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Category Archives: Shelter Adoption

Rescue vs breeder: which is right for you?

There are a million places to get a new dog if you’re in the market for one. Some, like petstores or huge kennels, are never a good idea. But when it comes down to the simple question of do I get a puppy from a breeder or do I get an adult dog from a shelter or rescue, there are definite pros and cons to consider so that you can make the best choice for your household. Pros and cons are not universal— some people are more flexible and have a less specific vision of what works for them while others need predictability; some people do not want to deal with puppyhood while others can’t imagine bringing home anything but a puppy.

Sometimes there is no clear-cut answer, but lets lay out some of the pros and cons.

First let’s look at breeders. There is a world of variation in quality of breeders out there, but for the purposes of this post, let’s just talk about people who are breeding with quality in mind– people who afrank081209bre health-testing their dogs before breeding them (hip certifications, eye certifications– whatever is appropriate to the breed), who are doing their research before breeding and who care where their pups are going and what happens to them.

The pros of buying a puppy from a breeder:

  • You’ll have an idea of the genetic lines behind your dog including temperament and health. If you’re looking for a mellow house-dog Golden Retriever, you probably don’t want to buy a pup from somebody breeding high-energy hunting dogs. And you always, always want to know the family of dogs that your pup is coming from are healthy.
  • While genetics are always a bit of a wildcard, you’re doing everything you can to stack the deck in your favor. If you breed a dog with good hips to a dog with good hips, chances are pretty good that you’re going to get dogs with good hips. If you’re buying a pup of a breed that is prone to seizures, knowing that none of his immediate relatives have had seizures is a big plus. Nothing is absolute, but the odds are with you.
  • You’ll get a lifetime of support. A good breeder is invaluable in the assistance and knowledge they can provide. Plus, it’s nice to have a cheerleader sometimes, especially through those teenage months.
  • You get a health guarantee. Good breeders stand behind the pups that they’re producing. But be careful to read the fine print to see what exactly the guarantee is.
  • A good breeder will have already started the oh so important process of socialization. Pups will have been exposed to different sounds, different textures, different people. Some will have already been started on crate training. They’ll be on their way to being well-adjusted, happy dogs.
  • A good breeder will take back a dog at any time, no matter what. Your pup will always have a safe place to land if something happens that you can no longer keep him, or even if he is simply not a good match for your family.

So what about the cons?puppy4

  • Good breeders don’t breed often (a litter or two a year) so you will likely have to wait.
  • It takes time and effort on your part to find and reach out to breeders to find one who is a good match for you and your family.
  • Good breeders can be hard to find, especially if you don’t have connections in The Dog World.
  • The pricetag. No getting around it. It costs money to do things right, so your pup will cost a bit more. Although the purchase price is still a drop in the bucket compared to the price of caring for a dog for his lifetime, the initial layout of cash can still feel a bit painful.

On the flip side, there are tons of good dogs out there in shelters and rescues who are there through no fault of their own. It’s a common myth that dogs in shelters are there because of behavior problems, but in this day and age, money, housing, and job changes are huge reasons for dogs not staying in their homes.

What are some benefits of adopting a dog from a shelter or rescue?

  • Adult rescues are often very “what you see is what you get”, especially if they’ve been in foster care. You can get a good idea of what kind of dog you are bringing home, which takes some of the mystery out of adopting. You’ll know simple things such as size and coat type (it can be so hard to predict what mixed-breed pups are going to turn into when they grow up), but you’ll also get a good idea of temperament– is this dog good with other dogs? cats? kids?
  • Many dogs in shelters have already lived in somebody’s home and are housebroken and come with some basic skills. Training a new dog is important regardless because it is such a huge relationship-builder, but I’m always a big fan of pre-housebroken dogs, myself.
  • Most rescues will take back dogs that they’ve placed, again, for any reason, so if something should happen, the dog has a safe place to go.
  • You’re saving a life. Whether you adopt from a shelter that does put dogs to sleep due to overpopulation or you adopt from a no-kill rescue, you’re opening up a spot for another dog in need. Plus, there are simply some great dogs in shelters, and one of them might just be The Dog for you.

