Adopting a rescue dog is a fantastic way of bringing a loyal loving companion into your family, whilst also vastly improving the life and prospects of an animal who has no comprehension why they have wound up living at the rescue.
That said, simply arriving at a rescue centre then, after 10 minutes, driving off with the dog you felt most sorry for on your back seat isn’t fair on you, your family or the dog. The tips given here will help to ensure you are fully prepared for the process of choosing a rescue dog.
A dog is a large investment, not only financially, but a huge investment of your time and effort. Typically a dog will require 2 walks totalling an hour a day as a minimum, and that’s every day! Some dogs with higher exercise demands can need much more.
The walks should be varied to enable the dog to experience different sound, scent, audible and tactile stimulation.
Mentally satisfying a dog is as important as physically exercising a dog. Time and effort must also be put into the dog’s training to at least a basic level of obedience.
Having a large garden is no excuse or substitute for not properly exercising, stimulating and training your dog.
Which Type of Dog?
The type of dog you chose is vital! You must consider what sort of dog would suit the lifestyle you can comfortably provide for it. If you and your family have an active lifestyle then a high energy dog would be suitable.
If all you can manage is an hour or so walking a day then a working type dog isn’t for you, a dog with lower energy demands, maybe an older dog, should be considered.
If your house is chaotic with constant coming and going then the dog needs to be able to cope with such inconsistent activity.
Other things to consider include; how much time you can dedicate to grooming long haired dogs and how much space the dog physically requires in your home.
All dogs must be considered and assessed as individuals and not as a breed.
The only fair way to do this is to spend time with the dog, let it relax in your presence and really show it’s true personality.
Take it for a decent walk then maybe into the fenced-off paddock and let the dog off lead. It might take a couple of meetings for the dog to really come out of itself.
Remember! There is no rush, you may have this friend and companion for over 15 years!
Get to know the dogs at the rescue, you don’t choose your closest friends by their looks, so don’t choose a rescue dog by looks alone either!
So come to the rescue with an open mind, chat to the staff and maybe the regular volunteers and ask them to recommend some suitable dogs for your lifestyle, then spend some time with each one before deciding which dog will come home to become a valued member of your family.
What a dog should expect of you (as a minimum!)
- Physical exercise & mental stimulation
- Ongoing positive training
- Healthy diet
- Veterinary care when needed (this means insurance!)
- (most importantly) a parental figure they can trust and rely on!
Not many people can resist a puppy! Their cuteness, endless quest to explore, excitement and enthusiasm for affection could soften even the hardest soul. But, this shouldn’t be a factor when considering getting a new member for your family.
Pups don’t stay small for long, most are almost full size within a year, which coincidentally, is the most common age for a dog to be abandoned or dumped into a rescue centre.
When considering a pup, you should be looking to what you can offer the adult dog it will become in several months time! For instance, a Husky pup will look amazing be great fun, but an adult Husky needs 6 miles a day walking as a minimum!
Advantages of a Puppy
The advantage of taking a pup is you generally have a dog with no issues or problems, a blank canvas. If a puppy is raised correctly in a relaxed positive environment with clear rules and manners that pup will into grow up into a fantastic companion and pet for the whole family. Of course it is wise to bear in mind that all problem adult dogs started out life as a blank canvas pup.
A puppy’s education must be delivered in a relatively short space of time. Before the puppy is 6 months old (sexually mature), it must have experienced everything it is ever going to encounter in it’s day to day life as an adult dog.
This includes observing/meeting as many people and dogs as possible, a good number to aim for is 100 people and 100 dogs before the pup is 6 months old, as a minimum.
The pup should meet cats, horses, cows, sheep etc. The environments should include other houses, gardens, parks, beaches, quite streets, busy streets, town centres, markets, roads with heavy traffic, roads with fast traffic, shops, inside cars, trains etc.
The vital factor in this education is calmness, if the pup associates all these experiences with being calm, then this is how it will respond in a similar situation as an adult dog.
If the pup is allowed to get over excited during it’s education then it will react with over excitement as a full grown adult dog and this will become a problem.
The more the pup can experience calmly before it reaches 6 months old, the more successfully it will be able to handle life as an adult dog. Many adult dogs show problematic behaviours which can be simply put down to the owner not putting in the time and effort to educating their pup during the vital first 6 months.
There is a big responsibility that comes with a puppy, and that responsibility is on the owning family to raise a dog to become, not only a reliable family member, but also an acceptable and positive member of society.
REMEMBER; A puppy won’t become a domestic pet until you domesticate it!
Breeding alone cannot guarantee what a dog will turn out like. Common phrases like “German Shepherds train themselves” and “Labradors are not aggressive” are simply incorrect.
