Category Archives: Tips & Tricks

Choosing Your Rescue Dog

It’s time!

After the hard work of considering whether or not you can care for a dog, and preparing for his arrival, it’s now time to go to the shelter to choose your new dog.

Before you go, remind yourself of the decisions you’ve made regarding your new dog’s breed, size and grooming needs. Animal shelters are full of dogs with soft brown eyes and wagging tails who would absolutely love to come home with you. It’s important to avoid being swayed by emotion when you see them. Remember, the lifespan of the average American dog is 12 years. That’s a long time to love with a dog that just doesn’t fit your family, and the last thing you want to do is to take him back to the shelter where he came from.

Go to the shelter when you’re not in a hurry, so you can take as long as you need to find your new family member. If possible, take your family with you. If you’re not very experienced with dogs, you may want to take a friend who is more knowledgeable, so they can offer advice.

Your first port of call on arriving at the shelter is to meet the staff. Chat with them about your lifestyle, and what you’re looking for in a dog. The staff at good shelters will be pleased you’ve taken the time to do this homework, and will gladly help you choose the right dog for you. After all, they don’t want to see dogs returned to them because they didn’t fit in with their adoptive family.

Meeting the Dogs

Walk around the shelter with the staff member, and watch how the dogs react to you. Take note of the ones that meet your criteria. Don’t consider any dog that shows sings of aggression; these dogs need a handler with experience in dog behavior and training. Similarly, very timid dogs take a lot of work, and should only be adopted by knowledgeable people with lots of time to invest in them. Ideally, look for a dog that readily approaches you and appears friendly and outgoing.

Ask the staff member for their opinion on which dogs may suit your family. They have been caring for these dogs, and will have an understanding of their personality. They can give you insights that may affect your choices. Check back through your list of desired criteria and eliminate any dog from consideration that have different needs! Narrow down your selection to two or three dogs that seem like they’d be a good match for you.

Spend some time individually with each shortlisted dog, and see how you related to each other. Ask the dog to sit, to see if he knows any basic obedience commands. If possible take the dog out of the shelter for a walk. The shelter is a very unnatural environment with all the excitement created by all those other dogs in close conditions. Once outside the shelter, pet the dog and see how he responds to your touch. Get the dog excited with a ball or another dog and see how quickly he clams down once the stimulus is removed. And see how well he gets on with other members of your family. You aren’t going to be able to tell a huge amount from these interactions, they are very artificial and will not perfectly represent how the dog will behave once they get settled at home, but they may give you some clue of future behavior.

Questions to Ask

Try to find out about the backgrounds of the dogs you are interested in. Ask lots of questions, so you can learn as much about the dogs as possible before you take one of them home.

How long has the been there?

How did this dog arrive at the shelter? Was he a stray, or was he given to them by an owner who could no longer care for him?

If the owner took the dog to the shelter, why did she have to do this? Keep in mind that some owners may not be completely honest about this; they may not be comfortable sharing the real reason with the shelter staff.

Did the dog appear to be abused? Were there any unexplained scars, or was he extremely timid?

Has he already been adopted and brought back to the shelter because he didn’t fit in? If so, do they know why?

Have the shelter staff noticed any behavior problems, such as aggression to other animals or being over protective of his food?

Has the dog met any children, and how does he react to them? What about cats? How does he get on with other dogs?

How is his health? When was his last checkup and were any problems found? What is his vaccination status, is he on heartworm prevention and has been neutered?

The answers to these questions may narrow down your choice, so it’s easier to pick the right dog for your family and at the least you want to make an informed choice. Sometimes more than one dog or none of the dogs is perfect for you, and under these circumstances, it’s a good idea to go home for the night and think it through. It’s quite okay not to take a dog on your first visit to the shelter, and it may even take several visits before you feel confident you’ve made the right choice.

This all seems like a lot of effort, but it’s critical that you do this to make sure both you and your dog end up happy with each other. It is much easier to spend a little extra time finding the right dog for your situation, than spending a lot of time trying to retrain the “wrong” dog so they fit into your situation.

Choosing Your Dog

The hard work has been done, and you’re now the proud owner of a dog who is a great match for your family lifestyle.

