One Couple + Two Dogs = Our Waldo Bungie

Transitions aren’t always seamless

June 7th, 2012 | Posted by Emily in Bumming Out | Doggies! | Fostering. | Lucy Lou | Overly dramatic

I am sure you all have been wondering how Miss Lucy Lou is doing with her new family.

Photo by Fido Fetch Photography

I’ll admit I’ve been a bit hesitant to share any updates because I was worried she may be returning to our care at any moment. Let me explain…

In the first few weeks after she was adopted, I received a very positive email from Lucy’s new Mama, Carrie, regarding how she was doing:

Lucy is adjusting very well. Chunga will not leave her alone. I hope the newness wears off soon. He won’t let us love on her, he wants her all to himself. She’s been good with the cats. She is curious and barks at them, but when we correct her she quickly stops.

The next email I received a few days later was still pretty positive…

Chunga and Lucy are finally settling down. I think he realizes that she’s staying and is starting to give her her space. She still barks at the cats, but we are seeing an improvement. We are having a few accidents. I’m currently training her with the bell, but I keep missing her signals. Do you know what her signals are or what she is used to for going potty? The play biting has gotten better. They are still vocal when they play. We interrupt it when ever we can. She hasn’t really snapped at him. She does let him know when she is done playing. Today have been really good. Chunga has calmed down a lot and the separation barking has stopped with him. She still can’t stand it when Chunga and I are out of sight. She barks.

Then it came. The email every foster parent dreads. About two weeks into Lucy’s adoption, Carrie emailed me this:

We have a few concerns. Since the newness has worn off she has started to really go after the cats. She barks at them and chases them. We are afraid if she gets ahold of one. She is also still biting Chunga when they play. I am having a hard time breaking her focus. Alex (trainer) is coming over this week to evaluate. We might have to give her back.

Ouch. That last line sent me into a mini panic. I prayed over and over that the evaluation with their trainer (who owns pit bulls herself) would prove helpful in dealing with the various issues Lucy was having. I had my suspicions why Lucy might be acting out in this manner, but since I am not a trained professional, I hoped their trainer might be able to confirm what I was guessing. A few days later, this email arrived:

Alex (trainer) came over yesterday to watch Lucy, Chunga, Jason and myself interact. She stated that Lucy does not trust us and that is why she is not responding to us. She said that since she has been bounced around it will take awhile to earn her trust/respect. She also thinks Lucy needs a dominant personality for training, which I am not. I have to admit that there is very little bond between Lucy and myself. She is not the type of dog that wants to please – which Chunga is. I think it is taking me a while to adjust. She is responding well to my husband’s deep voice and we have seen improvements the past few days. She is a lot better with the cats. I believe that she had a hard time adjusting when I went back to work. It was a rough couple of days and I became extremely frustrated. Alex gave us some tips on correcting some problems and had some insight to why Lucy snaps at other dogs when she is on a leash. I decided that I want to give her more time and see if things get better for her and me. Can you tell me anything about her previous life before she ended up in foster? I think this would help me see things as Lucy sees them.

So my suspicions were correct. I mean, I can’t really blame Lucy Lou for struggling to adjust. As I’ve stated before, Lucy Lou never really had a home to call her own in her two short years on earth. Bounced from shelter to crappy adoptive home to rescue to foster to foster to her new family, the longest Lucy ever spent in one place was the three months she lived with us. As you can imagine, she learned to rely on herself instead of humans, and is very slow to bond with people. It took her nearly a month with us before she would cuddle with me on the couch, and even then, I could tell she still had her guard up. But she didn’t want to be alone…ever. She would bark if we left her sight. She desperately wanted to be loved but didn’t seem to know if she could trust it would last.

This is not a problem that is unique to Lucy, though. If you adopt from a shelter, your new dog has been living in a highly stressful environment for awhile (Shelters are usually very loud and full of foreign smells. Dogs are usually only taken out a handful of times in the day, leaving them to sit alone in a cage the rest the time.). If you adopt someone’s foster dog, it is going from living in a house it knows (and maybe the first time it has felt safe) to a foreign one – possibly having to contend with other pets and/or children in your home. Imagine if you were in one of these situations and then expected to behave perfectly and bond instantly with people you’ve only just met. I doubt it would be easy. Some dogs handle it better than others, but there is always some level of adjustment as the dog learns about their new forever home.

