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



I’m afraid I’ve heard this story more times than I can count – 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 didn’t expect – 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?

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

However it happens, losing the new dogs is usually a huge disappointment for the family, who has waited so long. But it’s 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 – 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 – no open gate, no low or rickety fence – did she turn back toward me, smiling as if that little escape effort hadn’t happened.

Who knows why dogs do this? “Why can’t she see that we love her and want to provide everything for her? She’s been so abused – why can’t she see what a nice home this will be for her?”

But most dogs aren’t 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 isn’t 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 it’s understandable that people look at the whole thing from a human perspective, but you have to TRY see it from the dog’s point of view; dogs haven’t 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. 


  1. What do you suggest for dogs who are like this? We recently adopted a dog and this sounds exactly like him. He follows me around all day inside, but the second he gets the opportunity to bolt outside, he tries. I’m guessing this is the reason he is a rescue. I’m so disappointed! This gives me such anxiety, as I have 3 small kids who aren’t used to being as careful.

    • I have had the same issue with a rescue dog we’ve had for over 2 years now. Even though we’ve spoiled him, play with him, he sleeps in the kids’ rooms and bonds with our other rescue from 2 years prior, he STILL is not seemingly loyal. And if he can find ANY chance to get his foot through the front door of the house when no one is looking, he bolts out and runs around the neighborhood — and the longest he stayed gone and we could not find him was about an hour. Although he doesn’t bite, he barks at and intimidates neighbors and passers-by. That makes him somewhat of a liability even if we trust him not to bite, but you just never know. He comes back to the house after he is done “exploring” as though nothing has happened so he does know this is “home” but how long before someone hits him with a car? Or he gets attacked by a bigger, meaner stray? To boot, we have HUGE fenced in back yard, he eats the best food, gets treats all the time and he has a regular play buddy in addition to the kids which is our other dog — who we also rescued and but that one got over this runaway syndrome within the first 3 months of adoption and can be walked without a leash due to the time we’ve spent training him. Now, we have also tried as we may to train the runaway syndrome got. He knows all his basic commands and listens /obeys when he is in a controlled situation, like when in the yard or house, but when he gets ANY chance to bolt, he takes it and his ears fall deaf to any calls or commands IMMEDIATELY. Which is why we hesitate to even travel with him. He could end up running off on an interstate rest stop. I am ridden with guilt when strongly considering surrendering him back to the rescue shelter, however, I know they will find him a more compatible person or family, but I also worry about something bad happening as a result of his frequent great escapes. Can his behavior change? Or do you think it is that he is not letting go of his original person or family?


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