Giving a home to a rescue dog is a very special gift. Adopting any dog is a hugely rewarding journey which is often unparalleled in experience. The bond between man and dog has been documented for centuries. When it comes to dog adoption, there are lessons, which are important for any to-be dog parent which it’s better to learn before adopting a dog; otherwise it might be too late.
Lesson 1: Life Means Life
When adopting a dog, it should never be an impulse decision. A typical dog in the US can live for between 12 and 15 years, with rescue dogs spending their first three years typically in shelters or with previous owners; that’s between 9 to 12 years you will own your dog for. That’s a significant period of time where you should be committed to loving and caring for your dog. A shelter dog shouldn’t be returned to a shelter, unfortunately, return-to-shelter rates are estimated to be around 20% in the US; so one in five dogs return to a shelter despite being adopted.
Lesson 2: Be Prepared and Patient
Training an older dog can sometimes be more difficult than training a younger puppy. This can be for a number of reasons, however improper puppy socialization can be a factor, also trust issues with potential abandonment and neglect. (Neglection is basically obsolete). You must be prepared to have patience and work to gain your dog’s trust. Retraining a dog can take time, and even if you have trained a dog before, you may need to learn new techniques and skills to train your new canine friend. Being prepared also applies to understanding potential dog temperaments and exercise needs and making sure they are compatible with your lifestyle. You should aim to adopt a dog which is compatible with your lifestyle; not the cutest dog in the shelter.
For example, if you are inactive, elderly and live in an apartment, it doesn’t make sense to adopt a large dog which will require regular exercise and space.
Lesson 3: Professional Shelters
Adopting from a recognized shelter, who cares for dogs and is responsible, is a much better idea than just adopting from any-old-shelter. On the surface, that might appear cruel. However, supporting shelters or breeders who don’t have the dog’s best interest at heart and only profit can support a negative reinforcement culture. (Or negatively reinforcing). You should look to ensure your shelter has a responsible matching process for dog-parents and adopted dogs, they should also undertake home evaluations to determine the suitability of you as dog-parents and your home. If you adopt from a trusted shelter then you are also more likely to get support and guidance when required for things such as integration, re-socialization of your dog and vet services.
Understanding that dog adoption is a potentially 12-year decision where you should be prepared and patient can save you lots of heart ache and time when it comes to adopting. Make sure you make your decision based on compatibility temperament not designer dog appearances. And finally, support shelters who place dogs first.
John Woods is a member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and recognized author by the Dog Writers Association of America for his blog at All Things Dogs.