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The Right Rescue Dog

January 7, 2021

If your New Year’s resolution is to add a canine family member, good for you. Somewhere out there is the perfect puppy or adult dog for your family. You have a lot of things to think about when you begin to look for that new family member, puppy or dog? Large or small? Purebred or mixed breed? From a breeder or a shelter or rescue group?

Picking the puppy or dog that is the right fit for your family may seem like a gamble, but there are considerations to help you make a good decision. “The next Pet Page in February 2021” will discuss purchasing a puppy from a responsible breeder. This article will offer suggestions on how to find the right rescue dog for your family. If you have very small children, under the age of 10 or so, your decision for adoption carries an extra need for caution. Many dogs, especially those not raised around young children, are frightened by the sudden movements, squeals, and unpredictable (in the dog’s eyes) actions. For families with young children, an adult dog whose temperament is already established may be the best fit. A puppy can be raised with the children, but for a busy, overworked family with young children, adding a young puppy also needing constant supervision and crate and housetraining may be overwhelming. It’s like adding another toddler to the household. A small dog can easily be injured by very young children. An energetic larger adolescent dog can too easily knock over young children or older adults in his or her enthusiasm, but training, guidance, and management can help the dog mature out of the adolescent phase. Adult dogs, three years old and older, have usually calmed down and a temperament evaluation can help determine whether they would be comfortable in a home with small children. A senior dog could be the perfect fit for a quiet household or a senior person. If you are single and work or are a student and are gone frequently, adopting a puppy or dog means you will need to consider how to adequately provide mental and physical enrichment for the dog. Additionally, puppies must be taken outside frequently to be housetrained. If you are gone for long hours, this means you will need to get a friend to help or hire a daily pet sitter.

After you decide the size, age, and type of dog most likely the best fit for your family and lifestyle, you are ready to begin your search.

When you begin to check out the dogs in person, here are a few general guidelines to identify a friendly, stable dog.

Remember the shelter or kennel environment is stressful for most dogs. Once your dog has settled into a quiet environment his real personality will emerge. The steps below will give you an idea of the general temperament of the puppy or dog.

If you are looking for a family dog in a home with children, do not bring the children with you on the first visit. It’s hard to do an unbiased evaluation once children are around that long-awaited potential pet.

Take the dog to a quiet room or put him on a long leash outside. Don’t say anything to him. Does he try to engage you and solicit petting without encouragement. This dog would have a high sociability score. If the dog does not solicit your attention when you are quiet, try talking to him in a quiet calm voice. Will he orient to you and approach then? If he continues to ignore you or actively tries to keep away from you, look for another dog. While there is a chance he may warm up in a home environment, your better chance for a successful dog is the one that is social from the beginning.

When the dog is not looking and is preferably at least five or six feet away, drop something that will make a noise such as your keys or clap your hands. If the dog startles, but then comes over to evaluate the sound, he is resilient to the unexpected which is another good indication of a stable temperament. Dogs or puppies that don’t recover may not be able to handle the rowdy sounds of children, normal household activity, or sounds from cars or other daily life activities. The puppy or dog that huddles at the back of the kennel may or may not come out of its shell, even with time, love, or behavior modification.

Test the dog’s reaction to fast movement and excitement. Move quickly around the room, either jogging or skipping with arm movements and vocalizations. What you want to see is a playful reaction like a play bow or gentle jumping, not a fearful reaction, growling, or rough mouthing and jumping.

If the dog has appeared to be sociable in the earlier tests, try handling him with gentle strokes down the back, gently pulling his tail and ears. Be alert to his body language indicating he is not comfortable with more intense handling. These signs include stiffening of the body, closed mouth, turning his head away, or pulling away, licking his lips, yawning, or growling. You can tell he enjoys handling if his body is loose and wiggly, he leans into the contact, and seeks more if you stop.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the rescue volunteers, shelter staff, or foster home, but understand they may not have spent much individual time with the dog or the dog may act differently in your home. Find out what medical examinations have been performed and the results.

Be prepared to give your newly adopted puppy or dog time to adjust in his new home. As soon as possible enroll your adopted dog in an obedience class or lessons. A knowledgeable positive trainer can help you and your dog build a loving, trusting relationship.

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