It will come of no surprise to you all that here at the Underdog Trainer we LOVE rescue dogs, and wholeheartedly believe that they can make amazing, life-long, companions just like their non-rescue cousins! So if you, or anyone you know is planning on visiting a rescue or rehoming centre soon to look for a new best friend, below are 10 tips and suggestions to help make the very most of the experience.
1. Be prepared before you go
This sounds obvious, but have a good think about what exactly you want from your companion – and be honest with yourself, this will save a lot of time and potential disappointment in the long run. Decide on realistically how much time you will have for the dog, what experience you have, what size and breed you want, and then research to see if after learning a bit more this is still what you want! Also, things like how long the dog will be left, who it will come into contact with regularly and whether your garden is secure and fully fenced will all be things to think about – this will all influence which dog will be the best fit for you and your lifestyle, and most importantly vice versa!
2. Prepare yourself
It is undoubted that some people find rescue and rehoming centres upsetting places – and to an extent they are. They can be noisy, smelly and overwhelming emotionally as you walk past kennel after kennel each with beautiful dogs looking out. However, speaking as someone with experience, these dogs are loved. They are the lucky ones that have been found or brought to the centre to be cared for, fed, kept safe and warm, exercised and if their lucky trained, socialised and maybe make some friends too. The staff and volunteers at rescue and rehoming centres may have dogs of their own, but they treat those in their care with just as much affection, I know that I did! Although a kennel will never replace a warm and secure forever home, try not to be put off going to your local centre by the worry of being traumatised – they can be surprisingly uplifting places!
3. Talk to the staff and volunteers
Whether it is specifically to talk about a dog you are interested in, or to ask for advice, or just to talk about dogs in general, these people can give you incredibly valuable information and insight into all of the above. Especially for dogs that have been at centres for longer periods of time, the staff get to know them intimately, and will be able to tell you more specific (and often, adorable) information that may not be included on kennel sheets, or online write-ups. Please note: rescue and rehoming centres can be incredibly busy places, especially when they are open to the public, so don’t be offended or put off if there may be a bit of a queue forming or a delay in getting to talk to a member of staff – its never personal, and trust me, that perfect dog will be worth a little wait.
4. Listen to the staff and volunteers
This may seem obvious, and it kind of is with regard to listening to what they say about the dog, and the things discussed in the point above. However, you will be an instant favourite of all staff and volunteers if you listen to, and respect, centre rules. Although many different combinations of rules can apply, the one to stick with is ‘Ask First’. If you have not been told by staff that you can do something, assume you cannot – whether it is feeding the dogs in kennels, putting hands through bars to stroke them, or taking photos – all of these can be restricted in centres. I would suggest it is best to save all of that pent up ‘cuddle fever’ until you find out more about the dog, and meet it outside of the kennel. It can be incredibly frustrating to look after dogs, care for them, put signs around their kennel asking for them not to be touched, and then have someone thrusting their arm (or worse, their child’s arm) through the kennel bars. This can be incredibly dangerous, as rescue dogs can be nervous, worried or react unpredictably even if they look approachable – it simply isn’t worth the risk. As well as injury to yourself, a bite incident for a dog will likely make its chances at finding a new home either much smaller, or zero. This isn’t to mention any diseases or illness carried by one dog that can be transferred to others (including your own at home if you have one) by stroking multiple dogs through the kennel bars. It simply isn’t worth the risk.
5. Meet the dog outside of the kennel
Looking round the kennels you may have found one, or more, dogs that have melted your heart and that you want to take home. Maybe it is the one who pawed at you, or the one who sat obediently looking out with his puppy dog eyes, or maybe the one who dropped a ball at his kennel gate wanting to play. Whichever dog caught your eye, be sure to meet them outside of the kennel before you mentally say ‘That’s the one’. This isn’t to check whether the dog is equally handsome in daylight, or to say that first impressions can’t be accurate, however many dogs in rescue can behave a lot differently outside of the kennel environment. Shrinking violets might blossom into playful lunatics, barking or boisterous looking dogs might mellow and calm into peaceful giants away from the stress of kennels, and playful rogues might prove more independent once out and about. It may also be the case that the dog doesn’t change character or behaviour at all, however kennels are incredibly stressful and artificial environments. If you want to get to know your best friend properly, get to know them away from this stress as much as possible.
