Shelter dogs behavior aren’t always how they’re described

You may be surprised at how many stories I hear about dogs not being at all what adopters thought they would be after coming home.

Think about this, shelter dogs are quickly assessed in a cold and loud building with strange people and dozens of other dogs.

Most times, staff do their best to perform behavior tests. But honestly, how can any dog be comfortable enough to relax and show their true personality?

Each week of 2020, I am choosing a question from a Rescue Dogs 101 community member. Unfortunately, I wasn’t surprised at the following question from Kelsey:

[Q&A] #AskingForMyDog

“We adopted a 3-legged chihuahua on 12/08 (4 weeks ago) and it has been a whirlwind. The dog was described as great with people and hardly barks. 

Well, I’m here to say that we can no longer have visitors, struggle to go on walks and our neighbors hate us due to the complete 180 she’s done. 

She is barking, growling, and lunging at everyone visiting the home, in other homes, on walks, and also is barking at my fiancé who has lived with us from the beginning! 

I hired a dog trainer and she couldn’t even work directly with the dog because she (our dog) was so upset. 

I’m wondering if these behaviors are temporary or are going to worsen. 

I work with kids with disabilities and I had hoped she would be great to work with them showing that she is a great dog even though she only has 3 legs. 


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The rescue said she would be great with kids but currently, there’s no way I would feel comfortable bringing her to work with me. 

She is also really not food motivated so I’m also struggling to use the trainer’s strategies. Please help, we’re desperate.” 

dog barking and lunging

Have a question of your own? Email me with the subject line #AskingForMyDog and I may choose to feature it in our next Q&A!

Changes in behavior from shelter to forever home

It’s very difficult to assess a dog’s true personality when he is in a shelter. A dog is never going to be completely comfortable in that environment. 

So when the rescue dog does go home, many owners are surprised by new behavior issues that arise.  

Even when dogs are in a foster home, personalities can change based on the human. If the foster is an experienced dog owner and a strong leader and then the dog is adopted by a less experienced owner, the dog senses this right away. 

Another possibility is that the foster home had other dogs that kept your new dog company which increased her confidence. 

Without knowing all the circumstances, the possibilities are endless. 

Dogs need time adjusting to a new home

It’s very common for rescue dogs to display varying behavior while transitioning to a new home. 

Your dog is likely stressed in her new environment simply because it’s new and she is afraid of the unknown. Rescued dogs go through three stages of adjustment, sometimes called the honeymoon period or the 3-3-3 rule.

It can take 3 months or more for a dog to become completely comfortable in a new home.

To learn more, please read Bringing Home a Rescue Dog and the 3-3-3 Rule

With that said, if you ignore the behavior, it can get worse.

The dog is barking, growling, and lunging 

Barking, growling, and lunging are all fear-based behaviors. You will need to work on increasing your dogs confidence. Time will help, as you will start to create a stronger bond the longer you are together.

So be patient, give your dog time to decompress, get comfortable and learn to trust you.

Read Adopting a fearful dog and how to help

This post does contains affiliate links for your convenience (which means if you make a purchase after clicking a link I will receive a small commission, but it won’t cost you a penny more). Click here to read my full disclosure policy.

Finding the right dog behavior trainer

I do feel you may need to find a new trainer, someone that is willing to put in the time to get your dog more comfortable around him/her. I also feel your dog could benefit from a balanced trainer vs. a positive only/treat trainer.

Please read How to Find the Perfect Dog Trainer

I also recommend you read the book The Cautious Canine-How to Help Dogs Conquer Their Fears by Patricia B. McConnell.

If you and your dog have struggled with fear-based Barking, growling, and lunging, please let me know in the comments below. Share how you have helped your dog adjust her new home, it will very likely help someone else in a similar situation. 

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About the Author Debi@RescueDogs101

Debi McKee is a mom of three kids, three dogs and the creator of Rescue Dogs 101... where she guides you in your journey of adopting and raising a rescue dog every step of the way. She also volunteers for a local dog rescue and Humane Society.

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