When making the decision to bring a canine companion into your home, many considerations may pass through your mind. Is your current lifestyle able to fit in the needs of a furry lifelong friend? Are your children gentle enough to respect a dog or puppy? Among many others, one question may weigh on your mind more so than the others; where will your new dog come from?
The Decision To Adopt
To adopt a dog from a rescue or shelter is probably one of the most popular and ethically acceptable ways to bring home a new family member. You may hear it from commercials on television, ads in your local newspaper, or even interviews on the radio about your local shelter in need of adoptive homes so that they can save more lives. When more dogs are adopted into their permanent homes, the new arrivals into the shelter then have a higher chance of making it to the adoption floor instead of finding themselves in the euthanasia room due to lack of space, time, and resources that the shelter simply does not have.
While adopting your shelter or rescue dog is indeed saving two lives, the one you adopt and the next new arrival that now has the ability to also be adopted, you must consider each dog as an individual and make the best decision for both him and your family. Purebreds and mixed breeds frequently find themselves in the kennels of local dog pounds, and each one has his own set of personality traits, instinctual drives, and perhaps even training from a previous owner. On the other hand, some dogs may not have ever known a kind human hand and it will be up to you to teach him to trust and bond with his new family.
Unfortunately for the dogs sitting in kennels, their true personalities will not shine through when you come to visit them at the shelter. A general idea of their behaviors may be posted on a note card on their kennel door, but these are only behaviors that the shelter staff has witnessed firsthand from a highly stressed and scared dog. Even dogs who act friendly, hyper, and ready to play are masking what lies under all that fur by coping in the best way possible. When you visit any dog at a shelter, be prepared for any degree of personality change from what you saw at the shelter within your first few weeks at home together.
The pooch that faces the back of the wall with his head hung low in a cowardly position is not anti-social, he is just scared and needs someone to take a chance on him. These dogs, with trust, training and exercise tend to make magnificent family pets. The little dog who is shaking and trembling with wide eyes, barking at the top of his lungs and pacing is acting in a defensive, non-threatening manner. He is just trying to tell you that he is worried about his current situation and is afraid you might hurt him. These dogs can sometimes be labeled as aggressive due to their barking and even growling, but they wouldn’t hurt a fly. They just want to communicate and let you know that they need a gentle hand in a calm and forgiving environment.
If you live an active lifestyle and you are looking for a dog that will accompany you during kayaking, hiking, or jogging, don’t pass by the dog that seems completely out of control. The dogs that are seen as hyperactive are, usually, some of the most intelligent and athletic. These canines need confident and gentle leadership, a dedicated owner that wants to teach their shelter dog new tricks, and a human partner to go adventuring with. Providing the training and exercise these dogs crave, they bond tightly with their owner and will follow them anywhere the adventure leads.
Preparing For Adoption
Most local shelters have a virtually painless adoption procedure to help you take home your new family member as quickly as possible. Some brief paperwork, a short interview to make sure the dog matches your lifestyle, and a couple reference checks later you will be on your way home with your canine companion. Unbeknownst to many who go through this process, the application information is specifically to make sure you will not harm the dog and that your living situation will allow you to have a pet at this time. It also usually involves a contract stating that, if for any reason you are unable to care for you pooch any longer, that you must return him to the shelter instead of placing him in a new home on your own. This is primarily for the safety of the dog, so that they know his new owners will also be screened before they take responsibility for his life and well being.
Rescue organizations typically have a much better idea about the personality and needs of each dog as they use foster homes instead of rows of kennels. A foster home is a volunteer family or individual who allows the dog to live with them in an ideal environment prior to adoption. This helps the dog avoid the stress and trauma of a shelter and lets their personality bloom. Foster homes also usually provide some training and all the health care the animals need. Because of the more in depth care dogs in foster homes get, these rescues will conduct a more thorough application process than that of a shelter.
Rescues may require that you have a fenced yard for certain dogs, or experience in the breed you wish to adopt. Others may state that no homes with small children, other pets, or no apartment dwellers can adopt. While this may seem overly strict, these rules are in place for each individual dog to find the home that he would best thrive in. These organizations almost always require what is called a home visit. This means one of their volunteers will come to your home to see where the dog would live, and help you puppy proof your home to better suit the needs of your new companion.
Taking the plunge
Once you have finalized the adoption of your rescue dog, it is imperative that you begin training right away. However, training in the early stages does not necessarily mean sessions with a clicker and treats. A shelter dog needs time to adjust, learn about his new people and surroundings, and learn his limits. Early training can be as simple as walking him through his new home on leash in the rooms he is allowed to go to, and blocking off rooms that are off limits. Help him succeed by preventing behavioral problems instead of waiting on him to do the wrong thing.
Give your new dog his own room. This can be anything from a crate, room, or play pen where a few of his things, such as toys and a bed, are for him to entertain himself. This is a place that he can call his own and retire to should he feel stressed and just needs a break from all of his new surroundings. Beginning a few very short training sessions in his space, such as working on the sit command, is a great way to not only start your bond but also to help him feel comfortable and happy in his own space. Through succeeding in a few short sessions with some very yummy treats as rewards, he will associate this space as a positive and rewarding place to be, even when you aren’t around.
Go slow with your new companion. Give him a break if he cannot concentrate on you for any length of time or slips up and does something wrong. Punishing him will only hinder the growth of your bond and could make him fearful or avoid you. Build trust with him by providing only positive experiences with you and make training, and bonding time, fun for the both of you. If you are having fun, he will also enjoy your time together!
Consider attending socialization and training classes together, even if you are a seasoned dog owner. Think of it as a fun outing for the both of you to do together and learn new things. You may meet other like minded dog owners and can arrange play dates, outings and other fun things together that will also help to build your relationship with your canine partner.
If you can, provide updates and even photos, of your new addition to the shelter or rescue you can begin to build a relationship with those who rescue him to begin with. Through the success of your adoption story and the beginning of a lifelong friendship others may be inspired to visit their local shelter or rescue and take the plunge into pet adoption, too! Remember, adopting a shelter or rescue dog saves two lives.