Adopting a Dog: Surviving the First 24 Hours

Arden Moore and dog on boat

The drive home was a blur. I'd just adopted a two-time shelter reject named BJ from a Siberian Husky rescue group.

Now, the 2-year-old, just-spayed Husky-Golden Retriever mix I was about to rename Chipper sat motionless in the back seat, looking at me with weary eyes. I'd quickly ushered her into the car during a rainstorm and I remember how much this dog’s matted coat stunk — and how helpless I felt because I couldn’t open the windows for ventilation.

Am I crazy? Is this the right dog for me at this time in my life? What is this dog going to do when we get home? Is she going to pee on my rug? Will she listen? What have I done?

Do these questions sound familiar? People speak of buyer’s remorse when they make a major financial investment, like purchasing a new car or a home. But one of the biggest emotional investments you will ever make is adopting a dog.

The clock starts ticking on the longest day of your life the second you sign the adoption papers. For the next 24 hours, you'll experience a crazy blend of euphoria and doubt. You may have trouble eating and concentrating. Your heart may race. Don’t worry — these are all normal occurrences.

To set you — and your new dog — up for success and a lifetime of happiness, here are some pointers for the first 24 hours.

  • Dog-proof your home before dashing out the door. Shut bedroom and bathroom doors, install doggie gates, put away electrical cords, potentially toxic plants and small objects that may be accidentally swallowed, and introduce your dog to limited parts of your home.
  • Take the day off from work. And don’t schedule any other activity, such as catching a movie with a friend. For those first 24 hours, it's important that you're there for your dog as he adjusts to a strange, new environment filled with novel sounds, sights and smells.
  • Buy just the basics. Skip the Fido fashion outfits and pick up a buckle collar or harness, a 6-foot leash and stainless steel food and water bowls.
  • Stick with his current chow. Feed him the same food he has eaten at the shelter or rescue home, and work with your veterinarian to gradually transition him to a diet that's best for his age, breed, health condition and activity level.
  • Don’t go overboard with treats and happy talk. Speak in a calm, confident tone to ease his possible feelings of anxiety, and avoid upsetting his stomach with too many food rewards.
  • Run a bath. Be patient and calm as you bathe your new dog to get rid of any shelter smells. He'll feel much better — and smell better, too. If that's too stressful for the first day, the bath can wait a day or two.
  • Be selective when introducing friends. Pick one or two dog-savvy friends to meet him on the first day, and limit additional distractions. Wait to host a big welcome party until a few weeks have passed.
  • Don’t expect a full night’s sleep. As your new dog snoozes in a crate or on your bed, your racing mind will record every breath he takes — and every move he makes.  
  • Remember that the only constant in life is change. It’s natural for newly adopted dogs to take a few weeks, even months, to feel comfortable and secure enough to show you their true personalities. It took Chipper a couple of weeks to sport her now trademark open-mouth grin and full-body wiggle. But it was worth the wait.

Speaking of Chipper, let’s fast-forward seven years. She surfs, joins me in a people-dog workout class, and serves as my demo dog for the pet first-aid classes I teach. Sure, the first 24 hours with her turned me into an emotional wreck, but it was worth every second for the life that we now share.


Pet Net Logo

We hope you enjoyed our contribution to Petside.com's Pet 'Net 2011 Adoption Event. Be sure to check out all the amazing submissions at the Pet 'Net hub!

This year, Pet 'Net is bringing something new to the table — a partnership with Iams and a social media donation campaign! Calls to action on Twitter will yield food donations as part of Iams Home 4 the Holidays' Bags 4 Bowls initiative — and we've got all the details.

By taking any of the simple steps below on November 16, 2011, Iams Home 4 The Holidays and their Bags 4 Bowls initiative will donate bowls of food to local shelters!

  1. Tweet @Iams with the Pet ‘Net hashtag #IHeartShelterPets and Iams Home 4 The Holidays and their Bags 4 Bowls initiative will donate 25 bowls of food to local shelters.
  2. Share your adoption story on Petside’s Facebook Wall for a chance to be featured on Petfinder.com as a Happy Tail story!
  3. Like and comment on any adoption story or Pet ‘Net-related post on Petside’s Facebook Wall and earn one additional bowl per action.

At the end of the day, we’ll tally how many bowls of food were earned. Get sharing!

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