I`m Very Pleased to Introduce a Dear Friend; Guest Author of today;s Blog Post: Catherine Thomas, my Dear Friend and Mentor, Dog Trainer extraordinaire and Elementary School Teacher, living and working in New Brunswick. I have made reference to her before as she is someone who has greatly influenced my own journey as a dog trainer, and here she is now – in a brand new shelter adoptions article. She has been involved with the Charlotte County SPCA, and the article was recently written for them – although of course relevant to any shelter adoption. I am thrilled to be able to post it here! It raises some great questions and things worth pondering when looking to adopt a dog from a shelter. Please share with friends, relatives, acquaintances who might find this beneficial!
How to Pick the Right Dog from the Shelter. Written by Catherine Thomas, B.A, Dip. Elementary Education Teacher, Dog Trainer
I saw his picture on line. He was a beautiful red head with the bluest eyes. He touched me deeply; I just knew he was the one for me! I had known another just like him many years ago. We met. I discovered that his last significant other had let him go because he liked to spend a lot of time outside in the woods and running. Personally, I lead a pretty quiet life. I work long hours, like watching TV, reading and hanging out with a small group of friends. I KNEW I could change him, one look at him told me that we were meant to be. After that first meeting, I insisted that he move into my house.
It took years and many arguments but eventually I persuaded him that the couch was preferable to being out in the woods. Who has the time and energy for all that outdoor activity? It was exhausting to listen to his constant demands … but eventually, I tuned him out and he left me alone. As time went on he slowed down, I fattened him up and he became less interested in going outside and more interested in sleeping. We made it work.
Can you imagine choosing a human partner this way? We choose dogs this way all the time. I certainly know I have been guilty of it in the past. When I got my first dog from the Vancouver SPCA, almost seventeen years ago, I distinctly remember walking into the shelter with a friend telling her that I wanted a female puppy, six months old or younger who was part shepherd or border collie. I emerged with a beautiful very energetic, not overly social seven week old puppy. She died about a year ago. I cherished her and she taught me a tremendous amount but Oh My! She was a lot of work. Luckily for both of us, her exercise needs suited me to a T, we hiked and biked, swam in the summer and took great joy in being outside with each other.
Picking a dog who is just right for YOU can be a daunting task. Often we don’t put enough thought into our choice. When we buy cars we carefully research what type of vehicle will suit our needs but many people believe in leaving the choice of a canine companion to fate. Or they are willing to simply pick the “cute one” OR choose along breed preference lines as I did.
So, how can we increase the chances of getting the dog of a lifetime every time we welcome a new dog into our home for the next 10-15 years? First and foremost, we must be honest about our lifestyle, temperament and time.
1) Do you work long hours?
2) Do you have young children?
Do you plan to have more in the future?
Are your children very social?
Is there a steady stream of other people’s children coming through your home as well as your own?
3) Do you have physical limitations?
4) Are you a very social person?
Where will you exercise your dog?
Do you have a fenced in back yard? Please NOTE: a fenced in space is nice for a dog BUT most dogs need to be walked out of the yard to ensure they get adequate exercise.
Do you live on a busy street?
6) Is your home busy or quiet?
What does your dream dog do when people come over?
This list could go on and on! Do your best to think of what it would be like to be a dog in your home.
The greater your expectations are for your dog to do things with and for you and the wider the range of situations you need them to be happy and confident in, the more carefully you will need to think through who you choose as a canine partner. I’ve been asking people lately to either write out a detailed description of what they want in a dog or at least take the time to describe in detail what they are looking for verbally. My friend and mentor Suzanne Clothier (www.suzanneclothier.com) taught me how to do this a few years ago and I am truly delighted with the choices I have made for myself and the choices I have helped others to make.
Personally, I want dogs who are able to do a lot. As a trainer, I like having dogs who feel great performing in front of people and dogs, which means I need to pick very self confident, persistent dogs. I like to compete in agility, which means I need dogs with the athletic ability to do dog sports. I truly delight in teaching dogs new things so need dogs who are inquisitive and who like a lot of attention. I work as a teacher and I delight in taking my young dogs to school with me, which means my dogs have to be social and able to settle easily in a wide range of locations. I like walking with my friends and their dogs, which means I need dogs who are social with other dogs. Oh yes, and I want dogs who think that doing all of these things is totally great and fun! A tall order, not impossible to find and worth waiting for!
Some people insist that they “just want a dog” … I find this to be a very sad comment. I don’t know about you, but there are many people who I like but would not want to live with – heck, they most likely would not want to live with me either! There are other people who I would really most definitely NOT want to live with. As a trainer I meet dogs all the time who I admire greatly and love getting to know but I am very glad that I do not live with them.
So, you’ve defined clearly WHO you are and what your life looks like, then what?
You see a dog on line who catches your eye. Go and spend time with the dog, listen, really LISTEN to the evaluation that the shelter has done on the dog, really LISTEN. At the shelter we will do our very best to tell you honestly who we think the dog is. After you have listened to the human who has evaluated the dog, listen to the dog. Is he interested in getting to know you?
I know that it is very difficult but try not to dwell on the dog’s past. The stories of abuse, neglect and abandonment are very difficult to listen to without wanting to save every dog! But this way of thinking can get in our way of finding a perfect match. If you bring a dog home solely because you feel sorry for them and identify them for a lifetime as a “rescue”, are you truly allowing that animal to grow and develop into their fullest self? One of the many brilliant qualities of dogs is their ability to live in the moment.
Take a good long look at your new friend and observe his behaviour very carefully. Does he settle down easily or pace? Is his nose always moving? Does he choose to sit at your side, try to give you a hug or hang out as far away from you as possible? This list could also go on and on! Is he someone you want to live with for the next 10-15yrs? Talk to the shelter staff about the dog’s behaviour, observe and ask about what you are seeing. You might not have the experience to understand what the dog is telling you about his temperament but you can observe and ask.
Will the dog’s temperament change when they are out of the shelter environment … the answer is IT DEPENDS! The more confident, social and stable a dog is the less likely their behaviour is to change in your home. Sometimes dogs who look pretty shy are actually simply lacking in life experience and can change a great deal. Confidence can often be gained through positive life experiences.
Just over 14 years ago, I picked dog number two for me, my Belgian shepherd Sam. I had fallen in love with the breed when I took a class with an instructor who had one. Sad to admit it but I met exactly ONE Belgian Shepherd and I just had to have one myself. Through a strange series of events, Sam turned up in my life, an emaciated, terrified under-socialized 15 month old dog. I was certain I could change and save him. I paid his breeder a lot of money for him. Sam changed my life. He started out terrified of everything under the sun, then he started to lunge and bite. I knew I needed help. To make a very long story short, I started to look for a trainer to help me with Sam. After a number of false starts, I found a wonderful trainer. I started to apprentice immediately with her. I read, and read and read. I diligently did everything the trainer taught me with Sam. I worked with aggressive dogs, a lot of them. Sam learnt what I taught him BUT whenever he got over-excited by something or at the sight of a dogs or sometimes a person he bit. Luckily for me, he only had the opportunity to bite me. I successfully managed to prevent him from biting anyone else, though there were some scary moments.
In the end, after almost two years of learning and trying many, many different humane, solution based training approaches, I chose to euthanize Sam. With the benefit of hindsight and after working with hundreds of dogs, at this point, I can say that I believe he was a mentally unwell animal. I can also say that dogs like Sam are few and far between. I am extremely grateful for the lessons he taught me, but I never want to live with an animal like him again nor I would never encourage anyone else to do so.
Pick wisely, a dog should enhance your enjoyment of life and not be a burden.