Guide to adopting a rescue dog
With the exception of my first ever dog, when I was aged 10, I have only ever acquired rescue dogs. It is important to think very carefully about where you are going to source a new dog, and the reasons contributing to that decision. For example:
The age of the dog you would like.
The breed or type and size of dog you would like.
Where you currently live- can you accommodate the dog comfortably within your home and do you have access to a garden or outdoor space, the dog can easily access.
Do you have the knowledge, patience and time to train either a new puppy or a dog, who has previous life experience you may know very little about.
There is a huge amount to think about in making this decision. I would always advise talking it over with someone you can trust, who has the knowledge and expertise to give you honest advice (accepting that it may not be what you want to hear).
Your veterinary practice will hopefully be able to offer you advice clinics with one of their qualified veterinary nursing team, where you can discuss your thoughts on this. In the veterinary clinic we see dogs of all shapes and sizes. We also see them in one of the most stressful environments a dog can be in, so we can give you honest advice, based on our experience across a wide range of dog types.
If you opt to go through an animal charity or shelter- they vary quite considerably in the training and experience their staff have. Some of the charities are world leaders in canine welfare and behaviour, with both the resources and research to support their staff and services. Other charities are run by volunteers, who are passionate about dogs but working with far more limited resources. Some of the charities require home checks, questionnaires to be completed, training and trial days to be attended and a compulsory adoption fee to be paid. To be honest- the more rigorous the process, the better the organisation probably is. They appreciate that rescue dogs, in most cases, have already experienced less than ideal starts in life, often they have complex needs and require additional training/ patience/ understanding, so making sure the right dog goes to the right home is hugely important for everyone involved- the new owners, the charity and most importantly for the dog!
Quite often, rescue animals can appear fearful or unsettled in new environments and with new people. Sometimes people assume that this means they have been "abused" in some way. It is important to remember that lack of positive experiences and training can be just as harmful to psychological and social development in dogs, as being abused (physically/ mentally or through neglect). New or prospective owners need to be mindful of this and ensure they have the time, patience and empathy to work with the dog, to help them address any issues and learn how to feel safe and confident in new situations, with new people and with dogs and other species of animals too.
Getting a dog should hopefully be a 10-18 year commitment, for the duration of that dog's life, so you need to be clear that whatever life changes you hope to experience over that time period, fits in with your new dog and ensuring they too, get everything they need out of life. There are advantages to getting a young animal, perceived as a blank canvas, but remember that there are no guarantees- genetics and the experience of the dam (mother dog) whilst she is pregnant with her pups and in their first 6-8 weeks of life, while they live with the dam, are hugely important too. This is why the veterinary and dog welfare organisations are so cautious about commercially produced pups. It is very difficult to ensure the dam is healthy, happy and living in a rich, varied environment, if she is living in an enclosure on a puppy farm. Remember- lack of positive experience can be just as damaging as negative experiences. You ideally want your new dog to have come from a healthy, happy dam, irrespective of breed- crossbreeds make magnificent pet dogs too!
If you have children living in your household, or visiting regularly, you need to consider whether you will feel relaxed and comfortable having them living close to your new dog. Obviously we can train dogs to be comfortable around children (using desensitisation and counter conditioning); we can and should also train children to be safe and comfortable around dogs too- the younger this process starts the better. Children must be taught empathy for all animals and how to read dog behaviour and avoid making the dog feel threatened in any way, which will force them to react, irrespective of their breed or how "well behaved" they usually are. The truth is there is no such thing as a "child safe" dog, dogs and children should always be supervised by a 'competent' adult and that dogs sometimes need to be protected from children, as opposed the reverse.
Believe me, rescue dogs can be fabulous pets- every one of mine has come from a different background and has had unique personality and challenges too. Gaining their trust and seeing them truly happy is a wonderful feeling- but this is not a decision to be embarked on lightly. Do your homework, get specialist advice, either from your vet or from a suitably trained dog expert and go into this with your eyes wide open, accepting there may be bumps along the way, but they can be so worth it!
Good luck & enjoy!