I very much believe in rescuing animals, not buying them.
- Candice Bergen
Don’t Make A Decision Based On Emotion
This is probably the most important, and the most difficult to follow piece of advice. You must make a decision about a dog based on who you can give the best home. You should never adopt or take on a dog because you feel sorry for them. If you choose the wrong dog because you felt sorry for them, you’re going to end up letting them down. If you cannot truly help them, then another stressful experience in a home that cannot cope with them won’t help.
You must always think “can I offer this dog the best home for them”? If you can’t, then they aren’t the right dog for you, and you aren’t the right person for them.
There’s no point taking on a dog with severe separation anxiety if you’re out for extended periods of time. You wouldn’t be the best home for that dog. If you have cats, and this dog hates cats, it doesn’t matter how sorry you feel for them - it wouldn’t be right for your dog or the cats. If a dog is scared of children, and you have lots of visiting children, it seems obvious that your environment isn’t the best one for that dog.
These things all may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people let themselves ignore the obvious things because they are making a decision based entirely on the desire to ‘save’ a dog. There are so many rescue dogs out there looking for homes, that the right dog is out there. If you take the wrong one, not only are you putting the wrong dog in the wrong home so that both the owner and the dog is unhappy, but you’ve perhaps overlooked the dog who would love you, your house and environment so you could all be happy.
And, if you choose the wrong dog, who is to say the right person for that dog wasn’t the next one to visit?
If a dog has to go back to the rescue because you made the wrong choice, the rescue has to explain to anyone else interested that this dog has gone to a home and come back again. Some people understand that these things sometimes can’t be avoided, but others may think there’s a hidden reason this dog was returned, and not consider them at all.
So, think carefully because the wrong decision can have a big impact on the future of the dog.
Don’t ‘dress up’ to make a positive impression on the people at the rescue - rescues are always wary of people who come dressed inappropriately. If you’re wearing high heels and a short skirt, how will you be able to take a dog for a walk? If you’re wearing designer jeans and an expensive jacket, how will you react if a dog splashes in a puddle, jumps up and gets mud all over you?
There’s always a sense of dread that we feel if a family arrive to meet a dog dressed up to the nines. We’ve had people arrive in full-length designer cream coloured wool coats - in the middle of winter! People have arrived as though they were ready to go out to a nightclub rather than meet a potential new friend. As a rescue, you have to take into consideration that if potential owners don’t know what’s appropriate when meeting a dog, are they really ready to have a dog at all?
If you’re wanting to add a dog to your family, you need to be practical. Dress as though you were off for a walk in the country, expecting to get mud or paw prints on you. If you dress appropriately, you’ll be relaxed. If you’re relaxed, the dog you’re meeting will know you’re relaxed.
Assume that you will get dog hairs on you - assume you will have to pick up dog poo, and assume that you will get muddy paw prints on your clothes. All of these things will happen if you’re a dog owner, so you may as well get used to the idea from the first moment you decide to have a new friend.
So, be prepared, and when meeting a dog, don’t dress as though you’re heading out to the catwalk!
Don’t Expect A Hearts And Flowers Moment
Many people think that when they meet the dog for them, it will be an instant bond. Immediately there will be a moment where time slows down, and dog and human fall into each other’s arms.
This really doesn’t happen all that often. Some of the strongest bonds come when the human has proved to their dog that they can be trusted. For some dogs this can take a long time, but when that bond has been created through a lengthy period of trust, it is one of the strongest bonds you can ever have.
On many occasions we’ve seen people declare that our own dog Jack is the perfect dog for them because ‘we felt an instant bond to him’. Whilst that’s how they felt, it isn’t how Jack feels. Jack, for want of a better phrase, is a tart. He’ll cuddle and play with anyone. He’ll make you feel like you’re the only person in the world that makes him play like this… until someone new arrives. And when ‘new blood’ arrives, he does the whole thing all over again with someone new. He’s a serial philanderer. He has no special ties to anyone in particular, but makes those people feel like it for the time he’s interested in them.
On the other hand, Rags is the complete opposite. He will not interact with people very much. Sometimes he’ll let them stroke him, but he seems like a loner who wouldn’t have a bond to anyone. However, of all our dogs, we know that Rags is the one who keeps the sharpest eye on where we are and what’s going on. If he thinks any dog is getting out of hand, he runs in like the ‘referee’ to deal with it. You know instinctively that Rags would be the dog who would defend you in a scary situation and make sure you’re safe, whereas Jack would present your attackers with a toy.
A relationship and trust must be earned. Even if you do get that ‘hearts and flowers’ moment, you must make sure that you build that bond. It’s more difficult to get Jack away from strangers picnic baskets over the park than it is for Rags. If the dog you choose is a bit of a floosie like Jack, it’s even more important that you work at being more interesting than everything else around you, or he’ll never listen to you, and you’ll spend your walks tearing your hair out because they are spending more time and paying more attention to everyone else but you.
Don’t Act Like A Trainer
Some people think that in order to make a good impression at a rescue, they need to show how much skill they have in training a dog. As soon as they’ve got their hands on the canine in question, they start pulling them around, and trying to get them to ‘sit’, ‘stay’, ‘give paw’.
The dog they have just met doesn’t know them. They have no reason to trust or listen to this person. So, if the first actions of this person are to boss them around, for the wrong dog, it can have some very unfortunate consequences. Don’t push things - let a dog get to know you in their own time. When they like you, and trust you, they will want to do things for you.
You’re Not A Dog Show Judge
Despite knowing nothing about the dog in front of them, some people insist on behaving like a Dog Show Judge, pulling the dog’s mouth up to see their teeth and gums, running their hands all over the dog’s body as though having a medial exam, and prodding and pulling ears.
If a stranger came up to another human and started prodding and poking us, we’d get very angry very quickly. But some people think they can do this with a rescue dog just because they want to look like they know what they are doing.
If that dog nips or even bites that person for pulling them around, it will be the dog who gets labelled as a ‘problem’ dog, or an ‘aggressive’ dog.
At the end of the day, we as humans (the supposed intelligent species) shouldn’t be putting a dog in an uncomfortable situation where they feel that they need to defend themselves or tell a human to back off.
If you want to see their teeth, and ask other health questions, ask for an experienced member of staff or volunteer who is familiar with the dog - and more importantly - who the dog is familiar with.
Don’t ruin the possibility of a new friend by pushing things too far, too soon.