But there are also cbaltoons to adopting:

  • There are a lot of unknowns. You have no idea what kind of health issues the parents and grandparents of your new dog may have had. You get no health guarantee, and there’s no accountability.
  • With a puppy, you’re bringing home a complete wildcard. You might adopt a “Chihuahua mix” puppy and have it grow into a 30 pound dog. For some people, that’s part of the fun. For others, not so much.
  • You’re not getting a blank slate. When you bring home an adult dog, you’re bringing his history home with him. While a lot of behavior issues will be readily apparent before your pooch comes home, some are not. While a dog may not show issues in a highly structured foster home, for example, he may have some issues in your more relaxed home environment.
  • It can be a lot easier to teach manners to a puppy than to an 80 pound adolescent Labrador. Bad habits can be hard to break; it depends on how much time and effort you’re willing to put into it.
  • Some rescues can be very inflexible in their screening. They want the best homes possible for the dogs in their care, and they have a very concrete vision of what that is. It can take some time to find a rescue that you mesh with. (Shelters tend to be much more flexible, but you lose the benefits of seeing what a dog is like in a foster home environment.)
  • If you have your heart set on a certain breed or type of dog, you may need to be very patient and persistent in your search. Some breeds are a dime a dozen in rescue, others are in much higher demand. It all depends on what you’re looking for.

 

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In Praise of Difficult Dogs: Luce’s Story

lucesurveyWhen they say that pit bulls aren’t necessarily a great choice for first-time dog owners, they really do mean it. They’re very high energy, they’re smart, they’re demanding, and they’re frequently not good with other dogs. Oh, and they’re really really strong. But I fell in love with the breed anyway, and so when I was in a position to bring home my first dog, I went to the shelter and picked out a cute little young adult pit bull with silly bat ears and a charming snort.

Oh, I had no idea what I was getting into. Not a clue.

I took her home, I named her Luce, (Short for Eleusis, pronounced like “Lucy” without the y). I fell in love.

But oh, was I in trouble.

“Naughty” doesn’t even begin to cover what she was. The first thing she did when set loose in the fenced yard was check each individual board in the privacy fence to make sure it was secure. Not all of them were. She escaped. We fixed that board, she found a new loose one. She managed to crawl underneath the neighbor’s shed. I have no idea what she hoped to find there– adventure, perhaps. Or something to eat.

Her favorite game was to run like a maniac all over the yard and bite my legs on the way past. She was not being aggressive in any way– she was simply playing in a manner that works for playing with other dogs, just not for us tender-skinned humans. It hurt. She thought it was hilarious.

But the hardest thing to deal with was her extreme reactivity to other dogs while on leash. She would pull, she would scream (and I mean scream, not bark), she would lunge. It was scary and embarrassing.

I was completely out of my league, and I knew it.

I was left with the decision of whether to give up and return her to the shelter and an uncertain fate, or to enroll her in obedience class and try my best.

We started Beginner Obedience a few weeks later, and I had no idea that I was embarking on such an incredible and life-changing journey.

We started out our classes completely segregated from the rest of the group. Here is the first thing I learned: a dog who is freaking out (known in trainer-speak as “Over threshold”) cannot learn. Their brains are so busy freaking out that nothing else gets through. So when I was yelling and jerking her leash to try to make her stop carrying on, I was wasting my energy– she could not hear me anyway.

Food is good. Yelling is dumb.

Food is good. Yelling is dumb.

We were set up behind a barrier. Luce knew the other dogs were there, but she couldn’t see them. So while she was distracted, she was able, with the use of high value treats (hot dogs, cheese, meatballs) frequently delivered for the smallest bit of attention on me, so start to calm down and actually learn some stuff. Sit, down, stay, leave it– all those important Dog Skills.

(A note about rewards: They have to be highly rewarding TO THE DOG. While we like to think our dogs work for our love and affection, really they prefer food or toys. Each dog is different– a dog who goes nuts for cheese may not care about hot dogs. A dog who is not accepting a reward that he typically does is probably over-stressed and you need to take a step back in your training and find the place where he’s not stressing.)

The second important thing that I learned was that heavily rewarding the behaviors that I wanted was a whole lot easier and more effective than trying to punish out the behaviors that I didn’t want. It is much easier for a dog to learn a specific behavior to do than to try to figure out from many options what not to do. In this case, I was looking for attention on me.

For her to learn this, she needed to learn self-control.

Self-control is a really hard thing for a lot of dogs, but it is at the heart of so many behaviors that we want, from walking politely on a leash without pulling to responding to a “leave it” command instead of snatching a dropped pill off the floor. We did a lot of work with Luce lying on a mat on the floor (bathmats work great for this) while I rewarded her heavily with wonderful tasty food for being calm and staying on her mat as I gradually increased the amount of distraction..

So proud!

So proud!

