His name is Fritz, and he lived with one family for eight years. At the
pound, we were told that they had a new baby and moved, and couldn't keep
the dog with them, so dropped him off at the pound. We picked him up last
Saturday, which was about a week after he'd been dropped off.
He seems to have been well trained, because he is pretty good with sit,
stay, and come, and also walks right at your side without tugging the
leash too much when you walk him. I've been trying a couple of tricks on
him, and got him to learn to lie down after about 5 minutes.
However, there are two things we've noticed that concern us.
First of all, a couple of days ago he snapped at my father in law and bit
him on the finger. It was in the morning and my father-in-law had come by
to drop off a car for us to borrow. I was in the bathroom, but my wife
opened the door. He stepped in and leaned right over with both hands to
pet Fritz. Fritz barked twice (he's never barked before) and bit him on
the finger. He has never been with anyone other than my wife and I inside
Tonight, I was taking him for a walk, and a man with a yellow lab walked
by. I held Fritz to the side and had him sit, because he's getting over
kennel cough and I didn't want the other dog to get sick. I told the man
this, and he held his dog aside and reached in with one hand to pat Fritz
on the head. Fritz turned his head to the side, ducked down, and darted
around behind me.
We're not really sure why he acts like this around other people - even
when we met him for the first time at the pound, he let us touch him and
pet him right away.
The other thing that's strange is that when he's in the house all he does
is lie in his bed. He gets up to eat and if we call him over to pet him,
but otherwise he just lies in the bed with kind of a sad look on his
Do you think these two things are related? Is it possibly just because
he's still confused about the big changes he's gone through recently?
(Dapper Dog Training Response)
Dear Fritz’s Owner,
You have done a great thing by adopting a dog from a shelter. There are many, many homeless dogs out there that need homes – so thank you!
Now, to get your question; when you get a dog from the shelter you admittedly take certain risks by adding a member to your family who has an unknown past. The largest risk you take is that your dog isn’t who he seems to be when you meet him at the shelter.
There are a few reasons a shelter dog’s personality can change after you take him home. Whenever a dog moves homes, their personality can be withheld until they are surer of their surroundings. Then they come out of their shell. Usually a dog warms up to their surroundings within a few days or a week. For more shy dogs, or even abused dogs, this can take weeks or even months. It can also be too late for some.
If you are meeting a shelter dog within the first week or two of their stay at the shelter, they are still likely getting used to their surroundings, and might not be presenting their true personality. Even aggressive dogs can withhold their aggression when they are not sure of their environment. At the same time, some aggressive dogs will always act out no matter where they are – these cases are usually seriously abused dogs that are extremely fearful of everyone around them. This is one of the reasons that shelter dogs should be given a Temperament Evaluation exam (by the shelter staff) within their first week at a shelter, because it will highlight the dog’s true issues even if they seem to be darling.
Since many shelter dogs come from unknown pasts, they can have been abused, mistreated, ignored, deprived of food or attention, and/or exercise and stimulation – or maybe they were just too much work. If you are adopting a younger dog who has not been in a shelter very long, you have much more of a chance of rehabilitating their mental and physical being. If you are adopting an older dog who has a history of abuse, or a young dog that has been seriously abused, and has lived in a shelter a long time, this becomes much harder.
In your case, there is one thing that stands out to me; the fact that your dog seems to be well-trained, and that your dog cowers when people try to pet him. Believe it or not, this could mean your dog was kept obedient by punishment-based training, and that he was abused to some degree (thus the cowering). Many dogs that are trained with corrective methods can become very seemingly compliant, when in fact they have just stopped being dogs in order to avoid being punished. Often times they sit whenever their owner says anything to them, because this is the only ‘safe’ thing to do. This could also explain why your dog lays down a lot. Because he does not want to get into trouble, he has stopped being adventurous. Or, he may have lost the interest in having fun with his owners because he may not think it is fun to interact with them.
Your new family member needs time to develop trust with you. My advice is to take it very slowly with him and never let him think anyone is about to raise a hand to punish him. Let him approach people if they want to interact with him, and have them stand sideways when greeting him and advise them not to walk straight up to him and look directly into his eyes – this is challenging to him.
You will have to be watchful of him with children since they usually flail their arms and this can be scary for any dog, especially a mistrustful one! And, this would be a key reason that a new baby would prompt him to be brought to a shelter.
You may also find that he is very guarding of toys, food, or his bed area. This can happen to a lot of shelter dogs or dogs who come from homes where they were not given very many things to be their own or those things were taken away. He may think you are about to take away his toys, bed, or food when you walk by, so let him have his space with you. If you have any problems, please feel free to write back.