Brown dog in a shelter looking eagerly toward a visitor.

Are Rescue Dogs Grateful to be Adopted after Living in a Shelter?

Fortunately for a lot of homeless dogs, many people are now adopting dogs from shelters. This has been true, especially during the Covid pandemic in 2020, and seems to be a growing trend. Many kind people who now have more time at home and who care about animal welfare are adopting dogs of all ages ranging from puppies to senior dogs. When we adopt dogs we may wonder if our new canine charges truly appreciate that they have a new, loving home.

Most dogs are overjoyed when leaving a shelter, and certainly, appear to be extremely grateful for their newfound freedom. Anyone who has adopted a dog from a shelter can attest to how excited his new dog was to leave. With a few exceptions, most dogs will wag their tails happily, lick their new owners, and jump around for joy when they reach their new home. We hear many stories from rescue facilities that provide a lot of evidence of happy and grateful dogs! In addition, there may also be some scientific evidence that rescue dogs can be grateful.



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Gratefulness is a Complex Emotion

American psychologist Dr. Robert Plutchik postulated that there are 8 primary human emotions that dogs share with humans. Two of those emotions are acceptance and joy. Dogs will feel acceptance toward a human when the experience is safe and rewarding. Eventually, A dog will feel attracted to his new owner after a period of positive experiences. See my post 8 Primary Emotions that Dogs Share with Humans and How to Bond with Your New Rescue Dog for more information about this. Once a dog has accepted a human being as someone who is trustworthy, he can begin to bond with his new human owner and feel good about his new situation.

When dogs feel joy, they will most likely also feel safe, happy, and relieved. This is especially true if they have had an abusive or neglectful past experience. Dogs, like humans, will experience complex emotions that stem from two or more basic emotions. Therefore, I suggest that the joy and acceptance that a dog may feel can lead to gratefulness. Psychology Today has a post about gratefulness that partially describes this human feeling as, “Spontaneously generated from within, it is an affirmation of goodness and warmth. This social emotion strengthens relationships . . .”

Gratefulness is Impacted by Our Connections to Others — For Dogs Too!

“gratitude is, above all, a social emotion. It’s possible to be happy or miserable and for those feelings to have nothing to do with other human beings. But gratitude is always about your connection to the outside world, to someone who has extended a hand to help you.”

David Shariatmadari

There has been some debate about whether or not gratitude is actually an emotion or a mood or practice. Most psychologists seem to believe that it is an emotion that has social implications. David Shariatmadari expressed this connection well in his article “Could Gratitude be the Most Important Emotion of All?, theGuardian.com, Oct. 15th, 2015, when he linked gratitude to survivors of the holocaust. People in concentration camps were able to keep a positive attitude and feel gratitude toward loved ones and friends. Viktor Frankel, a psychiatrist, holocaust survivor, and prolific writer, wrote that gratitude and a feeling of being loved were key components to survival.

Shariatmadari makes the point that “gratitude is, above all, a social emotion. It’s possible to be happy or miserable and for those feelings to have nothing to do with other human beings. But gratitude is always about your connection to the outside world, to someone who has extended a hand to help you.”

In my opinion, this would also apply to dogs as well as humans. Dogs are very social animals with hundreds of years of living closely with humans. A dog’s survival depends on their human owners. Dogs learn quickly what this may mean for their lives. A dog’s happiness hinges significantly on his relationship with his adopted family. Shelter dogs who have been in an abusive or less-than-loving situation will have a point of comparison. Therefore, a dog in a new and positive home could soon feel happiness, as well as a sense of joy, peace, and gratitude.

Before and After Stories of Shelter Dogs Show that Rescue Dogs Are Grateful!

Greater Good Magazine quotes Robert Emmons, who is a leading scientific expert on human gratitude, “First,” he writes, “it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts, and benefits we’ve received.” Like humans, dogs know a good thing! They learn quickly whether or not a new person in their life will treat them well. Over time a rescued dog will have repeated positive experiences which will feel good to him. He will begin to associate his new human family with good things, and a sense of well-being. He will begin to accept his new owner, have good experiences, and start to feel joy and most likely, a form of gratitude.

Eventually, most rescue dogs also seem to develop a fierce loyalty to their owners. In fact, you can read about how much more loyal rescue dogs can be by clicking here. You can also learn more about adopting a dog by reading my post, Everything You Need to Know About Adopting a Rescue Dog.

Dog shelters often have pictures and stories of dogs they have rescued from difficult situations. See more about what it means to be a rescue dog. Fortunately, a large percentage of dogs can overcome their emotional and physical problems after being adopted by a caring family. These lucky dogs lead happy, healthy, and wonderful lives. Given a second chance, dogs can recover and live fulfilling happy lives. Be sure to see my post, Is My New Rescue Dog Happy? Many of these lucky dogs are featured in a great post at Barkpost.com with great before and after pictures. Are rescue dogs grateful? The pictures of these dogs will confirm that they are!

Dog Owners Experience

A brown and black dog looking grateful in their new home after 9 months at the shelter.
Charlotte and Georgia are in their new home after nine months in a kennel.

When I first met my two mixed-breed dogs, and I will never forget that first day! Charlotte and Georgia were so excited to be able to run around the lobby of the kennel. They had been living in this daycare facility for nine months. They loved the attention, not to mention the extra treats we gave them. Both dogs seemed to be jumping for joy to get so much individual attention and momentary freedom.

These two siblings were fortunate that their former owners had cared for them pretty well. But, sadly, she did have to surrender them back to the kennel where she had adopted them. The staff and owner of K9 Country Club took great care of them, but it was not like a warm, home with family. Georgia and Charlotte lived together for 5 years with their family before they were returned. And then, they lived in the kennel/daycare for 9 months. This must have been hard on them. Dogs, like people, often grieve over the loss of their families and may look sad or become despondent.

But these two spirited sisters have now been living with me for two years, and they seem very happy and adjusted in their new home. And I also believe that rescue dogs can be more loving. You can read my post about how loving rescue dogs are here. I have done my best to provide them with a secure home environment, loving experiences, and fun adventures. You can see more about our story on my About Us page here.

Many owners on the discussion forum Quora believe that dogs feel gratitude. Some were a bit skeptical that dogs could actually feel all of the same emotions that humans do. However, one Quora responder stated that MRI studies of dogs had been done, which found neuro-pathways in dog brains indicating positive emotions. This was similar to human neuropathway studies.

Most Quora responders seemed to think that their dogs really appreciated everything they did for them. Jordan Jhon, an Article writer at Fiverr wrote on Quora in 2015, “Ever notice how the smallest little thing, from an unexpected dog, treat to a belly rub, entices enough licking and tail wagging to knock you over? It does not matter if you give them a quick pat on the head or let them hop on the sofa to cuddle during prime time TV, their appreciation matches an actor during an Oscar-winning speech.”

In Conclusion

A wide range of dog owners who have found their new best friends at shelters appears to believe that their dogs do experience some form of gratitude or appreciation after adoption. Scientists have done research that points to evidence of complex emotions experienced by dogs. Empirical evidence provided by the millions of devoted dog owners also supports the concept that dogs know when they have a good thing and are truly grateful for being in a loving home!

For more information be sure to see my post How to Comfort and Heal a Rescue Dog.

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