Trials & Tribulations

Many of you that read this blog have either adopted a dog from a rescue, or currently foster dogs through a rescue. I have encountered a question through our experiences, and wanted to get the perspective from some of you who may have more, and/or different, experience. I have had a few adopters inquire about whether or not we offer a ‘trial-period’ when our dogs are adopted. While this is absolutely a reasonable question, I am really on the fence about this, and so I want some insight from other individuals.

On the one hand, I absolutely want the best for Georgia, and also for the adoptive family. I want them to build a lifelong partnership, and be a perfect match for one another. Of course, it is our rescue’s policy, and my own personal policy, that any dog that we place, will always be welcomed back. We would first offer any resources available to ensure that the dog is able to stay in its adoptive home, but the dog in question will always be brought back to the rescue in the event that disaster strikes their family. In fact, it is written in the contract that the dog is never allowed to change families without explicit permission from LCPO. This ensures that our dogs don’t end up back where it all started… Basically, if Georgia goes to her home and it is not a good fit, or the family’s situation changes, of course she will be welcomed back into our home. I would never want her to stay in a family that doesn’t embrace her for the dog that she is. If it is a question of incompatibility with the other animals or children, I would never want to jeopardize the safety of Georgia or the other individuals involved. Furthermore, if she isn’t the right fit, we can probably work to match the family with another needy dog who might be.


On the other hand, the term “trial period” just gives me the heebie jeebies. A few days ago, in a post called ‘The Vow,’ I compared dog adoption to a marriage. While some people out there may consider that to be a bit theatrical, that is truly how I hope Georgia’s family will view their commitment to her, and to us. I would imagine that if someone enters into a marriage with the idea that divorce is always an option if things don’t work out, they are probably a lot more likely to seek that outcome when things (inevitably) get hard. I see the commitment to a dog in the same way. Things with any dog, adopted or otherwise, are going to be hard at times. I promise. A puppy is going to chew your shoes and pee on your carpet. An adult dog may experience separation anxiety, reluctance in warming up to your family, or issues with other animals. If you know that the rescue is willing to take the dog back if when things ‘get hard,’ are you really going to be that willing to work through the issues?

If one of your first questions to us as the foster family is about the potential for a “trial period,” does that say you are simply taking a conservative and realistic approach for all involved? Or, does it suggest that you are looking for a ‘perfect’ dog, and an easy way out if the animal doesn’t meet your expectations?

If the rescue has taken the time to explain the process of the two-week de-stress (which we, and many other reputable rescues, require) and you ask for a weekend trial period, it is probably pretty clear that the dog’s best interest is not at the forefront of your consciousness. A short trial period would not allow the dog sufficient time to integrate with your family, other pets, and home environment through the two-week de-stress process.

Furthermore, experiencing struggles with your dog is an optimum opportunity to build your relationship and increase your communication skills together. Taking a training class or devoting time to getting to know your new pet can prove to be immeasurably valuable to your bond. Once you come out on the other side of an issue, and have conquered the fear or improved the communication, you will experience a stronger bond and deeper understanding of one another. To allow a new owner the flexibility of giving up easily and sending the dog back when they experience challenges, is robbing them of a potentially wonderful relationship, and of an opportunity to improve their dog training skills.

Also, many dogs in the rescue system have experienced traumatic lives in one way or another. Perhaps they have been abused, neglected, or bounced between homes. It is likely that at some point or another, they have known the chaos and isolation of a life behind bars. While we love dogs for their trusting nature and resiliency, any pup with some recollection of their negative past may take time to unveil their true personality in their new home. For us, it took almost a full month for Georgia to begin cuddling and playing with toys around us. Additionally, it took almost THREE whole months before she was comfortable around both of our dogs indoors. While this may seem like a big sacrifice on our parts, it was worth every second to see her laying on her back, tummy up in the air, snoozing beside Tonka & Gaige, without a care in the world. Not only will it take some time for a dog to truly let down their guard in your home, but the idea of bouncing them around between homes is literally petrifying to me. I know that were Georgia to go into an adoptive home that was not the right fit, it would be much harder for either of us (myself, and Georgia!) to trust that the next home would be. I can’t imagine how she would regress in terms of her training, and her comfort levels with people and other animals.


