This Thanksgiving weekend, I want to talk a little bit about dog adoption. I am thankful every day for the companionship of my dogs, Gus and Indy. They are my best buds, my side kicks, and my inspiration to truly excel in the field of canine care. These two are best friends and yet their histories, and the stories behind how my partner and I came to find them, are very different.
Indy, my Australian Shepherd, was rescued from an abusive, neglectful situation at a little more than a year of age. Gus, on the other hand, was adopted from a lovely lady in Chatham, Ontario. The last of his litter, Gus was eager to find his forever home. And I was delighted to provide that for him.
In both cases, the decision to adopt our dogs was not one my partner and I took lightly. Our struggles with Indy's behavioral issues, a direct result of the poor treatment he received as a puppy and adolescent, made us think very carefully about what we were prepared to handle with a new dog. We researched Gus' breed, what training him might be like, the possible health issues he may face down the line, and with my eternal gratitude to Ben's mom, Sid, for finding the little guy, decided he was a good fit for us.
The experience of adopting both a rescued adult dog, and a relatively new puppy has given us a unique insight on what any potential dog owner must consider when looking into adopting a new canine friend. In this blog, I'd like to talk about the challenges faced by new dog owners rescuing shelter dogs compared to adopting senior dogs, and finally, adopting puppies from a breeder.
To start, there are an awful lot of similarities. In all cases, a new dog owner will want to be prepared with the basics: a solid leash, collar, and identification tags, insurance or a savings account for veterinary care (or both, if you're really clever!), a crate appropriate for your dog's size, lead-free feeding and watering bowls, a few different toys (plush, chew, puzzle), and of course, an ongoing budget for good quality food. Being certain that you can afford what your new rescue dog or puppy needs is critically important - do not get caught off guard!
If you are considering adopting a dog from a shelter, a rescue organization, or an individual, it is important that you prepare yourself for any specific behavioral needs of your new best friend. Dogs that have been surrendered for any reason will be sensitive to your expectations, and may have needs particular to their experiences.
What's more, you may not know of past traumas or difficulties your new companion has endured. Dogs bond deeply to their human friends, and the breaking of those bonds can be a heartbreaking experience. With this in mind, it is equally important to note that rescued dogs in a loving environment recover quickly, are eager to please, and want nothing more than to remain in your care. Being financially prepared to employ a trainer or behaviorist to help you with any unresolved traumas (abandonment, physical/emotional abuse, lack of socialization, reactivity) is a very important part of this decision.
New dog owners who rescue surrendered dogs unprepared for these all-too-common issues often end up re-surrendering these animals, who are broken even more deeply by the experience. The decision to adopt a surrendered dog must not be taken lightly. It can be a challenging experience, but when done with love, patience, and kindness to these sweet animals, the rewards are incalculable.
You may decide, after reading this blog and doing your own research, that the time and hard work a shelter dog requires just isn't for you. That's okay! Not every household is prepared or ready for the potential needs of a rescued dog. I want to make clear - not every rescued dog will have behavioral challenges! But many do, and potential dog owners must prepare for that possibility. Never allow yourself to be guilted, bullied, or coerced into getting a dog that doesn't suit your lifestyle and experience.
Next, let's focus on adopting puppies and senior dogs.
Senior dogs are an often overlooked, wonderful addition to any family. They are usually lower energy than a puppy, adolescent, or adult dog, and their behavioral needs are well known and have been addressed. Gentle, sweet, and eager for a loving home in which to spend their last years on Earth, senior dogs deserve more of our care and attention as potential dog owners. If you are considering adopting a senior dog, be sure to have some financial room for veterinary care, the need for which will only increase over time as the dog ages, and definitely consider insurance or a healthy savings account to deal with any pitfalls that may come your way.
If you should decide that a puppy from a reputable breeder is the way to go for you, know that the challenges are not unlike that of adopting a shelter dog. In fact, your responsibilities will be even greater, as it is you that will determine how well adjusted your puppy will be as an adult. During the adoption process, be very wary of adopting from puppy mills (where the living conditions for dogs are often atrocious), insist on up-to-date health and vaccination records for both the parents and the puppies themselves, and build a relationship with your breeder. They are likely to have recommendations for questions regarding puppy training and dog care down the line.
You will want to educate yourself thoroughly on what it means to raise a puppy, in terms of nutritional needs, physical exercise, mental stimulation, basic obedience training, and socialization. These five elements of puppy care will determine whether or not your puppy grows up to be a well rounded canine citizen. And of course, don't forget that once your puppy hits adolescence, you'll be doing this work all over again. Hormones will rage, and one day you'll wake up and discover your well behaved puppy is all grown up with a mind of his/her own!
Similar to rescued dogs and seniors, you'll want to have a solid plan in place for veterinary care and the unforeseen. Dogs are not inexpensive - be sure you can handle the financial responsibility before adding one to your life.
No matter if you decide to adopt a rescued dog, a brand new puppy, or a senior in his or her golden years, the decision to add an animal into your life is not one to be taken lightly. Taking a hard, honest look at your lifestyle, your financial health both today and in the years ahead, the amount of time you have to dedicate to one of these animals and the resources for raising a dog at your disposal (the help of friends and family is huge!), is critical to a successful, long-term relationship with your new best friend.
Camille Salter is the founder of All Dogs Toronto and a certified, knowledge-assessed dog trainer (CPDT-KA). She is the author of two books on dog behavior: Pandemic Puppy, Decoding the Dog Park, and the Big Book of Dog Training.