I have trained and worked in animal care as well as in career advising. I live in Lancashire, in the UK.
Dogs are the animal most likely to be returned if adopted from a rescue centre. This is partly because it can be hard to predict how a dog will react in a home when they have come from a kennel environment and partly because in their desire to do something positive (give a dog a home), some people don't realise how much work it can take to help a dog settle in to life in a home.
I have had ten dogs from rescue kennels—the youngest was only twelve weeks and the oldest was thirteen years old when adopted. They have each given me a very different, but interesting, experience. Below, you'll find a list of pointers that may help increase your chance of a successful match.
Consider adopting from a rescue centre which fosters its dogs in homes rather than kenneling them.
There are many rescue kennels which operate fostering systems. You could also offer to foster for them. This way, you get to try it out to see if it's the dog for you. Plus, because the dogs are living in a home environment, this gives you the chance to really find out what the dog is like to live with, how much exercise it needs to keep it sane and your household possessions reasonably intact, whether it is house trained, crate trained, or able to be left for a few hours on its own. Adopting a dog which is in foster can be especially ideal for the first-time dog owner who will benefit from knowing as much as possible about their new pet. Another bonus is that dogs which move straight from one home environment to another often settle into their new home faster than those who spend time in kennels.
Consider adopting an older dog. Most dogs over seven years old will be calmer than puppies or young adults. Unless they have been outdoor or kenneled for most of their lives, they are very likely to be house-trained, past the chewing stage, and accustomed to being left alone in the home for at least two hours. The downside to adopting an older dog is having fewer years to enjoy them, but more dogs are making it to a venerable age– I have a German shepherd cross who is 16 years old and had a 13 year-old spaniel cross.
The Oldies Club is an organisation which promotes the adoptions of older dogs in rescues and foster homes around the UK.
Trial Home Visit
Consider adopting a dog from a rescue which offers trial visits and gives help and advice to you during that time. It can be distressing for the owner of a newly adopted dog to admit that the adoption isn’t working out, but sometimes this happens, despite the best attempts of the owner and rescue. Knowing you are allowed a trial period is reassuring, and if you have to return the dog, the rescue will try to match you with a more suitable dog for you.
Be a Volunteer Dog Walker
Consider volunteering as a dog walker at local rescue kennels before choosing a dog to adopt. As a dog walker, you will get to meet lots of different dogs which can give you confidence if you are a novice dog owner and can sometimes lead you to discover that the type of dog which would suit you best is very different from the picture you had in mind of an ideal dog. It can also lead you to adopting a hidden gem– sometimes known as a ‘sticky dog’, i.e. one who has been in rescue a long time. These dogs may have been overlooked by the general public because of age, breed, colour, or a temperament quirk, but may be the dog you fall for. After walking a dog weekly for six months, you'll have a better idea of the dog's personality. Most rescue kennels in the UK are keen to recruit volunteer dog walkers, so why not put in an application now?
Talk to Kennel Staff
If adopting from a traditional rescue kennel environment, make use of the kennel staff who work hands-on with the dogs. They will be in a good position to recommend a dog if you are honest about your requirements and realistic about what you can cope with. A conversation will help them match a dog to you that is a good fit.
Get to Know the Dog
Most reputable rescue kennels will home-check you, so there will be a period of time between selecting the dog and taking it home with you. Use this opportunity to walk the dog as often as possible so that you get to know each other better. Try to walk the dog in a variety of places and situations– again, so that you can find out more about how it reacts. Have a go at some basic training to find out what motivates the dog and get it accustomed to your requirements.
Make a Realistic Choice
Easy to say, but try to avoid the impulse of picking the dog you feel most sorry for. Think about what you can realistically take on and wether you are experienced and confident enough to take on a dog who may have complex medical or behavioural needs and if you'll be active enough to take on a high energy dog.
Give It Time
Be prepared to have at least six weeks of settling-in with the new dog. There will be highs and lows and even moments when you despair and think it isn’t going to work out. Many dogs do settle in very quickly and fit in, some are quiet for the first week but then spring all sorts of unexpected behaviours on you once they feel more confident. Others who’ve been kennelled for a long time take weeks, even months to adjust to a home environment or may be bouncing off the walls to start with from kennel stress and pent-up energy.
