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Seeing Previous Guardians
Love in the past and present
His first family could really turn his head!

Many years ago, I acquired a 2½-year old Lab mix from a family who was rehoming him. The conflicts with their other dog had become alarming and had compromised the quality of life for the entire household. My bond with my new dog formed quickly and was strong until he died and beyond.

It’s phenomenal how well dogs can form new attachments and love so many people throughout their lives. Humans can do that, too, though this is far from common in the animal world. I couldn’t help but notice the happiness my dog expressed when we ran into his original family around town, which happened a few times a year.

Whenever he saw them, he went, for lack of a better term, completely bonkers. He jumped straight into the air like he was on a pogo stick, with all four paws nearly five feet off the ground. His face showed pure joy as he greeted them, and they were much the same in their expressions. Though there was so much love on both sides, they chose to place him in a home where he was not at risk of being harmed by fights with their other, older dog. I’m so grateful for that because otherwise he would never have entered my life.

Though my dog was thrilled to see the people he lived with from 8 weeks to 2½ years of age, he never attempted to stay with them. After each reunion, he invariably returned his attention to me and did not hesitate as we walked away. There were no backward glances and he did not seem confused in any way. Though I can’t know exactly what he felt or thought, I can make guesses based on his behavior. I think he was happy to see the people he knew from the past because he loved them. He also loved me and I believe that he naturally felt more connected to me because we were currently spending time together, sharing a home and a life.

I always enjoyed his reaction to his first family because I liked seeing him happy for any reason. I would have been horrified to see him react to them with avoidance, fear or any other negative emotion. A show of indifference would not have been much better as that would have made me wonder if he would be capable of ceasing to care about me, too. It also made me happy because I could see how much it meant to the family to be honored with an over-the-top exuberant greeting from the dog they loved. It had been a heartbreaking decision for them to give him up for the safety of both dogs. They were overjoyed to see that he still loved them, too, and was excited to see them.

How does your dog react to seeing a previous guardian or a foster family? Or, if you were previously the guardian or foster family to a dog you’ve been able to see again, how does the dog act at the reunion?

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Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer whose clinical work over the last 17 years has focused on the evaluation and treatment of serious behavioral problems in dogs, especially aggression. Karen has been writing the behavior column for The Bark since 2012 and wrote The Bark’s training column and various other articles for eight years before that. She is an adjunct professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University, and teaches a tropical field biology course in Costa Rica. Karen writes an animal column, The London Zoo, which appear in The Arizona Daily Sun and is the author of five books on canine training and behavior. She is working on her next book, which she expects to be published in 2017.

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