Before going to choose a dog or puppy from the shelter or looking online, repeat after me: I can only get one, I can only get one, I can only get one. You're going to see faces that will surface in your dreams for months, so even if you wanted to rescue two, or three, or four (as in my case), please heed my advice and adopt one at a time. There will never be a shortage of adorable adoptables.
If you're still considering what type of dog to choose, read Part 1 of this three-part series. Once you've got a general idea of the type of dog that would compliment you and/or your family, you need to decide if you want a puppy, adolescent dog, or mature dog rescue.
Young Puppy A Puppy is a puppy is a puppy! Truer words were never spoken, but all puppies do not think alike. Puppies have varying levels of excitement, energy, and enthusiasm for human connection. Before you meet your candidates brace yourself -- choosing one may be more difficult than you think. Decide ahead of time what size, coat type, and energy level would fit in best with your lifestyle. Is your schedule random or consistent? Is your home quiet or chaotic? You can test for these traits in an eight-week-old puppy with alarming accuracy.
Adolescent Dog Many dogs are brought to the shelter between seven and 11 months of age. Think puberty, canine style. It's never a pretty sight. Chock full of energy, spirit, and spunk, these dogs are often confused by their sudden abandonment. Most of these adoptables are at their worst in the shelter. If you fall head over heels for one of them, your relation has no where to go but up!
Mature Dog Rescue I remember the day a concerned client brought an 18-month-old, 62-pound, abusively trained German Shepherd to my doorstep. He believed this dog that he'd rescued had great potential, but he could not, due to health reasons, devote the time necessary to bring this majestic animal around. Truth be told, I was nervous when I looked at the dog, originally named Ezop, riding shotgun in my client's car. He had a distant glance and a collapsed posture. "I don't know, Bill. I could try to place him for you," I offered. An abusively trained dog at any age can be unpredictable; I had two young kids who I would not endanger.
But Ezop, quickly renamed Balderdash, did what so many mature dog rescues do when they end up, by circumstance or fate, delivered into a circle of love. He bound himself to each of us like a wild English Rose. I knew, the very moment my kids threw their arms around him, that he'd found his forever home. Three years, thirty pounds, thousands of milk bones later, he is one of the most devoted dogs our family has ever known. Do I think he knows he was saved? You betcha!
There is no shortage of mature dogs who long for adoption, and generally speaking, you can find one that will dovetail into your life with ease and harmony. Many are housetrained and more emotionally stable than an adolescent dog or puppy.
Temperament Tests for Every Age Group
Below I'll provide you with some quick guidelines when temperament testing doggy candidates of any age. There are many detailed temperament tests available in books, online, and through reputable rescue groups. It is wise to consider how a puppy or adult dog's temperament will play out in your home. Energetic, spirited dogs are fantastic if they reflect your enthusiasm, but if you're mellow, your furnishings may suffer the consequences. Think about your life now, and five years from today. This is the one time you can choose a family member so make the most of it!
When choosing a dog or puppy use three criterion to judge how each candidate will mesh into your lifestyle:
a) Reactivity and attachment response
b) Motion and sound sensitivity
c) Touch and restraint threshold
Consider the surroundings when you meet your candidate. Shelters can be chaotic and loud. Dogs and puppies are often at their most distracted. On the plus side, however, you'll get a true -- if not exaggerated -- read on their personality and how they will act in your home. Are they hyper, nervous, defensive, or startled when you first meet them? On the other hand, you may meet your candidate at a foster home, or at a mutual agreed location.
Take your candidate to secure location or put him on an elongated leash of at least 20 feet to see how he responds with you. Below I've listed five exercises you can do for any age group; ask yourself if their reaction would work into your lifestyle. A simple scoring can offer three assessments:
"C" for curious: an explorative, interested response (looking or calmly approaching)
"N" for nervous: a more fearful reaction
"R" for reactive: a hyper jumping or defensive response
Curious dogs are often more mellow in a household, whereas fearful dogs need coaxing to trust unfamiliar places and people. Reactive dogs need training to learn better manners.
The Fast Five: Temperament Test for Dogs of Any Age
1) After letting the dog or puppy sniff around a new enclosure for a few minutes, try to get his attention by calling out to him. Next, extend a toy or treat and walk six feet across the floor. Does he follow you?
2) Take a set of keys or a can filled with five pennies. Discreetly shake it behind your back. Then drop it on the floor five feet from your candidate and note his reaction.
3) Either hop or skip across the floor. Drop down as if you've tripped and shout, "Ouch!" What does the puppy do?
4) If you're still on board with your candidate, see how he tolerates being loved human style. Kneel down and pet him. If you're testing a puppy or smaller dog, lift him gently into your arms or hold him in a soft embrace. If you sense any stiffening or hear even a soft growl, let go. This dog may not be conditioned to human touch.
5) Now restrain your candidate by a leash or collar, offering treats or toys if he seems startled or uncomfortable. Does he settle down? Try leading him on leash if he is older than 12 weeks and is already accustomed to wearing a leash and collar.
Of course, dogs act more stable in a loving home, but these Fast Five will give you a pretty good assessment of each candidates take on the world. Once you've considered which one will best compliment your lifestyle, surround your new forever friend with love and stability and watch how your relationship grows!
Stay tuned for the third installment of this series on common behavior problems with rescue dogs, as well as quick solutions that will leave everyones tail wagging!
Do you have a rescue with a behavior problem, or a great story to share? Please add it to the comment section -- I will look for it there!