There will be a fee associated with his adoption; this is to help cover his feeding and medical care while he was in the shelter. You should receive a pile of paperwork: vaccination records, neutering certificate if he has been neutered, adoption agreement, and microchip records. If you’re not clear about any of the paperwork, ask the shelter staff to explain it to you.

After this has been done, it’s time to take him home!

Many people who adopt a dog from a shelter make their decision based on emotion and cuteness, rather than on research and forethought. This is fraught with danger. Do your homework, take your time and you’ll end up owning the very best for you.

Adopting a Rescue Dog – The First Seven Days
By: Dr. Susan Wright & Misty Weaver

Preparing Your Home For a Rescue Dog

If you have never owned a dog before, or it has been some time since you had a dog in your life, you may need to make some modifications to your home and yard to keep your new pet safe. You may also need to buy a few items so you have everything your new family member needs, before he arrives.

Modifying Your Home

Dogs are great company, and it’s lovely to have them relaxing in your home with you. But, it can be stressful in those early days and weeks until your new dogs becomes familiar with his new environment and learns the ropes. Until then you want to be especially careful to make the house as safe as possible for your dog. The process is very similar to childproofing your home. You want to carefully examine your home for potential hazards for your dog. To make things easier for both of you, here are some guidelines you may wish to follow:

Window Coverings. Look at your window coverings, and take stock of any potential hazards. Long cords may be a strangulation risk, and I know from personal experience that dogs can get tangled in vertical blinds. Those ornate tassels that look so good on your curtains are just asking to be played with!

Furniture. If your dog is going to be welcomed on the furniture, you may want to use a throw or slipcover to protect the fabric. Make sure the throw is made of a washable fabric so it’s easy to launder. Long toenails can scratch leather or vinyl furniture, so keep your dog’s nails well manicured. On the other hand, if your dog won’t be allowed on the couch with you, give him a soft bed that he can call his own. It too should be machine washable.

Floor Covering. Give some thought to purchasing some inexpensive rugs for the floor until your new dog is toilet trained. They may not match your decor, but they can protect your carpet from soiling. You can throw the rugs away when you don’t need them.

Children. If you have young children, keep their toys well out of reach of your dog. Small toys can cause intestinal obstructions if they are swallowed. I have known many teddy bears that have lost and eye when left within reach of an enthusiastic dog. Start reminding your children that they need to be tidy, for the sake of the dog and their toys.

Chemicals. Make sure any household chemicals such as cleaning products, fertilizers, and mouse baits are well out of reach. Some dogs like to chew, and if they decide to chew on these, they may become very sick. Also beware that some foods such as chocolate can be dangerous to dogs, so you want to remove all those candy bowls you have around the house. Your dog and your waist line will thank you.

Preparing Your Yard

Even indoors dogs enjoy a romp in the yard, and the most important thing to check is that your fence is secure. The fence should be high enough so that your new dog won’t be able to jump over it. Make sure that you also walk around the fence and repair any sports where the dog may dig underneath and escape. It’s a good idea to put some chicken wire around the bottom of your fence, and bury the edge inwards. This can help prevent any attempts at escape. If possible also secure the front yard, some dogs have a tendency to bold whenever that front door is opened.

Gather Your Supplies

There are some things your dog can’t do without, and it’s important that you plan ahead and have these ready for him when he comes home. Here are the essentials you should purchase for your new dog.

Leash. A six foot leash is a good size. It should be soft and flexible, and comfortable in your hand. Make sure the clip is secure and easy for you to open and close. Don’t get me started on flexileashes, if you don’t understand why it is a bad idea you may want to think about adopting a gold fish.

Collard and ID Tag. You don’t be able to purchase a collar and tag for your until you have chosen your new pet. However, do plan on buying both before you pick him up from the shelter.

Bowls for Food and Water. Metal bowls and plastic bowls are the most popular, and are very durable. Ceramic bowls are available in many designs and are often more attractive. The drawbacks are that they are usually more expensive, and they break easily.

Bed. There are so many options when it comes to choosing a bed for your dog. If your dog lives indoors, you may prefer a soft comfortable beanbag or a fluffy cushion for his bed. Outdoor beds need to be more weatherproof, so they may not be as luxurious. A metal frame bed with vinyl will last better in sunshine and rain, and still keep your dog off the hard ground.

