A few days ago, I called my aunt to see how she was. We lost my uncle the day after Christmas last year, so even though she lives on the other side of the country, I make sure to check in on her regularly.
She’s thinking about getting a pet, and while she’s always loved cats, I suggested that she get a dog. It’ll give her a great reason to get out of the house every day, and near her place, there’s a dog park where different owners get together and let their dogs play, so I think she’ll benefit from the social element, too.
She has one worry though… do adopted dogs miss their owners? Do dogs miss their previous owners?
Enter Billie the Boxerdoodle
My aunt mentioned that the lady across the street is moving into a retirement place near her children and is actually looking to re-home her dog, a four-year-old Boxer/Poodle cross named Billie.
(That cross is known as a Boxerdoodle!)
I’ve met Billie. A few times. And I know my aunt loves her, too. Billie’s a mix of two notoriously nutty breeds, but she’s such a chilled out, a sweet-natured girl that I told my aunt that if she doesn’t take her, then I will. I have no idea where I’ll find room for her, but I’ll sure as heck try to think of something.
There’s no doubt that this could be the start of a fabulous new chapter in my aunt’s life, and I spent a lot of the conversation saying, “Do it! Oh, my goodness, you have to get this dog!” But my aunt was reticent, and I couldn’t understand why, until she told me her biggest fear.
“What if the dog misses her old owner too much?”
I have to admit, this caught me off guard a little and made me realize that while I was all ready for my aunt to jump in with both feet, she’d actually asked an important question. I know how much she misses my uncle and how hard it’s been for her without him.
And now, she’s terrified that she’ll be causing the same amount of heartbreak and distress for Billie. My aunt can’t bear the thought of having a new dog who won’t settle in a new home. So, I thought I’d do a little digging to determine whether she should be worried about this.
Like a lot of people, I love to watch dog videos online. Of course, there’s nothing cuter than seeing the shock and surprise of someone receiving a puppy as a gift, but nothing cuts me to the core quite like seeing the videos of someone reunited with a lost dog after a long time. Now, that’s something special. I’ll admit I cry most times. All right, every time.
But Billie, when she’s re-homed, won’t get the chance to be returned to her owner. The lady’s moving to another state, and it’ll be hard for her, too. It’s never easy for anyone involved when a dog needs to leave the only owner it’s ever known and go somewhere new.
So, should we be worried about giving a dog a new home?
Do Dogs Miss Their Previous Owners?
Firstly, dogs aren’t humans.
It sounds obvious, but we often need a reminder not to treat a dog as though it were a human. We like to anthropomorphize our dogs, which means we treat them as though they were little people. Some like to dress their dogs up in outfits or believe that they have human-like emotions.
But, they’re still dogs. They don’t think and feel things the way we do. Their memories don’t work the same way. Their short-term memory is certainly poor (it’s estimated to be only about a minute long), which might help explain why you think they’re being greedy. Still, the only reason they come back for another treat is that they’ve forgotten about the one they’ve just eaten!
Their associative memory, though, is fascinating. Their memory is helped by the associations they make between objects and their sensory organs. So that could be their noses, their eyes, or their ears. This is how they remember tricks with the learned with trainers. It’s what tells them where their bones are buried or explain why they get nervous when they know they’re approaching the vet’s office.
So, your dog won’t sit and think fondly about the first time you met, or what their birth Mom looked like, or how many siblings they had. But they’ll know you.
It’s All About the Smell
Dogs rely on their noses for pretty much everything, and they can translate that smell into memory. They can remember the feeling that smell gives them. So the sharp, antiseptic smell of the vet’s office could provide them with a memory of pain, or sickness, or fear, but the smell of fresh grass tells them that they’re at the park, which will undoubtedly make them happy.
Similarly, a loving owner has their own scent that the dog knows like the back of their paw, and they associate that with being safe and cared for. That’s why when you go to work, your dog sits on your favorite seat on the couch, or even on your bed, as she waits for your return.
This is one reason I don’t worry about my aunt taking Billie. Billie knows my aunt well, as they live on the same street, so my aunt has often given her treats or been in the owner’s house. There have been times when Billie’s owner has been in hospital, and my aunt has taken Billie for a few days in her own house, so her new home will already be familiar.
But what if I adopt a dog from far away?
Sometimes, we don’t get the luxury of introducing a dog to an environment it’s already familiar with. There are lots of reasons why a brand-new state or even a brand-new country might be your dog’s new home.
There’s no guarantee that any move will be successful, but dogs are incredibly adaptable animals. It’s one of the reasons we adore them- they seem to live in the moment and find joy in the little things.
Of course, it may take them some time to adjust to new surroundings and new people, but this doesn’t mean that they will be sat there pining for their original owner. It’s all about making new, positive associations.
We’ve all been new at some point, whether in a new job or a new school. And we always remember the people who made us feel welcome, and who were our friends. All your dog needs are love and affection, and they’ll soon come to see their new life with you as a place that has always felt like home.
If you know the previous owner and you, how my aunt knows her neighbor, and you know that the dog has been well-cared-for, then there’s no harm in keeping in touch. Dogs always love to be reunited with familiar, happy smells. However, if your new dog struggles to adapt to his new home, then giving him a little more time with you first before reuniting him with his old owner is advised.
Will it help if I change the dog’s name?
This is a great idea, significantly, if the dog has come from a home where they were severely treated. Remember how they have great associative memories? Well, a name they heard when they lived in an abusive setting may be the reason they’re not settling with you. Try a new name, but don’t change it more than once; otherwise, they’ll become confused.
Don’t forget to register your dog’s new name and his new owner! Chipped dogs will need to be scanned, and your details will replace the old ones on the database. There’s no need to go to court for this kind of adoption, but it’s no less exciting and rewarding when you make it official!
How much time should I give the new dog?
As long as it takes. Puppies will adjust quickly, as they won’t have had the months or years of a more fixed routine. Older dogs will need more time and patience, but you’ll find that the old saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” isn’t true at all. In some ways, dogs arelike humans in that they respond to love and positive interaction.
It’s still important to give your new dog space, though. Let them sniff around and get used to their original place. Be particularly careful when introducing them to children and other pets. Don’t crowd them, or try to pet them if they don’t want it. In time, they’ll come to you.
They may not even recognize your language at first. Dogs adopted from another country will need to be taught a new name, new commands, and new words. Don’t worry if they don’t recognize “sit!” right away. In cases of previous neglect, they may not have received any training at all.
Be aware that there are things in your dog’s past that you might not know about. They might hate the sound of doors slamming or become fearful if they approach them too quickly. They may even fear a particular cologne or even hair color in their new owner, so the most important thing is to be patient.
Build up trust!
You’re taking on a big responsibility by getting a new dog, but the dog is taking a leap of faith, too! It’s a new relationship that needs time and love, like any other.
One foolproof way to a dog’s heart is through his stomach, so be sure to have treats handy. They can be a great way of helping you bond with your dog or getting him to learn new things. Just be sure not to overdo the treats; otherwise, they’ll want them all the time, and you’ll soon have a chubby puppy!
Another way to bond with your dog is to exercise with it. Play with her, take her for walks. Dance around the room to your favorite track with her. Your dog will just love being in a happy environment with her new famous person: YOU.
Adopt, don’t shop.
It’s always better to give a home to a dog in need rather than buying a puppy. So many dogs require good, loving homes. The fact you’re even considering doing it is incredible!
I’m going to call my aunt back later tonight, and hopefully, she’ll have good news about her decision about Billie.