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Busting some myths about shelter and rescue dogs

By Melissa Erickson

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If a rescue dog is going to be your family’s new pet, know that having a great relationship with an animal is a long-term responsibility.

Most shelters and rescue groups work hard to evaluate dogs and owners and make good matches, but there’s plenty that families should know in advance, said Sherry Woodard, animal behavior consultant, Best Friends Animal Society, a no-kill shelter in southwestern Utah.

“Adopting a dog saves a life. America’s shelters and rescue groups are filled with wonderful homeless animals,” said Woodard, an expert in animal training, behavior and care and owner of four dogs and four cats. “Buying a dog can be very risky if the buyer doesn’t research the breeder’s business very thoroughly. Many puppies still come from situations where they were not socialized; some come from puppy mills, raised in cages with parent dogs that were not socialized or properly cared for, and some have medical problems.”

Here are some frequently asked questions about shelter dogs and Woodard’s answers:

Q: Is it possible to get specific breeds at a shelter?

A: Yes, shelters and breed rescues often work together and have almost every breed. It is estimated that up to 25 percent of dogs looking for homes through shelters and rescue groups are purebred. Many shelters will keep a wish list. You can fill out a form of what you want and receive an email when an animal comes in meeting your request. This is a great way for volunteers to help shelters and rescues – these lists require people to keep them current.

Q: Before going to a shelter, what should a family think about?

A: The family needs to talk through all that is involved in inviting a dog to be a four-footed member of the family. Who will walk, feed, clean, clean up after, play with, teach and learn about positive reinforcement? Parents will have to teach their kids how to teach and practice the behaviors you want your new dog to know. Plus, there will be regular and unexpected costs. Dogs need medical and dental care just like us.

Q: How do you determine if a dog will be a good fit for your family?

A: Think about how energetic of a dog fits with your family’s lifestyle. I recommend mental exercise with some physical exercise for any dog. Think about the dog’s coat. Will you want to groom a long-haired dog or is a short-haired dog better for you? How you will engage with them every day? You can’t expect the dog to wait for weekends for human interaction. Dogs need things to do, things to chew, and many dogs want dog friends.

Q: What does a friendly dog look like? What signs will they give off?

A: Friendly dogs are loose and wiggly. They approach new people without becoming fearful, and they do not avoid meeting new people.

Q: Should the whole family meet the dog?

A: Having the entire family be a part of this decision helps everyone to feel valued and heard. Sometimes the kids come up with the best points about which dog is a good fit. Each member of the family should say what they think and how they feel.

The adults should decide which dog is the best fit for the whole family.

Q: What are important questions you should ask the shelter?

A: Ask for any known history of the dog. Ask about the dog’s current behavior: How are his or her social skills with other animals? Any concerning behavior seen (food guarding, getting too mouthy when playing)? Does the dog have basic manners? Is the dog house-trained? Any favorite toys or things they enjoy (such as “plays in his water” or “she brings people toys”)? Ask if this dog has any current medical needs such as a dental exam or medications.

Q: Anything else?

A: I recommend trying the dog as a visitor or foster pet first. Every dog is an individual, and the dog of their dreams may not be the dog they fall in love with after getting to know him/her a little.

October is Adopt-A-Dog Month

Since 1981, the American Humane Society has declared October Adopt-A-Dog Month. The group recommends that everyone consider adopting a shelter or rescue dog, spaying or neutering a dog you already own, microchipping your pet or supporting your local shelter with donations of time, money or supplies this month.

Find resources for parents and teachers at bitly/1egBWE5.

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