Whole Dog Journal's Blog May 19, 2014

Newly adopted dog? Don’t take the leash off anytime soon

Posted at 12:33PM - Comments: (12)

Iím afraid Iíve heard this story more times than I can count Ė anyone who has been involved in rescue for long has heard it, too: Family wants to do the right thing and adopt a shelter or rescue dog; family waits for just the right dog to come along to the shelter/rescue; family is matched with/meets dog, falls in love; family takes dog home . . . and somewhere in the first week, or even the first DAY, the dog is inadvertently given an opportunity that the family, who has been filled with anticipation for weeks or months, just didnít expect Ė the dog escapes and disappears. Was it a stop at the gas station on the way home, when little Billy got out of the car to use the restroom and left the car door open for a minute? When the family thought the dog would follow them into the house when they arrived home with the dog and just let her out of the car? When a visitor who came over to the house lingered too long in the doorway, without thinking to block the dog from slipping outside?


However it happens, losing the new dogs is usually a huge disappointment for the family, who has waited so long. But itís often an even more wrenching disappointment for the group or person who fostered the dog; they may have invested weeks or years in saving and rehabilitating the dog, providing medical care (something as simple as spay/neuter, for example, or as lengthy and involved as treatment for demodex or heartworm), and perhaps helping the dog make a transition from being a neglected dog on a chain, to learning to live with and enjoy humans and fellow companion animals inside a home, with a family. To learn that a dog you invested money and time and love has gone poof! Just heartbreaking.

I fostered an obese and anxious Labrador a couple years ago; she had been surrendered by an older man who had gone into long-term care (without hope of recovery), and had never spent more than an hour without him in her three-year-old life. She liked people, and was very jolly and friendly with me, and seemed perfectly content to hang out with me, but her constant panting and tense ears belied the jolliness. Her tension was confirmed the first time I unclipped her leash and let her out the back door of my house Ė unbeknownst to her, into a very securely fenced backyard; she ran like a demon was chasing her. Only when she discovered there was no way out Ė no open gate, no low or rickety fence Ė did she turn back toward me, smiling as if that little escape effort hadnít happened.

Who knows why dogs do this? ďWhy canít she see that we love her and want to provide everything for her? Sheís been so abused Ė why canít she see what a nice home this will be for her?Ē

But most dogs arenít looking at every new person or place like an orphan who has been spoon-fed fantastic stories about how great her new life is going to be with her new family. All they know is that they have been taken away by strangers once again, and even if the strangers are very nice, this isnít home. The instinct for the dog to find something familiar (even if what was familiar for the dog was not so nice) is VERY STRONG.

I guess itís understandable that people look at the whole thing from a human perspective, but you have to TRY see it from the dogís point of view; dogs havenít been anticipating and visualizing their new lives with a new family the way the new family has been imagining how the dog is going to complete their lives. You have to keep the dog long enough to bond to you before you can trust him not to bolt at the earliest opportunity.†

Comments (12)

This post really hit home for me. My Boxer Beagle mix ( I think ) was a stray that came from a prison environment. The shelter I got her from has a program where the dogs live in a state prison with inmate handlers who train them, she knew her 5 basic commands, house and crate trained when I got her. She never tries to bolt out the front door, or out of the car, always waits for me to put on her leash.
After I had her for about two months I decided to try letting her off the leash. We always had free leash time in a small area in front of my apartment, so she knew her territory, and there was 14" of snow on the ground. Her paws get cold very quickly, and she does not like water or snow, so I thought it would be OK, big mistake.
She immediately ran. I was able to stay with her for about an hour as we traveled through suburban neighborhoods for about a mile, but she would never come or let me get close enough to grab her. After I lost sight of her, soaking wet from walking threw the snow and very cold, I went home calling her all the way, (and balling my eyes out), but she didn't come.
Went home and changed clothes and drove around for an hour looking for her in the neighborhood, but saw nothing. I came home very disappointed, but that soon turned to joy, as my girl ran up behind me, and ran to the door, waiting for me to let her in.

The morale of this story is don't let your dog off the leash unless you know they will come every time.

Posted by: tim indy | September 16, 2015 5:59 AM    Report this comment

My adult daughter's yellow Lab always managed to slip out and away but would eventually come home, exhausted but happy. The last time he came home he had a new ID tag on his collar, with someone else's ID. After that my daughter has only allowed him out in their fenced yard or on leash.

Posted by: Cheyenne's Mom | September 15, 2015 9:04 PM    Report this comment

We have always had shelter/rescue/found animals so I felt that I was prepared to take on Mollie J, a 70# Lab/Shepherd. She had been in not 1, but 2 shelters, the 2nd waived all fees because she was too big to handle. We have battled for 18 mos over trash eating, housebreaking, & running off, until it hit me. I didn't know her language, and she had never had a home. Once I "got" that, things have been better. alto the mailman still brings her home once in a while. You really have to understand the animal & let them relax & trust you before you can make real headway.

Posted by: Shelby T | September 15, 2015 4:46 PM    Report this comment

We have a rescue who spent two years in a crate for 23 of 24 hours each day. His free hour was spent eating and being walked on leash in a securely fenced backyard because he would not come when called.

When we first got him he would watch for any opportunity to bolt. Nothing was as exciting to him as being able to run. No reward was worth giving up running.

Time has passed. He now comes when he is called. Running is still exciting but his family is more fun.

