How to Transform your Rescue Dog


How to Rescue a Dog from a Shelter or Pound

All the dog rescue centers, shelters and pounds are full of excellent, loving, but often misunderstood dogs. This does not mean that they are all well behaved and socialized. Allthough some dogs might end up in shelters or pounds because of their behavioral issues, in most cases the dogs are perfectly fine pets. When you ask people why they prefer getting a puppy instead of adopting a dog, the number one reason is that they don’t want to adopt somebody elses problem or mistake.

But in most cases, the reason why the dogs end up in rescues and shelters is not because of the dog.  It’s actually because of the previous owner(s). Some of the most common reasons for putting a dog up for adoption are: moving to a new place which doesn’t allow dogs, can’t take care of the dog any longer due to financial issues, and broken relationships. So in most cases, it is not the dogs fault they ended up in a shelter, rescue or pound.

Getting a dog should be a happy and joyful event.  No one wants to start off with solving problems.  But there are also challenges with getting a new puppy.  Here are some examples:  a puppy is not housebroken; they might chew on your furniture and valuables; they are untrained and still has to learn everything (basic commands like sit and stay, walking on the leash, etc.).  Alternatively, most dogs in shelters come from a home and are already housebroken and know basic commands.  What they really need is more guidance than training.

The most common reasons for a dog to develop behavioral problems is a lack of exercise or a lack of leadership. The good news is, since dogs live in the moment, it is absolutely possible to take an older dog and start over as if it is the first day of the rest of its life. If you do it right, you will see a totally different dog.

Baggy Bulldogs

Important Decisions

In order to make your dog adoption a more informed decision and less of an emotional one, its important to make a list of important requirements before taking the trip to the shelter. One of the first, and most important things you should do when you are considering adopting a dog is to find the right breed of dog for yourself. This part is often skipped by well intended but unknowing dog owners. Not every dog and not every breed is a right match for your family.

Make a list of characteristics you would like your dog to have. Some things you might take in consideration; do you want a small or larger dog breed, a short or long coated dog, is it a child friendly and social breed, is it fit as a guard dog, how much daily exercise do they need, and so on . Choose a couple of breeds that you like and study their characters and their breed specific problems. This way, when you get to the pound, or shelter, you have a general idea of what a wide variety of breeds are like. You also need to decide if you want a male or female dog. This is especially important when you already have a dog at home and adding another one to the family. There are two important things you need to check when deciding a dog breed for your family. You should look for (1) the dog’s energy level, and (2) the dog’s level of dominancy. By studying a wide variety of breeds before you get to the pound or shelter, you should be able to make a more educated guess as to what type of dog will work for you, even with the mixed breeds. When you have a general idea of what types of dogs will work for you and everyone in the house is in agreement about adopting a dog, it is time to start looking for your new family member.

Baggy Bulldogs

Photo by Mario Estrada

Do not think that you need to come home with a dog on the first day. If you choose poorly and bring home a dog that does not match your family, you may hurt the dog you are trying to save more than you are helping it. Dogs that are repeatedly returned to the pound have a higher rate of being killed! Take your time and choose wisely.

SizeLarge, medium, or small dog? Keep in mind size does not necessarily designate space required or energy level.
BreedPurebred? Mix? If a purebred is desired, make sure ALL breed traits are researched
Male or FemaleThink about spay or neutering your dog and if you have a preference for either a male or female dog.
When you already have a dog this choice is more important. With two dogs of the same sex the chance there will be dominance issues will be a little bigger. This is not a reason to not do take in a dog of the same sex but you will have to consider this when deciding this. In these cases always have a meet up with your dog and the dog that you want to adopt. Some shelters give you the opportunity to take a dog home for a few days so you can evaluate how the dogs will get along.
Activity LevelA calm and maybe older dog, or a hig level energy dog to go hiking with?
AgePuppy, adult or senior dog? Most dogs find their way to shelters between the ages of 6 months and 1 year of age, their adolescence. At this time the dog will try to test the owners and its bounderies. they will misbehave more during that time period. Adult dogs can also come to you with excess baggage of behavior problems from their previous life, but usually they can be worked through. Seniors can sometimes have age related health or behavior problems, but can be a wonderful laid back companion.
CoatLong, short, one that will require grooming/shaving?

