Adopt a Dog – Red Flags
I was texting this morning with a couple who have adopted before, and chose to adopt again, but after seeing several dogs chose to buy a puppy. Being ‘savvy’ to the adoption world they knew to be careful. They already learned to avoid buying based on emotions. That cute dog, or the adorable dog, can be a nightmare.
If our new neighbor loads the front yard with derelict cars, builds a 5’ BBQ in the back yard, and has 10 kids crawling out of various vehicles then you know your days of peace are over. The next 10 years will be negotiation, compromise, and trying to find peace.
But when we rescue a dog we have an unrealistic expectation that we can ‘change’ the dog. It may be reactive, but it just needs love. It may have bitten, but it only needs someone to trust. It may have chewed out of its crate and ate the garbage, but it only needs training.
You need to realize that red flags do not change. That is why the old owners surrendered the dog. We always want to think that the last owners were evil, negligent, or ‘not dog people.’ In many cases they are loving dog owners who either didn’t know how to raise a dog properly, or they were frustrated and felt they were out of options.
The myth that the old owner went into a home, or lost their job, makes it easier to accept human behavior. It also makes it easier to encourage people to give dogs a second chance.
The problem is, Red Flags don’t change. Your new neighbors are not going to stop having a yard full of partiers every weekend, or clean up their yard. And a dog with emotional and psychological health problems is not going to ‘heal’ because you take it to reactive dog class.
Adopt a Dog – Temperament Assessment
The first step is to investigate rescues and only work with the good ones.
Question #1: What temperament tests do you give the dogs? There are 4 standards SAFTER, BARC, C-BARQ, and MACHII. These temperament tests (except MACHII) are subject to interpretation and limited by the amount of Applied Behavior Education the facilitator has.
Most rescues are owned by people with good hearts, and have owned a lot of dogs, but are not qualified to treat and/or place dogs with neurological disorders, chemical imbalances, emotional trauma, long term abuse trauma, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Interview your rescue and make sure that they are educated and experienced.
Adopting a Dog – Records and History
Reputable rescues keep good journals and canine history. They don’t take a dog from a local person without collecting adequate history. Do they have the dog’s health records? Can you visit the vet and discuss previous issues?
Many people rescue dogs only to learn they have health issues like Cancer. I’ve found some rescues that will not adopt dogs who are sick. But, I’ve met many people who have adopted dogs with problems. Recently I worked with a dog that had a brain tumor causing it to be unpredictable and aggressive. But, the dog was only aggressive ‘sometimes’. Unfortunately, it was impossible to predict when the dog would become aggressive.
Ask the rescue to view the vet records
Adopting a Dog – Assessment Period
How long has the rescue kept a dog before they adopted it out? Any rescue that adopts a dog out in less than 2 weeks has no time to do a real assessment on the dog. The dog is still in the ‘uncertain’ or ‘cautious’ stage. It is unlikely that the dog will ‘react’ in the first 2 weeks. If it does, then the dog is highly predictable.
A dog will typically not react for 3 months, or 6 months. It seems that these two periods are ‘trigger’ points for emotional trauma. If the dog reacts before that time, then there is a serious red flag. I would suggest that there is a medical, or a neurological problem.
To properly assess a dog, you need to know how it lived from 0-12 weeks. This is when a dog’s brain develops. The more it develops, the smarter and more balanced it is. If a dog was raised in a kennel where the owner socialized and gave it mental stimulation then the puppy will have the ability to heal. If the puppy was raised in a back yard, in isolation, with no socialization then the puppy will not have the ability to heal. You cannot make a dog’s brain fully develop after 13 weeks. The door has closed.
Adopting a Dog – Interview
The interview between you and the rescue should take into account more than whether you have a fenced in yard, or how long you work. Are they asking questions about your personality, your experience with dogs, your canine behavior education? Are they asking how much time you spend outdoors doing things?
More important, are they trying to learn whether you are looking for a dog to fill a spot in your life, and fill an emotional void. Or, do you have the time and resources to help a dog who has suffered.
Adopting a Dog – Realistic Expectations
You want a dog, and if you are being honest and responsible you are finding it a difficult task. You will look at many dogs before you finally chose one. You may even decide to wait until you can afford one from a kennel (if you are paying more than $1000 you can afford one from a registered kennel).
If you have children you don’t want a dog that can harm them. A dog lives 10-15 years. If you plan to have children, then you don’t want a dog that can harm them.
If you want your dog to go for walks then you don’t want a dog that can drag you down the road, or can harm a child, or another dog, if it becomes aggressive.
If you take pride in your home you don’t want a dog that can shed, or that cannot be put in a secured area, like a play pen.
If you live on a farm you don’t want a dog that can run away, or wants to hunt and chase animals.
Final Thoughts – ‘Adopt don’t Shop’
I am not against rescuing a dog. Don’t misinterpret this article. I am all for rescuing the ‘right’ dog for your lifestyle. Work with the people who are working towards your best interest. And, give a dog a second chance who will benefit and thrive with the environment you are able to provide.
Why buy a puppy when there are dogs who need homes? The answer is simple, because you are bringing a potentially dangerous animal into your home. There are long term consequences to you, and other people in your neighborhood. There may even be problems with your home insurance, and legal problems associated with adopting a rescue. All of these must be considered before you bring a dog into your home.