The absolute best resource for this is Karen Overall’s Relaxation Protocol. There is also a handy audio version.

It is boring and it is repetetive but it works. Leslie McDevitt’s Control Unleashed program builds extensively on Karen Overall’s work. Although it was initially intended as a program for dogs who play sports, it has many “real life” applications, and many people with reactive dogs have had great success with it. The puppy book is a bit easier to follow and works great for adult dogs as well as pups.

It didn’t get better overnight. It took time, patience, perseverance. It took a lot of not giving up even when I wanted to. I took class after class and worked with Luce outside of class, and eventually there were very obvious results. My instructor started encouraging me to do rally obedience trials with her. I laughed and said they can have my leash when they pry it from my cold, dead hands. She said that conveniently, the first level is all on leash.

And so began my journey into the world of dog sports. At Luce’s very first trial, we finished in second place. Together we would go on to earn six rally obedience titles, 4 rally obedience championship-level titles, two traditional obedience titles, and two national rally rankings. She retired– she’s 11 years old now– with the alphabet soup of ARCHX Luce CD CD-H RA RLV RL3 RL2X RL1X CGC TT.

Wall of glory.

Wall of glory.

Not bad for a crazy little red pit bull that somebody threw away. I hope the journey was worth as much to her as it was to me.

Further resources for dealing with reactive/difficult dogs:
When Pigs Fly Dog Training
DINOS: Dogs in Need of Space
Dr. Sophia Yin
Local behavior consultant Barb Demerest

 
 

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Websites you should know about.

The internet has become a wonderful resource for many things over the past decade. There is bad information out there for sure, but there is also good, helpful, and timely information. Here are a few websites that might be useful to you.

klwindowThe Indoor Pet Initiative from The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine is an extremely nice and informative website packed with information about how to enrich your indoor pets’ lives. This began as a cat-only project, and they are only just now beginning to flesh out their site for dogs, but the cat information is absolutely invaluable. It has information about why cats are the way they are, what they need to be mentally healthy, and how to solve some common behavior problems. Dr. Lauren frequently recommends this site to clients with indoor kitties.

Petfinder. Looking for a new family member? Petfinder allows you to search for a suitable new pet available from a shelter or rescue in your area . And they don’t just limit themselves to cats and dogs. They have listing for everything from horses to hamsters to birds. You can refine your search by species, breed, size, and age to help you locate pets who might end up being The One.

Looking for a good dog trainer? Check out the Association of Professional Dog Trainers’s Trainer Search. This is not an exhaustive list of trainers, but of members of the organization, which is one of the foremost professional training organizations around. They also have a nice page on how to choose a trainer.

Having behavior troubles with your cat? The Cat Behavior Associates website is a wealth of good information on dealing with issues at home as well as when to contact a professional. There is also a really nice tutorial on how to give your cat medication, which is something that can be a very tricky thing, depending on the cat.

For lots of general information and entertainment, check out the Dogster and Catster websites.

Another good source of general information, largely health-related and veterinarian-approved, check out Vetstreet. They also have a nice overview of dog breeds and cat breeds.

cooperlaneNot sure what breed of dog is right for you? Try out Animal Planet’s Dog Breed Selector to help narrow down your choices. They have one for cats as well.

The ASPCA offers a great resource for poisoning, including a thorough list of plants that are toxic to pets, and their Poison Control for Pets hotline in case of emergency.

The American Veterinary Medical Association offers an up-to-date list of pet food recalls, which is worth keeping an occasional eye on. We have definitely seen an increase in pet food recalls over the past several years. This website includes treats as well, which is nice.

Interested in breeding or considering buying a purebred dog from a breeder? Health is of major importance! The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) website provides information on a wide variety of different genetic concerns, from hip and elbow dysplasia, to thyroid and cardiac screenings. They offer a records search, so you can look up individual animals who have been tested, and see what their results were, as well as the results of their relatives. Anyone considering breeding or buying should know what health issues are a concern in their breed, so that they can make sure that dogs are being tested for the correct things to help increase the odds of producing sound, healthy puppies.

And last but not least, some very helpful information for owners of pets who have been newly diagnosed with diabetes. Diabetes can be an overwhelming disease, especially at the beginning. It can take awhile to get pets stabilized, and you have to learn to give your pet an injection twice a day! Here is the website for cats, and here is the one for dogs.

Hopefully you’ll find some of these resources helpful to you, whether now or sometime out in the future, and that this post will prove to be a valuable resource.