Now that you know where I stand on this… well actually, I don’t even know where I stand on this. Of course, Georgia will always be welcomed back into our home and into our rescue, should an issue arise in her adoptive family. But the idea of a specified trial period just sets off all kinds of alarms in my head and in my heart. Where do you stand on this issue, personally? Does your rescue have a specific policy? Do you have stories of trial periods that were either absolutely successful, or completely detrimental? Did I neglect to bring up an important point on either side of the argument? I would love to hear your input!

“Character cannot be developed in ease & quiet. Only through experiences of trial & suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”

-Helen Keller


12 thoughts on “Trials & Tribulations

  1. I feel if someone wants a trial period they’re not ready to adopt:( there is no “easy dog”. Even if through their whole life the are “easy”, one day when they get older, or become ill, there is are no “easy” decisions when that time comes. When a family is truly ready to adopt they will do whatever it takes to make things work!

  2. Another thought…the decision to add an animal to your family should be just like deciding to have a child. If your baby keeps you up all night, poops on you, throws up on your new carpet, etc., you wont consider “getting rid of” your child, right? Being a parent is the hardest job in the world, wether its a human or animal but you’ll never regret it as long as your heart is in it:)

  3. I volunteer with our local animal control shelter (which operates more like a rescue thanks to wonderful management/volunteers) and they allow trial periods. They feel it’s best to allow some time to see if the dog acclimates to their household without committing to adoption just yet. And if it doesn’t work out, they get some valuable information on how the dog is in a household. We don’t have a foster program so time out of their kennels is a bonus. Personally, I’m on the fence about it – I don’t feel strongly either way just yet. On one hand, it’s nice (especially for first time dog guardians) to see if they got in too deep and can handle a dog in their schedule. Also for homes with other pets, it’s nice to see that they can all get along in the home. On the other hand, it does make it easier to return the dog. I think that if someone is going to return the dog, they’ll do it whether there’s a trial period or not. Actually, if they formally adopt and it doesn’t work out, I wonder if they’re more likely to banish the dog to a crate or the backyard?? I don’t know what the right answer is. I know for me, my pets are my children and I have stuck it out through pure hell in the beginning and now have (mostly – lol) well behaved dogs. Unfortunately, not everyone is as patient. We just have to do our best in finding furever homes. :o)

  4. An AVS student fostered Moca for a week in a foster-to-adopt situation. She seemed like a very responsible dog owner and asked a ton of questions. She was confident about the match, but wanted to make sure her roommate’s dog would get along with Moca. A lot of the housing here is small, and our own apartment is not set up to make separation of dogs for more than a day or so manageable. In the end, the potential adopter loved Moca and so did the roommate’s dog, but her boyfriend discovered that he was allergic (roommate’s dog spent a lot of the time in its owners bedroom). We were comfortable with the foster-to-adopt route although I wouldn’t be a fan of adopt-and-return. I think it’s important to remember that not everyone has the time and resources for a dog whose transition may take months or has behavior problems, and sometimes previously unknown problems can crop up when a dog moves to a new home.

  5. Our rescue does not allow a “trial period.”
    They do, however have a 10-day return policy where all but $40 of the adoption fee is refunded.
    Our rescue occasionally does foster-to-adopt when a specific dog has been with the rescue for a very long time due to some type of behavioral or medical problem. But it does take time! I think our Braylon wasn’t fully settled until at least 3 months in as well.
    I think the term trial period sounds cold. I think foster to adopt can be a great program, but I think it can be problematic. It’s a lot of jostling the dog around and I think it allows people to “give up” a little more easily. Definitely a difficult question though!
    And our rescue we volunteer for also explicitly asks the dogs be returned to the rescue if somethign changes regardless of the timeframe.

  6. The rescue I fostered for back in Chicago required a foster-to-adopt period, which I personally love. I totally understand your point: some people are looking for a perfect dog and expect no issues, they wan’t an easy out, etc.

    However, the majority of people I dealt with (including myself) see it as a way to get to know the dog better. If you meet a dog at a shelter, adoption event, or in a foster’s home, this often means you aren’t seeing how they will fit into your specific family. This is especially true when you’re adopting a second (or third or fourth or…) dog.

    For me, I have had a few fosters that were totally submissive and fine with Rufus when meeting at the shelter turn around and become dominant or borderline aggressive, even within a few short days of settling in. Did I continue to foster them after I realized they were a poor fit? Absolutely, but I wasn’t in a position where they would be in our family for the rest of their lives.

