What better gift to give for the holidays than a pet, right?! Mmmmm, maybe. While I do LOVE the idea of an animal in a shelter getting a home for the holidays, what’s worse is an animal getting taken out of a shelter and then put back in because the person or family wasn’t ready or prepared for the responsibility. Adopting pets has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, serious life goal is to have a farm and rescue ALL THE ANIMALS. In reality though, it is a lot of time, patience, hard work and money (this is true with any pet, rescue or not). The last thing I want to do is discourage any of you from rescuing a pet, but I also want to paint a clear and honest picture of what to expect and how to be prepared. I know not all of you who want to bring a pet into your family want to adopt. That’s ok too. I’m not here to make anyone feel bad or say you absolutely shouldn’t get a dog from a breeder. Of course I’m a big advocate of adoption and we’ve had a great experience but I understand it’s not for everyone. Whether you get your dog from a breeder or a rescue organization, I think a lot of what we’re going to cover today applies to both. The same way you want to do your due diligence when adopting a dog, you should do that when finding a breeder. We have been lucky enough to work with our trainer Wally, based in Jamestown, who has years of experience in training dogs, some of you may have seen the training demonstration we did on Instagram live a few weeks ago. He was an integral part in helping us find another dog and continues to work with us to train Nora and Fuji. I’ve asked him to share some insights and tips to help you along in the process.
It’s kind of funny to me that pet adoption has basically become a competitive sport. Our experience this time around was VERY different than it was when we rescued Nora 7 years ago (this month!). We rescued Hunter first, in July of that same year and then in November adopted Nora. The process in both cases was quick and simple, they were basically giving rescues away. Now, a quick search on Petfinder.com or Adoptapet.com and you’ll find thousands of results. There are hundreds if not thousands of rescue organizations all with a different (and often lengthy) adoption process. The experience can be frustrating if you’re not prepared. Here are some tips and advice based on our experience.
First, let’s talk about expectations and breed types. I asked Wally about picking a dog based on the breed. Here’s what he had to say. “Just because you’re picking a specific breed doesn’t mean that the dog is going to match the description on Wikipedia. Dogs have unique personalities and needs. You can use a breed description as a guide but you can’t expect to have a dog that is exactly like the breed you want.”
Of course a lot of rescue dogs are mutts, and shelters will often give their best guess at what the dog may be (there are a lot of breed specific rescues now as well). Depending on where that rescue is, may dictate what they put as the breed description and I wouldn’t rely on that information alone. Nora’s breed description was pit bull mix which was pretty accurate, where Fuji’s description was lab/hound mix. Turns out he’s mostly Staffordshire Terrier (one of the breeds commonly known as a pit bull).
“Don’t be selfish in your decision, you’re dealing with another life. You want it to be proper fit,” Wally advises. Sometimes the breed or type of dog people want doesn’t match their lifestyle. Be honest with yourself about what type of dog is going to be the best fit for your family and life situation.
Pet adoption takes patience. “Take impulse out of it, that will almost definitely cause you trouble in the future,” Wally suggests. It took us months before we found Fuji. It probably seemed like one day we ended up with a new puppy, but that was after months of looking, applying to multiple rescue organizations, meeting multiple dogs and finally ending up with one that was the right fit.
In terms of personality and temperament, the dog you meet at the shelter or foster home is not going to be the same dog a few weeks/months down the road. The shelter environment is stressful and can impact a dog’s personality in different ways. At the same time not all shelter dogs have the same experience. Nora came from an extreme scenario. She was abused, malnourished and at the age of 1 or 2, had never been outside when she was taken to the shelter. Fuji on the other hand was part of an abandoned litter as a puppy so didn’t have any bad experiences. He was given food and shelter and was surrounded by other friendly dogs. While Nora took months to overcome some of her issues (and new ones popped up every time she overcame one) Fuji adjusted to our home within a few days and his personality came out much quicker.