Do you have any favorite websites about pets? Please feel free to share in the comments! We’re always looking for new information to hand out to clients when it will be helpful.

 

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In praise of old dogs.

While October was Adopt a Shelter Pet month, November has a more specific focus: Adopt a Senior Pet.

Mostly people pass over the oldsters in the shelter in search of a young dog. Unfortunately “senior” labels are applied in some shelters to pets as young as six years old! Six is not senior unless you’re looking at a giant breed dog. Six is often the prime of life! And especially for cats.

I understand the idea of wanting to get a pet who will be with you for a very long time. But depending on what you’re looking for in a companion, an older pet might be better suited for your lifestyle. Many of the young dogs in the shelter are large and unruly, with minimal self-control and nearly no manners. Many of them are nice! dogs. They’re happy and they want to play play play. But they require a LOT of effort on your part. Training, enough exercise to tire them out so they’re not over the top in the house. Dealing with the things they’ve chewed up. Not that young shelter dogs aren’t great! But you need to know what you’re getting into if it is going to work.

An older dog presents a different set of issues. Often they’re mellower, housebroken, and they crazy edge of youth has worn off. They’re not into everything ALL THE TIME. Their physical exercise needs are often more easily met and put less strain on the relationship.

Siren at 16 years old.

Siren at 16 years old.

BUT you are also looking at getting into the time of life where more physical problems start to crop up. Joint problems in bigger dogs which can require Joint Supplements or pain medication. Dental issues. All of the older dog diseases like hypothyroidism. So before you jump into adopting an older dog, it is good to make sure that you’re financially able to deal with what you have ahead of you.

The truly senior pets languishing in shelters are what truly break my heart. They often wind up there through no fault of their own. Their owners die. They’re victims of divorce. They just aren’t that interesting anymore. It’s sad. It’s world-rocking to any pet, but especially to an older pet, to end up in a shelter environment. And it makes me terribly sad to think of them living out their last days without someone who truly loves them.

It takes a special person to bring home a truly elderly pet. It’s not something everyone can do, and it’s not something everyone should do. I have done it twice now. My first old dog was a 15 year old Miniature Poodle whose owner had to go into a nursing home. She was a high maintenance little dog with a slew of health problems, but after a lot of long hard soul-searching, I took her on as my very first dog. It was hard sometimes, but it was also wonderful. She was senile and silly and delightful. She was extremely attached to me. (That myth that a dog adopted at an older age won’t bond with you is sooooooooo not true.) I had her for about 18 months before she passed away. It was hard to see her go, but I knew that I had given her what she deserved for that time, and I felt good about that.

Harvey at 11. He lost one of his eyes to glaucoma.

Harvey at 11. He lost one of his eyes to glaucoma.

So good, in fact, that several years later I went out and brought home an old pit bull mix from a shelter. He’d been in and out of the shelter several times, had lived there for a year, and nobody ever even looked at him. It’s really amazing he lived long enough for me to meet him and save him– an old black bully breed is often tops of the euthansia list. But the people at that shelter saw something in him. And I saw it too.

Harvey was a hilarious dog. He was so sweet and eager to please but he was senile and kind of dumb as a stump. I took him to beginner obedience class. He learned to sit and to shake hands and that is all. But it was great fun anyway. He was very much an old man, but he’d still get the puppy zoomies at meal times and made me laugh and laugh. He was a sweet, gentle, placid dog. Not until after he passed away did I learn he had been a cruelty seizure years ago. I never would have guessed that from the way he acted. He loved everybody. Amazing how these dogs can trust when they have every reason not to.

Loss hurts whether it comes after only a year or it comes after 14 years. I do think it is a different kind of loss. When you get a pup, you’re looking at having that dog for years and years. If that is cut short prematurely, it’s a true tragedy. And if you come to the end of those golden years, you have so much to look back on. But when you go into a shelter or a rescue mentally prepared that you’re going to bring home a pet that you will likely not have for a long time, you develop a different kind of relationship. No less close. No less affectionate. But you know. You know what you’re doing, you know what you’re facing, and you know that it is so worth it to that life you’ve provided, finally, with his forever home.

I would love to see more people even consider adopting older pets. Sometimes you’re the right person for it, the right family for it, and sometimes you’re not. But I would love to have more people at least think about it realistically and maybe they will find out as I did, as so many others have, that providing a cushy retirement home for an old guy in need could be a very rewarding part of life.

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2013 in Cats, Dogs, Shelter Adoption

 

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