Lessons in adopting second-hand dogs: What I wish I had known

Guest post by Kathryn Welch
Biscuit says: Here are some things you should know about bringing home my fellow adoptable mates. By the way, my buddies and I are available for adoption from where Offbeat Megan got her dogs: Los Angeles’ Downtown Dog Rescue!

In what feels like a different lifetime, but in reality was a mere two weeks ago, we adopted our black Labrador Ruaridh (pronounced “Rory” — it’s Gaelic) from a rehoming centre. Specifically, from the Dogs Trust — a UK charity that takes in dogs from the stray pound and from owners who can’t look after them anymore, and finds them new “forever homes.”

Almost without exception, the adoption centre staff were kind, practical and helpful in supporting us to find our ideal dog. Ruaridh’s an absolute dream, and we wouldn’t be without him for the world. What I found, however, was that dog owning manuals almost exclusively talked about “choosing your puppy from a litter,” and “bringing your new puppy home.” They were of little help in preparing us to visit a hectic, deafening kennel, adopting an almost-fully-grown, bouncy adolescent who’s almost as strong as me, and dealing with two years worth of ingrained good and not-so-good habits. Here’s what I wish I’d known…

1. Be realistic, and go prepared

Every dog you’ll see at a rehoming centre has a “heart-strings” story. Some have been abandoned, some neglected, some separated from a lifelong owner. Without doubt, some of them will be hugely troubled, high-maintenance, badly damaged dogs. Unless you’re super-experienced, have all the time in the world, or are Mother Teresa, many of the dogs you’ll see will simply not be suitable for your lives. You owe it to yourself to adopt the right dog for you, not just the one with the saddest eyes.

We spent a lot of time thinking about the type of dog we wanted (how old, how active, how big), which enabled us to be quite logical amongst the emotion-overload of the adoption centre. Walking down rows of kennels reciting “too old, too small, too bitey” feels like the cruellest thing in the world, but was actually invaluable in narrowing down an almost overwhelming number of dogs.

And, if you don’t see the dog for you… walk away. It will almost certainly take a number of visits before you find “the one.” We found the kennels busy and hectic at the weekends — visiting midweek might give you a wider choice and a calmer environment.

2. Don’t be shy (and don’t expect privacy)

The job of the centre staff is to find the right sort of home for each of their dogs — ultimately, to stop the dogs being placed with unsuitable owners and ending up back at the centre.

As such, prepare to be quizzed. We were asked about our home, our working habits, our plans to have children in future… things you don’t necessarily expect to be asked by a complete stranger. They also came to check out our house and garden. (Tip: Don’t lie — we were sorely tempted to exaggerate the height of our garden fence to make it sound more secure than it was — you’ll be pleased you told the truth when the inspection man gets the tape measure out).

Equally, they expect you to ask questions of them. Try to think ahead and take advantage of the opportunity; it’s pretty much the only chance you’ll get to spot potential problems before you get your new dog home. Ask how your potential new dog behaves around people, other dogs, cats, kids, when being left alone, ask whether they’re house-trained, and ask to see a copy of the vet check report. Forewarned is forearmed, and better to be aware your new dog hates small furry things before it pounces on next door’s cat.

3. Give it time

When you’ve found a potential new member of your family, try to see them away from the noisy, stressful environment of the kennels. We found that incredibly loud and bouncy dogs would calm down almost instantly when you got them out of the kennel environment. We were able to walk Ruaridh for an hour or so on our own, and to sit with him in a summerhouse room where he (and we) could relax in a more normal environment. It helped enormously in getting a sense of how he’d behave at home.

And when you get home with your new dog, give it time. Whilst we fell in love with Ruaridh on day one (and, we like to think, him with us), it took us a while to get to know each other and understand how to get the best out of our relationship. And, on that note…

4. Get help

Obedience classes, without doubt, were the key to Ruaridh’s happiness and our sanity. You may have more experience with dog ownership than we did (which was, precisely, none). But we found training classes an absolute lifesaver in socialising Ruaridh with other dogs, learning how to get the best out of each other and, perhaps most vitally, to realise that we absolutely weren’t unique. The trainer could not have been less fazed by the issues we had, and it was beyond reassuring to meet lots of other owners going through the same stages with their dogs. Try not to feel guilty if your dog barks, pulls on the lead, steals your food and ignores your commands — just seek help and you’ll more than likely find it available in abundance.

