Adopting a pet may seem like a risk, since you do not know what experiences the animal may have suffered earlier in life. Some adopted dogs are naturally suspicious of strangers, while others are extremely fidgety, aloof or run and whimper any time your raise your hand. These kinds of responses are regarded as fear based behaviors, and indicate that your dog or cat may have been abused or traumatize in his earlier days. Whatever unfortunate event may have occurred in the past, now that your dog or cat has a safe home, he will need to be shown that he can trust you. Instead of getting frustrated with your pet’s nervous behaviors, help him feel comfortable in the secure environment of his new home.
Helping your pup adjust:
- Wait for him to come to you: Don’t force affection on your pet right away, instead let him get to know you on his own terms. Sit on the floor and read a book or watch TV with your cat or dog, and see if he naturally comes over. Speak soothingly to him, move slowly and let him become familiar with your presence.
- Establish a routine: A consistent schedule does wonders for anxious pets. By providing a regular walking, feeding, playing and sleeping time, your dog will begin to feel established within the boundaries you have set for him. It will also prompt his internal clock/sleeping patterns, as well as his digestive system. Not only will your home run more smoothly as a result of this routine, but it will help your dog or cat have some parameters to adjust to.
- Feed him well: Provide your pet a balanced diet, giving him food without chemicals that might increase hormonal fluctuation or a pH imbalance in his body. Research pet food companies, and talk to your vet about any particular diet or supplements that might help your dog or cat. Be well versed in canine and feline nutrition so you will understand what to supply your pet for a balanced lifestyle.
- Give him his own safe place: It is very important for an animal to feel as if he has a private place to retreat and rest. This might be a bed for him set up in the laundry room, or his pen, or a matt in the living room. Choose a fluffy pillow for him, or a high perch, or thick rug where he can snuggle up and feel safe.
- Exercising & Training: If your dog or cat is resistant to being petted or held initially, playing in a park, or in a large indoor space is a great way to connect with your pet without making him feel threatened. For dogs, “fetch” is a safe beginning game where your pup has the control and gets to practice trusting you. The more your dog associates you with a good time and fun outings, the more likely he will be to soften. Dogs also benefit from working on basic obedience training commands. This will help your dog build structure into his life, while learning about treats and how listening to you results in rewards! All of this is incredible helpful, positive association.
- Watch for triggers: Does your dog bark at your white shoes, or when the doorbell rings incessantly? Does your cat yowl whenever a door slams? Perhaps your pet is fidgeting anytime there is a dog of a certain color, or by the sound one of your friend’s voices. If this is the case, it is very likely that your pet was abused by someone that reminds him of those things. (I.e. maybe a dog that shade of brown chase and bit him, or he was kicked by someone who came to the door in white shoes, or was pinched in a slamming door.) While you may never know the cause of these unique bits of paranoia, show your pet patience and understanding, by avoiding the things that set him off.
- Spend quality time building trust: Trust may need to be built over time with your pet. Continue to sit near him, and let him approach you as he feel safe enough to do so. Talk to him, hold or pet him whenever he will let you. Make sure friends and family visiting know how to behave around your cat or dog, and what things make him afraid, so that those things will be avoided. Once he lets you, cuddle the kitty or puppy regularly and speak in a soothing and reassuring voice.