How to Choose a Rescue Dog
How to adopt a friendly shelter dog who’s right for you.
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To the extent possible, your trainer will perform the kind of evaluation the shelter or rescue staff should have done. She’ll consider many factors:
the dog’s body language
how he responds to being touched, in both pleasant and mildly unpleasant ways
how excitable he is, and how quickly he calms down
how rough or gentle he is in play
his reactions to other dogs
how he reacts if approached or handled when he’s in possession of food or an edible chew
how he responds to the sudden appearance of a stranger
how he responds to being startled
You can see why, for safety’s sake, it’s important to have professional help with such assessments. If you can’t find a trainer, I recommend you use Sue Sternberg’s Successful Dog Adoption. As far as I know, this is the only book that provides a detailed, step-by-step procedure for assessing the behavior of dogs in a shelter situation. Sternberg and I disagree on some aspects of dog behavior, and her criteria for an adoptable dog may appear overly strict. But with a trainer’s in-person help, or with Sternberg’s book, you can hugely improve the chances that the dog you adopt will be one you’ll enjoy living with for the rest of her life.
Last thought: I won’t pretend it’s easy or painless to turn away from the fearful dogs, or the dogs who respond like sweethearts in the behavior evaluation – until they explode when approached while they chew a pig ear. Bear in mind that many of these dogs could never have normal lives even if a behavior expert adopted them. And behaviorally healthy dogs also deserve the stability and happiness a lifelong home can give.
You can help behaviorally damaged dogs without adopting one yourself. Contribute time and money to shelter behavior modification programs. Spread the word about how appropriate socialization helps prevent behavior problems. Help give all dogs and cats a better start in life by campaigning to shut down breeding mills and ban the sale of animals in pet stores. And cherish your own happy, healthy, friendly dog.
I welcome your comments and questions, and I may use them as the basis for future articles – email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can talk to me on Facebook, where, amazingly enough, I’m The Dog Trainer. Dogalini is me on Twitter. Thanks for reading, and have a great week.
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