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THE GREAT EXPECTATIONS: What to Expect When Adopting a New Dog


There are different versions of the trap of unmet expectations. One of the most common is what I call the legacy of the ghost dog. This is the previous dog who has passed on, either recently or decades ago. I hear about how these dogs were “perfect” and they never .... insert undesired behaviour here .... The thing is, this assertion usually breaks down under a gentle query or two:

  • “Gosh, he was immediately housebroken

👉Well, it turns out they got him as an adult, not a puppy.

  • “Wow, you never had to replace anything chewed?”

👉Well, it turns out that this owner was 10 years old at the time and likely mom was the one noticing and replacing.

  • “She was never jumpy and always just lay at your feet?”

👉Well, it turns out that was absolutely true – in years 11 through 16!

Generally, we savor our sweetest memories of our dear departed dogs and remember them at their very finest hour. That’s mostly a lovely thing, but it’s ever-so damaging to the dogs who come next. 🤗Do yourself and your new pup a favor: Try to avoid comparisons. But if you can’t do that, be sure to take off your pink glasses. They are blocking you from seeing the fresh new possibilities in front of you.

Sometimes it’s not a departed dog but a fictional one that gets in the way. Some folks have richly imagined visions of what their life with a dog will look like, and when the reality doesn’t – and can’t – match up, it becomes a GIANT problem. Here are some typical ways the real live dog comes up short:

👆The non-dog-park dog. That local dog park sometimes looks so fun from the outside that folks end up considering a dog just to be a part of it. They love to think about trotting their happy dog to its favourite place, where, coincidentally, the owner will get to enjoy that easy human socializing. When it turns out their actual dog (like so many dogs) is not cut out for the dog park scene, the sense of dismay – even betrayal! – is overwhelming. “But this is why I got a dog!”

👆The non-snuggler. At the root of many a dog acquisition is the vision of never again Netflixing alone. Would-be dog owners picture that couch as a nightly snuggle-fest. How bitter the realization, then, when the new dog clearly demonstrates that he/she’d rather lay on the nice cool tile floor than the cozy sofa – or, if he/she does lay on the couch, gets up to move if you try to sit close to him/her. Talk about adding insult to injury! “But I got a dog to have somebody to snuggle with!”

👆The dog who loves the wrong person. Sometimes a household decides that one member “needs” to have a special friend. Maybe one dog already loves the hubby so the wife needs “hers.” Or maybe a son really wants his “own” dog. This vision delights everyone involved, so they pick a dog. But three weeks later, that dog is glued to the wrong person!


In a perfect world, prospective dog owners would ask breeders for help in finding and choosing a puppy/dog who could easily deliver the owner’s most-wanted traits – or at least, rule out candidates who are unlikely to be capable of delivering those traits. But in the real world pups can grow out of their puppy cuteness and/or develop some unwanted habits or patterns that were unintentionally reinforced by the owners. Or you just adopted a puppy/dog from a shelter or rescue and are looking and willing to work to build that amazing person-dog relationship. In those cases, your best solution would be to consult your breeder (if you have one) and/or get advice from a properly trained, educated and certified trainer and don't reserve yourself to google answers and DIY youtube videos.

Meanwhile here are some breeder’s/trainer’s tips on how to deal in the cases of the previously mentioned “disappointments”:

  • To help create a dog park dog, start carefully exposing the pup/dog to all sorts of safe-and-fun doggy friends, helping him/her to have a great time and build his/her skills. If there’s happy body language (read the article on this topic here) telling you the pup/dog is all in gradually move from one-on-one play to neighbourhood group play, to the dog park when it’s empty, etc. But do watch like a hawk to make sure you quit while you are ahead of troubles and negative emotions and experiences and keep your distance from trouble.

  • To help create a snuggler, you would first tire out that pup/dog. (Nobody snuggles when they’re bursting with too much energy.) Then you would make sure you (the human) show restraint in their search for the cuddle. With a dog who’s a tentative snuggler, you want to keep in mind to cherish the simple head on the lap without immediately moving in for the whole-body hug-and-massage.

  • To guide the dog toward loving the one he/she’s “assigned” to love, you would make sure that human is the primary giver of all good things at first: food, play, walks.


That said, there are no guarantees. You simply can’t change who a dog essentially is (trust me same goes for humans). Sometimes, your real goal should be to get to really know your dog and to be open to the idea that this dog – without improvements is the one you really want and think about all the unique character and traits your four-legged companion has that can lead to unexpected world to you and your dog!

So rather than working really hard (often against nature) to force a new dog into a specific vision, try being open to the experience this real live dog is just waiting there to give you.

If he/she’s terrified at the dog park, maybe that means the two of you could take amazing hikes instead. Maybe this will give you the chance to find trails in your area you’ve never seen before and spend more time bonding with your dog.

Yeah, it’s a bummer that he/she won’t cuddle. But maybe he/she’ll draw you to the dog park – the last place you ever would have gone – where you’ll run into your future husband/wife. (After all, i had that happen to at least one of my puppy owners. Seriously. True story!)


Sometimes I think about how we dog people usually have a few dogs in our lifetime. But our dogs only have us. They live their whole lives just with us. This is it. It would be a shame to keep wishing they were somebody else and letting that hard-headed outlook block us from discovering who they really could be. And who we could be together. Some of the happiest dog people I know never even meant to get a dog. Their stories run the gamut – from a stray who showed up on a vacation to a pup inherited from the too-spontaneous college kid – but they all have one key thing in common: the lack of expectation. Often, when I meet these dogs, I notice a little list of behaviors I myself would work on – until the owner busts into a big grin and says, “Isn’t she just great? Can’t believe how this worked out.”  The biggest favour you can do for your new dog is to let go of the vision you had in mind when you adopted him/her - and meet the unique spirit in front of you.

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