Crate. Create training is a great way to create a secure spot for your dogs and ease them into home life. Their crate will become the dog’s den, a place where he can have a break from the hustle and bustle of a busy household. It’s also very helpful in toilet training him. When you choose a crate, make sure it’s not too heavy, so you can easily move it to clean underneath. Also, the tray in the bottom should be removable for the same reason. It should be large enough so your dog can comfortably stand up, turn around and lie down. Put a soft bed in the crate so your dog is comfortable.

Brush and shampoo. How much grooming your dog will need depends on the length of his coat. Even the shortest coat will look better after being brushed. At the very least, buy a brush that will remove any loose or dead hair. If your dog has a longer coat, you may need a coat stripper as well. Choose a shampoo that is mild and soap free, so it doesn’t strip the oils from your dog’s coat.

Food. You may have a preferred food you’d like to feed your dog, but make sure you also have the same food that he is being fed in the shelter. Initially, feed him just the shelter food and each day, reduce the amount of shelter food in his bowl and increase the amount of the new food. It should take a week or so completely change his diet. This will prevent diarrhea associated with suddenly feeding him a different food.

Toys. Whether it be tug toys, balls or squeaky animals, dogs love to play with toys. Choose a variety, because until you have him home, you won’t know his preferences. Make sure the toys you choose are strong enough to resist being played with; your choice will depend on the size and strength of your new dog. Also take a look at some puzzle-type toys that will mentally engage your dog. A toys that will exercise the brain is a great distraction if you need to leave the dog alone at home unsupervised for extended periods of time.

Health Care

If you don’t already take your pets to a veterinary clinic, spend some time choosing a veterinarian for your dog. Ask for referrals from friends and neighbors, and make arrangements to go and meet the staff. Remember, this is the person you are trusting with the care of your best friend, and you have to be totally comfortable with your choice.

Make an appointment for your new dog to visit your veterinarian within a week of him coming home. She will make sure that your dog is in good health, and discuss any needed vaccinations, flea medications or worm treatment. Take this opportunity to ask any questions you may have about dog care.

Learn the route to your vet and nearest 24 hour emergency clinic. Program both numbers and addresses into your cell phone, and your GPS. If you are ever unfortunate enough to have an emergency you will be glad that all that information is available at your fingertips. Make sure all family member have this information.

Care and Training

Dogs learn best by repetition and consistency. They need to know their boundaries, it makes them feel secure. Sit down with your family before you bring your dog home, and lay out the ground rules. You must agree on whether any parts of the house are out of bounds, if your dog is allowed on the furniture, and if he can be given food scraps from the table. If he’s not allowed on the couch, but Mom sneaks him up when nobody is looking, he will up feeling confused.

Work out who is responsible for feeding, bathing and exercising your new dog. Find out where and when the local obedience classes are, so you can start training your new dog as soon as he has settled in. You’re much more likely to enjoy your dog if he’s well mannered, and regular training is the best way to achieve this.

It will be a busy and exiting time when your new dog comes home fro the first time. If you are well prepared, you can fully enjoy his arrival, knowing he will have everything he needs to be healthy and happy.

Adopting a Rescue Dog – The First Seven Days
By: Dr. Susan Wright & Misty Weaver

What Kind of Rescue Dog Should You Get?

When you have reached the decision that yes, you are going to adopt a dog, you need to think about what type of dog would be best for your family. By taking time to work out a list of preferences, you’ll reduce the risk of choosing the wrong dog for you. If you adopt a dog that isn’t a good fit for your lifestyle, both you and your dog will be miserable.

The factor to consider is age. Many people adopt a puppy, and enjoy the challenge of raising him to be well behaved, well adjusted adult. They need more frequent meals than an adult dog, they need to be toilet trained and they also need to learn basic obedience commands. This does take time and patience, and if your day is already full, a puppy may not be for you.

You may be better off adopting a young adult. Although you don’t know what sort of training they have had, they are usually not as high maintenance as a pup. Don’t think that there’s no work involved with an adult dog; he will still have to learn to fit in with your family’s lifestyle, and he’ll still need feeding, grooming and exercise.