Thinking about a new best friend? Do it, and absolutely do it with a rehoming centre. Places like the Dogs Trust save thousands of beautiful dogs from being destroyed, and may well have the perfect dog for you. But it’s not your standard “buying a puppy” experience.

So fellow dog adopters, what else do you wish you’d known in advance?

Comments on Lessons in adopting second-hand dogs: What I wish I had known

  1. Love this post!

    Sometimes I find that certain “second hand dogs” can be MORE predictable- a lot of times you will already know what their issues are. For me personally, adopting a 2 year old dog who is afraid of strangers but already house trained fit my life better than a puppy would have. Most foster organizations and shelters are transparent about the behavior of dogs because they really do want to find a good match.

    Some people think that getting a puppy is a clean slate or a sure way to a well-behaved dog. ALL dogs have issues, including puppies! Numbers 1 and 4 are necessary for puppies too, or your puppy will turn into a full grown dog with issues.

    (Stepping off my soapbox now- I used to volunteer with a rescue organization and I feel very strongly about this!)

    • Agree. With a puppy, you don’t know what kind of dog you’re going to get beyond the most vague basics of that particular breed. No matter how well you plan on training and socializing a dog, you might still end up with a dog that’s terrified of children or has a habit of peeing on the walls. With an adult dog, at least you have a better sense of what you’re getting.

  2. We have two dogs and two cats, all adopted. One tip I would give, if possible, check out their profile on the Internet (if your local adoption place has a website, obviously). I think this helps with the “OMG I have to save them all” feelings you have when entering the pound, if you already have an idea who you think would be a good fit. Also an adoption group who fosters their animals to real homes have a good idea what will work. We actually never met our dogs in person prior to them being delivered to our house! We had extensive contact with our adoption group and a home check then our dogs (a year apart) were delivered to us by a representative who spent time answering additional questions. That’s really going beyond what you would expect, but yeah, Internet checking and talking to foster parents is the way to go.

    • Totally! This is what I did when I was ready for a dog. I knew I wanted a black dog, I knew I wanted a pit bull mix, and I knew I needed one that got along with cats, and wouldn’t mind living in an apartment with no yard. Then I shopped online at Petfinder.com and asked about a several dogs and ultimately got matched up with Jackson. He fit all those requirements (except for the cat thing, apparently he was better with cats at the shelter than in a home).

      Had I went in person to the shelter, I would have BROUGHT HOME ALL THE DOGS!!!

    • Completely agree! I read through dozens or more profiles prior to going to the shelter. I already knew which dogs wouldn’t work with our household (1 child, 2 cats) and which were more likely a fit. Then when my son and I went we met with the dogs out in the play area – away from the kennels and barking dogs and chaos. I asked questions, got as many answers as I could, even if some were honest as in “we’re not exactly sure how he’ll act with cats”. I appreciate honesty.

      We’re still working on introing the cats to the dog but he’s met a cat on the street (it walked right up to him) and he had no problems. He did want to play after he realized it wasn’t coming after him. We can handle that.

      You’ll want to save them all. I did and still do. I donated some money along with the adoption and we’re taking him to training classes at the shelter – I donated a little on top of the (very reasonable) fee. I’ll bring supplies and donate when I can and attend fundraising events, etc. Remember, you CAN help them all without taking them all home.

      Good luck!

  3. such a helpful guide, thanks for sharing. We re-homed a german shepard over 10 years ago, he had been to 3 previous home, had a number of names and had been mis treated. he was only 10 months old…. now we went in looking for a relativly small dog to keep my nan company whilst my grandad was at work, however having owned german shepards before we should have realised we wern’t going ot leave with anything else. And i remember all the questions, and going to visit him at the centre several times whilst things were sorted out…

    now what i will say is that whilst he was still at the centre he was quiet, very sad looking and well behaved… the first problem we encountered was that when we went to take him home he was very scared of getting into the car and tried to run adn hide and had to be lifted in…. but themoment we got him home he was happy bouncy loud and boistous…. the complete opposit of how we had seen him before… with some training and a LOT of unconditional love he has had a wonderfully happy life, loves every one of our family as much as we love him and is such a wonderful character…

    and as he gets old and we are aware of the fact he may not be with us much longer i am finding myself looking back to those early days, and i am so glad we rescued him, he is such an integral part of the family, and i wouldnt hesitate to rescue dogs in the future, and i say this as someone who has also had a dog through the puppy route, picking him up and looking after him from 8 weeks old… both dog are wonderful, and i love them both tonnes, but rescuing a dog, knowing that you have been able to show them that not all humans are bad, that live can be damn well amazing with the right family to love you… well thats just priceless

