Adopting an Adult Dog: Not Easy But Worth It

I grew up in a dog-less home as a freckle-faced, kitty-obsessed kid. I love most furry faces indiscriminately, but as an adult, I married a man that is allergic to cats. When I went to adopt my first dog, I preferred smaller breeds. I had small children and didn’t want the kids’ faces to be level with the dog’s as a personal safety preference. I kept hearing about adopting or fostering dogs, but our journey to pet-parenthood was not easy. It would be over a year and a half before we found our Kody once our search began. (I can see why people give up and just go to a puppy mill. I’m glad I didn’t quit, though!)

My heart broke over and over again as I went to the animal shelter over and over again, or browsed the pound webpages, falling in love with each little dog needing a home, then finding they’d already been claimed. Discouraged but still determined, I joined, which is like a dating site but for rehoming animals to keep them out of the shelters. Within a month or two, much quicker than the year and a half of pound searching, we’d found our match.

Adopting my first dog has been one of my most life-enriching choices in adulthood. I was experiencing hormone imbalance and my doctor told me at 30 I was having pre-menopausal symptoms. That and other things dashed my hopes of having 4 kids. Getting a dog filled the emptiness in my heart and arms when all my friends were having their 3rd and 4th kids.

However, there are a few things I wish I wasn’t so naive about before adopting a dog, not because I would do things differently necessarily, but because it would have made it less stressful of a transition to confident pet owner. The biggest wakeup call was the amount of time and attention dogs require. It truly is like having another child.

Here’s a video in which I share a trick to get my anxious dog to be ok with getting trimmed.

As a SAHM, I thought being at home near the dog 90% of the time would be enough (minus grocery shopping, etc.). Nope; lap time and daily walks for my lil guy are a necessity or he becomes a miserable, yippy mop of a dog. Cuddles in the morning and evening keep his spirits up. (He just hopped up on my lap as I type to be with me again after a brief break while I did my PT exercises.)

I also wish I had considered the breed’s temperament to see if it was a good match for our family lifestyle. I’ve had friends wanting to adopt dogs whose hectic, on-the-go lifestyles would not work for an energetic herding dog that would never get walked. (I think watching at least 10 episodes of “It’s me or the Dog” with Victoria Stilwell on YouTube is a good way to realize what kind of issues you can run into if you don’t put the time and effort into your pets.)

Initially, we actually adopted two dogs–Kody and his adorable pepper-haired brother. They were chihuahua shitzhu mixes, but looked like cute little terriers, each about 10 lbs. They were super friendly upon meeting, but I knew little about chihuahuas nor the traits which seemed to dominate their personalities. I was unaware that chihuahuas are typically not a great match with small kids. I naively assumed that since these dogs looked friendly, they’d be a good fit.

However, the hustle and bustle of little bodies, playdates, and an overall active household was too much for Kody’s brother. He seemed to have a dominance issue with my 4 year old daughter, aggressing at only her in the family, claiming my lap among other things and defending it from “intruders” like my little girl. We don’t know why, but he also starting fighting with his brother so much we were afraid they’d hurt each other.

I was told that dogs as pack animals are not aggressive by nature, and that dominance issues can be changed by asserting the human’s dominance. So we gave Pepper a few more chances, trying behavioral training techniques for him when he nipped the first few times so he’d know he was lower on the totem pole. As an idealist, I hoped it would work.

We also tried rules for the kids like no hugging, picking up, nor touching feet, and helping them to know doggie body language in order to leave the dogs alone when they’re annoyed. But in the end Pepper bit her on the face near her eye when she wanted to sit near him, and he drew blood. Terrifying. He was an otherwise great dog–just not great with kids or other dogs, despite what his former owner indicated.

My son had claimed this dog and was heartbroken, but we were not going to endanger our daughter. The grandparents agreed to take him so our son could still see him without our daughter being at risk daily. When the last (blood-drawing) bite happened, Kody actually jumped into action when my daughter screamed and was there even before I could get the other dog away from her. He got in-between them and protected my girl from any more attacks. Loyalty is one of the great traits of a chihuahua, by the way.

Kody continues to act like a guardian, becoming alert and coming to her side any time someone lays a hand on her (even if it’s just rough play or dancing). He becomes too protective at times, and when the kids want to rough-house, have to kennel him so he doesn’t add barking to the craziness. But on a normal day, if he hears crying, he is the first to scene to give plenty of kisses.

I’d read dogs help with anxiety, and both I and my son have dealt with and do deal with some rough anxiety. I didn’t know we’d ironically end up with an anxious dog, and that we’d end up helping him as much as he helps us. Since he is quite anxious and always on high alert, his vet prescribed anxiety medication so that he can do a little bit more enjoying and less freaking out.

He can become destructive when we leave–separation anxiety–which is why we began crate training him. He seems calm and relaxed when he’s in there as opposed to racing back and forth looking distressed and yipping nonstop. His previous owner sent me a flashback photo of Kody with the bottom of a door chewed off (pre-crating days) that the owner found when he got home. Would have liked to know that he had destructive separation anxiety ahead of time, thanks!

In the two years we’ve had him, he still has not chilled enough to be ok with a frenzied household, so we crate him when kids are rough-housing or rushing around during playdates. Our vet remarked that at vet appointments, his tail is not tucked anymore. We also noticed he has stopped hating the beach! Waves used to freak him out and now he voluntarily hops into the water. It really boosts the enjoyment of our family day trips to have him there…and then he’s not stressed at home alone. But it took about 8 times near the waves for him to see they were nothing to fear. As long as he doesn’t see other dogs, he enjoys himself.

When I’m upset, there’s nothing better than cuddling with this little guy or going on a walk with him. I’m so thankful for his furry, funny little face and warm presence! Once a dog owner, always a dog lover!

If I am going nowhere, he’s a chill, happy camper.

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