Tilly's Tales :: A Shelter Dog's Blog

Episode 2 -- The Ride Home

Day One I made the very mistake that I have so often counseled adopters not to make.

   In every interaction Id had with Tilly while in the shelter, she was an out-of-the-box puppy, playful, inquisitive, rambunctious. So when we picked her up and she seemed raring to go, I thought we should try to tire her out with a walk around Old City Philadelphia before heading home. Bad idea! The cobblestone streets made for a very bumpy ride and that, compounded by the street noises and traffic, was too much for our young pup whod had little exposure to cars and city life. By the time wed parked, she was trembling and her tail was tucked. What was I thinking?! We promptly aborted our mission and headed for home.   
drawing by Josh Hartl

   While she settled quietly in the hatchback for the remainder of that ride, Tilly would prove a little shy of the car on our next outing, thanks to my ill-conceived idea, and we would have to spend some time backtracking. Over the next several days, we would sit quietly in the parked car and eat a few meals to overcome that first experience. Fortunately our food-motivated pup quickly learned that the car was fun, with a smorgasbord of treats and meals. We also made sure that our first trips were short and to fun places, like for walks in the park or caf visits, and so the car very quickly became one of her favorite places. In fact, soon enough, Tilly tolerated long stretches in the car, even alone, better than she did in her crate.

   But the lesson here is that too often we underestimate how stressful it is for a newly adopted dog in those early days and weeks in the home. Since we perceive that being in a home with loving people is incomparably better than being in the scary hubbub of an animal shelter and of course it is we assume that our new pup will be immediately happy and at ease with her new circumstances. Consider, though, how you might feel if you suddenly found yourself in a beautiful foreign land where you did not know the language or the customs. As excited and exhilarated as you might be with your great good fortune, you might also be hypersensitive and more easily unsettled by all that is around you in the early days of your journey, until you became accustomed to the ways of this new land.

   So take it slow! And learn your dogs body language so that you can better interpret her inner state as she experiences the new things she will meet in her new life. Hopefully you will have many years together to share all sorts of experiences, so keep the early days simple.