Dogs are placed into rescue centres for many and various reasons. These dogs do not necessarily have behaviour problems. Sometimes a loving owner may have died or cannot keep their pet any longer for other reasons. However, there is no question that even putting a balanced dog into a rescue centre will cause it stress, and behaviour problems can develop quickly. Therefore, it’s important to find out as much as you can about your prospective pet and also the approach and expertise of the shelter, before you commit to adopting a dog.
Here are some vital questions to ask.
- What is your prospective pet’s history?
How did he come to be at the shelter? Was he brought in by an owner, born at the shelter, found wandering the streets? The temperament of a street dog for example, is likely to be very different from that of a dog brought up in a household and this will influence his training and behaviour modification needs.
Is there a history of abuse as far as can be established? If that is the case, your rehabilitation task may be a significant challenge. It can take many months for an abused dog to relax but with patience, understanding and time it can be hugely rewarding to take on this type of dog.
- Has he been behaviour-tested?
Many of the larger shelters conduct temperament tests on the dogs they take in and these can be helpful in determining how likely a dog is to fit into your lifestyle. Ask what tests have been carried out and what conclusions the staff have reached about such factors as the dog’s energy levels, it’s trainability, reaction to handling, how it reacts to children, other dogs, cats, etc. Try to establish for yourself how the dog behaves as well.
- How healthy is the dog?
Most rescue centres will use the services of a vet to check over their animals and to deal with any health problems. You will probably be offered a medical history and details of any treatment given to help you to determine the health of your prospective dog. The vast majority of rescue centres will neuter their inmates or at least insist that new owners carry out this procedure as soon as possible on adoption. Vaccinations are likely to have been given as well.
- What are the steps involved in the adoption?
Rescue centres vary when it comes to their vetting procedures for prospective owners. Some will insist on strict adherence to their guidelines, such as the nature of your garden, who is at home during the day, etc., and some are more flexible. Some centres also retain ownership of the dogs they take in and prospective owners then foster the dogs and are inspected annually. Many organisations require home inspections before releasing a pet; others insist on the dog being met by all family members and other pets.
- What food has he been eating?
Do check what food the rescue centre is feeding your dog. Many centres will send your new dog home with some food but if not, it is worthwhile finding out so that you can keep the food the same for at least a week or two whilst your new pet settles down. After this time, you may decide to change him to a more natural and healthy diet if appropriate.
Try to resist the temptation of going to a rescue centre, falling in love with a dog and bringing him home as soon as possible. This animal will hopefully continue to live for many years and you owe it to yourself and him to be as sure as possible that you will get on well together. A dog that has been in rescue more than once is much less likely to find a forever home the second or third time round and the confusion and trauma of changing homes will inevitably cause problems with his behaviour, making it even harder for him to be happy.
When you find a dog you think you’d like to adopt, spend an hour or so with him at the shelter. Really get to know him. Ask if you can take him out for a walk. Visit him at least three times before you finally commit to taking him home and preferably take your whole family with you. You need to know as much about him as possible. There are many thousands of dogs waiting for the right home and you owe it to your new pet and your family to make the best possible decision. If the rescue centre will not allow you to introduce him to your family or other pets, I would advise walking away and finding a centre that will.
Once your new dog is home with you, keep in mind the following points:
- Start as you mean to go on with your pet by giving him clear guidelines and rules, expressed in a way he can understand them. This will help him to feel secure.
- Feed your dog a healthy, balanced and species-appropriate diet to build a strong and balanced immune system and to give him the best possible chance of a long and healthy life
- Give him plenty of quality exercise, both on and off lead.
- Offer him mental simulation through sniffing and chewing to please and calm him.
- Don’t force your attentions on him but let him come forward in his own time and at his own pace, from a safe den where he can settle unmolested.
- If you know what frightens him, keep him away from it for the foreseeable future. After he is bonded to you and happy in his new home is soon enough to start directly addressing his issues.
- Enrol him in a reputable training and/or socialisation course. This is a great way to establish basic instructions and will also help you to identify and address any behaviour issues with people and dogs. He will love to be there too, which will help to reinforce his growing bond with you.
Expert advice and guidance is only a phone call away so don’t hesitate to contact me if you feel you need help with assessing a dog, bringing him home, training him or helping to resolve any behaviour issues.