6. Don’t be disheartened if it is not the ‘right fit’
It may be whilst discussing the dog with staff, or seeing how the dog interacts outside with you and your family, or even after you have gone home to mull it over – sometimes the dog and your lifestyle just don’t match. Whether the dog can’t be left for as long as you will leave it, or if it is too boisterous for your young children, or doesn’t like cats, or needs more time, exercise and experience than you can offer at this moment, all of these are common, and totally sensible reasons why the dog won’t be right for you. This is also where a good relationship with knowledgeable staff can help, they will be honest about what the dog needs, so be honest about what you can provide. If the first dog you meet isn’t the right fit, they may be able to suggest another to try, or it may just be the right dog for you might not be there that day (especially if you have a lot of circumstances to consider – work, children, other dogs, other pets, limited experience etc). I always used to say my aim working at a rehoming centre was to find each person a dog that they would happily care for forever – I can safely assume that everyone who works in rescue would much rather wait, or work harder to find the right dog for you, than see the wrong dog be adopted and inevitably returned shortly after. This also means you have to right to be unsure – if you don’t know if the fit is right, then say so too. I think that adopting a dog (or any animal for that matter) is a far more important decision than finding a car or a house, there is so much more emotion and investment put into a dog, so don’t be afraid to treat it like the big decision that it is!
7. Let the dog come to you
When meeting your potential new best friend, find out what you can from their carers about what they like and don’t like, whether you can play with them, or give them treats, then slowly get to know them. Gently approach and touch them if their carers think they wont mind – think of it as a new friendship that’s going to last for years and years (because it will) you wouldn’t go and bear hug someone you’ve just met on a first date, and act like best friends, so let the dog get to know you at their own pace they may be super confident and playful and it takes seconds, or they may be shy and reserved and it takes a lot longer to gain their trust. Again don’t be disheartened, and enjoy the process. There is no rush needed to get to know them, and the dog will enjoy your company a lot more if they don’t feel threatened or worried.
8. Introduce them to everyone they will live with
It is very likely that the rescue centre that you go to will insist on the dog meeting everyone in the household before any adoption can take place. However, if they don’t insist, it is best to do this anyway. Whether it is a partner, a housemate, children or parents, it will be very important to understand how the dog reacts to each person. It could be the case that the dog might be fearful of people who look a certain way (if they had a bad experience with someone who looked like that in the past) thus they may be wonderful with you, but might not be comfortable around your tall bearded husband, or your small red-headed mother (nothing against these two groups by the way!). So take the time to make sure each person is comfortable with the dog, their energy levels and play styles etc. Additionally make sure that the dog is comfortable around each person. It may seem arbitrary, or like an unnecessary part of the process, however this can help to build important bonds early on, can flag any potential issues before you commit to taking the dog home and can ensure that the whole family is involved in, and happy with, this exciting but life-changing decision.
9. Be in it for the long haul
This step cannot be understated. Owning a dog, let alone a rescue dog that may need extra care and understanding to become part of your family, is a huge decision. Visiting, meeting and finding them can be overwhelming and emotional and no doubt incredibly rewarding. However, it may not always be perfect days ahead. Toilet accidents, chewing, separation issues, reactivity to dogs, terrible recall, attention seeking, pulling on the lead, hyperactivity, or wanting to sleep in your bed and not the kitchen can all happen. Sometimes it’s more than one of these. Sometimes they will test your patience. Sometimes you may even doubt that you made the right decision – that’s why it is so important to follow the advice above to make sure you make the right decision at the centre. Thankfully there are loads of people that can help if issues arise, or if you want to put into place steps to prevent them arising – namely us at The Underdog Trainer, or any other professional trainers and behaviourists who use positive training methods. There aren’t many dog behaviour issues that can’t be made better, reduced or removed by a good trainer or behaviourist, so don’t give up hope – and don’t give up on your dog. Heartbreakingly many dogs are still returned from whence they came for training issues that are minor, incredibly common, and fixable! Please commit the same energy, emotional investment and care giving intentions to your dog, as you would to a child. If the going gets tough, the tough get a trainer in!
10. Give back (whether you adopt a dog or not)
Most rescue and rehoming centres in the UK operate as charities, some are lucky enough to be large and well supported, some are small local operations that may struggle to make ends meet month to month. Anything and everything is valuable to each centre, and you might not know how much you can offer. You may be bitten by the ‘rescue dog bug’ and want to volunteer your time, or sign up to walk dogs at the centre. You may want to help by assisting at events, or doing some promotion for the centre in the local community. You may have skills that they could be in desperate need of – plumbers, handymen, social media experts, or even dog trainers! You may have a spare few pounds, or want to buy some food or supplies for the dogs that you met. You may even want to leave some personal feedback on Facebook, Twitter or in person if you had a positive experience (this is such an impactful thing to do, as a lot of social media responses focus on the negative, don’t be afraid to redress the balance!). You may want to sponsor a dog, a kennel or make a regular donation. Or you may just want to send us some photos of the dog that you adopted, sleeping peacefully on the sofa, finally enjoying a blissful uninterrupted rest. Or maybe a photo of their visit to the beach or even of them cuddling watching TV with mum and dad. There are so many images of rescue centres that move their staff and volunteers to tears, not all of them are happy. So please send those pictures, they may be your dog now, but they were once all of ours.
They will forever be the best thing that you can give back.
tel: 07917 033060