If you're considering getting a dog, making the decision to adopt one from a shelter or rescue facility is a great choice.
There are many misconceptions surrounding adopting from a rescue facility. One of the most prevalent misconceptions is that rescue dogs are “damaged goods.” But many, if not most, rescue pets are loving, happy pets that are simply in need of a good home. They may have a traumatic past, but that doesn’t mean their future has to be equally dismal. And their resiliency and willingness to love with open paws makes them anything but average.
The truth is, there will always be some uncertainty with any dog—whether it be puppy or adult, purebred or mutt. You never REALLY know what medical or behavioral issues you’ll encounter or what a new dog’s personality will be like once you’ve brought them home. Such is life. Still, there are a few steps you can take to ensure you bring home the right fit for your family.
So, before you sign off and take your new best friend home, consider these tips when deciding how to tell if a particular dog is the right fit for you.
Consider the Best Fit for Your Lifestyle
Maybe you've always dreamed of having a beautiful and sleek Weimaraner, or perhaps you prefer the adorable antics of a Bulldog. However, if you don’t have time to properly exercise your silver beauty or see to the medical needs of your stout companion, then you might want to reconsider what type of dog ACTUALLY fits best with your current lifestyle. A dog's size, exercise and medical requirements, and overall compatibility with the members of your family (including children) should all figure into your decision.
It’s important to be realistic about your expectations and the type of animal you’ll be bringing home. Though it sounds clinical, the best way to save a rescue pet’s life is to make sure you pick the right rescue dog to begin with. It does no one any good for a dog to go to the wrong home and then to be miserable in that home or, even worse, get returned a month later only to start the process over.
What exactly are you looking for in a dog? A couch-potato pal? A running partner? Do you mind weekly or daily grooming, or do you prefer a low maintenance kind of pet? Do you have the space for a larger breed, or do you live in an apartment that would be better suited to smaller companion? Your answers suggest the type of dog you should consider.
It’s important to do your research on breed behaviors to learn generalized personality characteristics. You can find both purebreds and mixed breeds at most shelters and rescue facilities. If you have a specific breed in mind and there aren’t any currently housed by your local rescue facility, there are many breed-specific rescue groups in most states. However, you can make fairly accurate determinations as to mixed breed personality types based on their appearance, size, demeanor, and what general breed type the dog is.
And yet …
Know What You’re Looking for, but be Open to Change
While it’s good to do your research, remember to avoid rigid preconceptions about what kind of dog you want.
Be prepared to enter your local rescue facility with an open mind. As a general rule, choose a breed type that matches your lifestyle. And remember, size means less than breed type when it comes to energy levels. Think hard about why you want certain things. Some preferences, like size or age, have to do with lifestyle. But some, like gender or color, are superficial and have nothing to do with giving the right dog a good home.
Pay Attention to Body Language
Make sure you consider the surroundings when you meet your potential pet. Shelters can be chaotic and loud. The animals there have likely endured some amount of abuse or neglect and are still in the recovery phase. Understandably, a dog’s behavior will likely be a little off.
So be aware that their behavior in a shelter might not be their true behavior, but also pay attention to how each dog responds to your attempts at relationship building. There are a few important criteria you can use to judge how potential pets will mesh with your lifestyle. Specifically, pay attention to their reactivity and attachment response, motion and sound sensitivity, and touch and restraint threshold.
In summary, consider factors such as:
· use of eye contact
· general body language (fearful, aggressive, excitable, etc.)
· response to being touched
· ability to calm down
· reaction to other animals
· reaction if approached when in possession of food
· response to being startled
If their body language is relaxed and welcoming, that's a good sign. According to the American Kennel Club, a dog's body language is a key indicator of whether or not they're a good fit for your family.
That being said …
With Time, Love, and Patience, a Traumatized Dog Will Learn to Love Again
Be prepared to accept that there are some dogs that need time to heal and recover from past abusive and neglectful situations. Some of these dogs are amazing, loving dogs with so much life left to live and love to give to potential families, and they’re often overlooked because no one wants to take the time to give them that chance. YOU can help behaviorally damaged dogs by adopting one yourself. But it’s important to go into such relationships with experience, knowledge, and a plan to help your new pet move past their past. We'll touch on that subject in future blogs.
Gregory Berns, a researcher at Emory University and the author of the book How Dogs Love Us: A Neuroscientist and His Adopted Dog Decode the Canine Brain expressed that providing unconditional love to your dog can be just what he or she needs to move on.
"A loving relationship is a two-way commitment. If you don’t love your dog, then how can he love you? He may be bonded to you for food, shelter, or fear. We wouldn’t call a human relationship based on any of those things love, and so it is the same with dogs."
Don’t have the time it takes to help an emotionally fragile dog but would like to contribute in other ways? Spread the word about how appropriate socialization helps prevent behavior problems. Donate to organizations that focus on the important work of rescuing, recovering, and re-homing such pets. Volunteer at your local rescue facility. Foster through BCARL.
And remember, by doing your homework and being patient, you’ll end up with a loyal companion, one who will appreciate their new lease on life more than you’ll ever know.