 2010
Thanks, MaxHollyNoah.

Yes, it was "hey!" we both used to stop the dogs and they stopped.

I'm only sorry they didn't have nice weather so we could let them out to play. This past weekend would have been perfect.