    super long reply over

  4. im glad that they do such great checks in the UK! we need more of that in the US. i volunteer at an animal shelter (best thing ever, ive only been going for like 2 weeks), and its really hard to let the animals go with people that you dont really necessarily know if they will be in a good home…

    all this info is great though! I would add also to talk a lot with the people who work there- who is their favorite dog? what traits have they observed in the dog you are considering? what are the feeding schedules? what is the food type? ect. they are the ones who spend time with them, so find out as much as you can from them.

    • There’s actually a lot of debate within the animal welfare community about whether it is helpful to have really stringent adoption policies. I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle, but it’s interesting food for thought.

      There was another article on the statistics from about a year ago, which I can’t find for the life of me, but this Slate article at least touches upon some of the debate: http://www.slate.com/articles/life/heavy_petting/2012/01/animal_rescue_want_to_adopt_a_dog_or_cat_prepare_for_an_inquisition_.html

      • Agreed. My friend’s mom was denied the chance to adopt a cat because the group doing the adoption felt the cat would be too disrupted by my friend living there part-time. I have a hard time imagining even the clingiest of cats would be scarred by one of the members of the household leaving for a week off and on. Instead of going to court to modify her custody agreement, her mom adopted from elsewhere and provided a loving home for two bonded kitties.

        • I’m surprised they even worried about that, but maybe it depends on the cat’s history?

          My mum adopted a rescue cat shortly before I left for university. She was extremely clingy, more like a dog than a cat. She didn’t even like finding a door closed because then she was worried someone might be inside the room where she couldn’t get to them and she certainly didn’t approve of anyone leaving the house (I know in theory cats don’t have facial expressions but trust me, this cat could give you the dirtiest look if she caught you putting on your coat and shoes.)

          When I came back for half term after about a month and a half at university she walked in the room, stared at me for about 30 seconds and then walked out again and refused to acknowledge me for the rest of the day. But after that she accepted I was back and was fine with me from then on, even when I was away for even longer.

          My dad travels a lot for work and she was always ok with him coming and going. When he was home she would sit on him or follow him around as if he was going to vanish at any moment, and she’d glare at him if he got a suitcase out, but otherwise she was fine.

      • Thank you for bringing this up! My husband and I had trouble adopting a dog from rescue groups because we live in an apartment without a fenced-in back yard. Never mind the fact that we train for races and run 5+ miles per day. One rescue group questioned if we were actually married because we have different last names (I kept my last name)! I felt more than a little put-off by the whole process. We finally ended up going to a city shelter and we adopted a dog on a kill-list, no questions asked. Our dog receives more exercise and outdoor time than a lot of the dogs I know who live in houses with fenced-in back yards. And as far as I can tell, he isn’t traumatized by his parents having different last names.

        • Some organizations have very strict policies, like lifetime check ins and the final say for veterinary care…even 10 years down the road. Others imagine only one perfect home for a dog (2+ acres fenced in, for example). Another organization wouldn’t let my fiance and I adopt because we were students (never mind that we are 27 and in grad school). People work hard to rescue pets, so they want to find the “ideal” home, even if it is only one type of many ideal homes.

          The good thing is that there are SO MANY shelters and foster organizations with a variety of regulations! And, obviously, there isn’t a shortage of animals that need to be rescued. Just look around, and you will eventually find an organization that will work with you. The more you shop around, the more you learn, anyway. And if you take the time to volunteer for an organization and they get to know you and understand your commitment, then you might not be faced with the same arbitrary guidelines as someone who walks in off the street.

          Most of the time, though, the adoptions counselors will give you valuable feedback about what type of dog suits you. But it is impossible for them to get to know you from a form or a 5 minute conversation. So take what they say to heart, apply it to your lifestyle, and take those guidelines to a different shelter if necessary!

          (Jenny E- it sounds like you knew what type of dog would fit your lifestyle, even if it didn’t match the shelter guidelines. It sounds like your dog has a wonderful home!)

          • I’m glad you guys brought this up – I was really surprised by Megan’s comment above because the rescue organizations around here would never have given someone with “just” an apartment a dog. A friend of mine ended up going to a breeder for just this reason (even though she is definitely committed to animal welfare).