There are often many “golden oldies” available for adoption. These are dogs who are elderly, and would just love someone to care for them in senior years. They can still offer affection and companionship, but they may only be with you for a short while. Don’t forget that older dogs may have more medical expense, for example pain relief for arthritis, so if you do adopt one of these old souls, make sure you can afford to keep them comfortable.

Here are some other factors to consider when you’re choosing the type of dog you’d like to adopt.

How much yard space do you have? If you life in an apartment, it makes sense to choose a smaller breed. Certainly large breeds may be happy in a smaller home, particularly if they get the exercise they need, but will take up a lot of space. It can be hard to maneuver around a Great Dane all the time if you live in a one bedroom apartment!

How much can you afford to spend on a dog? As we’ve mentioned, large dogs cost more than small dogs. They eat more, and they cost more in worming tablets and flea control products. They’re also more expensive to neuter. Choose a dog that you know can afford to take care of, for the rest of his life.

Do you have children, and how old are they? Children can love a dog to death, and can often hurt them by poking eyes and pulling tails. Most breeds will get on well with children, particularly if they’ve been raised with them from puppyhood. However, some breeds are more protective, and others like to herd and will chase running children. Although these dogs can live happily enough with children, it takes extra commitment and training on your part. You may be better off with a more relaxed dog while your children are young. While we’re on the subject of children and dogs, don’t ever leave a child unsupervised with a dog, and don’t let your child tease or torment an animal. It can lead to tragedy.

How much time do you want to spend grooming your dog? A busy household is much better off with a dog with a short, low maintenance coat. However, there’s no reason not to choose a dog that has a longer coat, providing you’re prepared to invest the time and money into looking after it. A long coat that isn’t cared for can become matted and knotted, and this can be painful. Short coated dogs are also easier to check for ticks and fleas, quicker to brush, and dry faster a bath.

Are you an active person? Some dogs are real couch potatoes, and only need a short walk every day. Other dogs will run for 10 miles with you, then want to play ball. Be realistic about how much time you have to exercise a dog, and choose an appropriate breed. A high energy dog that doesn’t have the opportunity to burn off that energy will be bored, and that’s when you’ll have problems with him digging, barking and even escaping from your yard.

What about temperament and intelligence? Smart dogs, such as those in the herding group, need more than just physical exercise. They also need something to do with their minds, or they can develop behavior problems. Don’t take on one of these breeds unless you can commit to training him, and perhaps participating in a dog sport such as agility. He will be very unhappy, and so will you. A mixed breed which is part herding dog is likely to be just as high maintenance as a purebred.

Pure breed or crossbreed? Either will make a great pet. The advantage of adopting a purebred dog is that you’ll have a better idea of his temperament, trainability and size as an adult. If you’re considering a crossbreed, try and work out what breeds may be in his family tree. That may help give you an idea of what he will grow into, but you may still get a surprise when he grows up.

Male or female dog? If you’re adopting a shelter dog, he will probably already be neutered, so it doesn’t really matter what sex you choose. Both male and female dogs make great companions.

Just as you didn’t rush the decision to adopt a dog, don’t hurry through these questions. Take your time, there really is no rush. The right dog is out there for you.

Adopting a Rescue Dog – The First Seven Days
By: Dr. Susan Wright & Misty Weaver

Should You Get a Rescue Dog?

There are so many good things about owning a dog: companion-ship, protection and unconditional love. Dogs are also good for our health, with research indicating that people who own dogs have lower blood pressure and lower levels of stress hormones in their blood. But owning a dog is also a tremendous responsibility.

If you’re considering sharing your life with a dog, it’s important that you stop and think before you leap into this commitment. A dog should never be an impulse buy, even though it’s hard to resist those soft brown eyes and wet nose, you are adding a living being to your family, a family member that relies on you for their every need. The average lifespan for an American dog is 12 years, and you will need to meet your dog’s every physical, mental and emotional need for his entire life.

Use the month before adoption to consider what you comfortably offer a dog that joins your life. Spending a bit of time to figure out what kind of lifestyle commitments you can make will help you decide whether a dog is right for you at this time of your life, and will help you make better decisions on what type of dogs make sense for your family.

