It’s a common myth that most dogs in shelters have been abused or severely neglected and thus come with serious behavioural issues. Some dogs have indeed suffered badly. Ask anyone who watches Animal Cops. But by far the majority of dogs in shelters are there because of human folly, not human evil.
First off, too many people fail to spay or neuter their pets and end up with litters of puppies they don’t want and can’t find homes for. Accidental (and intentional but ill-advised) breeding accounts for millions of dogs finding their way into shelters and rescue groups. And second, people often have unrealistic expectations of the time and expense it takes to properly care for a dog. They get one on impulse, because why not? He’s so cute. A few months later, Fido is surrendered to a shelter or found roaming the streets without a dog tag.
What does this mean? Adopting from a shelter doesn’t equal behavior problems. You can save a life and still go home with a dog whose only misfortune is to be one of a crowd.
For a successful adoption, remember:
Go for a lifestyle match.
Don’t pick based on doe eyes, a silky coat, or pretty coloring. Find out about a dog’s energy level and temperament, and pick one who’ll suit your lifestyle. Does barking bother you? Get the Greyhound, not the terrier mix. Run on the beach every morning? The Bassett Hound might not be able to keep up. Just as in human relationships, long-term happiness comes down to compatibility.
Have realistic expectations.
House-training. Remedial work may be needed. Potty training often falls by the wayside in shelters because dogs can’t get out on a schedule. But give your new family member a refresher course and most adult, previously house-trained dogs are back on track within two weeks.
Shyness. Contrary to popular belief, shyness is only rarely the result of abuse. The culprit is usually a lack of socialization. Mild shyness may look like aloofness; severe cases may involve submissive urination, snarling, etc. Consult a trainer about how to socialize your dog, and don’t force him to meet new people or dogs until he’s ready.
Excess energy. Typical of adolescent dogs and very active breeds. For a happy coexistence, give exercise addicts vigorous, daily workouts. Can’t do it yourself? Hire a dog walker or enroll in a doggie daycare.
Manners. Shelter dog or not, few things improve the relationship between dog and owner more than signing up for some dog training classes. All dogs jump, pull, bark, chew on random things, and drink from the toilet—unless they’re taught what to do instead.