Adopting An Older Dog

My last few articles focused on temperament assessment of puppies and choosing a puppy from a breeder. This post is all about choosing an adult dog from a rescue organisation.

Adopting an older dog can be an excellent choice, in that it saves the life of a dog, and you should have the post adoption support of the organisation. Also, dogs can be adopted from shelters or foster care homes where professionals and carers can give you a thorough temperament assessment of the dog. If you do not want to purchase a puppy through a registered breeder, rescue organisations should be your only other option. Never purchase your puppy from a pet shop, or an unregistered breeder, you will only perpetuate the puppy mill industry.

The first step is to choose a rescue organisation. You can either visit your local animal shelter or, if you would like a specific breed of dog, get in touch with the rescue group affiliated with that breed. Many organisations even post profiles of their dogs available for adoption on the Internet, so spend some time looking through this information. Researching, allows you to narrow a choice down, without the emotional outlay that being there in person would do.

Rescue organisations will label their dogs with specific breeds or mixes of breeds. You can use this information to form some idea of how the dog will behave in certain situations. Become familiar with different breeds, what they were bred for, and their personality characteristics. This will give you a better idea of what behaviours you can expect from your new dog.

Most organisations temperament test their dogs prior to being released for adoption. This is a great idea as it takes the guess work out of it for you. While I am not an advocate of puppy testing for pet dogs, it does serve as a much more reliable tool for an adult dog. Based on this temperament test, dogs can be matched to the correct human much more successfully, but it still should not stop you from making your own assessment. An organisations temperament tests should serve as part of your own assessment.

If you have a particular interest in a dog, the rescue organisation should allow you to spend some one-on-one time with this dog. This should be done in an outdoor secure area, off lead, and on lead. Spend some time offering the dog treats, watch its body language and the way it moves around you, play with the dog, sit and relax with the dog. Based on your own feelings, observations, and feedback from staff, you should get a pretty good picture of this dog. If you can take the dog out in to the greater environment for a walk, even better.

This first meeting should only be with you and/or other adults the dog will be living with. If you have children, other family members, or another dog, they should be brought to the second meeting. Good staff will facilitate a meeting between your resident dog and children and the dog you are considering adopting. After the second meeting you will have an even better idea of how this dog will fit in to your life.

Some encouraging signs to look for when a adopting a pet dog include; approaching the front of the ‘run’, taking and eating treats offered by different people, relaxed fluid body movement, having a relaxed interest in you, exploring the environment with lots of sniffing.

I advise people to always sleep on the decision, and have at least two meetings with any dog they wish to adopt. It can be a highly emotional choice and time taken to think will serve best in the long run. After a few meetings you will have a ‘feel’ about a dog, trust your ‘gut’ and ask yourself- ‘Is this truly the right dog for me/us?’ You should never feel obligated to take a dog, or take a dog just because you feel sorry for it.

Most organisations allow a cooling off period where you can bring the dog back if you feel that you have made a wrong choice. However, this should only be a last resort. Most of the dogs surrendered to these organisations will be adolescent dogs. Understand that when you are adopting a dog it is coming to you with a history that often you will be unaware of. The adoption process can be a stressful one for the dog, and this will have an impact on behaviour, so you may not see your dogs’ true personality for several weeks.

Be sure that you have all of the supplies you will need before you bring your new dog home, keep things low-key for a few days. Get to know your new dog, play with them and walk them. If you are unsure about allowing your new dog off lead find a secure, quiet area, to let them run loose in, and socialise them with a few known stable dogs first.

These first few days are just about getting to know each other. Your new dog will probably behave exceptionally well at first, but after several days you may notice some cheeky behaviour creeping in. This is your dog becoming comfortable, it’s OK. Find a good trainer and dog club to help you with issues as they arise.

Adopting an older dog means that you get to skip the baby puppy stage, it also means temperament testing will be more reliable. The added bonus is that you get to save the life of a dog.



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