Adopting a rescue dog from the animal shelter can be the best thing for many prospective dog owners. A lot of people are put off the idea in thinking that these dogs are “problem dogs”, that they were only abandoned because of difficult behavioural problems. In the vast majority of cases this is very far from the truth. Most dogs end up in the animal shelter for reasons other than their own behaviour – the owners no longer have time for the dog, they’re moving house, they’re divorcing, the owner dies or goes into a nursing home, the owner cannot afford the costs of owning a dog or a new baby comes a long and the dog doesn’t “fit in” to their lifestyle any more. These dogs are good, well-trained, well-behaved and loyal pets and they are in the animal shelter through no fault of their own.
Rescue dogs can be the perfect choice for many people who simply don’t want the difficulties that having a puppy can entail. Puppies need a lot of time and patience to house train them, to socialize them, to teach them how to be a good dog. In a rescue dog, you will find that most, if not all of this initial hard work has already been done, and you will be able to give a worthy dog a loving home that he truly deserves.
Some rescue dogs will have difficulties in adjusting to a new home and a new lifestyle, they may need training to learn new ways of doing things, or un-learning habits from their previous lifestyle, but this may be less work than the training a puppy needs in the first year of its life! An adult dog has the advantages of being calmer, and his looks, temperament and size will already be established and known.
If you are seriously considering adopting a rescue dog then find out as much as possible about the dog’s history. If he is in a shelter, the staff there will be able to tell you everything they know. If the dog is still with his owners then ask them as many questions as possible to get an idea of where the dog came from and what life he has led, what training he has received and any medical history that is available. Find out how old the dog is, if he is house-trained, is he used to children and other animals, is he used to travelling in the car. Has the dog been neutered, wormed and inoculated? IS there any on-going behavioural problems that you should know about? Make a list of questions and write some notes to help you in the future. Remember that a dog’s behaviour at a shelter may not be at all representative of his behaviour in your home. Try to see the dog at least a couple of times before adopting him, and take him for a walk if possible to see how he responds to you away from the shelter or his previous owners.
Once you have taken the big step and adopted your dog, begin straight away with consistent kind firmness. Establish the rules from day one so that he can learn what is expected of him. Remember he will be confused by his change of surroundings and may well miss his previous owners, the shelter staff or other dogs. If he has house-training problems, start a firm but kind training schedule to teach him what he must do. Positive reward-based training is the best course of action – be firm, consistent and above all, patient!
Make an appointment with your vet to have the dog examined and put an inoculation schedule in place. Some behavioural problems and house-training difficulties can stem from medical problems, especially in older dogs, so your vet may be able to help with these too.
If you are an inexperienced dog owner, then read lots of books and articles about caring for your new friend. Find inspiration for different games and ways of interacting together that also build obedience and confidence in your new friend. With patience and understanding, rescuing a homeless dog can be one of the most rewarding experiences for both you and your dog.