This was not an easy article to write and I have no doubt it will be upsetting for some, but it needed to be written. The topic of rescue dogs divides me like few others. I am a dog lover through-and-through. There is no question that I would choose dogs over most other things in life - Riches? Fame? Power? Thanks, but no thanks - just give me dogs. My own 'bleeding heart' could be tattoo'd on my chest most days and I could get lost in the "Disney-model" for dogs forever if given the right shelter from reality, but I am also a dog trainer and that means reality often overshadows heart. Today's question is: Should you rescue a dog?
The slogan: 'Adopt, Don't Shop' shows up a often around the internet. While it is wonderful to rescue, it is NOT the right choice for everyone. Nobody should be made to feel guilty about how they acquire their animal, assuming the path is an ethical one. There are good reasons to rescue, just as there are good reasons to buy from a responsible breeder. Adding a family member to your home is a very important decision and it is not one that should be made lightly. Decisions on where you find your new 4-legged family member should be made based on the wants and needs of the family.
So, should you rescue a dog?
First, let's address 'impulse buys'. This is not something that should ever be done with any animal - EVER. I don't care how full shelters are, how cute the dog or puppy is or how much the kids beg - impulsive acquisition is a dangerous thing and could end in disaster for the dog. Whether you are rescuing, buying from a breeder or walking through a flea market, DO NOT bring an animal home on impulse. No matter how much your heart strings get tugged, impulse does not allow you to properly weigh the pros and cons of bringing a life into your home.
An animal is a living, breathing being with wants and needs all their own. Can you meet those needs? Are you going to be able to adequately care for that animal? I can tell you for a fact, while the kids won't likely lose interest in playing with and loving the dog, 99% of them will quickly lose interest in caring for them and the adults in the household will have to shoulder that responsibility. Are you prepared to do so or will the dog suffer?
They Won't be Perfect
A recent comment on one of our Facebook posts talked about how a dog had been returned to the shelter after only 10 days. The reason behind his return was that he was excited by small animals, barked at other dogs and counter surfed.
If you are expecting a dog to be perfect simply because they are an adult rather than a puppy, do NOT get a rescue.
Imagine with me for a moment: You get a puppy. You love it, you raise it right, take it to training and give it all of the benefits of a good start in life. As only time can, it marches on and the puppy grows into a young adult. You take it to the vet reliably for check ups and whenever the need arises. The dog is part of your life, part of your day-to-day planning and interaction, part of every Christmas. You celebrate their Birthdays with hats and special Birthday treats. They make you laugh and hold you up on your 'less than perfect' days. You support them through old age and make changes to your lifestyle to ensure their quality of life doesn't suffer as they grey and slow. You love them every moment of their lives and with a broken heart, you help them exit the world peacefully and with dignity when the time comes, knowing that it's the right decision for the dog you've loved since you first set eyes on them.
Such a beautiful life. It's what we hope all dogs experience.
There is not usually a point in this perfect life where this dog is dropped off at the local shelter or dumped by the roadside. This is NOT the typical dog who ends up in rescue.
Now, don't get me wrong. The dog in rescue has the potential to be that amazing and wonderful family member, but they may take you on a different journey to get there. My point is, most people don't send their well-mannered, beloved family members off to rescue. Most dogs who are abandoned or sent to rescue haven't had the benefit of a good start in life. Typically, you'll be adopting a dog with little to no training, so I'm going to say this frankly: if you are not willing to put effort into basic training or potentially work through some issues, do NOT get a rescue.
Just like a puppy, they will not come knowing how to follow your rules. They will likely jump on your guests, bolt after wildlife, chew your things and pee in the house. They may be a masterful escape artist who needs close monitoring, training and management just to keep them home. They may not have been adequately socialized and as a result, may have aggression issues towards people or dogs.
Without early training and socialization, any dog can develop issues. Rescue dogs are normal dogs who may not had the benefit of a great start in life.
The right home for a rescue needs to be dedicated to the real dog, not just the 'love' fantasy.
Responsible and experienced rescue organizations will deny homes. It's not because they aren't desperately trying to find a situation where the dog is going to be loved, but they know that it takes far more than that. After you've seen a few dogs returned for such silly reasons as, "he pulled on walks," or "he chases squirrels," you know that it takes the 'right' home, not just any home. When you've stood by powerless as a family is devastated from a dog bite, you know how important it is to find the right home. When you've seen a dog with no manners returned over and over because nobody has been willing or able to teach them how to behave, you know without question as you watch that dog sink deeper and deeper into a depressed state, it truly takes the right home.
Now, don't let this scare you off if you are the person who is willing to put in the work, you don't need to be a dog trainer with decades of experience to do well with a rescue dog, but you do have to be willing to seek the help you need rather than just throw in the towel when things are not perfect out of the box.
They won't be.
You also need to be willing to overlook the dog who pulls strongest on your heart strings if they are not the right fit for your life. Love is not enough.
Imagine with me again if you will: There's an old dog who is living out his life in a kennel because the family who rescued him thought they could manage his aggression toward humans. While they had the means to hire great trainers and they did try, the problem was more than they were capable of addressing and the toll it took on them on a daily basis proved too much. Reluctantly, they tried to return him to rescue and were told he would be euthanized. They tried to find another home for him, but with no success. For the safety of all involved, he now lives out his days in a boarding kennel. He'll likely live out his days there rather than as a well-loved family member in a home, like all old dogs deserve.
Bringing a dog into your home only to decide it's not the right fit is hard on everyone, but it's particularly hard on the dog who's likely been through more than their fair share already. If the dog has severe anxiety or aggression, all the love in the world won't fix those issues and make that dog safe. Love is NOT enough, nor will it ever be - no matter what the glossy dreams look like. Love is crucial, but it is only one component. Be honest about what you're willing and able to take on and work through. If you're not sure, have a qualified professional assess the dog before you make your final decision.
All dogs need training and dogs with troubled histories need time, patience and good information to help them be the dog you want. In the interim, you'll need management to keep them and those around them safe. This is not likely the dog you'll be able to romp with on the beach right away or trust loose in the house yet. Make sure you're happy living in this reality before you bring any animal home.
.. and if you are not willing to take the time and put in the effort, don't get a rescue dog. They deserve better.
Rescue can be a beautiful thing, but to go into it blindly, with the idea that love will conquer all is a dangerous myth that could set you, your family and the dog up for a giant fall. Take your time, do your research and be honest with yourself about what you are willing to take on.
Love is not enough, though it is a key ingredient and it just may be the fierce and indomitable force that is needed to persevere through the tough times. Now just add time, patience, good guidance, probably a few tears, some triumphs and lots of management.
Love will be enough of a reward to make all of the effort worthwhile if you are the right home to put it in.
So to answer the question: with deep roots in reality, if a dog who needs a new home finds their way to your heart, you should get a rescue!
As always, Happy Training!
Hi! I'm Shannon and I joined the McCann team in 1999 while training Quincey, my wonderful and spirited Rottweiler, to have good listening skills. I'm the Director of Online Training and Content for McCann Professional Dog Trainers and I enjoy writing about dogs and dog training for the McCann blog. I currently share my life with 2 Tollers (Reggie & Ned) and I love helping people develop the best possible relationship with their 4-legged family members. Join us for a FREE lesson at MyDogCan.McCannDogs.com.