Sunday, November 15, 2015

Lessons Learned the Hard Way: Dog Adoption

Poor Rex

Despite all the best hopes and wishes, Rex's adoption has fallen through. Less than one hour with the family was enough to tell them that he was not a good fit. But they regrouped and made it through the night. In the morning, they reached a difficult conclusion that they would have to give Rex up.

And, boy, did Rex make it exquisitely clear that he was not the dog for them:

  • he dragged his new mom down the street after a squirrel (does that image ring any bells?); 
  • he peed in the house THREE TIMES; 
  • he didn't whine in his crate (after a quick correction), but he did scuffle and fuss all night;
  • he pushed the little boy aside, dashed out through the door and then attacked a chicken in the coop, killing it;
  • he jumped on the couch and bounced like it was a sleepover frenzy; and 
  • he knocked down their young son and tried to hump him. (This last may have been the most difficult thing for the family to accept.)

Through all this, I'm learning lessons the hard way:

  • A dog's behaviour is as much about the handler as it is about its training. This may seem obvious, but it surprised me. The good manners that Rex had learned with me did not transfer to his new family. He picked up on some softness in his new home and pushed right through it.
  • Dogs are incredibly sensitive to context. If there is a lot going on in the environment, dogs pick up on that energy and may not know how to channel it appropriately. 
  • All the good intentions in the world can't make a bad situation turn out well. "Bad fit" is not going to change no matter how much you want it to.
  • "Misfit" dogs with a history of high anxiety levels and acting out really do need special handling, especially during major transitions.
  • I should have trusted my instincts. I actually had some misgivings after visiting the home and I saw how overstimulated Rex was, but I didn't want to disappoint the family, and I trusted they had lots of dog experience. It didn't occur to me that they'd never encountered a dog like Rex. 
It all reminds me of one of the basic premises of the Family Connections course Stephen and I teach:
Everyone is doing the best they can in the moment.
This is important because there's no point trying to find any blame for this failure. It just is. The adoptive family did their best to welcome Rex; Rex did his best to be himself (hah!).  I did my best to ensure a good transition. 

The family is very disappointed and has been put through the ringer over the past twenty-four hours. Because we are Facebook friends, they've even had to hear some criticism from people who thought they were trying to be sympathetic to me and to Rex.

Which brings me to another point from the Family Connections course: Radical Acceptance.

Right now, things kind of suck for me, for Rex, and for the family who wanted to adopt him. I had fantasies that maybe if I worked a little more with Rex, we could try again, or maybe the family could try again with a more structured beginning. But the reality is they are a poor fit for each other. There are many things that led up to this failure. All of us (me, Rex, the family) are sad about it, but we will still build wonderful lives. Just not the ones we thought were going to happen. 


  1. My internet seems to keep going on and off tonight, so hopefully you don't get a dozen comments from me. I have no idea what is updating. Suffice to say, Poor Rex indeed and that sad little face just makes my heart sad too. Hopefully it will work out better for him next time.

    1. Oh, I hope he finds his home/family soon. He is such a loving pup, but he really is just like a toddler. He needs firm structure and some pretty strict limits or he will go nutso.


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