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…