          • Definitely – everything worked out really well in the end! The process of trying to go through rescue organizations was just a bit more frustrating than I had expected it to be.

          • @Enigma, yeah I got lucky with Downtown Dog Rescue in LA — they do the necessary background work (filling out applications, home visits, etc), and also realize that a good home, even if it doesn’t have a yard or much space, and family, even if the adoptee is single or not married to their partner, is better than NO home and NO family.

            I also think that maybe living in a big city like LA means that if many shelters tried to exclude apartment dwellers they’d NEVER get rid of dogs.

  5. Thanks everyone! Katie, really good idea about chatting to the centre staff, especially to get to know the dogs who’ve been there a while. Our centre is really good at helping you to see which dogs are stressed out in kennels but would be lovely in a real home, and equally which dogs need someone with lots of expertise to help them settle down.

  6. I’ve adopted three adult (or nearly adult) dogs from shelters and one thing that I think is important to remember is that if the dog has been in a shelter environment for a while, don’t necessarily think that their personality at the shelter or at your home for the first week or two is their real personality. Many of the dogs at shelters are basically shell shocked from the stress. All three of our dogs spent the first weeks at home being pretty chill, just hanging out and being friendly, but not doing much else. Once they realized they were safe and things had calmed down, they all underwent a personality shift, usually toward the more rambunctious, spirited side. They were still friendly and sweet, but man did they need some training and lots more running than I had imagined when I first met them. Of course, by the third dog, I had realized this and expected it, which is a good thing since she was not only super spirited, but also slightly obsessive compulsive about a number of things. At least I was prepared for the changes though and ready to step in with training right away.

    • EXACTLY. I really dont think walking by a cage saying too old, too young, too bitey is fair. I worked in a shelter for three years and I can absolutely tell you how a dog acts in a cage environment surrounded by the chaos is not a good indicator of how it will be in a home.

      A good shelter will let you take the dog out into a quiet area to see how they do. Still not a great indicator, but better.

      People MUST understand that many of these dogs find themselves abandoned at shelters through no fault of their own. They have no idea how to act being in a strange confined and scary environment.

      Of course, I come from the school of thought that just like you never know what kind of personality your child will have, it also takes time for your pets to develop as well. So give it time and dont give up…

      • You’re so right Dawn – we found it so helpful to take Ruaridh out somewhere quiet – a much better reflection of his personality. The kennels were such a difficult place to get an accurate picture of a dog’s personality. Complicated, in the case of our kennels, by the very fast turnover of dogs – many were ‘booked’ for adoption within a day of arriving, which definitely put the pressure on to make a fast decision.

        You’re right, too, that ‘too old, too young, too bitey’ is an enormous generalisation and not particularly fair to the dogs (especially the ‘not pretty but lovely’ ones who sadly take ages to find an owner). I suppose we had (and most people have) some criteria in our head as to the type of dog we wanted. Many of those criteria were ‘nice to haves’, so negotiable, but some were fairly essential. In our case, we wanted a young-ish, active dog who could come running with us for a good few years to come, so the ‘too old’ rule -for example – helped us not to get too attached to the ancient but pretty spaniel that was making big eyes at us, but who wouldn’t have been right for the sort of life we want to live with our dog.

        I suppose, for us, those generalisations / guidelines on what we were looking for were a (not-ideal and sometimes-probably-unfair) way of making an otherwise overwhelming decision – especially based on the pretty limited insight you can get into a dog’s real personality. The staff were also a huge help in helping us see beyond the dog’s ‘kennel face’.

        Massive respect for your work in the shelter… It must be really hard to see lovely dogs that struggle in the kennel environment get passed over day after day.

      • You can also ask if the dog has been walked already that day- obviously a dog who hasn’t had the chance to go outside for the day yet will appear to have higher energy than one who has already been on a walk.
        (Some shelters have volunteers come take the dogs for a walk outside multiple times a day.)

    • So very very true. Dogs need at least a month to show their true colors. Some start off hyper as anything as they go through adjustment and then turn out to be calmer than the quiet dog at the shelter that finally comes out of their shell like a pistol.

    • Haha – my dog Max was quiet and gave us huge brown sad eyes at the pound. We thought he was a young adult cattle dog as he was the same size as an older cattle dog. Once he was home and on his feet he proved incredibly intelligent, incredibly noisy and incredibly badly behaved! And he turned out to be three months old, a labrador mix, and grew to twice his original size.

