Author’s Note: I had originally written what is now this post and the one to come after as one long post, but I have so much information and so much to say about temperament (next post), that I decided to save temperament for a separate segment. I have lots of wonderful insights to share from Panzer’s foster family as well, which I didn’t want to short change by trying to cut the temperament section, so that will come at a later date. For now, happy reading!
You’ve done your research and you’ve decided on either a local shelter (or several possibilities) or a breed specific rescue or other rescue (or several possibilities). Now, you’re looking for the “perfect fit” for your family.
Be sure about one thing, there is no such thing as a “perfect” dog, just like there is no such thing as a “perfect” person. Your relationship with your dog is just that, a relationship, and like all good relationships, it takes time, patience, love, communication, commitment and maybe a little training (well, a lot of training in the case of dogs and men, but no one tell Joe I said that).
Choosing the right rescue dog is just as important, if not more important, than choosing the right pup from a good breeder, except you have more options. Most dogs from breeders are going to be 8-16 weeks old. With rescues, you have the option of picking a dog anywhere from 8 weeks to 18 years old. When deciding what dog is the right age for you, here are some factors you may not have considered:
- Young to older dogs (over 6 months old) are easier to housebreak and may already be housebroken. They also already have their permanent teeth, so you get to skip over the annoying puppy teething and eating your favorite pair of leather boots phase.
- Adult dogs (what I would call 18 months and older) are also a tad easier to train and don’t require naps or mental breaks as often as puppies.
- It’s not true that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. While that might be how the saying goes, it’s simply not the case. Any dog that is still breathing can learn.
- Mature dogs (what I would deem at least 3 years old) have a tendency to be calmer and may require a less active lifestyle. Big emphasis on the “may” part.
- Just because it’s a puppy doesn’t always mean it doesn’t have baggage. There are 10 year old dogs in rescues whose owners died who have a whole repertoire of tricks, manners and socialization and 8 week old pups who have been abandoned, neglected, abused and separated from mother and litter too soon that may have a whole suitcase full of behavioral problems waiting to pop up when you least expect them. Age is not the determining factor in behavior or temperament.
Consider what age dog you’d like and why and always be open to amending that. We wanted a dog young enough that he still had the energy to keep up with Shelby but old enough that we didn’t have to expend a lot of time housebreaking, so we looked for a dog between 1-5 years old. Panzer was right in there at about 2 or so. What we didn’t think about, but now wonder about is that Panzer and Shelby are so close in age there is a greater possibility that they will pass away at the same time, which will, of course, be heartbreaking.
If you’re going with a breed specific rescue, you already have some idea on how active your future forever friend is going to be. A GSD is going to be more active than a bulldog, for example, but the activity level is always going to vary dog to dog. Smokey was a very relaxed, mellow, low energy GSD (I used to joke he was the laziest herding dog on earth). Panzer is crazy high energy. When we adopted Smokey, we wanted a less active dog, because he was our first dog, but when we adopted Panzer, I had become more involved in training and dog sports and wanted a more active dog who could keep up.
Don’t adopt a dog who has too much energy if you don’t have the time or the resources to properly channel it. Dogs with too much energy will tend to develop behavioral problems and are apt to eat your home. If it’s a breed you’re looking at, learn as much about the breed as you can. If it’s a mix or a hodgepodge, ask questions about the dog’s energy level and how much exercise he/she needs. The rescue, if you’ve done your homework and chosen a good one, will be glad you asked.
Sex is especially important if there are other dogs in your home. Female dogs, for example, can sometimes fight, especially if one or all of them are unaltered. Male dogs are the same, although I personally think there are more problems between females than males and the problems carry over even past alteration, but that’s just an observation from friends, family and trainers. Obviously, if you have any unaltered dogs in your home you will want to take sex into consideration. For health reasons, Shelby is unaltered. Smokey was neutered later in life, at about 2 when he was rescued and was used as a stud multiple times. Starting when Shelby was around 10 months old, Smokey was relentless about mounting her, and we had to be proactive about training him and separating them if needed. Even though we knew we would not get any oops pups, the mounting raised Smokey’s arousal (no pun intended), and he could become frustrated and reactive more easily. There are also health risks associated with actual penetration (sorry, but it’s true). Panzer, on the other hand, has been through a full blown heat with Shelby and has never so much as blinked an eye in her direction (and trust me, she tried to…ahem – offer herself). Okay, enough of the birds and the bees! Long story short, I prefer multi-sex households with altered dogs, they seem to be the most harmonious to me. Do your research about issues you could encounter and see what you’re willing to deal with.
There are all kinds of healthy dogs in rescues, but unfortunately health can never be a guarantee. We thought we would have Smokey for at least 8-10 years. Sadly, that was not to be. Honestly though, if I’d known from the start that we would only have him a couple years, the only thing I’d change is to feed him more steak.
If you’re in a position to adopt a dog with a special needs, that’s absolutely wonderful. Panzer is a special needs dog, in some respects. Because of whatever deplorable situation he was raised in, he has pretty severe joint problems, and he can’t handle extended bouts of sprinting. When he and Shelby play in the backyard, I have to call it at about 30 minutes. She is in peak shape for herding and could pretty much run from morning until night. He has medical problems, but he will try to keep chasing her all day if I let him continue. I learned my lesson the first snow we had when I let them keep going and going because they were having a blast. I was laughing while I watched them run around and around a pine tree out back, Panzer never quite able to catch Shelby. Then I came in closer to get a good shot of them, and I heard Panzer whining quietly with every stride. I realized he was in pain, beginning to get frustrated and quickly brought the both of them in. I do have to put more effort into keeping Panzer mentally stimulated because he’s not physically capable of being completely worn out with exercise alone. It’s worth it though, and he’s getting stronger every day.
At a training seminar I was at recently, there was a beautifully well behaved rescue. With all the dogs, the people, the clicks, the treats, the sights, the sounds, she sat there like she wasn’t fazed a bit. People were walking by her, talking loudly, clapping their hands, and she just stared at her owner. When people commented on how well-mannered the dog was the owner told us that the dog was deaf, and that she guessed her dog didn’t have to work so hard to overcome distractions she couldn’t hear! Lucky dog to have found such a wonderful owner to come and save her!
The point is this, all of our dogs are going to need some help at some point in their lives. They’re going to need stitches and medicine, they’re going to get infections and break toenails. They’re going to rip off dew claws and break teeth. They’re going to get old and possibly get cancer or arthritis or some kind of horrible immune mediated disease. Some of them may need carts or amputations, some of them may need a ramp to get into the bed. They’re going to need special diets and supplements. So are we. It’s life, it’s growing up and getting old. Some dogs are going to need it unexpectedly, like Dusty, like Smokey. Some dogs come with a certificate of knowing, like Panzer. Either way, the expenses, both medical and mental, are going to come. You should be prepared to take them on regardless of whether you’re getting an 8 week old puppy from a breeder or a 10 year old dog from a rescue. It’s great to want a healthy dog, but it’s even better to love a sick one, and you can find them both at any rescue.