THE ART OF ADOPTING A SHELTER OR RESCUE DOG
& MAKING IT WORK
Dogs of all breeds, mixes, sizes and types are always available for adoption from shelters or rescues. The selection changes daily, unfortunately. The decision to adopt a "recycled" dog can be a positive one if careful choices are made and a commitment is made to train and socialize the new family member.
In order to make your shelter adoption a more informed and less of an emotional decision, certain requirements need to be listed before the trip to the shelter:
AT THE SHELTER
When looking for a dog, remember that WYSIWYG!! A shy, cowering dog will take just as much work as an overpowering, in-your-face dog. Dogs in rows of cages or kennel runs may still act like a pack; each one of them may be at their gate barking and clawing! Take each dog you are interested in off to a quieter area away from the masses to evaluate him behaviorally. Ask the shelter worker about the dog. Look into his eyes - I really believe in honest eyes; they can reveal a lot about the dog. A dog that is interested in play, especially fetching, is a very good candidate; you have the start of a good, positive bridge of understanding. Look for a dog that will come up to you - one that is interested in interacting with you. An aloof dog will most likely remain aloof. All family members should meet the adoptive prospect - even down to the smallest child. If the dog shows any fear or aggression to anyone, the adoption should NOT take place!
ONCE YOU BRING YOUR NEW DOG HOME
Establish an area for the new dog that will keep him AND your house safe. The safest way to do this is with a crate (cage). Most shelter dogs spent their time in a cage or a run, so the transition to a crate at your home should run smoothly. A confined area such as a crate will greatly assist with potty training [see article] and give the dog a safe, comfortable place. Time in your house outside the crate should ALWAYS be supervised for several weeks to several months, depending on the dog. The only factor regarding supervision or lack of is your observation of the dog's behavior; age, breed and size are not. Feeding times should be in the crate at first, as well as daily times in the crate even while you are around. Dogs quickly learn when they are crated only when nobody is at home, and some can develop separation anxiety. No matter how old the new dog is when you adopt him, he should ALWAYS be treated like a puppy and not trusted with ANYTHING until he earns it. You have worked too hard for your house and the stuff in it to have it destroyed by a rescue dog!
No matter how old the dog is, potty training should ALWAYS follow the same pattern: outside ON LEASH, with voice command to eliminate, praise during elimination and freedom in the house ONLY after elimination outside. The length of time you will need to do this will depend on the dog - it will vary from days to months [see potty training article].
One of the most important things to do with your new dog is to enroll in an obedience class. This class is important for many reasons: · establishes a working relationship and bond between owner and dog · socializes dog to other people and other dogs · helps to reinforce basic training, even if the dog seems to know the basics · helps to teach the dog that he must comply even if many distractions are present
DO NOT make excuses for your new dog! You may observe he is shy around men or strangers; many people think the dog was abused before they got him. He may have had a scary experience, but generally, if you don't know for a fact he was, he was probably just under socialized. To sit on the excuse, "Oh, be careful with him, he was abused as a puppy," is an immobilizing thought. Instead of carefully avoiding things that frighten your dog, give that man/stranger an irresistible treat to give to your dog every time they meet; you may be able to work through the problem! What may have happened in your rescue dog's past doesn't need to cripple him for life!
Unless you worked closely with a shelter veterinarian before the adoption, the first trip after acquiring your new dog should be to a veterinarian. The dog should be evaluated health-wise before he establishes himself in your home and in your heart. The veterinarian will check a stool sample (you need to take a fresh teaspoonful with you) for intestinal parasites, do a general exam, and check him for heartworm (if he is old enough). The veterinarian will also evaluate his vaccination history (which you also need to take to the appointment) and give him any vaccinations he is lacking.
INTRODUCING YOUR NEW DOG TO OTHER PETS
If you have other pets, part of your pre-adoption evaluation should be to observe how your dog-of-choice interacts with other animals. Ask shelter workers what this dog is like, but also see for yourself. Introduce another shelter resident the dog is not familiar with - with the help of a shelter worker, of course! If you have cat(s), ask a shelter worker to bring out a cat who tolerates dogs. Some shelters will allow you to bring your pets for an introduction, others may require it.
If the potential adoptee has a problem with the type of pet(s) you already have a home, that dog should NOT go home with you, UNLESS you are willing to spend A LOT of time with introductions and supervision, as well as A LOT of training and socialization time. You must also realize that a dog- or cat-aggressive dog MAY NOT ever change!
Once you have established that your adoptee seems to tolerate other animals, you will still have to invest time in introduction and supervision of the new dog and existing pets at home. Introductions should happen in controlled settings. The new dog should be ON LEASH, and your existing pets should also be controlled in some way: cat in carrier (you could be bitten or scratched if you hold the cat for the new dog to meet!), other dog(s) on leash - one at a time. Some raised hackles are normal even in friendly introductions. Keep leashes fairly loose or leave dragging on the ground, but always be ready to pull each dog away from the other should an argument ensue. If a fight starts, NEVER put your hands anywhere near to grab dogs! Instead, throw a blanket over them or use a chair to separate them by wedging in between. These introductions work best when a person handles each animal.
The new dog should NOT be alone in the house with your existing pets until you have carefully monitored and controlled their interactions for a period of time. That time period could be anywhere from a couple days to a month or more. The new dog should be crated when you are not able to supervise. The crate can still be in an area where your existing pets can approach to sniff; however, this also needs to be supervised. Your pets could tease the new one, or the new one could be somewhat cage aggressive/protective and lunge and growl.
With careful planning, preparation and training, adopting a shelter or rescue dog can be one that will work for life.
QUICK CHECKLIST FOR ADOPTIONS
Pam Young, LVT
Copyright 1996- 2006, Pam Young