    • Agreed. The day I adopted our beagle-mix (6 years ago, now), he spent my entire visit howling and whining at every other dog in the foster group. His first few weeks, he was hyper, loud, and had really bad separation anxiety. I expected him to stay that way.

      You wouldn’t recognize him, now. He’s the laziest, calmest, quietest dog, who wants nothing more than to be left alone, except when strangers come over.

  7. I think most shelters have a volunteer dog walkers – this could be a good time to spend time with the dog too.

    They also have volunteers come in to pet or play with the cats, so if you are looking to adopt a cat – volunteering at the shelter can help you find one that suits you too.

    I totally agree that being picky about the dog you adopt is better than bringing the saddest one home and finding out are completely over whelmed and have to take the poor thing back. Sometimes the dogs with specific breed rescues (ie boston terrier rescues, corgi rescues) have more information on the dog since they ask the owners that are surrendering the dogs what kind of living condition they have been living in, why the dog is being given up, and if they have any behavior issues. Then they match up applicants with dogs that they feel would be a good fit. I don’t think many shelters in the US do that.

    • There are all types of shelters and rescue networks in the US- some have adoption counselors, some don’t. A lot of the better funded ones have a great counseling and volunteer system, and they will often pull as many dogs and cats from the city pound as possible.

  8. I can’t even imagine going out and picking a dog, or having the opportunity to choose one who would actually fit my life.

    The last four dogs I’ve had: 1 was rescued from the back of a truck, 1 was rescued from the side of a country road and 2 (sisters) showed up on the doorstep.

    They show up and we keep them because otherwise they’d get run over or go after chickens and get shot. Ah, country life.

  9. My mum adopted 2 dogs, both from kennels that were retiring breeding dogs. If you aren’t sure about going to a shelter, this is another option. Be warned, these dogs may not be used to being pets. The first dog my mum brought home is incredibly sweet and loving but had spent most of her life in an outdoor kennel. It took her a while to adjust and she still dislikes being held or snuggling on the couch and is not quite sure how to play. These dogs will be older but most definitely in need of love!

    We have 2 rescue cats and I have to second that you never know what the pet will be like when they actually come home so just be patient with them as they come with their own quirks. One of our kitties clearly has abandonment issues. He’s a total sweety but we’ve learned he needs to be checked on at least once every 24 hours and fed regularly so when we are away we ensure someone will come pet him and check his food dish. The other kitty was the sweetest and cuddliest thing the first time I met her. Coming home, on the other hand, resulted in hissing, spitting, clawing and biting. She’s calmed down but it took a lot of love.

    We’ve also got one rescue ferret. She will never be a good pet for anyone other than us and after 2 years we are still working on her. We knew she had serious issues when we agreed to take her on, though.

    I will say to do your research. If you can identify the breed of dog, find out if they have particular quirks. If you’ve never had a dog before, do a lot of research, especially in terms of training. Look up tricks for training older animals because your pet will already have developed some habits and you need to be prepared for trying a variety of things. If you have any thought that your pet may have been abused, be prepared for issues around feeding, abandonment, and discipline. We love all our crazy pets but we know they require special treatment.

  10. First, two book recommendations:

    Do-Over Dogs by Pat Miller
    Petfinder.com The Adopted Dog Bible

    Both fantastic. The second one deals more with before and after you bring the dog home, the first one (if I recall) deals more with the after.

    Also… know that every shelter is different and the experience here is more typical of a good, well run rescue org. Rescues will have more information about the dogs’ personalities and behavior, better health records, etc. A lot of times there will be dogs living in foster homes and you’ll have to arrange to meet them, or you’ll meet them at adoption events.

    Then there’s places like the tiny cement box of a po-dunk county shelter where we got our dogs. I’d driven out there to adopt just one of them ($40 adoption fee including a poorly-done neutering that had to basically be redone because it wasn’t stitched shut correctly, a free leash and collar, and a bag of food. Oh, and they’d be wormed with some sort of horse dewormer.) But when we got there, there was only one other dog… so the dog warden offered her to us for free because “they were friends and we don’t know if she’s spayed.” Hrrmm. We ended up taking her because I was worried if we didn’t, they’d euthanize her just so they didn’t have to bother keeping the shelter running. I don’t think any of it was malicious- the dog warden was a volunteer and was the only one running the place, the vet who did the neutering did it for free, the whole operation was clearly painfully underfunded… but “underfunded” is usually bad news for the dogs.