Ultimately, it is all worthwhile and can be very rewarding to see a dog blossom into your trusted companion and best friend. Knowing that you are giving a dog a second chance is a priceless feeling, whether they were bereaved by the death or illness of their first owner or discarded because they were too much trouble.
I wish you all many happy hours with your dogs.
Case Study: Roger, an Easy Re-Homing Experience
Roger, a crossbreed terrier, came into the RSPCA at Radcliffe on Trent as an eight-year-old stray. A friend who worked there suggested I might like him because she was concerned that he was being passed by because of his age and being a bit nondescript. I suspected he would be difficult to train to recall having been used to taking himself for walks. But I was wrong. He was very attentive when off the lead, settled in with my other four dogs immediately, and was exceptionally easy to live with from the start. He was a pleasure to know, with a cheerful and accommodating nature.
Case Study: Moby, a Difficult but Rewarding Re-Homing Experience
Moby, a large lurcher type (possibly greyhound/American bulldog mix) came to the RSPCA at Altham at seven months old. He had lived in a small backyard with his sister. He was homed briefly but returned, and as the months went on, developed progressively more difficult behaviour, grabbing the staff with his teeth in frustration as they went in and out. As a volunteer dog walker, I developed a fondness for him over the year he spent at the rescue kennel and when they began to despair of finding him a suitable home, I decided to offer him mine.
My main worry was that Nettle, my elderly dog, would be overwhelmed by him. In the first two weeks, I very nearly gave up as Nettle became reluctant to be in the same room as Moby. I was covered in bruises from being grabbed by him whenever I moved, when we stopped to check for traffic and cross a road, when we walked off a path onto exciting moorland, etc. I resolved Nettle’s fear by leaving them in separate rooms when I left the house– Moby hadn’t been fighting Nettle, just bouncing exuberantly in my absence. It took a further month of 2 ½ hours walking every day and calmly standing still, not reacting to being grabbed, before that behaviour significantly diminished. There were a lot of other areas to work on, including house-training and meeting other dogs, but within six months, he earned his bronze award in dog training and gained 1st prize for best trick at the RSPCA dog show. He loved learning, was terrific fun to go out walking with, and the effort was worthwhile. However, he really wasn’t the sort of dog who would have been suitable for most homes straight from rescue. Even though I knew what I was taking on, he nearly proved too much. Sadly, after only 18 months with me, Moby died after a short illness.
Eileen Hughes from Northam Western Australia on March 27, 2017:
Great information. We had to put our beautiful blue heeler down last year and we were so distraught. I said I would never get another dog as we are not as young as would like. But withing 2 weeks we started looking for rescue dogs.
We had a lot of trouble with our little mate, simply because he had been ill treated and I believe beaten up. He used to crawl to us and would duck if a shadow went over his head it was awful. But he is great now and so glad we decided to persevere with him. Definitely need to look at your options if elderly you need to get a quieter dog that is for sure. This one is not quiet but getting better.
HubTub on February 25, 2012:
As an avid animal lover, this brought tears to my eyes. Voted up and beautiful!
Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on February 24, 2012:
Bless you for your efforts. And Wow! BTW what great pics!
Nettlemere (author) from Burnley, Lancashire, UK on February 24, 2012:
Thank you so much for your comments, very cheering especially as I only just arrived here. For additional info I have added two of my dogs as case studies of re-homing experiences.
brandrocker on February 23, 2012:
Good read. It gives a clue for the commoners to proceed towards adopting a shelter dog.
Adrienne Farricelli on February 23, 2012:
Great information there! I fully agree on getting dogs from foster parents as most likely these dogs are already used to living in a home and easier to adapt. I have fostered several dogs and their transition to a new home seemed to go smoother compared to a dog in a kennel all day.
Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on February 23, 2012:
Wow, as someone who has adopted so many rescue dogs, I can really trust you as a resource! Great advice. I especially like the tips about volunteering with dog walking and offering to foster pets before taking on any permanent additions.