I also couldn’t blame Carrie for being frustrated. I think we all expect hope that the dog we adopt will fit seamlessly into our home. We all want our new dog to bond with us instantly and get along perfectly with our other pets. When that doesn’t happen, it can be stressful and frustrating, and dogs will feed off that energy, possibly acting out even more. Even the most patient of us might begin to doubt our decision to take in this particular dog….“maybe this one just isn’t the right ‘fit’ for me.” It’s happened to the best of us (shoot, I even considered returning Turk to the shelter in the first few weeks after I brought him home). Sometimes it can feel like too much to handle.  These feelings are not unusual and they do not make you a bad person.

Because my job as a foster mama doesn’t stop once my fosters are adopted, I sought advice from my foster mentor on what Carrie and her husband could do to help Lucy begin to bond with them and adjust to her new life.  They were willing to seek help (which is awesome!) and I wanted to able to aid them (and Lucy) any way I could. Check back tomorrow to see what advice I passed along and what happened next for Lucy Lou…

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10 Responses

  • avatar Two Grads says:

    Ah dont leave us hanging!

  • Poor Lucy Lou! I hope her and her new family are able to figure out some ways to bond and relax around each other.

  • THANK YOU for sharing this! This is such an important topic, and one I feel like a lot of rescue folks are hesitant to discuss, because we don’t want to seem like we “failed.” I had all the same emotions you did when Molly Tamale was returned to us. It’s easy to forget in the joyful afterglow of an adoption when everyone is in puppy-love and happy that this is a MAJORLY stressful time for the dog! Just like you said, they’re either going from a crazy shelter enviornment or a foster home where they *finally* feel safe, being upheaved again to somewhere new and strange. Patience is SO important helping a new dog adjust to their new life, and a lot of times adjustment is neccessary on the family’s part as well.

    You’re right, a foster parent’s job doesn’t end with the adoption, we’ll ALWAYS be there for our dogs no matter what. Lucy is so lucky to have you in her corner for whatever she needs, whatever the outcome. I can’t wait to hear what happens with her! Hugs to you!!

    • avatar Emily says:

      Thank you! Your post about Molly Tamale’s independent streak awhile back gave me the push I needed to write this. It does seem to be the “dirty little secret” of adoptions!

  • With Yogi first two months were we very hard, but now after 8 months he is just wonderful dog. It is all about trust, love, structure and good leadership.

  • avatar Allie says:

    You’re good at suspense! I hope all is well now with Lucy Lou. I’ll tune in tomorrow for the rest of the story. I think it’s always hard to adjust when you get a new dog — for the dog, and for the family. Our “new” dog (he’s 8 years old) is nearly perfect behaviorally, but it was still an adjustment for us. We LOVE him, and he seems pretty dang happy with us, but it’s still weird to have an 8-year-old dog we have not known for his whole life, and who does not fully know or trust us yet. Our other rescues we got when they were younger and there is a deep bond by the time they get to age 8 or 9. I can talk weird to Gobo, hug him, and give him love taps on the face and he loves it. If I try that with Jax, he looks at me like, “Lady, you’re weird. I’m not sure about this.”

  • avatar Kirsten says:

    Oh, poor little thing! I know it’s stressful when adoptions don’t work out swimmingly, immediately, but its awesome that this adopter seems willing to give it a chance and try to make things better!

    I hope the trainer they have is good with anxious dogs…if you need any help with the leash reactivity, feel free (or the adopter can feel free) to email me directly at

  • avatar Kari says:

    Thank you for sharing the part that happens after wards. The job of a foster mom is never easy and never ends. I hope the turn out is good, I can totally see both point of views.

  • avatar Ashley says:

    Hopefully it all works out for little Lucy Lou! When we adopted Cali from the shelter our dog Harley HATED her. He growled and nipped at her all the time. I felt horrible because all she wanted to do was play with him. I cried and cried thinking we’d have to return her, but after a couple of weeks later they were best friends. The same thing happened with Roxie when we got her from a rescue with a history of two abusive owners at only a year old. She still has her battles trusting, having accidents, and doing other behaviors common with abused dogs. However, after a year I can see a huge transformation in her, even though others question why we “put up” with her antics. Great post. I know exactly what Lucys family is going through. Hopefully they’ll stick with it!