Is My Dog Just Being Bad…or Is It “Re-Entry”

Do dogs suffer from re-entry issues after having been separated from their owners or been boarded?  I have been pondering this question recently due to several calls and interesting conversations with clients recently regarding their dog’s behavior after coming home from a trip.

One such conversation took place with a client whose rescue dog had been boarded for a week.  The owners have had this dog for about six months and have spent several months really improving their relationship with the dog.  Things had been progressing, the dog had better connected with the owners and was becoming a lovely family companion.  When the owner called me, she explained that recently despite all the recall work they had done with the dog that there had been an incident where the dog got out of the car off leash and decided to run all over an empty parking lot despite the owner’s attempts to call him back.  Then there was also the strange eating behavior at home.  The dog normally ate his food in the kitchen by himself, but that week he had been grabbing a piece of food from the bowl, running with it into the family room where the owners were sitting, would eat it in their presence and then run back to the bowl to get another piece before performing the ritual all over again.  There had also been a few potty accidents in the house that week.

The owner was obviously distraught and could not understand why the dog was exhibiting such “abnormal” behavior.  They were at their wits end.  She then asked if I thought that being boarded was making the dog worse.   Now the important factor here was “where” this dog was boarded!  This colleague of mine who boarded this particular dog basically runs a Sandals resort for dogs out of her home.  Picture half day long frolics in a meadow, followed by a swim in the creek, homemade cooked highly nutritious meals and massages before bedtime……complete with sofas and bedding and more!

I explained to this owner that her dog had basically been on the equivalent of a week-long trip to Hawaii while they were away!  He was now back at home in the “real world” and though it was his normal environment and routine, I believe there is always a “re-entry” process of some sort.  I liken it to when my husband goes away on a week-long business trip.  It takes about a week after he gets home to get back into the swing of things and re-acclimate to the routine.  It is also not just a re-entry process for him, but also for me and my son!  We are lucky if we survive that re-entry week which is sometimes full of tension as we ease our way back into life’s routines.

So what should you do to help your dog get back into the swing of things?  First, don’t assume it is just “bad behavior” for the sake of it or that your dog is mad at you for being away.  Second, set some realistic expectations that the first week back together may be a bit “off” and afford your dog some extra patience as you help them re-acclimate to their environment and routine.  Lastly, if your dog’s unusual behavior lasts for more than a week or so, contact a professional trainer to explore other possibilities of what the underlining issues may be.

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Positively Expert: Cathy Bruce, CPDT

Cathy Bruce is a VSPDT and a CPDT and the owner of Canine Country Academy, LLC in Lawrenceville, GA. After a successful career as a Broadway singer/actress, she decided to pursue her love of dogs. As a dog trainer, she strives to educate owners on how to better communicate with their dogs using only positive methods.


7 thoughts on “Is My Dog Just Being Bad…or Is It “Re-Entry”

  1. Suzanne Williams

    Nice post. I think that being a rescue dog, enjoying his new family and then they go away is making the dog nervous that they will leave again. Yes, it could be that he enjoyed the week, but I think he's fearful of being abandoned. On the other hand, like you said about the dog spending the week in Hawaii makes sense. My dad just went on vacation and one of his dogs that's 4yrs old and he's had since the pup was 8wks, has started using the washroom in the house, doing everything he's not supposed to be doing. Great post, very thought provoking.
    Suzanne Williams

  2. Katie

    I am a pet sitter and take IN dogs at my home..We go to dog parks, the beach, walks...all things most of my customers do not do with their dogs...YES there is a re-entry process for them...they miss ME!!!

  3. Bea Daspit

    I adopted 3-yr old female dog (medium sized mixed breed - half Shih Tzu) 5 weeks ago from a no-kill shelter. When I first got her she was very anxious. I have been working with her and the anxiety is improving. She is very well-behaved, but still displays mild separation anxiety when left alone (which is not too often). I plan to board her for a period of 6 weeks with my retired friend who has an 8 yr old Shih Tzu while I travel overseas. The dogs have spent a few days together at my house recently and got along fine. This other dog is extremely calm and well-behaved. Are there any preventive measures I can take to keep her from developing more anxiety or feeling of abandonment? I will be leaving in about 5 weeks.

  4. Jo

    To Bea about her adopted dog and her vacation: I wonder why you adopted a dog just 10 weeks before a planned six-week vacation. It would have been much better to wait until after your trip to go looking for a dog to adopt. It's done now, so I hope someone can give you some good advice.

  5. Cathy Bruce

    Bea, in addition to introducing the two dogs for some bonding time before you leave, I would make sure you allow the same for your human friend and your dog since she will be your dog's primary care giver when you leave. You want your dog to not just bond with the other dog but also with your friend so that while you are away your dog will be able to have another meaningful relationship with a human in her life. Having your friend do some basic positive reward training with your dog would be a fun way to bond. She could teach her some tricks or some new behaviors that your dog would find fun and rewarding to do. My other piece of advice would be to make sure your friend doesn't put too much pressure on your dog early on after you leave. Let your dog get used to the new environment at her own pace.

  6. jeannine pelletier


  7. Grace

    Great point. I had never thought about the adjustment that dogs have to go through once they have been away.

    When we moved, it took awhile for my dog to adjust to that, even though he was with me for the entire time and we were on the same schedule.

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