    We got super lucky- both dogs are amazing, and both were mostly house trained and don’t have many issues (besides some bad manners and barking at squirrels.) But you definitely take a bigger risk at places like that. On the other hand I know beyond a shadow of doubt that we saved their lives and hopefully freed up enough funds for whatever poor stray gets picked up in that county next.

    • Do-over Dogs by Pat Miller is the BEST book! I can’t recommend it enough. I bought two copies so I would always have one to reference and one to lend out.

      It explains different types of shelters, how dogs behave in shelters, realistic ways to train your dog to live in your house with you, etc. etc. etc. all mixed in with funny little anecdotes about her own dogs through the years. LOVE THIS BOOK!

      It is great for rescue dogs but also dogs that you’ve raised from a puppy that developed issues or if you just need to renegotiate the house rules for any dog. I’ve read about 9 different dog behavior books since getting our rescue mutt, and this is the most comprehensive, applicable, and entertaining one of the bunch.

  11. Thank you for the awesome post!

    One of my two cats were adopted (the other one was rescued off the street), and we’re looking to adopt a dog in the near future. While I was growing up, my family has always rescued dogs from the shelter. Its a rewarding and awesome experience.

    I would advise for the newbie to pay attention to the animals temperament. Put your hand in the food bowl to see how the animal reacts. If it starts getting on the attack mode over food, then another animal may be best. Also, if you plan on having kiddos in the future, try tugging a little on the ears and tail of the dog (namely because this is what toddlers usually do, unintentionally). If it snaps at you, then it might be best to get a different and more calmer dog.

    Not saying that dogs over protected about food and ear tugging are bad. Just that newbies that might have kids in the future, might want an easier, calmer dog to start out with. Less training and stress.

    • Well… maybe don’t start with your hand full-on in the food bowl. If you like your hand, anyway 😉 (Shelters often use stuffed gloves attached to sticks and poke the food with that. But if they’re food aggressive they’ll start growling before you ever get near the bowl anyway- just don’t push it, haha.)

  12. When I got my (lightly) used dog I had done a lot of research into breeds and was on breeders lists for purebred puppies. While I loved the idea of a rescue I was scared that I didn’t have the heart or the energy to put into a potentially damaged dog. Plus I liked the idea of having a better understanding of what I was getting. . . Then one day my Dad and I were out for lunch and decided (“cause we’re so close anyways”) to go check out the SPCA. . . We looked at one dog. . . a supposedly 1.5/yr old, 50lbs “Shepherd/Sheltie” mix. I fell in love!!!! With assurances from the workers that he wouldn’t get much larger and would probably be the size of a Labrador we paid the fee and waited out the week waiting period (I still visited every day, much to the surprise and delight of the staff) and brought him home.

    What I wish that I had known then was Don’t necessarily trust what the people at the adoption center tell you about mixed breeds. Their guess is often just that, a guess. Harley (nicknamed “Moose Dog”) turned out to be an 8mnths old, Shepherd/ ST. BERNARD who is now 100lbs and can rest his head on my kitchen table. He’s been part of the family for 9years and I don’t regret a day of it. But for someone who size is a deal breaker. . . it could have meant him getting re-homed again.

    • Yup, we got our dog a year ago from the shelter — she was 8 weeks old, they guessed, but had been found alone on the streets, so the shelter didn’t know anything about her. They guessed she was a small husky mix. She had small paws, so they guessed she would be 35 pounds or so, fully grown. Even the vet estimated 40 pounds at her first appointment, so it wasn’t just the shelter trying to get her adopted.

      She still has dainty paws for a 75-pound lab/shepherd mix (we don’t really see the husky resemblance anymore). It’s like Clifford in our little townhouse.

      It has required some serious adjustment on our part, but it has been doable for us (and ultimately, very worth it).

      If full-grown size is of paramount importance to you, I suggest rescuing an older, fully grown dog. No regrets here, but there was a definite learning curve for me. 🙂

    • We had a similar situation, we were looking for a large breed dog, and were told that our rescue was a german shepherd/mastiff mix. Lo and behold, he is only 45 lbs at his adult size and we love him to death even with all of his special issues. I much prefer large breed dogs, but I don’t believe in giving up animals without a VERY good excuse. He barks at other dogs and people on walks, and he’s been in and out of training for the past year. He’s slowly improving on being less of a psycho on walks/runs. We are looking to foster here in the next couple of months and will be working with a mastiff rescue.