So where to look? Wally suggested, when we started looking for a second dog to stay local. It’s much easier to deal with an organization that’s closer to home and gives you the ability to meet the dog before you make a decision. Every rescue organization has their own application and adoption process, so trying to navigate too many at once is incredibly time consuming and can be frustrating. Find a few that you like, and stick to those, rescues have new dogs coming in typically every week. Look at their Facebook page, read reviews, check references and find out as much as you can about the rescue organization ahead of time.
Finding a Pet
Once you’ve decided on a few rescue organizations and shelters and gone through the application/approval process you can start officially looking for a dog. As you look, consider your home life. Do you have other pets or children? Do you work long hours or do you have flexibility? All of that should inform your decision. When we rescued Nora we had a bit more flexibility in terms of the type of dog we could bring into our house. Hunter was still a kitten and she had been in a house with cats. She was a dog with special needs but at the time we had the time and were willing to work through that because we immediately fell in love with her. For our second dog we had some specific needs for it to be a successful match. Nora has an alpha personality and she also gets along better with male dogs. Knowing that, we wanted to find a male dog that didn’t have a dominant personality. We also needed a dog that would be ok with cats. Since Fuji was a puppy this was easier to deal with. According to Wally, most dogs do better with the opposite sex. Not always the case, but something to keep in mind.
When we went to meet Fuji, Wally walked us through some “tests” to help determine if he was a good fit for us and vice versa. We also brought Nora along and provided a neutral environment for them to meet. A few of the things Wally had us do when meeting Fuji:
-Bring treats and see how responsive they are. A dog that isn’t motivated by food (or toys) is going to be more difficult to train. Fuji responded very quickly to treats.
-Bring different types of toys (balls, stuffed animals, etc.). A dog that immediately starts shredding up a stuffed toy may be more of a chewer. Test their response to the toys, are they excited by them? This isn’t to say you shouldn’t get a dog that isn’t excited by food or toys, again a dog’s behavior is going to be affected by a shelter environment. But it’s good to do these exercises so you are aware ahead of time what type of dog you’re dealing with.
-If it’s a smaller dog or puppy, pick them up and cradle them like a baby, if they’re relaxed, that’s typically a good sign. For a bigger dog you can try to get them to lay on their back. From personal experience, Fuji went limp when Craig picked him up and held him like a baby. We never would have been able to get Nora to do that when we met her.
-When we were on our way to meet Fuji Wally basically said, “play doctor.” Inspect him, check his paws, rub his belly, look at their teeth, look for fleas. A dog that’s really sensitive when your grab their paws might have a tougher time getting their nails clipped for example. Fuji didn’t have any issues with that, but Nora is unable to have her nails cut because of a traumatic experience before she was adopted. Even after inspecting Fuji we realized after two days he had fleas. An easy issue to deal with but something that could have been dealt with before we brought him in the house had I been paying closer attention. Any dog you’re adopting should be up to date on shots and have paperwork as proof.
-If you have a cat and are looking to rescue a dog, Wally suggests testing the cat on another dog first. “You can’t train a cat to like a dog.” Bring another dog to meet the cat and keep them separate either in crates or ensure the dog is leashed and you have full control. You don’t want to put either animal in a bad situation.
Once you have your new pet and are ready to bring them home there are some things you can do to make the transition easier. Here are some suggestions and tips from Wally:
-Get a crate big enough for them to stand and turn around in. Crate training is really helpful when bringing a new dog home, particularly if there are already other pets in the house.
-Start right away with a Martingale collar vs. a harness which can encouraging pulling on the leash.
-When bringing the new pet home, if you have a dog already, don’t just walk right in the house expecting the dogs to be best friends. Supervise any interactions and provide both dogs plenty of space to be around each other but separate. Wally suggested baby gates to keep the dogs separate in the house while they’re still getting to know each other.
-Don’t leave new pet siblings unattended. We still leave Fuji in a crate anytime we leave the house, more because he’s a puppy and can’t be trusted, but it’s just better for everyone.