The environment the dog lives in and, the main influences (or lack of) on the dog are the major bearing on how its personality is shaped. Selective breeding encourages certain physical traits and behaviours in dogs but these behaviours, although more readily learned, still need to be nurtured and encouraged to reach their full potential…
So a German Shepherd with no training or boundaries will most likely become a menace both inside and outside of the home, a Labrador has teeth like any other dog and can become aggressive if brought up incorrectly.
Breed type can only be used as a guide as to how a dog may behave, the variations between individuals within a breed are too wide to predict a single dog’s personality.
Of course this also means any dog can become well behaved and a fantastic companion. So take every dog as you meet it, no preconceptions or expectations and simply take the dog as a dog and progress from there.
The cross breed is a much more natural specimen then that of the pedigree. The cross bred dog is generally much healthier and have a much more even temperament.
This is due to it’s varied genetic make up the predetermined traits of the parent dogs are much less prevalent. At the end of day, the difference between a cross breed and a pedigree is; the pedigree conforms to an aesthetic model, decided by very few humans, for the visual pleasure of very few humans.
The cross breed is determined much closer to how nature intended the dog to be.
Older dogs are often overlooked in the rescue centre simply due to their age.
Dogs now-a-days are living longer as their general quality of life and the care available improves.
Dogs living beyond 15 years are becoming increasingly common.
So adopting a 9 year old dog, for instance, could provide a family with a loving loyal companion for many years.
Older dogs are typically much less demanding when it comes to exercise and stimulation. They are also much more likely to relax during the day happily snoozing between walks.
I often advise first time dog owners to look at older dogs as they are a simpler way to gain experience owning and caring for a dog.
Obviously their health needs closer attention than younger dogs but on the other hand they are less likely to pick up injuries or illness through over excitement and constant exploring.
It is also important to forget the myth the old dogs can’t learn and are stuck in their ways as this is, of course, nonsense. With positive fun guidance, from somebody they love and trust, dogs will learn at any age!
The Mutt (mixed breed)
“If you don’t know whether to get a retriever, a shepherd, a setter or a sight hound then choose them all; adopt a mutt!”
The Mutt or mongrel, or mixed breed is simply a dog with no known purebred ancestors and not the result of intentional breeding by humans.
I find it frustrating the term Mutt has become derogatory, implying the dog is substandard, especially as it is continually perpetuated despite all the evidence to the contrary being constant and blatant!
When nature decides (stray dogs, feral dogs, wild canines living and breeding without human influence) breeds, as we recognise them, disappear in usually the first couple of generations. It is the Mutt who endures and survives.
The Mutt, with it’s varied genes gained from other dogs who live in that local environment is how nature, not humans, ensures the best examples of the species survive and thrive.
If you need a dog for a very specific task, find the breed traditionally most closely suited. If you are looking for a family companion then get the dog who has got the good all-round skills needed to more easily adapt to general family life, the Mutt.
Essentially, a pedigree dog came from the ‘good all-round Mutt’ who was selectively bred to perform a specific certain task or look a certain way.
Many pedigree dogs weren’t selected to be bred from because of their good nature or temperament ensuring future pups stood the best chance of being naturally socially acceptable.
Instead they were bred to carry out one job or for a certain look, for instance; the value of a Pug wasn’t in how good of a companion they were, but how closely the wrinkles on their forehead resembled the Chinese symbol for Prince!
Golden retrievers were for many years put down at birth as ‘yellow’ labs had no resale value because only brown or black were considered acceptable colours.
There are many other examples of dogs being discarded at birth simply for not quite conforming to an aesthetic design of human desire.
An important initial aspects of selectively breeding was designed to create dogs fixated on a particular very narrow task or set of behaviours (either to assist manual labour, farm dogs, or to assist the wealthier classes’ leisure activities, like hunting).
To assume they will automatically raise themselves and perform these prescribed tasks with no input from the owners will lead to disappointment. Also, to assume such dogs can only do this prescribed task is a huge injustice to the species.
To ignore the type of narrow behaviour a breed was developed for may prove a mistake if the life you are going to provide for them needs a large amount of adaptation from their prescribed task. Ask anybody who bought a working breed line hunt assist dog (Spaniel, Weinarama, Pointer, Setter) and only gave it 20 minutes walking per day!
Such dogs can cover 30 to 50 miles in a working day. Expecting such a dog to be satisfied with 2 miles a day is likely to rapidly end in behavioural problems.
The debate on whether Mutts are healthier than Pedigrees is still somehow ongoing despite studies such as; In 2009 researchers at the Royal Veterinary College of the University of London identified 322 inherited disorders characteristic of individual breeds.
The real heart-breaking discovery was among these breed specific defects 84 were caused by conforming to the breed standard which would win it prizes in the show ring.
The bottom line on this debate can be found via a scientific risked based model: insurance companies. Insuring a Mutt or cross breed is cheaper than insuring a pedigree, you shouldn’t have to question why!
When asked what my favourite breed is, I always answer ‘Mutt’.