Time Commitment

The first step in deciding whether or not you can care for a dog is to review your time commitments. Do you have a very young children, elderly parents, a needy boss, or some combination therein that take up your every living moment? If so, perhaps it would be better to wait until you have a little more time that you can devote to caring for a dog before you on the extra responsibility.

You need a minimum of an hour a day to provide basic care for a dog. That’s an hour every day, not just on weekends! And remember that figure is a minimum, some dogs will require much more time.

Exercise – there is truth in the old adage, a tired dog is a good dog. A dog with too much energy and not enough to do will find them to do. A medium energy dog will need at least a half hour brisk walk once a day. Higher energy dogs will need longer and more frequent exercise to stay happy.

Training – one of the most common reasons for dogs being euthanized is a “behavior problem”. Most behavior problems can be prevented by appropriate socialization and training, under the guidance of a qualified trainer. This takes a heavy investment of time, particularly if you own a puppy. You cannot let your dog raise himself, be proactive and teach him how you’d like him to behave, and he’s much less likely to develop behavior problems that are difficult to resolve. Training also helps establish leadership with your dog and gives your dog the mental exercise that they need to thrive. Plan on training a puppy for at least half an hour each day, once you have established the basics you can reduce the amount of time spent training or move on to more advanced exercises.

Grooming – the beautiful coat on many long hair dogs requires extensive and regular grooming to avoid knotting and to keep clean. As well as frequent visits to the groomer, you will need to establish a daily routine of brushing you dog’s coat to keep it shiny and tangle free. In some breeds this can take a full hour every day.

Socializing – dogs are social creatures and need interaction to thrive. For most dogs a few moments throughout the day where you share a pat and a few kind words, plus a few longer sessions spent just laying at your feet are crucial to create a deep bond with your dog. Be prepared to spend a lot more time with the dog in the first few weeks as you establish a relationship.

Lifestyle Commitment

If it looks like time is not going to be a problem, think about whether a dog complements your current lifestyle. Think about what you are willing to compromise and what changes would not work with your lifestyle.

Home – is your home one that can accommodate a dog? You will need to understand your neighborhood’s rules regarding the type of dogs you are permitted to keep. If you rent, look through your rental agreement, many leases specifically forbid pets and having to keep your dog hidden away like is no fun and can be stressful. If the dog is going spend time outside, you are also going to want to make sure you have a yard that is securely fenced.

Allergies – do you have any family members who suffer from allergies? A dog may make them itch, sneeze or worse! Consult with your physician to find out if you can comfortably have any breed of dog, and to get some recommendation on the types of dogs that are least likely to trigger your allergies.

Routine – dogs need to be exercised, and fed every day. That means you need to think about whether your family’s routine is conducive to having a dog. Can someone get home every day in time to feed and exercise the dog?

Activity – all dogs need exercise, some more so than others. Are you a marathon runner or a channel surfer? Think about what kind of activity level makes sense for your family. Many people get a dog hoping that will become more active. What this is a good aspiration, it is generally more advisable to become more active before getting the dog!

Keep in mind that your lifestyle may change over the years. You may move to a different home, a different state, or a different country that might make it difficult for you to have a dog. You may have a family. Every dog deserves a forever home, so plan ahead for such changes, so you can be sure that you are able to keep your dog no matter what happens.

Cost of Owning a Dog

Rescuing a dog from a shelter is a wonderful thing to do for you, your family and the dog. But, one big misconception is that adopting a shelter dog is cheap.

Most shelters charge a modest fee for adoption. This fee covers only a small percentage of their costs for food, healthcare, facilities rehabilitation, and care giving. Adoption feeds also help shelters find new owners that are more responsible and prepared for the commitment of adoption a dog. The dogs that are in animal shelters have been examined to make sure they’re in good health before being made available for adoption. The dogs are usually vaccinated, wormed and neutered. In many cases. their temperament has been assessed so that staff can make sure they’re a good fit for a prospective new owner. I know of no breeder in the country that does that! All that is routine and for a fraction of the price you would expect to pay a reputable breeder.

But, the cost of adoption is only a small fraction of the total cost of ownership. According to a 2008 survey by the APPA the average dog owner spent $2,185 per year on dog related expenses.