  13. This post makes me so happy!

    I have two greyhounds, both of whom are retired racers. I adopted them both through the same group- Greyhounds Only in Chicago. There are tons of greyhound groups out there, but GO will always have a warm place in my heart.

    There’s a lot to love about adopting retired racers: they’re typically retired between 3 and 5, meaning that they’re firmly out of the puppy phase (but still have plenty of years of love left!) They’re already crate trained, having spent around 20 hours a day in their crates. They tend to be low energy and quiet as well… but that one varies from dog to dog. One of the nice things, though, is that they haven’t had any kind of bad training. Your home is the first one they’ll ever be in (unless they’ve been fostered first), and they are incredibly fast learners.

    I loved rescuing through a breed-specific group, though. Every breed has their own peculiarities, so it’s been really nice to learn about theirs through their group. Plus, their group has plenty of events for the greys: obedience classes, several meet and greets, and a couple of play dates every month.

    • I haven’t had a greyhound myself, but I often recommend the breed to people who want a quiet, clean, gentle dog that will be able to be crated while they are at work. In some ways, these seem like the perfect dog for so many working families. Unfortunately, they don’t have a classic dog “look” so people can be turned off from them because of that.

    • Oh, my god, yes, retired racers are the best. I eagerly await the day I have enough free time to allow me to have one myself instead of just cooing over my friends’.

      (You bring them home and you can practically WATCH the thought bubbles: “I have PEOPLE! And a COUCH!” I love them so much.)

  14. Our Lab/Corgi mix was 5 years old when we got him, and had a LOT of bad habits. He was overweight and overprotective of his food, and got nervous and grumpy around other dogs and kids. A friend of mine is a dog trainer, so she came over once a week for a few weeks and showed us how to get him under control. We lucked out since he just needed a little bit of polishing (and some low-fat food, haha!) and since then, he’s getting better by the day.

    My advice to those getting adult “second-hand” dogs is patience, patience, patience! When we first got Hector he was afraid of the cat, hated other dogs, and preferred hiding in his bed to meeting other people. We spent a lot of time introducing him to new situations and surrounding him with people, which made a huge difference. He’s still not too sure what to think about the cat, though.

  15. Just wanted to weigh in and say good on all of you getting your dogs from shelters. Back yard breeding and puppy-factories are such a huge problem, there are far too many dogs without homes to be encouraging those things.

    Adopted is my favourite breed.

  16. just was excited and had to say that today is my 3rd anniversary of adopting my dog Gus! 3 years of happiness!

    all is fantastic advice! especially patience and just working with them.

  17. We adopted our Pomeranian-Sheltie Mix -Bear – in July after looking around for a good 6 months. We saw him on the Shelter’s website before going to see him, which helped and spoke to the Shelter about any issues he might have. So far he has been fantastic, despite having 2 previous owners at 1 year old! But does still have some remaining attachment issues, which are improving everyday, and he is the friendliest dog I have ever met. We are still working on the barking and him getting over excited with other dogs in the park, but we knew from the start that he would be a work in progress.

    My Childhood dog Jessie the mutt was also adopted from Manchester Dogs Home (UK) and she was the softest, most laid back and chill dog ever, despite having been pretty much neglected for the first year of her life, so it depends on the dogs personality completely. We are looking into adopting a friend for Bear in the next year or so, once we have his other issues resolved, and I know it will take just as much time and effort again, but I cannot wait.

  18. My partner and I got a dog (just over a year old, was found as a stray) from a shelter about two months ago. We went through a LOT trying to find a dog that would be a good fit! But we finally found him, and we love him. 🙂 All your tips are great- it’s what we got from our experience, too!

  19. if you find the right shelter, you don’t have to give up your privacy to get a good dog to adopt. my local shelter didn’t do any more than ask a few basic questions on a questionnaire. (fence? kids? other pets?) it’s why we used them. my boyfriend refused to even look at dogs at rescues that said they had to inspect our house. this is also my first dog. he’s had many but i’m a newbie.

  20. my partner and I adopted our lurcher when she was 6 and she’s been an utter sweetie from day 1. We visited a lot of dog shelters but tried v hard to be super logical about finding a dog that was a good match to us. We walk but don’t walk miles and miles every day, so we’d be a massive disappointment to a high energy dog! Thinking about how well we could meet the dogs’ needs really helped.

