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Understanding the Honeymoon Period in Dogs

Adrienne is a certified professional dog trainer, dog behavior consultant and former veterinarian assistant for an AAHA animal hospital.

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What Is the Honeymoon Period in Dogs?

The honeymoon period in dogs is an adjustment period that may lead to dogs acting in uncharacteristic ways. As the name implies, dogs will often be on their best behavior during this time.

For example, dogs who had a history of jumping, stealing food off counters or nipping when excited may not show this behavior when in a new place and around new people. During this time, dogs will therefore not "show their true colors."

It's important to be aware of this phenomenon so as to have an understanding of what may be going on when "discrepancies" are reported.

For instance, it may happen that a dog who is relinquished to a shelter, once in a temporary foster home, for a couple of weeks, does perfectly well, but then once adopted, the new owner reports several behavior problems popping up weeks later.

Of course, the honeymoon period may be just one reason for the dog misbehaving. It is possible that the new owner may have been inconsistent or the dog feels for some reason more stressed, leading to the onset of undesirable behaviors.

What Triggers It?

Dogs are habitual animals who enjoy having their routines. A predictable schedule is reassuring to most dogs.

On top of this, when dogs are in a place for a certain amount of time, they adjust to their surroundings and learn what is safe. This leads to a state of homeostasis, basically, "a feel" of what is normal.

Like with a plant being transferred from one place to another, when a dog finds himself in a new environment, he can get some form of "transplant shock."

How dogs react to a new environment may vary from one to another. Some dogs become highly stressed, others are not as much impacted and will bounce back quickly.

When Does a Honeymoon Period Take Place in Dogs?

A honeymoon period usually takes place when a dog is removed from his habitual habitat where he has established and adjusted to over the course of time.

You are therefore likely to stumble on this phenomenon when a dog is adopted from a shelter, when a dog is fostered or when dogs are boarded.

These life changes can cause dogs to undergo a lot of stress and they may therefore show behaviors that are out of character, such as being extra reserved around humans and other dogs.

It generally may take days, weeks or months for dogs to "unpack their baggage" so to say.

This is completely normal and may pass when once the dog's level of stress hormones returns to a state of normalcy.

The honeymoon period is over!

The honeymoon period is over!

The Honeymoon Period in Households With Other Dogs

Special care is needed if you adopt a new dog and integrate him into your household of resident dogs. The honeymoon period may apply here too.

Therefore, after you have taken all the necessary steps to introduce a new dog to your other dog, you will need to be extra vigilant for the following days, weeks and months to come.

A day may come, where, as this new dog settles, he may push his boundaries a bit and get into conflict with your other resident dog/dogs.

How to Deal With the Honeymoon Period

There are good chances that during the honeymoon period dogs may be testing out things.

Similar to a child who is transferred to a new school and is figuring out what he can get away with. Are the teachers very strict or are they more lenient? What are the consequences if he doesn't follow certain rules? Schools may vary in how strict they are.

During this time, dogs will therefore come to their own conclusions about how comfortable they feel and how they will behave.

If you just rescued a dog, it will therefore help if you start immediately implementing rules and provide a routine and structure from the get-go. Here are some tips:

  • Don't provide too much freedom at once. Your dog will do better if he's provided with a safe and comfy place where he can retreat to rather than the full run of the house. Too much space can feel overwhelming to a newly adopted dog.
  • Pick a routine and stick to it. Dogs love routines as they provide predictability and reassurance about what will happen next.
  • Be consistent. Nothing is more confusing to a dog than inconsistent rules. If you don't want your new dog on the couch, you can't allow him sometimes yes and sometimes no.
  • Use management. If you allow a dog to rehearse a problematic behavior, sometimes yes and sometimes no, it will put roots and persist. It's therefore important that you take steps to make the undesirable behaviors close to impossible to rehearse. For example, if you don't want your dog on the couch, implement management strategies (like placing bulk items on the couch or keeping him in a separate area).
  • Reinforce desirable behaviors. Make sure you lavishly praise and reward behaviors you like during this time. With positive reinforcement, these behaviors should repeat and strengthen over time.
  • Keep track of things. By praising desirable behaviors and preventing your dog from engaging in troublesome behaviors, over time, you should see a steady increase in desired behaviors and a decrease in undesirable ones.

Of course, if you notice anything concerning such as aggressive behaviors or excessive anxiety, consult with a dog trainer/behavior consultant.

Can I Start Training My Newly Adopted Dog?

Absolutely! Actually, the sooner the better when it comes to teaching your new dog that you are trustworthy and pleasant to be around. However, it's important to consider the type of training and the type of dog.

