Great Expectations – Keeping It Real When Adopting a Dog

Sad looking puppy behind bars

Faces like this can make us deny reason.

My last post “A Fearful Dog Speaks” seems to have struck a chord with many readers, and I think, with good reason. In a line from that post, our fearful dog declares- “I may never be the dog you want me to be”, and I believe that statement lies at the heart of a big problem for shelter dogs– recidivism. Recidivism rates for shelter dogs are too high and I think unrealistic expectations play a major role in them.

Nicole Wilde, author of Help for Your Fearful Dog, summed it up beautifully when she commented on that post:

“It is difficult as the potential adopter not to think solely with your heart, but so important to understand that you may be taking on a project.”

This holds true not only with fearful dogs, but all shelter dogs. We need to go in with our eyes wide open to reality and be prepared to accept the challenges both big and small that will most certainly come our way. While we can’t envision every issue that may arise with a particular dog that captures our heart at the shelter, going in with realistic expectations will most certainly help in making better decisions for both us and the dogs.

For those of you looking to bring a new dog into your home, I can assure you that a great match awaits at a shelter or rescue near you. But unless you go in with realistic expectations, both you and the dog could be in for future disappointment.

Over the next couple of weeks I will be doing a series of articles aimed at helping prospective owners prepare for the reality of adopting a shelter dog. Some of the advice will be familiar, some may be new, and some may seem harsh. But the overriding reasons for these articles are to help lower the rate at which dogs are returned to shelters, and to help you pick the dog that has the best chance of success at fitting into your family.

As the owner of four dogs, one from a breeder, two from a shelter, and one a stray, I can tell you that having realistic expectations about all of my dogs helps keep things on an even keel and allows me to enjoy all of my dogs for who they are.

For those of you who have suggestions about what you think should be in these articles, I welcome them. Keeping adopted dogs in their homes is a goal that I know many of you share.


Kevin, Jackie, Gavin, Annie, Tosha, Elbee