What to expect when adopting a dog “online”

This post I am writing with a heavy heart and it is going to annoy a few people I am sure. This is about adopting dogs online, from rescue centers or even from private individuals. This week I saw two dogs who were ordered “online”. In the first case, a couple adopted a dog online to replace a dog who died. In the second case somebody adopted a dog online as companion. In one case it ended up in tears and heartache and in the other case it is quickly moving in the same direction. So what went wrong?

1. Adopting a dog to replace a dog who died is not necessarily a bad thing, I have done that myself but, and there is a BIG but, your new adopted dog will most probably and most likely not have the temperament and mannerism of your first dog. Even if it is the same breed, each and every dog has his own personality so to expect any new dog to be exactly like an old dog is an unrealistic expectation.

2. An adopted dog will take time to adjust to his new environment. For some dogs it might be a few days but in others it might take months. You cannot force a dog to adjust and to settle in, it will take time and patience. Entering into a new home in many cases can be extremely stressful for a dog, rushing him or forcing him into situations will cause more stress and that might be a reason for unwanted behaviors to surface. Let him settle and adjust at his own time and pace. Do not attempt to start training or to enroll him in an obedience class immediately, give him space.

3. Unrealistic expectations. When getting a dog “online”, most people already have a picture of what life with the new dog will be like. He will be taken for relaxing walks down the street, he will play ball in the back garden, he will settle in and lie down at night either outside or at the new owner’s feet, he will greet visitors politely every time, he will go for drives to the beach where he will be allowed to play with other dogs and meet other people, he will never or hardly ever bark during the day or night, he will be happy to share his food with anything and everybody, he will retrieve a ball every time, he will not pull on leash when out on walks etc. To have these expectation for a newly “online” adopted dog borders on ridiculous. All this could happen in time for sure, but there will be training involved and in some cases a lot of effort from the new owner.

4. Research the breed before adopting. Many people have the belief that dogs are just dogs. Yes they all have two ears, a nose, a tail and four legs but dogs are not all the same. Most of the dog breeds were not bred as pets but as working dogs. This means these dogs were selectively bred to perform specific useful functions. Border Collies were selectively bred to help herders heard sheep, Labradors were bred to help fisherman retrieving fish, Jack Russel Terriers were bred to hunt rodents and so on. These are the activities these dogs likes to do, these are the things they really like doing. Expecting such dogs to be happy doing nothing or very little is another unrealistic expectation. If you don’t give these dogs something to do, they will find something to do themselves and it might just be something that you will not approve of. Digging, barking, chasing, chewing etc. It is so important to research a breed before deciding on a specific dog.

5. House training. Many dogs who gets adopted were not allowed in a house. To expect such a dog to do his business outside from the get go is another unrealistic expectation. It will take time, effort and patience to teach him house manners. Punishing such a dog for indoor mishaps is not only unfair to the dog, but might have other even worse consequences like aggression. Fearful dogs might see you as a threat should you punish him and might react with aggression to protect himself from such a threat.

6. Look for a dog that will suite your lifestyle. I am now 52 years old and I live in a small house. I have Border Collies because I enjoy training them, I enjoy doing dog Agility with them and I love playing with them. I however do realize that I will not be able to continue doing all this for very long going forward. So should I get another Border Collie puppy just because I like the breed? Definitely not. Should my lifestyle change as I grow older I know I will not be able to keep up with a young pup and I will most probably not be able to supply him with enough stimulation. I will need to think very carefully and I might need to decide on another breed that will actually suite my new laid back lifestyle. My point with this is, should you decide to adopt a dog, think about your lifestyle and think about his needs as a possible working dog. Then make a conscious decision based on these facts. Most Border Collies will not do well in a retirement home and that is a fact.

7. Another unrealistic expectation. I saw a Belgian Shepherd on tv doing all sorts of things, the one I saw on TV did incredible obedience and he is so fast. I also saw a show where they did man-work with him and he is really so good at that too. That is the dog I must get as a companion, they are awesome dogs. The problem here is the Belgian Shepherd dog again is a very energetic working dog. What you see on tv took years of constant training and will not happen in a week or two. Those dogs need lots and I mean lots of stimulation or else they can become a nightmare. My point? Research a breed properly before deciding on getting such a dog.

8. Purpose of your dog. Many people wants a specific breed because they look stunning. That in many cases is a big mistake. Expecting a Husky to be a backyard showpiece is another unrealistic expectation. Those dogs needs training and stimulation and will not do well in a small confined space at all. They will entertain themselves by going hunting and exploring on the other side of your wall should you not provide enough stimulation. At the same time because you love the Beagle look, don’t expect him to do an Agility course at the same speed as a Border Collie or Belgium Shephard. This we actually do see often, people obtaining a dog because of his looks but expecting him to compete in some activity that another breeds were specifically “designed” for. It is another unrealistic expectation.

9. This is the part that is going to annoy people. A dog at a rescue center might “change” once he is in a new home or new environment. Dogs in rescue centers lives in kennels among other dogs and in many cases they are stressed. Taking a dog into a new environment can be even more stressful but once such a dog starts to settle in and relax, he will start feeling better. This might have an influence on his behavior. He will possibly get better quality food, he will now be an only dog with lots of attention from his new owner. In many cases the rescue origination gets the blame for not being honest regarding such a dog’s behavior but nobody takes into account that the new environment might have a huge influence on his behavior. I am not saying here that you should never adopt “online”, but what I am getting at is you need to realize that rescue centers cannot give any guarantees regarding behaviors. You might be lucky and get a perfect companion but you should also consider that the new dog might need some understanding, patience and training.

Like I said in the beginning of this post, I dealt with the above mentioned problems this week and now for the big question, NOW WHAT? The dog is not what the new owners expected so they would like twenty unwanted behaviors to change immediately or in a matter of a few days. That is also a huge unrealistic expectation. The dog is now pulling on leash, getting excited when people arrives, not good in a car, is quite boisterous, has poor impulse control etc. Basically the dog is the exact opposite of what the new owner expected. Now what? Is all this now fair on the owner? Definitely not! Is this fair on he dog? Also definitely not! To change all those above mentioned behaviors will take time and lots of effort and training. A new elderly owner with no dog knowledge regarding dogs will not want to put much effort into such a dog. A trainer or behaviorist can give advice and work on certain things but ethical trainers or behaviorists will not provide a “quick fix” solution.

My point with all this? Think carefully before adopting a dog that you have never met, research the breed and don’t expect the perfect dog right away. You will most probably need to be patient and to spend time to guide him into the dog that you expected to start with.

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George van Huyssteen (DipCABT)
Practitioner Member CAPBT International
Garden Route, South Africa


Petra du Toit (CPDT-KA)
SABCAP Companion Animal Behaviorist (AB/013)
SABCAP Dog Training Professional (DT/015)