Rescue dogs

In this day and age it seems like we’re inundated with rescue dogs and rescue organizations. The internet is filled with listings for dogs of all sizes, shapes, colors and ages. Spay and neuter has been a thing that is heavily pushed in the US, yet we still have a problem with an excess of dogs. 

In some European countries, which usually leave their dogs intact, there isn’t a problem with strays or unwanted dogs. The US could definitely learn from the policies and culture of these countries when it comes to getting a toe in the door and trying to stem the flood of dogs. 

We’ve been told that rescuing a dog is the best way to get a dog, that choosing not to do so makes you a bad person, that breeders are contributing to an overpopulation problem. Let’s actually unpack some of that, because it’s really not that cut and dry. 

Adopting vs shopping

For some time now adopting dogs has been pushed and pushed as the Right way to get a dog. The truth is that there isn’t a really right or wrong way to get your next dog if you’re going through the proper channels and know what you’re in for. As a trainer I do not judge how owners get their dogs, there are many great rescues and rescue dogs out there. However I can’t sit by quietly and watch owner after owner be low key duped by a shelter and now have to commit to unexpected training or be subjected unforeseen stress and hardship due to a lack of information from the rescue. Here are some facts.

Adopting through a rescue

  • The dogs are unwanted by previous owners
  • The dogs will come with little to no past history
  • The dogs most often have little to no training
  • The dogs may be unwanted for dangerous behaviors they exhibited in their past homes
  • Most of these dogs need fairly extensive training to grow into the family pet you want
  • There is always a honeymoon period where the dogs are learning what they can and can’t do. Then a few months down the line the wheels start to fall off the bus and things become a mess
  • Rescue dogs are a complete mixed bag and there is no real way to know if you’re getting a dog who is a little shy now but will be happy go lucky later, or if you’re seeing a little shyness that will morph into barking, lunging, growling, and biting. 
  • It is common for their to be poor genetics which will affect how healthy your dog is behaviorally and physically. We can’t change genetics.
  • Most rescue staff are not trained in dog behavior, and many rescues have no trainer on staff
  • Many rescues that are no kill are only so because they will send dogs away to be euthanized or not take those dogs in
  • Rescue facilities can be very scarring for dogs which makes rehabilitation training more difficult and expensive
  • The cheaper cost to rescue a dog disappears when you factor in training and medical costs.
  • Many rescues offer ZERO support at all to owners after the dog has been adopted. Training issues get blamed on owners (even if the rescue knew about the issues) and essentially you’re left high and dry. Some rescues do not take dogs back after they’ve been adopted out leaving owners stuck with a dog that may be completely unsuitable for their life.
  • Pregnant mothers are cared for only so much as to keep them relatively healthy. There is no special care, the environment is inherently stressful, and this will affect the pups as they develop in utero. They are much more likely to have behavioral issues because of the hormones their mother was producing due to stress. 
  • There is a lot of incentive for rescues to rehome dogs who are borderline and pressure on the staff. “You must not have tried hard enough to find this dog the right home, therefore you’re less of a person/not a good advocate for dogs”. This practice and attitude leads to shady behavior that is in no one’s best interest. 
  • Dogs are often passed from rescue to rescue or from foster home to foster home, which makes the dog’s history, and knowledge about past problems even more hazy.
  • Many rescue organizations spay and neuter puppies at 8 weeks. This has many possible health ramifications and it’s not something that most vets advocate for.  

Shopping through a reputable breeder

  • Breeder is breeding with a clear goal in mind with health at the forefront of their plans
  • A good breeder will give you lifetime support for your dog; if at any point in time you can no longer care for the dog they will take the dog back no questions asked
  • A breeder will know exactly which puppy in their litter will fit your lifestyle the best, or if a different breed would be better suited for you
  • Good breeders extensively test their dogs medically, do not breed dogs which have behavioral issues, and breed away from genetic diseases
  • A good and reputable breeder breeds their dogs ethically and for the betterment of the breed as a whole. Their dogs have often been proven competitively which means that the dogs are meeting and exceeding standards of health, ability, and conformation. 
  • Most breeders have health guarantees that come with their dogs.
  • Good breeders don’t breed dogs with behavioral issues, so the likelihood of there being serious behavioral problems, like fear or aggression are extremely low
  • The mothers of the pups are given the highest standards of care to protect the developing pups in utero. The pregnant mothers are kept in low stress environments, monitored throughout the pregnancy by vets and have a very similar experience to what human mothers go through care-wise. 
  • Puppies are monitored constantly during critical periods making it less likely for puppies to be lost or have complications develop when newborn. 
  • Puppies are exposed to the world safely and socialization and some training is started while puppies are still in the litter. This translates to yet another preventative measure against potential behavior issues in the future. 
  • The breeder will know each puppy intimately, know their personalities and quirks as they’ve watched them develop since day 1.
  • A breeder should be able to help you with rudimentary training or be able to use their connections in the dog world to get you pointed in the right direction when you’re looking for a trainer. 
  • A well bred dog is the best way to get the most behaviorally sound, health tested, and easiest dog for your family. Cost may be several times that of a rescue dog, but you’re investing for the quality of the future you’d like to have with your dog.

Decoding average rescue ads

These are real ads for dogs in rescues. I went on Petfinder and chose 3 ads completely at random from different rescue organizations. Let’s take a look at what they’re really saying. 

