I dreamed of having my own dog from a young age. I’m sure it’s not that different from many kids’ dreams; having a dog, a furry best friend to cuddle with at night, who would follow you from room to room, is probably high up there with something many kids want. I had dogs throughout my childhood and once helped raise a Shiba Inu puppy over the summer while my parents were at work. (She wouldn’t always let me cuddle with her, but when she did it was magical.)
So when I finally finished grad school, getting a dog was all I thought about. I saved up for collars and crates and dog food. My boyfriend and I began looking at dog shelters and found one for dogs that were given up because of behavioral issues. And I thought, “This is perfect. I’ll give a dog a second chance, go through all the training, and have a success story at the end.” After some meet-and-greets, a background check, and an apartment review, we had our new dog in our apartment on her first night. And I knew this would be our forever dog.
But that didn’t happen. Instead, after a couple rough nights and some walks with her muzzle on (upon meeting some dogs, our new rescue became so excited that she would attempt to bite her handler), my boyfriend and I decided we couldn’t continue to take care of her. There were additional factors that added to this decision (I had just lost my job, the pandemic lockdown had started, and my mental health had taken a dip), but ultimately we knew we weren’t this dog’s forever home. It was heartbreaking, and I felt like I’d betrayed the dog, my boyfriend, and the rescue.
And it’s not until now, after fostering a few other dogs and puppies and adopting our true forever dog, that I can actually look back and say I learned something from the trying and failing to adopt a dog.
1. Not every dog is a perfect fit, and that’s okay.
We waited for six months before trying to adopt a new dog. This dog was goofy and weirdly hated walks, and again my boyfriend and I thought we found the one. He loved cuddles and barked at the microwave when we made popcorn. But after having him for a few weeks, the dog bit me and drew blood. As part blue heeler, a dog that latches on to one person, this dog decided that my boyfriend was his human and I could no longer get near him or the dog. We tried reaching out to trainers that quoted us over $1,000 and admitted that no amount of training would make the behavior disappear completely. After several teary-eyed conversations, we decided to give up that dog as well.
As hard as it was at the time, I know we made the right decision. While I’d saved up for training, $1,000 was far above my expectations, especially for only delaying the inevitable. I didn’t hate the dog for attacking me or try to punish him beyond crating him for a few minutes, and neither did my boyfriend. However, we also knew the dog would be best in a home with a single person, and that wasn’t us
2. Not all rescues and dog shelters are equal.
I always wanted to rescue my future dog, and therefore I always believed that all dog rescues were great places that tried to give the dogs every chance at finding a great home. In retrospect, I’ve learned a lot about kill shelters and shelters that simply don’t have enough money to function, but there are also adoption centers that aren’t always honest about the dogs they’re working with.
Our second attempt at adopting, the dog who later bit me, was from a smaller shelter that informed us the dog we were interested in used to be a shop dog. And, this being the pandemic, the owner had to close the storefront and could no longer afford to keep the dog. This felt right to us, as the dog loved cuddles more than walks, but it didn’t make sense that the dog could become aggressive so quickly after interacting with so many people in a day. Perhaps it was the shelter itself that made the dog quick to aggression, but I think the shelter didn’t give us the complete story of how the dog came to be in their care.
The shelter we adopted our forever dog from was all volunteer-run and spread out over multiple states. And yet, they were able to provide us with a detailed medical history for him, a bag of food, a trainer recommendation, and all kinds of resources to make us feel prepared for adoption. I recognize not all shelters can provide full bags of food or a complete history of the dog, but this shelter never made me feel alone in the process of adoption. More than anything, that’s what new dog owners need.
3. Training is a necessity and a privilege.
Even after finding our perfect dog, we knew training was a must. At the time he was a nine-month-old husky, and he tended to nibble and bite without the proper attention and exercise. Fortunately, the rescue we adopted from had a trainer in mind, and she gave us the proper tools and commands we needed.
However, no training is free, and we got homework more than once to maintain our dog’s behavior. Our trainer wanted us and our dog to succeed, but she needed us to participate and engage more than I expected. I know as well as anyone that there are several costs that come with a dog, but training is one of the most important and valuable ones. It’s a commitment that can’t be taken lightly, but then again neither is a dog.
4. You have to disclose your failed adoptions on future adoption applications.
A lot of old wounds were forced open again and again when we applied to other shelters. Most adoption centers are pretty understanding, but that doesn’t mean you’ll feel better about your history with dogs. I think, more often than not, shelters are looking for honesty more than anything else. And if you can explain why the dog was given up to a faceless adoption form, you can start to help yourself cope with the reasons, too.
5. You will feel the constant need to buy your dog new things.
And I mean all the time. Even for the dogs that we ultimately had to give up, I bought new toys, collars, leashes, beds, and name tags like a Walmart shopper on Black Friday. The worst part: Not only did I not have the money to continue spending on multiple dogs, but I would see the toys and collars and beds even after the dogs were gone.
It got to the point where I would have to hide everything, every last inkling of dog ownership, before I could begin to let myself think of something else. While we were able to give away some of the beds, toys, and bowls to dog owners who really needed it, every donation would be bittersweet. By all means, purchase everything you feel is right for your dog, but also be mindful of your spending habits especially in the early days of dog ownership.
6. You may still feel like you’re not giving your pup everything he or she deserves.
My boyfriend says our dog is beyond spoiled. He visits dog parks nearly every day, gets all the cuddles he wants, and has homemade treats more than I care to admit. Despite all this, there are days where I have to convince myself that I’m giving my dog a good life. There are days where rain prevents us from visiting the dog park and times where bad behavior results in loud voices, and in those moments I always feel like the worst dog parent.
But I’m not a bad dog parent. Just like I’m not a bad person for giving up a dog that needed a more experienced owner, or a dog that needed one human instead of two in his forever home. I’m only a person looking for a furry best friend, and I know I’m not the only one. Let this be a reminder that your perfect dog is out there, even if it’s not your first (or second) adoption attempt.