As most veterinarians probably do, I often get asked by friends and family, “what type of dog do you think I should get?” I often don’t have a specific answer, but here is what I think, based on my own dog ownership experience and the experience of witnessing owners and their dogs for over 15 years now…wow I’m getting old.
My opinion, and its just an opinion, is that the ‘right’ rescued dog will make the best pet. I also believe that the closest dog-owner bonds I have witnessed as a veterinarian are those that had their beginnings in adoption of a rescue dog; usually and adolescent to adult dog. I generally believe that dogs are a lot smarter than we give them credit. It is anthropomorphic of me to say, but I think they experience emotion and memory similar to ours; the tidal wave of facebook videos these days supports this. They love to be loved and respond to that love. I am certain, that an intelligent dog differentiates the homeless shelter experience from a loving environment…and they are grateful and appreciative for the love and warmth they receive when they have had a less than optimal past. So many owners spend so much time training they’re new puppies to come and stay, with so much fear of them running away, not listening, wandering off. Take a rescue dog with some hardship in its history, show it some basic love and tenderness…it won’t want to leave you, to wander…they know where they want to be, and that is with you. My first dog was a Labrador puppy. I had the good fortune of being able to take the dog almost everywhere with me, and when I couldn’t he was with my loving mother. Our bond and ever presence was most of the training he needed, not much more, but there were times when he wanted to go and would not listen. My second dog arrived after being hit by a car in the vet hospital where I was volunteering. He was banged up, but no serious injury. He was placid and calm and had a great demeanor, about 1-2 years of age. He went to the local shelter, where unclaimed after 5 days, he was scheduled for euthanasia. So I adopted him. I picked him up, put him in the car and stopped for gas at a busy intersection on the way home. When I stepped out of the driver side door, he scrambled past me out near the street. I was terrified. He didn’t even have a name, I didn’t know how to call him. He ran about 10 yards as I was frantically begging him to come back. He stopped, turned and looked at me, and then slowly walked back over to me. 13 more years I had him, and a great dog he was. My third and fourth dogs (my current dogs) are also rescue dogs. Despite virtually no formal training, they can go with me just about anywhere off leash. They wait patiently for me outside a restaurant or shop, or in the car. They appear to the sound of a whistle even if I don’t know exactly where they are when we are out on a hike.
If you want an easy pet, a grateful and appreciative family member, consider adopting your next dog. And do it this way. Formulate some idea of what you want in terms of breed or size of dog. Go to your local shelter(s) or rescue and browse. When you see one that looks good, spend time with it, on multiple days if possible. Ideally, if you are allowed to foster it for a few days, do this. You can quickly ascertain the personality of a dog by just spending some time with it. See how it responds to you. Is it relaxed, attentive, responsive to your touch and voice?—you will know.
If you have your heart set on a pure breed, please realize that there are usually local rescue organizations that tend to be breed specific. Don’t assume that a dog who has been given up for adoption is a misfit; people give up great dogs all the time for personal reasons. Both of my rescue dogs are pure-bred border collies—they are the best dogs I’ve ever owned.
And remember, when you adopt a dog who might otherwise be put to sleep, you are giving a dog a second chance at life…they will be grateful to you for the rest of their lives.