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Rescue Dogs: What You Need to Know

What to consider when you adopt a dog

Kimba the Karelian Bear Dog Border Collie mix "rescue dog" adopted from a dog shelter.
Kimba the Karelian Bear Dog Border Collie mix "rescue dog" adopted from a dog shelter.

There seems to be a whole culture that has developed around “rescuing” an animal. Social media has made it possible to share stories of animals in peril from all over the world at an unprecedented rate. We see videos and adds of sad looking pets in dog shelters, pleading for help. Words flashed across a screen like “save a life” “make a dog happy today” are added to drive the point home. People rush to adopt a dog because they feel sorry for it, saw it online and “fell in love” or they want to “help do their part”.

Rescue dogs in crates in a dog shelter waiting to be adopted.
Rescue dogs in crates in a dog shelter waiting to be adopted.

While this is all very noble and understandable from the perspective of us animal loving humans, many factors get overlooked in favour of “rescuing” the animal. A cute face and wagging tail will often be enough to convince a kind human to take a dog home, but there are many factors that should be considered when you adopt a dog.

Background, age, breed, exercise requirements and potential behaviour problems are just a few things that can play a huge role in how successful the adoption of a dog can be. Potential adopters should be aware that the dog they see at the dog shelter and the dog they will have at home once it settles in, can be very different. Adopters need to consider if they are prepared mentally and financially to deal with potential health and behaviour problems that often arise when adopting a dog with an unknown background and genetic history.

The dog shelter often relies on best guesses as to history, age, breed & health of the rescue dogs

All too often, dogs are adopted from dog shelters as young pups and then returned later because they got too big, their hair got much longer and thicker than expected and no one can stand the shedding, or the dog has developed behaviour problems. A lot of the time, dog shelters must lean on best guesses when it comes to breed and adopters can often find themselves with a much different personality or set of behaviours than they originally anticipated.

Rescue dog puppies in a dog crate at a dog shelter waiting to be adopted.
Rescue dog puppies in a dog crate at a dog shelter waiting to be adopted.

So, what factors should be considered when adopting a dog from a dog shelter? Is there a way to help ensure you’re making an educated choice about your next best friend? Below are some things to remember when considering potential dog shelters and pets themselves.

History: Does the dog shelter know anything about this dog? Especially, where did it come from? There seems to be an increase in wanting to adopt dogs from other countries and especially horrific conditions such as the meat trade but remember, there are dogs in your country that need help already and adopting a dog from an especially tough situation will most likely mean you will need to commit thousands of hours and dollars to helping this dog thrive. It could also mean not achieving success at all and having to make hard decisions about its future.

Age: Dogs removed from their mother too early can often struggle with behaviour problems. If you’re adopting a puppy, find one that was kept with the mother until at least 8 weeks. Often times, shelters have mother dogs with litters and this can be a wonderful resource for also getting an idea of what your new puppy’s breed, size, hair and temperament could be like. Adopting an older dog means more unknown factors such as history and life expectancy but does tend to lend to having a better idea of what you’re getting and usually older dogs require less training in the basics such as house training and sleeping through the night.

Health: For most shelter dogs, the reality is that we don’t know much about their genetics. The quick health checkup that animals go through at the dog shelter does little to tell us what their potential for inherited diseases and disorders might be in the future. There is a misconception that mixed breed animals tend to be healthier but that is no longer the case when we have people purposely breeding designer mixes and focusing on things like colour over structure and health. Potential adopters need to be aware and prepared for these challenges just as much, if not more than buyers going to reputable breeders as the genetics of the pet you’re considering are anyone’s guess.

In summary, seeking to adopt your next best friend from a dog shelter is certainly a noble and very needed venture but not one to be taken lightly. Your pet has the potential to be with you for 15 years, so choosing where to acquire him should be a well thought out and planned decision. Supporting ethical dog shelters that are in line with your beliefs and agenda is the first step to ensuring a good choice and successful fit.

About the author

Amanda Roman started her career in the dog world at 15 years old as a dog groomer and has a keen interest and respect for all animals. She has a passion for dog education dogs of all sizes and breeds and their human families. Amanda has been a Professional Certified Dog Trainer / Educator for 15 years and is teaching group Dog Training Classes in Calgary. Her outgoing personality makes for super fun dog training classes for the whole family! She is also available for one-on-one Private Dog Training in the Calgary area. Sign up for dog class in Calgary Alberta today!

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