Here are some of the most significant costs:

Food and Treats ($323) – you will want to feed your dog a good quality dog food in a quantity appropriate for their size and activity level. Costs are of course lower for smaller dogs and higher for larger dogs. In addition you will want to supplement their food with bones, rawhide, and the occasional treat.

Travel and Boarding ($495) – when you vacation you are either going to want to take your dog with you or have someone take care of them for you. If you don’t have the luxury of having a trusted friend or family member nearby that will take care of your dog, a good boarding facility will be a godsend. But, costs add up quickly with daily rates running from $30-$60 per night.

Medications ($137) – most dogs are on medication to protect them against internal and external parasites like worms and fleas. Most of these products are usually dosed according to your dog’s bodyweight and will be more expensive for bigger dogs.

Routine Veterinary ($225) – a yearly checkup along with vaccinations are important preventative care measures to ensure your dog stays healthy and to catch small problems before they become big.

Non-routine Veterinary ($532) – the biggest surprise in these statistics for most dog owners is the cost of non-routine procedures. When illness or accidents strike the costs can add up very quickly. A few x-rays and treatment for a broken leg or your dog swallowing an object can quickly surpass $1,000. You won’t get these costs every year but when these costs strike they can be very sizeable. Non-routine veterinary costs tend to be higher for older dogs. A good health insurance policy will help you absorb some of these expenses, but all policies have caps and deductibles so you still need an emergency fund for health care.

Grooming ($87) – costs associated with caring for you dog’s coat vary significantly by breed. Some short hair dogs need nothing more than an occasional brushing, while some long hair breeds need a standing appointment with the groomer.

Non Consumables ($370) – you dog needs a few basics like a leash, collar, crate, bed, and two bowls. But, are you going to be one of those dog owners that needs to splurge on their dog. This is definitely one place where dog owners could save. And old comforter is just as good as a $200 memory foam mattress from the dog’s perspective. But, if your reality is going to be that buying your dog a new winter coat every season brings you happiness, then budget it in.

Training ($35) – this is one place where we think most new dog owners would be a lot happier if they spent a little more time and money. Especially if your are a first time dog owner, having someone with a bit more experience help you work through the trouble spots will make life together a whole lot more fun.

Rescue Dog Considerations

Finally think about whether you want a rescue dog. Taking a dog from an animal shelter saves a life. Adoption a dog that is a little older and trained will be easier to transition to your home than a new puppy. But, there are some disadvantages that you should be aware of:

First, adopted dogs can come with behavioral problems. A good shelter will do their best to identify dogs with problems, but sometimes they will be apparent when you bring the dog home. For example, a somewhat common problem among abused dogs is a fear of men. Working with your dog to overcome these problems is rewarding, but very challenging.

Second, some dogs will have physical problems. Again the shelter will identify most problems, but often they will latent and you will only discover them when you the dog home or even several years later when the condition becomes visible.

Finally, expect the unexpected. A purebred puppy from a reputable breeder will show variation but will tend to have a body and temperament that are true to type. Shelter dogs have a lot more variation. Ass a veterinarian, I have observed that shelter puppies like nothing more than to mock the predictions of both owners and veterinarians. That little puppy that everyone thought was going to be 30 pounds will be 50. Even grown dogs will surprise you, acting in a very different way once they get settled in at home than they did at the shelter. That shy little lab mix can come out of her shell a become a fiercely protective dog once she establishes her own territory:

So take these few weeks before you make the decision to adopt to think through whether a dog fits with your situation. If you have room in your life for a dog, do consider adopting a dog from your local shelter. You’ll have a loyal companion for life and you will feel good, knowing you may have saved his life.

One place to avoid getting a dog is at a pet store. Some pet stores obtain their pups from puppy mills, where dogs are basically farmed, to obtain pups for sale. In many cases, the dogs are kept in poor conditions and don’t receive adequate veterinary care. Dogs are also often bred with less care to avoid genetic abnormalities that may manifest later in life such as hip dysplasia, a painful condition that occurs in larger dog breeds.

Adopting a Rescue Dog – The First Seven Days
By: Dr. Susan Wright & Misty Weaver