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Rescue Dogs

by Bailey Coldwell

We talk a lot about bringing a brand new puppy into homes directly from the breeder, but what about older puppies or dogs from rescue organizations? I recently adopted an 8 year old miniature poodle, Roux, and want to share my experiences of bringing a rescue into my home. 

When you are looking for a rescue dog, you will want to take into consideration who this dog is and if they will fit into your family. There are so many cute dogs online and in the shelters, that we often just want to scoop the first one up that we see. Or maybe we feel like we need to adopt the dog with the saddest story. It is very important to really evaluate the dog to determine if they are the right fit for you. This is because rescue dogs are more likely to have had less socialization, have more fear reactivity, more medical issues, and it will take longer to adjust to their new homes than a well bred puppy from a breeder. 

You are going to want to think about your household and find a rescue dog that is a good fit for your family. You will want to consider aspects about your household such as: 

  • Kids in your home: Has the dog had kid exposure? If so, how did the dog do? Are the kids old enough to understand boundaries that the dog needs and/or are you educated on how to teach them this? We want to make sure that kids are not going to be crawling on, pulling at, or grabbing the dog. Rescue dogs are more likely to react in defensive ways due to fear of past situations. I have had to be especially mindful of this with my toddler. Even at her young age, she has learned to let dogs rest if they are sleeping, not go near them when they are eating, how to pet dogs nicely, and not to take anything from them. I am very strict about this with my toddler and I am always near her when she is around my dogs.  

  • Other dogs in your home: How does the dog do around other dogs? If possible, try to do a controlled meet and greet with your dog to see how they will do together. Do you have the time and finances for a multiple dog household? My lab has been around numerous other dogs in the past, of all ages and sizes. I knew she would adapt well. Roux was in 2-3 other foster homes and did great with the other dogs of varying sizes. 

  • Cats or other small animals in the home: If you are around other small animals, you will want to have a good idea of how the dog does around prey like animals. It is normal for dogs to have a curiosity of small and fast moving creatures. But we want to make sure that the prey drive isn’t too intense.I have four cats in my home so it was important that Roux got the green light with a cat in a foster home. 

  • Energy level of the dog and the space that you have: You will want to get a dog that will fit into your lifestyle. My home is busy. I have a toddler, cats, dogs, a husband, a roommate, and I work from home. I knew that I wanted more of an older lap dog, and so that is what I got. 

  • Finances that are available to go towards the dog such as medical costs, food, grooming, etc. Rescue dogs will sometimes have more health and behavioral issues than well bred puppies. Roux has a severe heart murmur and infected teeth. He has had to have many health tests and he is on expensive medication for these medical issues. I have spent more on him so far than I spent when purchasing my well bred lab puppy. I am not saying that all rescue dogs are going to have a lot of health issues and you will still likely end up paying a lot of money for the well bred dog as well. Given Roux’s age and medical history, I was prepared to spend a large amount of money on him, to help him be as comfortable as possible for the remainder of his life. 

  • Fears the dog has (men, stairs, novel objects, etc.): Many rescue dogs have fears that are caused by previous experiences. You will want to know if the adoption center has seen any of these fears and you will want to have a game plan to help build your dog’s confidence. 

  • Time you can give to the dog and separation issues: Roux spent years in a puppy mill where he had little to no human contact. Therefore, he has more intense separation problems than the average dog, now that he has a home. I am working on this every single day, but I also work at home so I am able to take separation work slowly. If you are getting a rescue dog who might have separation issues, you want to make sure to help them learn to be happy by themselves. But you likely won’t want to be working a full time job outside of the home if you know that the dog has severe separation problems. 

Before I brought my rescue dog home, I heard of a popular rescue dog belief that goes something like, “It takes 3 days for a rescue dog to decompress, 3 weeks for them to get used to their new routine, and 3 months for them to feel at home”. Roux is my first rescue dog, but I do find that belief to be true in his situation. He immediately bonded with me and wanted to be with me 24/7, panicking to extreme measures if he wasn’t with me. My husband did get discouraged because Roux wouldn’t want my husband near him. Roux would also easily get startled by him. It did take about 3 months for Roux to start to go up to my husband for affection, not get startled by my husband’s loud voice, and be happy to hang out with my husband when I am in a different room. Patience is required when getting a rescue dog. 

When bringing a rescue dog into your home, you will want to understand how different your home is going to be from their past experiences. The dog is likely going to have their quirks and simply need help learning how to live life in a home. Roux, for example, was not potty trained when I got him. He is 8 years old, but we had to treat him as though he was 8 weeks old. We had to bring him outside often, reward him when he pottied outside, and restrict his freedom inside. He is doing much better now. But I still have to crate him when left alone, or he will resort back to peeing in my home. Your dog might need to be taught, for example, what they aren’t allowed to chew on, they aren’t allowed to get onto counters, they don’t need to be reactive towards every person who walks by your house, etc.  Your new dog also might start to offer behaviors that the shelter or foster didn’t experience. When there is a change, dogs can act incredibly differently in one home from the next. Therefore, even after knowing a bit about the dog from the organization, go into it knowing that your dog still might display different behaviors than what you were told about. This is why it is best to keep a close eye on them at first, especially when they aren’t in a crate. 

Many rescue dogs are not going to immediately want to be handled everywhere. Again, this could be due to past experiences. So you will want to plan on practicing grooming and body handling frequently and be able to take the process slowly. Make sure you are aware of the subtle body language signs that show they need space, and give them that space.  

Here at Baxter & Bella, we often get asked “where to start” in our programs if the dog is a rescue. The answer to this is dog and owner dependent. I like to focus on behavioral concerns at first, along with some basic cues that will be helpful throughout the day. Let’s say that the new rescue dog is trying to put everything in their mouth, I would start off with the “leave it” cue. I work on rewarding the dog for looking at me, sitting to say please, responding to their names, and simply offering good behaviors. It is also okay for you to choose to start right at the very beginning of our programs and skip through any sections that aren’t relevant to you. I would consider some of our “just for fun” cues to help add some training that is more laid back and enjoyable. 

I know that this blog post has shown some of the extra work that might go into getting a rescue dog. They often need more patience, gentleness, and positive acknowledgements. However, I can guarantee you that Roux will not be my last rescue dog. It brings me so much joy thinking about the progress he has made, the trust he has gained, and the life we are giving him. Just like how there are a lot of reputable breeders when picking out a new puppy, there are a lot of rescue dogs with different personalities. So, don’t feel like you have to save the first sad dog that you see on Facebook. Contact rescue organizations and apply for a dog. Tell them what you are looking for. One will show up. I told the rescue organizations that I wanted an older male dog, one under 15 pounds, and could live in harmony with my other dog, cats, toddler, and husband. It didn’t take me long for Roux to find us. He is the perfect addition to our family. 

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