A nice family has found their newest addition and they are ready to go home with their new pup. This is the point where they are the most excited and eager, however, may not be the time they are able to listen (they just adopted a pup for Pete’s sake!). Returns can be devastating for rescues and shelters not to mention the trauma it has on the dog. As always, the best defense is a good offense. With a few easy modifications, you can create the best chance of success for your adopters.
1. What to expect
A little education is important for every adopter but is extremely important for first time adopters (we were all first time adopters once!). Make sure to share a quick guide on what will be coming in the next few weeks, months, and years. ALWAYS deliver important information in at least 2 ways:
- Printout with guide (for more details on these guides, visit our What to Send Home with Adopters article)
- Verbally go over this guide before they leave
- Email a guide after they get home
It’s most important to give them something they will be able to reference at a later time or date because the actual day of adoption is too exciting to be talking about potty training. Ideally, you would be able to cover this with adopters before they even adopt.
2. Create a “going home” package
There are a lot of supplies dogs need when first being adopted. Take some of the stress off your adopters and create a fundraising opportunity for you by creating baskets of necessary items available for purchase. These can include:
- Small bag of food
- Leash / collar / harness
- Pee pads
- Dog bed
3. Training tips
Most adopters want their dogs to be well trained. Very few adopters know how to accomplish that. You, on the other hand, have a lot of experience working with dogs so giving them some starting tips can go a long way. REMEMBER – never assume an adopter knows something, start from the very beginning.
Here are a few tips to get started:
- Potty training – Take your new pup out to potty every 1 – 2 hours. This seems like a lot in the beginning but trust us, it will make your potty training experience much faster! If they go potty outside, give lots of praise and treats. If they have an accident inside DO NOT scold. Dogs don’t know what you mean and this just makes them afraid of you. Watch out for signs that your pup needs to go potty like getting up from sleeping, sniffing around one area, going towards the door.
- Crate training – Make the crate a positive place. Start with giving meals in the crate with the door open. Give high value toys and stuffed kongs in the crate. Always allow your dog to have access to the crate and reward them when they go in on their own.
- Confidence building – There are a few things that build confidence in a dog: mastering a new trick, sniffing and finding, making decisions. Teach your dog new tricks like “Sit” and “Down”, providing praise and treats, never scolding or corrections. Teach your dog “Find it” by giving the command and when they drop their head to sniff, drop a treat. You can even do meals like this in grass! Allow your dog to make decisions like which way they want to walk or which treat they want.
Of course, nothing can replace the expertise of a professional and it is always best to have a trainer in place before issues arise.
4. Professional trainer referrals
There are many trainers out there but, unfortunately, not many great trainers. A poor experience with a trainer can not only be traumatizing for a dog, but can quickly lead to a return. Here are a few tips on ways to help your adopters find a trainer that works for them:
- Have trainer relationships – If you have a trainer (or several) that you have enjoyed working with, consider reaching out to them to create a partnership. You will refer adopters to them if they can give your adopters a discount. Perhaps they even work with your dogs in foster or in the shelter before they are adopted.
- Have a list of vetted trainers in surrounding communities – Your adopters will ask for trainer referrals, create an INTERNAL list of trainers you know have a good record and your trust. Make this list by geographic area so it’s easiest to grab and send to an adopter. Don’t wait to be asked, give referrals for EVERY adoption.
- Create training classes hosted at your shelter – Set up monthly group puppy training classes hosted at your shelter for easy access for your adopters. This could even double as a fundraiser. If you are a foster-based rescue, consider hosting at a local park.
No matter how well you prepare an adopter, bringing home a new dog is a big life change and can be difficult. Create a community for your adopters to share the ups and downs, helpful tips, and support for each other. This not only will increase your adoption success rate, but will take some of the pressure off of your staff for follow ups. Make sure to monitor posts, while well intended, adopters can give harmful advice. Training and medical questions should always be directed towards a professional.
The goal of rescues and shelters is always permanent placements. There are going to be returns, but taking these steps during the adoption process can greatly reduce that number, giving your rescue or shelter an opportunity to help more animals.