There are many reasons why one might consider getting a dog from an animal shelter or rescue organisation.You may simply prefer the unique looks and personality of a mixed breed or appreciate that hybrid vigour reduces the risk of genetic health problems. Perhaps you are looking for an adolescent or older dog rather than a puppy ? For value for money there can be no better place to get a dog, the price generally including a health and heartworm check, de-sexing and life time identification. Probably the most common reason for choosing a dog from a shelter however is the desire to recycle a little love by giving a stray a home.
The problem of course lies in choosing the right dog for you and your family, from the sea of appealing faces that will confront you at a shelter. No matter how cute a dog is, do not let your heart rule your head! It is vitally important to look beyond appearances to the dogs temperament and personality. While there are many dogs at the shelter that will make wonderful family pets there are also dogs with behaviour or personality problems that may make your life a misery. The following information should help you to minimize that risk and ensure you and your adopted rescue have a long and happy life together.
1. Matching a doggy profile to your family lifestyle.
What sort of dog do you want? I don't mean what is it going to LOOK like, I mean what sort of personality will fit in with you and your family?
Things to consider are:
2. Choose a reputable animal shelter or rescue organization.
It will be easier for you to make an informed decision about your prospective dog if you go to a reputable animal welfare agency or rescue organization. Welfare agencies by definition have a vested interest in improving the welfare of dogs by securing successful adoptions. To this end, the best agencies will have :
Some rescue organizations foster dogs out to temporary homes rather then run permanent kennels. This is generally far less stressful for the dog and gives the foster parent and prospective adoptee a good chance to observe the dog in a domestic environment surrounded by people and other dogs.
3. Puppy, Adolescent or Adult?
Unlike most other sources, at a shelter you will have a choice of what age dog you would like to purchase. Puppies are always the most popular, being adorable bundles of fur and wagging tails. Many people consider a puppy is the best choice because it is a clean slate that can be easily moulded to fit into any family while the kids and the puppy can grow up together. Although there is some truth in this belief, there are reasons why buying an older dog may sometimes be an even better choice:
4. Choosing your rescue dog
First of all, take your time. Be prepared to make two or more visits to your chosen shelter. Better to go home empty handed then to take home a mistake. Many shelters now run web pages where you can browse for your special dog on-line. While this is a good first step, dont be too influenced by photos alone. Remember personality is more important then good looks if the dog fits in with you and your lifestyle youll soon think he's the most beautiful dog in the world!
Talk to the shelter's behavioural trainer, staff member or foster parent to get some initial idea of the personality of the dog you are interested in. Is the dog a surrender or a stray? If it is a surrender, there should be a history available on the dog as to its previous experiences, behaviours and reason for surrender. Unfortunately, not all people are truthful when surrendering dogs and if they feel that a behaviour problem might cost the dog a home it may be left unmentioned. Nevertheless, if there is a history available take it into consideration.
What to look for in a family pet dog:
What to avoid:
DON'T ASK FOR HEARTACHE
Some behaviour problems are easily fixed, such as jumping up and pulling on a lead. However problem dogs do exist and most need a lot more than just a little tender loving care. Dogs that lunge at other dogs or display extreme fearfulness are just two examples. Good management of the problem is often the only solution. Although you may feel sorry for these dogs, please, don't set yourself up for years of heartache and diminished enjoyment of your canine companion by knowingly taking on a difficult case. There are plenty of good dogs in need of good homes that will be better ambassadors for shelter dogs everywhere - perhaps encouraging one more person to recycle a little love.
5. Taking a Test Run
The following tests can help you decide whether a dog might make a good family pet. Each test is progressive, so if a dog fails one test it is best to quit there and consider another dog. If you are not confident to do the tests alone ask a shelter staff member to assist you or take a long an experienced friend or professional. This is especially important if you are a first time dog owner. If at any time you feel uncomfortable or threatened by a dog, quit. It is better to acknowledge this feeling now then after you have had the dog at home for a week or two. There are of course no guarantees when choosing a dog from a breeder, pet shop or shelter however the following should help you to make an educated assessment.
Test 1- In the kennels, desire to approach
Test 2-outside the kennel, desire to approach
Note: a wagging tail alone does not necessarily indicate friendliness - a long, sweeping tail wag plus approach usually does .
Test 3 -reaction to human touch. If all is going well start applying long, gentle strokes along the dogs back from neck to tail. Repeat several times then stop. Does the dog look to you for more or does he move away/avoid or freeze? Repeat the process two or three times. At all times watch and avoid signs of:
Start to sweet talk to the dog. A good result would be the dog who chooses to stay with you and seems to be soothed rather then aroused by the physical petting. So far so good? Then its time to move on.
Test 4- willingness to accept restraint and handling.
Hold the leash a little shorter does the dog struggle against you or show any signs of agitation or resentment?Gently but firmly, hold the collar for a minute or so. Does the dog accept being held for longer periods? If he resents it what is his first courses of action to pull away, roll over, or bite at your hand?
Proceed only if you feel really comfortable with the dog to Test 6.
Test 6 -How excited does the dog get by activity and play?
Throw a toy, is the dog:
Dogs who are easily excited by play and movement often make great working dogs but may not be the best choice for a family with young children. A laid back dog who would rather have someone else retrieve his toys is less likely to interfere with childrens games and toys or to become possessive of them. A dog who happily retrieves and SURRENDERS a toy is the best of both worlds.
Test 7 - reaction to other dogs.
You will get far more enjoyment from your dog if you can safely take him to areas where there may be other dogs not only to off- leash parks but any public places where there may be other people and their dogs.
Test 8-reaction to other animals/prey
Walk the dog, if possible past cats, guinea pigs, fowl, horses, goats, or any other animal which may be available at the shelter. Many animals will show an interest however dogs with a high prey drive may seem obsessed , unable to turn their heads away. This could lead to problems with neighbourhood cats or other pets. In some cases a high prey drive will be triggered by fast running small dogs, or crying , squealing children making such a dog a poor choice for a family pet.
Well thats it! Though no test can guarantee you the perfect family pet, an adult dog who has passed with flying colours is probably a safer bet then the blank slate puppy.
Good dogs, adult and puppy, pure bred and cross bred are available at rescue centres if you just know how to look. How do I know? Because twelve happy years ago I got one!(see picture of my Suzy) So please how about recycling a little love this Christmas?
Reference: Sue Sternberg Presents a Guide to Choosing Your Next Dog from the Shelter by Sue Sternberg ( Sue Sternberg 1999)
The Kid Factor
If you have children, especially young children, you need to choose a dog from any source with extra care. Here are a few points to consider:
CAUTION: DONT BUY A GUARD DOG FOR YOUR FAMILY
Some people mistakenly want to buy a poorly socialised large dog to protect their family. This situation is a recipe for disaster. The number of legitimate visitors to your home that will be at risk from such a dog including tradesmen, friends and children far outweighs any benefits. Most well socialized dogs will bark at and deter intruders without putting you at risk of serious litigation.
This article first appeared in Dog's Life magazine Nov/Dec 2003 and is reproduced here by kind permission of the author, Karin Larsen Bridge, president of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers Australia and part owner and instructor at Get S.M.A.R.T (Successful Motivation And Reward Training) Dogs in Sydney - a dog training school specializing in positive training classes for pet dogs.