Going to the Pound/Shelter

When looking for your dog, remember, most of these animals were someone’s pet once and now are in a closed environment, with almost no human contact. There are also dogs that were strays and never knew a loving home, a gentle touch or human. So a dog your passing by that is shiffering in the back of the cage might be that cuddly loyal dog you always wanted! Give a dog the chance to show its real character!

A dog showing fear or aggression in the cage between the barking dogs and people passing by might react totally different when taken out for a walk or in another room. I suggest to sit in front of the cage for awhile, facing sideways, not interacting with the dog, just to evaluate the dog and also to give the dog a chance to smell you and to let him evaluate you as well. You will find out that when you sit down with most fearful or aggressive dogs and you ignore and evaluate the behavior,  they will be starting to do the same, evaluating you. By doing this, they are calming down and there is room for interaction.

Even though you made the list and are pretty confident that you know what you are looking for, take the list with you when you go! You might go there with the intention of a small or medium sized calm dog and come home with a large active dog just beacuse he had that cute spot on his eye and he wiggled his butt so cute. Don’t let your emotions take over! Make the right decision for you, your family and the dog.

Give a Dog a Real Chance! See what a little time, patience and trust can do..

Questions to Ask

When at the shelter ask the people who work there for information about the dogs you like. Some questions you might ask;

  • What is the background of the dog (was it a stray or did the former owner gave the dog up, if so what was the reason?)
  • What can they tell you aout the interaction with other dogs
  • Was the dog ever aggresive towards any of the employees
  • Did the behavior of the dog change since it arrived at the shelter and if so, is it in a positive or negative way?
  • Tell the employees what you are looking for in a dog and tell them which dogs you are considering for adoption
  • Try to ask more than one employee, everybody has his or hers own insights and by asking some more this might fill in some blanks/doubts you might still have
  • Most pounds and shelters do a general test for temperament so be sure to ask if the dog did a test, and if so, what kind of tests and how did he do?

Try to get some alone time with the dog your want to adopt. Most shelters and rescues will let you walk them in a nearby field, or they will have a playroom where you can spend some quality time with your dog in calmer environment. Let the whole family meet the dog, one by one.  When you have made your decision, bring the dog back and get the list you brought along. It is important to review all the requirements you previously wrote down and evaluate how your dog scored. If your dog does not fit most of the items you listed as important, you are making an emotional decision. Remember, when you base your choice on looks (he’s so fluffy, he looked like the dog my parents had, or those funny big ears) or on the moment (he licked my face, that funny walk or he was so playful) you might end up hurting the dog instead of helping it. So make a wise decision, be prepared and take your time.

Dog Adoption Rescue Myths and Facts

Save a Life and Adopt!
Don’t close your eyes or turn your head just learn, share and change!
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Bringing Your Dog Home

Make sure you made all the necessary home preparation first:

  • the dog has a place of its own ( a pillow, a crate/bench)
  • you have a collar and leash
  • you have dog food and bowls for water and food
  • you checked for dangers in and around the house (poiseness plants, escape proof home/garden)

It is now time to adopt your dog and bring it Home. A very important point to remember when adopting a rescue dog is not to feel sorry for the dog, not while you are standing there in the shelter and not after you bring the dog home. Dogs interpret the emotion of pity as weakness. When a dog is in need, you help him by getting over it and the only way to do that is to not feel sorry for the animal and show leadership. Do not go straight home with your new family member. You need to walk your dog before you bring it home to burn off some of that energy and establish yourself as the leader of the pack in your dog’s new life before you get to your house. If you want to know how to properly walk a dog on leash read this blog: Leash Walking.