Dog #1

This little girl got herself into trouble.
She didn’t share treats with another dog and the other dog didn’t make it (small dog).
Sooo, she definitely has some resource guarding issues.
She’s at a shelter back east.
My rescue is willing to fly her to the PNW.
She’s a little shy but very friendly.
11 mos old.

This dog has known issues. She killed another dog over food, which means her resource guarding is a deeply rooted issue most likely practiced for most of her life. She’d have to be shipped across country, which is hugely stressful for a dog with no support system, especially if she’s flown cargo. 

She is shy, which is never a trait you would want to see in a dog who is well past their critical socialization periods (8 -16 weeks) and this shyness is something that would have to be addressed with rehabilitation training. 

Dog #2

Fido 6 months old and is very social. He can be a bit over the top, so he needs reminders not to jump. Fido has been friendly with young children but do best living with older children. Due to his prey drive, he will need a home without cats, livestock, or other small pets. Fido has done well with both male and female dogs (though prefers to play with females) after proper introductions. His play style is very rough which can be off-putting for some. He rides well in a crate in the car, is curious about loud noises but not afraid, and is fully crate trained. Fido is working on basic obedience and will need a confident handler who is comfortable giving him firm correction and strong enough to keep him controlled if something catches his eye that he’d like to give chase to. He is currently working on reducing reactivity to cars while on-leash. Fido in many ways is your typical, young dog, a little mouthy in a playful way but always looking to his handler for guidance and support.

Fido needs a home ready for a full-sized dog with the energy and manners of your typical bouncy puppy. He will need an experienced handler who is ready to provide structure and boundaries along with plenty of affection and play. 

Fido is 6 months old, social and often times hyper which leads to him jump excessively. Fido has high prey drive cannot safely be around small children, cats, livestock, or other small pets or animals. Fido shows gender preference at 6 months to other dogs and needs introductions to be slow for him to not escalate his responses to other dogs. He plays extremely rough and is not suitable for all other dogs. 

Fido is being trained in a system that uses aversives/punishment/correction and you as the owner are expected to continue on this path if you want to have success with this dog. He has an issue chasing things. He has an issue being overstimulated and reactive to cars. At 6 months he has not learned bite inhibition yet or that he shouldn’t nip people in play. He lack confidence and always needs support from his handler, without which he most likely reacts unpredictably or with reactivity. 

Fido is a large puppy that still needs a lot of training in manners and what is appropriate. Be prepared to continue to use aversive methods to correct this dog when training because he needs a firm hand.

Dog #3

Fluffy is a beautiful and timid girl we rescued as a stray on the streets of the big city. We feel she was let down by humans in her short life so far, so she definitely takes a bit to warm up. She is not aggressive, just very timid. Fluffy has been in a loving foster home for a few months and is doing a wonderful job at slowly coming out of her shell. She now jumps on the couch with her foster mom and siblings, and goes on long walks and romps outside. She is in foster with 4 other dogs, small and large, and does extremely well with all. We would like Fluffy to have a patient and low flow home without a lot of company and chaos. We would like a large and secure fenced yard, and we feel she would benefit from a friendly dog sibling to help gain confidence. She would do better in a home with no children, only because they can be sudden and loud, and she just really needs time to unlearn that those are reasons to hide. It will take time. She is certainly worth it!

Fluffy is extremely timid and shy, expect her to be afraid of you, your family, and your other pets. Let’s stress the fact that she is very timid. 

She had been in a foster home for MONTHS now and is only just now getting comfortable with the simple act of seeking out affection from her foster family. Fluffy does get some exposure to the outside world and does well with her current foster family’s dogs. 

BTW it would be best if you have little to no social life because change and multiple people are extremely hard for Fluffy. If you are active in your social life and would like to adopt her, guess what, your life now revolves around managing her fear and keeping her calm. You will need a yard for Fluffy because of her timid nature it is easier to exercise her in one. Also Fluffy needs other dogs around as a crutch because she doesn’t truly feel comfortable without other dogs. 

Children scare Fluffy to death. Rehabilitating this dog will take a lot of time, energy, patience, and funding with a trainer. 

Once you begin to understand how rescues word things, you will start to see these patterns everywhere. 

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think rescues are bad or that they are wrong. I think that you as the pet owner deserve to be as well informed as possible, and currently I do not think that rescues are truly advocating for both the dogs and the families they go to. I cannot count how many owners contact me for training and say “I love my rescue dog very much, but I wish we had known about his issues beforehand, we would have done things differently.”

No part of rescuing a dog should come with regret. Owners have a right to know the dog they are trusting a rescue to provide to them. You have a right to know if a dog is going to cost you months of training time or stress. You have a right to choose the dog that is the best fit for your family. You can’t do that if the wool is being pulled over your eyes. 

Breeders should not be continually vilified for existing or trying to preserve the fantastic dog breeds of the world. Rescues should not be touted as being the best or only way to get a dog if you’re a dog lover, especially not with the amount of misinformation they regularly provide. Dogs and people deserve better, especially if we want to break the cycle of dogs being SENT BACK into the shelter system because of information that was withheld or twisted by their rescue. 

Where you get your dog is your business. Inform yourself so you can make the best decision and choose a dog that will truly be able to fit into your life as the companion you want.

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