How to bring a shelter dog home? How to introduce him to his new life? How to make him feel at ease and offer him all he has been deprived off in the past? I guess there are millions of articles dedicated to this particular subject, so here is something new.
You are…you. You have lived all you life in Brooklyn, Paris, Amsterdam…wherever, it does not really matter. You have a home, some friends, some habits, and an everyday life, whatever that may be. You speak your language (Greek, English, Dutch…), you eat the food your mum cooks, and you sleep in your bed every night for years.
A dog is not a person
One day you don’t wake up in your bed, but in the middle of Beijing, surrounded by Chinese people you never met before. Every sign around you is in Chinese, everybody around you is Chinese, nothing makes sense, you can’t communicate, you have no idea how to find a hotel to spend the night, a restaurant to order food, a bus to take you somewhere. You have no money, you recognize nobody, the city is noisy, dirty, busy, and weird.
At the same time, there is this Chinese person you never met before, following you everywhere and speaking to you in Chinese. He doesn’t just speak, he actually addresses you personally, and while you realize that he is trying to tell you something specific, nothing of what comes out of him mouth makes sense. You try to understand his body language, but no gestures seem familiar, he points at nothing at all, he does not guide you, he just keeps talking and talking, and the more he talks the more anxious you get about what he is actually saying and the more you want to punch him in the face.
as much as we have managed to humanize them over the years, they will always be animals
You might believe that a shelter dog will immediately comprehend since day one the meaning of life in a home, that he will appreciate the cozy couch, the love and attention and that he will be grateful for the new life you are willing to offer him since the moment you drive him home, but this is NOT the case.
A dog is not a person, a dog is an animal, and as much as we have managed to humanize them over the years, they will always be animals, which basically means that they don’t see things the way we do – and they definitely don’t speak the human language (like you don’t speak Chinese).
Patience is key, and speaking their language is key too
So for a dog who has spent years in a shelter, the first days at home mean one and only thing: anxiety – like you felt that first morning in Beijing, remember? They don’t realize what’s in store for them, they only see things they don’t recognize, people they never met, and a huge open space that is the living room – and they are supposed to figure out where in that big open space are they supposed to sleep, pee, eat and drink. Now, if on top of all that they have you talking to them 24/7, saying incomprehensible things, their first experience is meant to be traumatic, and we do not want to traumatize a dog, do we?
you – as an evolved species – are supposed to be the one who tries to speak theirs
When bringing a new dog home, we need to be that one and only person in Beijing who speaks the language, and is willing to offer the newcomer the help he actually needs, not the help we think he needs. A new dog needs someone to teach him and show him (I repeat SHOW HIM) everything in the new environment from scratch. And since I am sure you would not learn the city of Beijing on your first day there, even if you had the best tourist guide in the world, a dog cannot learn what to do and how to behave properly since day one either. Patience is key, and speaking their language is key too. Like you don’t speak Chinese, no dog out there speaks English, French, Greek etc, and since it is highly unlikely that they will ever learn any human language, you – as an evolved species – are supposed to be the one who tries to speak theirs.
And this is as far as I can take you. I am sure that there are professionals out there who will guide you more specifically through those first days. I just have one last thing to say: the unconditional love, the communication, and the companionship will be there eventually. You have all the time ahead to share intimate moments with you four legged rescue baby, so be patient. Those days will come, and if you have initiated him to the new life he will be sharing with you correctly, those days will come easier and faster. And THEN you can post those selfies you we dreaming of since the day you saw him looking at you behind his kennel’s door.