    I totally understand that it can take weeks or months for a dog’s true colors/personality traits to come out, but I do think you see much more in your own home with your own schedule than you do in the few minutes you meet them at an adoption event or another setting.

    I know it’s a blurry line, but I really do think it can be a wonderful option in the long-run.

  7. Both dogs I rescued had a two-week $$ back policy. I never really gave the policy much thought, I just figured it was if something went horribly wrong (whatever that might mean). I think offering that is logical but also psychological (in a good way). I agree with the above comment that you wouldn’t give your baby away but I also know that the first few days of having a baby are so overwhelming that you wonder what you’ve done going and having a baby when clearly the hospital should never have let you leave with it. But each day that passes after the first few you think, ok, I’m doing this, I can do it! The first two weeks of having both Jake and Melvin were hard. Hard, hard, hard, hard, I had no intention of retuning them but I can see how having that option for some might provide a calm during the initial timeframe. We all (dog blog writers/readers, rescuers and fosterers) love dogs so much that we often forget that some people (first timers especially) ease into becoming one of us! That said, it’s also in the wording — calling it a trial feels a bit breezy and temporary.

  8. I am PRO-trial adoption. I feel like when people feel more supported, they go into the adoption with a positive attitude and things do work out. People will return a dog after 24 hours or one year if they truly feel that they can’t handle it anymore. After seeing wonderful adoptive homes do just that, I’ve learned that the best we can do is support the families and encourage them to do their best and make it work. I think a trial run just makes everyone feel comfortable with the situation. Also, in a rescue that cares for 20+ dogs, maybe dog #4 won’t be perfect for a particular family, but dog #18 will be a match made in heaven. I see it as a benefit that we are able to take our time and work with adopters in finding the BEST dog for their family. To me, that’s the benefit in adopting from a rescue rather than a shelter. You get knowledge about the dog, support, and just enough flexibility to make sure you get the perfect dog to fit your needs. There will always be challenges, but we want to set the adopters up for success. 🙂

  9. As always, I completely agree with you. I think adoption is just like marriage and the worst thing you can do it enter into it with the idea of divorce (or returning the dog) because you are just setting yourself up to fail. I don’t like “trial periods” but we do them. I think it’s risky because sometimes it might just be a matter of needing a little more time than what the “trial” period allows and you miss out of what could have actually been a great fit. That said, I’d always rather a dog not be “stuck” in a bad situation so there being an opportunity for the family to return it to safety if it truly isn’t a good fit is a good safety measure. I guess there is no perfect way to solve this since every dog is an individual and requires different things. Tough!

  10. I personally looooove the foster-to-adopt period that is included when anyone adopts one of my fosters. It allows the person the ability to see how the dog fits into their lifestyle and give the dog back if it turns out not to be the right fit for them. There is a big difference between wanting a dog and actually bringing one home and working it into your life. My first foster dog was returned twice during the “trial” period by people who realized that they just weren’t able to give Ginger what she was going to need from them. I was able to take her back and find the perfect home for her later. It also made it so Ginger didn’t get too attached to a new family who wasn’t prepared to keep her forever.

    Finally, I think it establishes an “open door policy” between myself and the adopter, so if there is ever an issue at anytime in the future, they feel safe to come and talk to me about it without fear of judgement. That is key in my mind, because if they are having behavioral issues down the road and let me know about it, I can help point them in the right direction for training. 🙂

    But I know what you mean…. it can be hard to hand a dog off for a “trial.” Personally, when I adopted, it was for good. 🙂

  11. I think the term Trial Period leaves a lot of things to be defined. I think if people are concerned about getting their money back theres a red flag there. I think if people want a weekend to try the dog theres another red flag. I do however think that if a dog is not a good fit after a month or so and neither the people nor the dog are happy it may be BEST to give the dog back. I just had this issue arise with Sophie. It goes against everything in me to give a dog back, but sometimes it just is best for everyone that way. I think you need to see what the potential adopters are really looking for with their “Trial Period.” The rescue I foster for does a “foster to adopt” agreement. The potential adopters put down a portion of the money for the adoption and they get to take the dog home. Durint the foster to adopt time period the adopters are required to take the dog to obedience school and only after this are they allowed to officially adopt the dog. I think this is great because it gives the owner AND the rescue time to see if the match is really a good fit. I dont think a trial period is necessarily a bad thing, but it depends on what they mean by “trial period”.

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