Please consider that It can take several days for your new dog’s stress hormones to resume to normal levels (homeostasis) which happens only once he feels safe and calm.

Green Light for Rules

For sure, you want to start implementing the rules and routines as soon as possible. Even this is a form of training. Your dog is learning what he should and shouldn't do. And the sooner he learns, the quicker he can settle.

Just make sure to be positive, yet firm. Positive doesn't mean permissive. Scolding, physical corrections and startling techniques (like clapping hands and spraying water) should be avoided as they can cause fear and deeply impact trust.

Yellow Light for In-Home Training

When it comes to formal training in the home (like sits, downs, recalls, etc.) you can start as soon as your dog seems comfortable. Usually, after a few days, but you need to be a bit wary about this and carefully gauge how your dog feels.

Some dogs are shut down or super stressed and don't like to have people they don't trust yet looming over them or using hands near their faces (even if holding tasty treats!) as it may happen to teach them to sit. These dogs may do better with a training method known as capturing rather than luring.

Other dogs may be more happy-go-lucky and resilient and will be happy to start training after a couple of days of exploring their new place and feeling safe.

Red Light for Classes

extra caution is needed in starting something like group classes right away. It would be better to wait a few weeks or even longer with some dogs.

Going to a new home with new people and new smells and sounds and then going to a class with other dogs and people, may be too much for a new dog.

Give your dog a little more time to adjust to his surroundings. Take him on walks in quiet stress-free areas and work on building a bond.

If group classes are too much, you always have the option of having a trainer come to your home.

Start training your newly adopted dog as soon as she's more comfortable

Start training your newly adopted dog as soon as she's more comfortable

The Good Parts of This Period

You may feel like the term "honeymoon" is a bit of a misnomer and may sound like a too-nice term now that you know what it means. However, there are also many good things that may pop out of nowhere!

For example, you may have a dog who is acting super inhibited the first days. The dog doesn't even seem to know how to play! He or she may also not appear very affectionate.

After some time, as your new dog settles, you start to see him come out of his shell. He may start playing, or one day out of the blue, he'll jump into your lap and ask for some affection.

These moments are heartwarming and are what make fostering or adopting rescued dogs so rewarding!

Does This Period Happen With Puppies?

Yes, the term "honeymoon" is sometimes used to depict the stage when puppies are easy to care for and train, up until when things change dramatically once the adolescent stage is around the corner.

In general, things may seem like they're proceeding decently well once the puppy seems to have aced potty training, is nipping less and is now learning to come when called, sit and lie down. Right when you think you have cracked it, then suddenly things start deteriorating.

The puppy who once was super eager to please has suddenly hit a roadblock and has started to turn a deaf ear. He has started to chew again (and it's no longer tiny teeth marks) and he has moments of being out of control. And no more tagging along, the big puppy now wants to explore at a distance and go wherever he wants.

Welcome to the doggy adolescent stage, the honeymoon puppy period is now over! Like human teenagers, this is a time for rebellion, more independence and testing.

Is There a Honeymoon Period in Dogs When Being Boarded and Trained?

If you send off your dog to be boarded and trained, keep in mind the honeymoon period. Your dog may not behave in his characteristic ways in the dog trainer's home.

Not all behaviors readily transfer in a new environment and when around new people. With the honeymoon period lasting even for a month or two, the dog may never come to reveal his true character or the trainer may suppress the earliest signs.

Once home though, owners may see a sudden comeback of the behavior, and it may even be stronger than before. This is because when dogs go back to their familiar environment, they return to a place with a strongly ingrained rehearsal history.

This is one of the flaws of board and training, but owners can get help by having a trainer observe the behavior in the dog's natural setting and provide help.

What Is the Three-Day, Three-Week, Three-Month Rule in Dogs?

On top of the honeymoon period, you'll likely hear about the three-day, three-week and three-month model in newly adopted dogs. What is that?

This model has been created by industry experts for the purpose of educating adopters and creating realistic expectations about what changes to expect in their recently adopted dogs during these time frames.

It was created to reduce the phenomenon of recently adopted dogs being returned to the shelter in a short amount of time without giving them the opportunity to integrate into their new homes.

According to this model, it takes three days to decompress, three weeks to adjust to routines and three months to start feeling at home.

As much as this model has a good intention of inculcating patience in the new adopters, the truth is that dogs did not read the manual on this model and one can't just neatly fit unpredictable things in neat boxes such as how long it may take dogs to decompress, adjust and start feeling at home as there are several factors at play.

Another flaw is that "this model puts the blame on the adopters, while not providing them with solutions that are effective," points out Billie Groom, in her book The Art of Urban People With Adopted and Rescued Dogs.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2022 Adrienne Farricelli