Lost in Translation... adopting dogs from abroad.

Adopting dogs from outside the UK has become an increasingly popular option for people when looking at their next dog. Reasons for this could be the strictness of UK rescues meaning they cannot adopt within this country, or the plight of how worse off these dogs might be in their home country. These dogs are often saved from ‘kill shelters’ where they are caught as stray or feral dogs and putdown after a set period.


Charities hook up with these places to try and source adopters to take on these dogs and transport the dogs over the continent and onto the UK – a journey that can take many hours and via cars, trains or planes. They are then either fostered or their new owner collects them to bring them home. I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty exhausting to me, and I often wonder at how the dogs themselves must be feeling about all this. Going from milling freely on the streets, to a shelter to being taken to a new country to live within 4 walls.


I do feel that not enough is done to educate and support the would-be owners of these dogs and inform them what they are potentially signing up for. Even with a young pup, there is going to a lot lost in translation, an utter culture clash, from what they have known.


That’s not to say that any and every rescue from overseas is going to be a mess and a lot of work. Some slip into their new life like a chameleon adopting a new camouflage. But knowledge is power and arming yourself with the foresight of what may or may not come your way, will help to prepare you rather than blindside you.


Common issues that can come with these dogs are:

  • Fear of humans – either due to mistreatment in their home country, lack of socialisation or a genetic component; many of the aboard rescues I see have some guardian breeding in there who have been bred to be suspicious of humans. Some of these dogs have not had exposure to children and may or may not be able to tolerate living with them.

  • Noise sensitivity – many of these dogs come from quieter and rural areas and are commonly rehomed in the UK to more urban places. So, they will be experiencing sounds that they have never heard before. Also, an important factor to note is the potential of some pain issues causing the noise issues.

  • Reactivity of dogs – this tends to be from a lack of social skills or negative experiences from their previous home. Some shelters have multiple dogs in one space and fights and bullying can leaving lasting effects. Young dogs in particular can suffer from this issue as the negative issues arise while they are in their sensitive periods of development.

  • Environmental fears – like noise sensitivity, a lot of these problems are from a lack of exposure to them in their previous life. A dog who was roaming the rural hills and villages would not be used to or tolerate having to walk on a lead next to a busy road.

  • Escape artists and roaming – dogs who grew up roaming will not be used to confinement and are prone to getting out of their new owner’s gardens and wandering. It was all they knew before and something as ingrained as that isn’t solved in 5 minutes.

  • Bolting - Letting your rescue off lead too early, before you have an established bond or understanding of your dog could leave them bolting if they are spooked, and a nightmare to catch again. Many of these dogs lived their life on the streets or out in the wilderness and getting caught was best to be avoided for them.

  • Fear of equipment – Collars, leads and harnesses are a new and scary concept for many of these rescues who are simply not used to wearing them. Dogs caught using slips can also develop a fear of things around their neck and react aggressively to escape wearing it.

  • No toilet Training – This is a very common problem, and some people really don’t even consider they will have to toilet train an adult dog. It is also one of the biggest reasons why dogs are returned after being adopted. Toilet training takes time and, in some cases, having to rewrite over an entire life of the dog living outdoors and toileting where they may.

The common components to helping to resolve these issues is time, empathy, and consistency. These dogs have a lot going on when you first adopt them. It takes time for them to decompress and process the new world they have wound up in. Some things naturally fade away with time and as the dog settles, others the dog needs our help to understand. It is also going to take time for them to trust you and develop a bond that will give them the confidence to turn to you for help, comfort, and guidance.


Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. But even preparing and training your dog with the knowledge of what you’re potentially dealing with can sometimes not be enough. Enlisting the help of a dog trainer is a great way to get off on the right foot and also means you have someone who knows your new dog and can dive back in with you to work on any niggles in training.


Adopting a rescue is one of the most fulfilling things you can do, it is also one of the hardest. Having heart is important, but don’t forget your gut!