After your long walk, do not walk into the house, unsnap the lead and allow the dog to investigate your home. If you unsnap the lead and allow the dog to investigate your home, the dog will instinctually run from room to room and claim each room as his own. Remember that there is a chance the dog was in the shelter because he believed he was leader over his prior family. In order for you to more easily correct his way of thinking, from day one you have to start with new rules and bounderies for his new life. In the dog world, the leader of the pack not only goes first, but he owns everything. The leader then allows the rest of his pack to use its things when the leader wishes, and tells them when to eat and where to sleep and where not to go. The rest of the subordinates in the pack happily follow the leaders wishes. Some humans may think this sounds harsh and mean, however we are not dealing with humans, we are dealing with animals, (dogs) and must think like them.

Dogs that are not given clear structure and rules are not secure, happy dogs. In order for a dog to be secure it must clearly know who is running the show. It is either going to be you or him. Chances are that in your dog’s past life it was him; so now it is time for it to be you. If you clearly communicate this to your dog he will be secure and happy in his new life. When a dog shows signs of dominance, the dog should receive no affection until you are able to make him realize he is not the leader and he accepts it by acting calm and submissively. The more submissive and stable-minded the dog gets, the more love you can give him. Dogs should not get any affection until the dominance is under control. Your affection will reinforce whatever mindframe the dog is in.

Tips for Transforming your Rescue Dog

  • One of the most important things to do with your new dog is to enroll in an obedience class. This class is important for many reasons: establishing a working relationship between owner and dog, socializing the dog to other people and other dogs, it helps to reinforce basic training (even if the dog seems to know the basics)
  • No matter how old the dog is when you adopt him, he should always be treated like a puppy and not trusted with anything until he earns it. Make sure your dog has a safe area, his own spot where he can sleep and relax. Make sure all the family members will respect his space and will not bother the dog when sleeping.
  • Do not make excuses for your new dog!  As an example, you may observe he is shy around men or strangers and instantly think the dog was abused before you got him. He may have had a scary experience, but generally, if you don’t know for a fact he was, he was probably just not socialized. To use the excuse, “Oh, be careful with him, he was abused as a puppy,” is an immobilizing thought. Instead of carefully avoiding things that frighten your dog, give that man/stranger an irresistible treat to give to your dog every time they meet; you may be able to work through the problem! What may have happened in your rescue dog’s past doesn’t need to cripple him for life!
  • Make sure to take your dog to the veterinarian in the first week and let them do a general health check. The dog should be evaluated before he establishes himself in your home.
  • In the first weeks go to as many places as possible with your dog so he learns to trust and follow you everywhere; a visit to the vet, visiting a friends home, trips to different dog parks, take him in the car/on public transport, etc.
  • Have patience with your dog. Don’t expect miracles in a few hours or a couple of days. Your dog might need some time to acclimate. Trust and leadership take time so don’t be disappointed when, for example, your dog wants to hide under the couch the first couple of days. Just keep calm and give him time.
  • When in doubt, do not hesitate to engage the help of an experienced behaviorist, or trainer, to help ease the adoption transition into your home and your life

I adopted all of my dogs except one. Most of them were female dogs that were used to breed and then dumped when they were no longer of use to the breeders. In all those years and with all those dogs … and with most of them having behavior and/or health problems, there was not one that could not be helped … and there was no problem that could not be fixed by training, or a visit to the vet. I’ve had older dogs and dogs with behavior problems,(like not being socialized, not being used to walking on a leash, not house broken, aggressive towards other dogs or men, food aggression). I’ve also had dogs with health problems, skin problems, breathing/trachea problems, etc. I am not saying it is easy to solve these issues …  but when you have enough time, enough patience and enough love, It will work!

Baggy Bulldogs

Related Blogs:
The story of one of my rescues Dozer
Raising a Bulldog Puppy
Preparing for your Puppy
B ulldog Rescues and Animal Shelters
How to Walk your Dog
Jumping Dogs

Find a Bulldog Rescue nearby  and read on what you can do against Stop Animal Cruelty

Baggy Bulldogs

Photo by Debbie G. Johnson

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