The Adjustment Period with a Dog (Similar to Adopting an Older Child)

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Hannah found a dog a couple months ago. Interestingly, we'd been having discussions about possibly getting a dog.

We were good citizens: put found dog notices up, called local vets, bought him food, rubbed him with flea powder, and bought him a flea collar and a toy. He was here for quite a few weeks. I realized that the early days and weeks with a dog are somewhat like when your newly adopted child comes home.

His personality seemed fairly laid back, but he was easily over-stimulated. He needed to be surrounded with lots of calmness and routine, just like our kids.

I kept analyzing his behaviors. Was this action part of his personality? Or due to him having lived on his own wandering the streets for a while? A variation on the question, "is this my child's personality or something from his post institutionalized (foster care) background?

What did he like to eat? What were his eating habits? He ate a lot the first few days, then hardly anything for a few days. I bought various dog foods brands in an effort to tempt him. It reminded me of Hannah's early days home when I put lots of different things on her plate each meal in hopes that something would appeal to her.

While he seemed to know one or two basic commands, he was fairly rough around the edges when it came to obedience. He was in need of obedience training. Just like our kids needing to learn the rules of our family.

He was desperately searching for attention. Like our kids, he was pleased to have someone looking after him, and at the same time, very demanding of our attention.

He had some very annoying habits: pulling on his leash, digging out of the yard, etc. Just like when our kids come home with bad habits that need to be unlearned.

We didn't all communicate very well. The dog didn't know our command words, and Hannah and I weren't consistent with the words we used with the dog. It reminded me of the language challenges we have with an internationally adopted child.

After a couple days here, he dug his way out of the backyard, not to be found. We were sad. Then he turned up again looking all cheerful and happy. It reminded me of the attachment issues with our children; they want a new family, but they also feel like running away.

In the end, he wasn't the right dog for us and we hope he's now found the perfect home. But, when we do bring home the right dog for our family, we'll be better prepared to help him transition to his new family than we were before he spent time with us.

Credits: Susan M. Ward, an older child adoption specialist, provides parent coaching and resources for adoptive families. Susan's training has focused on adoption issues relating to attachment, grief, and parenting. She's also the adoptive parent of a child healed from RAD (reactive attachment disorder). Her website is

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