ChoosingYour Next Dog from a Shelter Part 2

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:

• Temperament is better established in an older dog and easier to identify and assess – to a large extent what you see is what you get.
• A puppy’s genetically determined personality may not yet be evident.
• The size, coat and shape of a mature dog is evident and established – no surprises!
• Genetic health problems such as hip dysplasia, progressive retinal atrophy and skin problems can be identified and thus avoided.
• A young adult dog will still be amenable to training and establishing good habits without the extra workload associated with puppy hood such as frequent feeds, housetraining, destructive chewing and play biting.
• An older dog brought up with children would be less likely to chase and nip squealing young children than a puppy.
• An older, slower moving dog would be easier to handle and less likely to be tripped over by an elderly owner.
• In general, dogs with severe behavioural problems do not survive to 5 years of age or older – thus a dog of this age may well be a good natured dog that has been surrendered due to unfortunate circumstances such as divorce or moving homes. For a busy working family seeking companionship an older dog might be far less demanding of time and attention.
• Even at five years of age a typical terrier may well provide another ten years of happy companionship.

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, don’t be too influenced by photos alone. Remember personality is more important then good looks – if the dog fits in with you and your lifestyle – you’ll 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 it’s 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:

• Sociability to people – a willingness to approach in a friendly way new people – ideally men, women and children.
• Ability to accept handling, touching, petting, stroking and restraint – holding the collar, attaching a leash etc.
• Ability to ‘settle’ reasonably quickly after initial periods of excitement.
• Sociability to other dogs – able to play off lead with other dogs or quietly pass by on lead..
What to avoid:

• A dog that appears highly aroused around people and avoids making contact with them
• A dog that appears extremely fearful, cowering and avoiding interaction
• Darting eye contact, inability to focus on anything for any length of time and/or a hard staring eye.
• An overly mouthy adolescent or older dog constantly nipping and biting.
• A dog who seems overly stimulated by the fast movement of other dogs or objects.
• A dog who fights with other dogs or lunges aggressively toward them on lead.
• A dog with a history of prolonged social isolation e.g. in a backyard or kennel with little or no opportunity to interact with people or dogs.

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’

Article courtesy of Karin Larsen Bridge, partner of Get S.M.A.R.T. Dog Training, Sydney.

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