To rescue or not to rescue: that is the question

To rescue or not

As a behaviourist, I love working with all kinds of dogs: large dogs and small dogs, pure breeds and cross breeds. The dogs I really love working with are rescue dogs and I have a real soft spot for stray dogs that have been bought in, as we have no knowledge to pre-judge; everything we learn is from observation and working with the dog. I have owned five dogs, four of which have been rescue dogs and one I have had from a puppy, who was my first dog and the most challenging.

Over the years I have heard many reasons why people shy away from adopting a rescue dog.  I am by no means saying that everybody who wants a dog should adopt a rescue, but there does seem to be some myths about the type of dog that you get when you adopt from a rescue.  Hopefully I can dispel some of these.

Myth: All rescue dogs have behaviour problems – why else would they be in a rescue centre?

While it is true that some rescue dogs do have behavioural problems, not all of them have and some dogs end up in rescue centres through no fault of their own. Some are there because their owner has died or due to family illness they can no longer keep the dog, or personal circumstances have changed. Some dogs are signed over just because they are no longer wanted – sad but true. Behavioural problems do not just happen in rescue dogs either; they can happen in any dog.

Myth: I can’t get a rescue dog because I have children.

Every dog is an individual and while some rescue centres put a blanket ban on re-homing to families with young children, other rescue centres take each case on its own merit, looking at the individual dog and where he has come from.  They will consult a fully qualified behaviourist to carry out an assessment. A dog may have come from a home with children, but due to circumstances that have nothing to do with the dog’s behaviour, he may end up in a rescue centre. The rescue centre will look to see if the family is suitable for the dog.  Surely that’s the wrong way round? I hear you say – but no, it is the rescue centre’s job to advocate for the dog. The last thing the dog needs is to be placed in an unsuitable home and then returned to the rescue.

Myth: You cant teach rescue dogs as they are too old or damaged

The saying that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks is a myth.  Learning theory does not discriminate against age or species;  it does not care if the dog is six months old or six weeks. Behaviour follows motivation, and if the motivation is good enough the behaviour will follow.

So, I can now hear you all running to your computers to look up where your local rescue centre is! But on a more serious note if you are thinking about adopting a rescue dog, there are definitely things to consider:

  • One of the most important aspects  is whether the rescue centre will give you help and advice after you have adopted the dog. In the world of rescue we call this rescue back-up. Should any problems arise the rescue centre should be able to either offer advice, if they have a qualified trainer or behaviourist there, or be able to put you in touch with a qualified professional to help you. If they don’t offer this support then walk away.  I know it sounds awful, but honestly it is better all round.
  • Another aspect is always keep an open mind. As humans, we see a cute picture on a website of a dog that needs adopting and, ruled by our emotions and look of the dog, we say, “ah, that one is so cute, I want him”, and if we don’t get what we want, then God help all those around us!  The cute dog in the picture might not be the right dog for you and your family, and your perfect dog may be in the kennel next door – and you haven’t even given him a second thought because your heart is set on the ‘wrong’ dog.  Trust that the rescue centres know their dogs.  I love German Shepherds, and I mean I really love them, however my two rescue dogs are a border collie and a collie cross because they were the right dogs for me and my husband.  We adore them.
  • Last, but by no means least, is try not to pre-judge the dog by breed. A lot of people are drawn to or away from a certain breed of dog, and this can be for many reasons: perhaps it was a breed they had when they were young or a breed they are familiar with and the dog was amazing, and therefore all dogs of that breed must be amazing!   They may have heard horror stories other breeds and tarnished them with the same brush, so all the dogs of that breed must be bad.Remember every single dog is an individual, including every dog within a breed. Although there are certain traits within a breed, no two dogs are the same, thank goodness, or wouldn’t life be boring?!

Having a dog (or dogs) to share your life, whether rescue dog or not, is an absolute honour – and that should always be remembered.

By Sue Lefevre Grad Dip ABM, ICB full member


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