    We expected her to take time to get used to us, she settled in really quickly. But we only started to see her funny little character in full after 4 or so months. It was so lovely!

  21. THis might sound silly or expensive but if you’re adopting specifically from a no-kill shelter its worth the money to get your vet to check the animal before you officially adopt. Our pup who we were told had a healing broken hip actually had a broken pelvis that the shelter had missed and will always be a special needs pup and likely need her leg amputated at some point due to nerve damage. We happen to have a vet as a mum so we were okay to follow our hearts but I always think about what might have been. She’s adorable and hides her pain well. The “kill: shelter was putting her down for a reason and the no-kill shelter didn’t give us the correct information and had we not already been prepared it could have cost my love her life. Definitely worth the extra $100 to make sure you have a pet you can afford down the road.

  22. Yes to all of that! I’ve been volunteering with Misty Creek Dog Rescue (Canada), a no-kill rescue for 6 years now as an adoption and foster coordinator (I’m the one that visits with my tape measure and my hudini dog to make sure your yard is secure!). We are total porponents of multiple meets about a dog- we come to you the first time to ask some questions and get a feel for your life style and then we work with our foster homes to figure out if someone will be the right fit for the dog. For example we have a wolf cross right now that gets several inquiries a week (cause OMG wolf!) but most people just don’t have the right lifestyle for him. It’s better for us to do our leg work than to have him returned later.

    Somehting that wasn’t in the article, but is always worth asking if you are adopting from a rescue, is whether or not you can do a trial. We often allow some of our more high maintenance dogs to visit with a potential family for a few days before an adoption to make sure that everyone is ready to commit to the dog and their issues. Three days is normal so that the dogs has a chance to get over the stress of leaving the foster home.

    I do have an entire rant on how some rescues actually support the pet stores with restrictive policies- some make it too hard to adopt and so people just say never mind and buy the cute puppy in the window. It’s a delicate balance between finding the right forever home and turning people away without hearing their story. The people behind dog rescue are just as important as the dogs.

  23. We have a wonderful 8-year-old “refurbished” puppy that we brought home a few months ago, to go with our 2 and a half year old fellow rescue. Sheldon, our basset/sheltie mix, loves his new older sister, Penny, a full basset. I am so grateful to have the chance to adopt, but I wish people would prepare you for all the questions you will get when you’re looking!

    One thing I wish we knew better was her history, but she ended up fitting our house fairly well. I believe she just wanted a part of the couch to call her own. Adopting is an awesome way to go if you have the patience for a “puppy” with a past.

  24. The big thing that I would like to contribute is what to do when adding to your furry family! We have done this in one form or another a couple of times. First, we did the “blended family” thing. He came into the relationship with a dog and I a cat. When we moved in together it was paramount that our pets learn to coexist as well. We made sure that the cat had a place to go to get away from the dog (a couple of tall cat posts), a location where it’s food was not going to be pilfered (dish up on the cat post, bag of food in a safe place), and little to no availability of “kitty roca” (AKA cat poo, purchased an automatic litter box). We also left a leash on the dog when we were home so that if any inappropriate interaction occurred we could separate them easily and used a baby gate to give them their own space when we were not home because his dog had not been in a dog crate for quite some time. We made sure not to scold either of them when they reacted less than ideally toward each other and gave them treats right next to one another to encourage proximity as a positive. Their tolerance turned into friendship quickly and pet harmony was achieved! Then, we went temporarily insane and brought home another dog…she was untrained, unaltered, and had been abused by her former owners room mates. We decided to immediately start crate training for many reasons, but two of the biggest ones were to potty train her and to make sure that she didn’t terrorize the other pets. The first couple of weeks were hard–we got reports from our (very understanding and forgiving) neighbors that she cried for about an hour after we would leave for work and she would potty in the house right after being taken outside and going potty. The biggest challenge by for, however, was that while our existing dog thought it was so fun to have someone to play with at first, he started to look at us and seem to ask “When’s she leaving?”. We made sure to play with and walk them both separately and together and let them suss out their hierarchy without too much intervention, even though he wanted to assert his dog as the alpha. I had to remind him that neither of the dogs were alpha, we were and that really helped with his view on their relationship. We were very lucky to not have to deal with food aggression issues! When we took her to the vet to get fixed we knew that they had become inseparable because he paced for hours when we got back from dropping her off at the vet. She and that cat were introduced the same as the cat and existing dog had been and they are actually VERY good friends and will actually eat and sleep together!

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