How to Adopt a Dog Ep. 1: How To Mentally Prepare for a New Dog

The rest of the series:

Ep 1. How to Mentally Prepare for a New Dog
Ep 2. Figuring Out What You Want
Ep 3. How to Pick a Dog from a Shelter

Links mentioned in the video:

Music: “Danger Storm” Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0


So you’re thinking about getting a dog! It’s very exciting, and also kind of overwhelming. You’ve got 8,000 things to think about, where do you even begin?

That’s a rhetorical question. You begin here. With this video/article. Obviously.

If you’ve done any Googling on how to prepare for a dog, you’ve probably found a million articles that all basically list the same things: research dog breeds, make sure you have enough time, make sure you can afford it, buy dog supplies, dog-proof your house, etc. All very practical stuff. Great advice. You should definitely follow it. But what I think is more important than all that is taking the time to mentally prepare. A lot of times, when people get a dog and have a really terrible time with the experience, is because they didn’t take into consideration what I’m about to tell you.

So let’s get right into it with the most important thing you need to know before you adopt a dog:
getting a dog means building a relationship. Like, however long it takes for you to actually acquire this dog and bring it home, the real adoption process does not begin until that dog is sitting in your living room, looking up at you going “who are you and why am I here?”

Before we get a dog, we often visualize all the joy and unconditional love of having our very own man’s best friend, without also visualizing all the hard work and time it takes to get to that point.
You and your dog will be strangers to each other. No matter how well your initial meeting at the shelter or rescue or breeder goes, there will be an adjustment period where you have to get to know each other and figure out how to live together. Life can get pretty crazy and stressful during this time.

It’s entirely possible, that outside of maybe a honeymoon phase during the first few days, you won’t feel much of a connection with this dog, or the dog won’t feel a connection with you. This tends to freak people out. I get a lot of emails from people who’ve had their dog for three days or two weeks or whatever, saying “I don’t love my new dog, and she doesn’t love me. Am I just a terrible person?”

You’re not a terrible person. This is just how it goes.

I mean, you wouldn’t expect to meet a new human and be best friends on day one. Getting to know, love, and trust somebody takes time. I have raised five dogs of my own, and in four out of five cases, I didn’t feel much of a bond until about six months in. In the other case? That was Merlin, who was love at first sight. For me. Not him. I was just a stranger to him; I still had to earn his trust.

So with that as our main theme, let’s talk about some things you can expect.

Dog-raising may take up more of your time than you’d think

During the adjustment period, be prepared to devote a ridiculous amount of time and energy to training, and socialization, and constant supervision and management to prevent bad habits from forming. Not to mention all the fun stuff like playing and getting to know each other. This will probably take more time than you expect, especially if you get a puppy. The thing about puppy raising is that if you do it right, it will completely take over your life. For a few months. Not forever. But. Turning a puppy into a well-adjusted adult dog is insanely time-consuming.

Expect your life to be chaos for a while

The early weeks are a time of major change and disruption. We all have daily routines that a lot of the time, we’re not even aware of. A new dog will take each one of those routines and shatter them into oblivion. You suddenly have to think about things that used to be second nature. You can’t rush out the door for work in the morning; you have to exercise and train the dog first. You can’t leave the house for a few hours without planning for how the dog will go out to pee. If you have little kids, you have to make sure the puppy doesn’t bite them all the time.

I think this routine-disruption is one of the sneaky things that really trips people up. If there’s one thing the human brain hates, it’s change. After three days of having your life thrown upside down, your brain may slam on the brakes and say “no! I want my life to go back to normal! Take this damn dog back to the pound so I can go back to watching Netflix!”

There’s no easy way to deal with this part. You just have to push through it and take the time to develop a new routine.

It may be harder than you expect. Like, a lot harder

Raising a puppy is hard work. It’s a big responsibility.

Blah blah blah.

You know this. Everybody knows this. But it’s one thing to know it, and another thing to know it. It’s one of those thing you can’t really understand until you’ve done it. Just… be ready for things to get intense. A young puppy may take weeks to start sleeping through the night. Or she might cry like the world is ending every time you go to the bathroom. Your puppy could get pneumonia, of all things. Your adolescent dog could eat your entire couch. True stories. I’ll never forget the day my precious baby River ate something that disagreed with her and then ran around the house puking. In the space of approximately 12 seconds, she had thrown up in five different locations. All. Over. The. House. Dogs, man. They’re just… so great.

Wherever there is stress in your life, a dog will amplify it. If you’re dealing with any major stressors already, like moving, or going through a divorce, caring for a sick relative, etc, a dog could make that stress worse. And the standard advice would be to hold off on getting a dog until you’re in a more stable situation. Which is very good advice. Very responsible. Very rational.

However, I’m aware that life isn’t always rational.

Almost ten ago, during a time when my life was very busy and chaotic, and I was not in a great position to get another dog, I was working at my volunteer job at an animal shelter, scrubbing some litter boxes. I looked up just in time to see another volunteer walking this little blue merle border collie (and/or Australian shepherd. I’m still not sure, either way, dream breeds for me). I went to go meet him and long story short, realized, “oh… you’re everything I ever wanted. I am in so much trouble. So. Much. Trouble.”

And the dog went home with me. And that dog was Merlin. And it was very hard and dare I say, disastrous for a while. But it ended up being one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.

Sometimes, when you’re going through stressful life changes, a new dog is exactly what you need to help you get through it. If you think that might be the case for you, that’s fine, just be prepared for the possibility that things will get worse before they get better. Which brings me to my next point:

Sometimes, it will feel like everything is going wrong. It isn’t

Sometimes it sucks – and that’s okay! The adjustment period with a dog is a journey, and like any worthwhile journey, it’s not always fun. There will be moments when raising your dog really sucks. But just because it sucks, doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong.

This may be one of the best things you ever do. But to get to the good parts, you gotta make it through the bad. The best thing you can do is settle in for the long road ahead. Which will make it easier to avoid getting too discouraged by day to day setbacks.

Do you know what your dog is saying?

Understanding the subtle ways dogs communicate is a critical skill for dog owners. It can help with choosing the right dog, solving training problems, and building a strong bond.

This free video course from our online academy will give you a basic, yet detailed, introduction to the wonderful world of canine body language and communication.

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