Posted by: Furrykids | September 15, 2015 4:13 PM    Report this comment

We had a small dog at the shelter who was taken out for a walk by a prospective foster person. The dog was skittish and the person didn't notice that the leash was not clipped to the collar as well as the harness. When they were about a mile from the shelter, the dog got spooked and slipped out of her harness. We searched all the neighborhoods in the area and couldn't find her. Half an hour later she ran up the shelter driveway and waited at the door, scratching to get in. When you're scared, anything familiar seems safer than the unknown. And if there's nothing familiar, the unknown is just as promising as staying with these new people that you don't know.

Posted by: hg | September 15, 2015 10:51 AM    Report this comment

Picking up my dog at the transportation meet location, another person picking up their dog somehow managed to let go of the leash within 10 minutes of having the dog. You are correct, the dog just bolted. I have no idea if they ever found it, but it was heartbreaking. I was crazy about my new addition before I ever met her, I can only imagine how awful that is when it happens. No distractions...just hang onto them!!

Posted by: JayT | May 22, 2014 8:48 PM    Report this comment

Our first rescue (but our third dog) has been with us for a year and we think he is about 15 months old. He had an awful beginning in life and we will never know what all he went through. He has many quirks (afraid of water, metal bowls, stairs, etc.) and runs away every chance he gets. He has slipped out of a harness and once he just went through a screen door. We have lost him 3 times and just had to keep following him until he was too exhausted to run any more. We have a fenced yard and just keep hoping he won't figure out how to jump over it. Now, we never let him off a leash or tether unless we are out in the yard with him. We love him anyway and he seems to love us, but it makes us sad that he can't have more freedom. We are determined to just keep working with him, but it has been hard and quite a learning experience for us and him. I don't think getting a rescue dog is for everyone, especially the inexperienced.

Posted by: Minimom | May 21, 2014 9:40 PM    Report this comment

What a relief to learn that I'm not alone! Whiskey was a run-away who ended up in the Humane Society. My dog Bosco picked Whiskey to live with us and she was maybe 10 months old. Despite her first cushy dog bed, friendly relationship with Bosco, and good doggie home she tried to run away. If I took her to the beach to play with another dog friend, she would bolt toward the road, scared and disoriented. I wondered what I was doing wrong. I also questioned whether I would risk another shelter dog again. Whiskey clearly loves me, but I will never let her off leash unless there's a secure fence. One more thing about shelter dogs- this is my first. My last 4 dogs were Found dogs as opposed to Rescue dogs. I found one in a river, and 3 in the jungle. They never sat in a shelter cage. All 4 could run off leash anywhere and return to me when needed. I have a theory that Found dogs are thrilled to come home with you, because they make the decision to come or not. My first Rescue dog is a challenge, but I'm relieved to hear that other dog people have struggled with this too.

Posted by: SundogsHawaii | May 20, 2014 5:21 PM    Report this comment

I once had a Golden Retriever named Shadow, an Irish Setter named Coco and a Springer Spaniel named Brownie. I had a 6 foot fence around my back yard and a dog door they could go in an out of whenever they wanted to. But I still had a problem. They use to dig under the fence and run around the neighborhood while I was at work. One night when I got home, the Springer who was about 6 months old was missing. I rode around the neighborhood for 3 hours looking for her. When I got home, the phone rang and it was a neighbor about 1/2 mile away - she had Brownie and brought her home. So the next day, I dug around the whole fence which was about 80 feet by 120 feet and put cement blocks around the whole fence and then covered them with dirt. Well, that didn't work either. They got the dirt off and the Golden managed to move the block and off they went. I finally got an electric wire that went around the whole fence. The Golden got zapped and all was well. I shut the fence off and they never tried to get out again.
My last escape was with Millie and Mollie - never did figure out how they managed to get out. When I got home from work, a black lab was standing in my driveway. I told her to go home and she ran up on the front porch and stood at the door. I did not recognize her as it was quite dark when I got home from work. They never tried that again.
Now, I use leads to put my dogs outside and they have the run of the whole yard while I sit on the porch. Whenever I get up to head for the door, they come running. They won't stay out alone. Thank God.

Posted by: huskydog | May 20, 2014 11:43 AM    Report this comment

So true! Often, at the shelter, when we take the dogs out to play in a field, they run around until they are back at the gate, pawing to get back to their cages - for them, that is home!

Posted by: Claire | May 20, 2014 4:04 AM    Report this comment

We adopted Bodie 16 months ago. He is always on leash outside, and probably always will be (unless we invest in a fence)! He is excellent in the house, but turns into an Inattentive 3 year old with attention deficit disorder when he steps out the door! He was on the streets of a small city when picked up and now lives in a home with 50 acres of mostly forest complete with squirrels, bunnies, turkey, deer - you name it!!
He does not try to bolt when people come in or go out, but we did have that "incident" when a door didn't latch and he got out! He ran and ran along the old logging roads, luckily we contacted neighbors around the block and within a short time he wandered into a farmyard of a friend and was home post haste. He is chipped and wears a tag with our information, but we are hyper-vigilant after that incident.
We love our boy but realize it isn't personal, he doesn't react or think like a person. He is very smart and daily work on outdoor behavior is bringing improvement... But it is a long, slow process! And I'm sure a leash will always be in order.

Posted by: EllenL | May 19, 2014 5:13 PM    Report this comment

Very good point! Another story I hear a lot is that people go away and have a friend or relative stay in their home with the dog, who runs away from it's own home (even thought it doesn't do this when the owners are there.) In this case as well I think it is a lack of strong relationship with the caretakers, as Nancy points out, that motivates the dog to roam. Double layers of security are what's called for- secure fences, safety latches, supervision.

Posted by: Pat Engel, CPDT-KA | May 19, 2014 1:26 PM    Report this comment

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