Three of the four of the dogs I've had in my life were adult dogs when I adopted them, and had been rejected by their original owners (and then some): one was living on the streets before I adopted him, one was on his way to the SPCA when we met, and one had been in three different animal shelters in Europe before I came along. My current dog was nine months old when I got her, having been born on a beach in Baja, Mexico and, through various channels, ending up with a rescue group in Beaverton, Oregon.
I got my first dog when I was 24. That was 25 years ago. I will always have a dog or two, and my commitment to my dogs is always for life.
When you adopt a dog, you will probably hear lots of negative comments from friends and family:
Yes, it has been a lot of responsibility and a big commitment -- but being a halfway grown up person, I really enjoy responsibility, and feel that this commitment has made me a much better person. That responsibility and "all that work" has positively affected my temperament, my outlook on life, my human relationships, and my sense of "home." It's made me pay more attention to my surroundings and appreciate whatever moment I'm in. It's brought me into wonderful conversations with other people. It's also taught me a lot about humans: people who don't like dogs, unless they have had a traumatic incident with a dog, usually turn out to be people for which I don't really want to be around, for a range of reasons.
It isn't always smooth-sailing; I've certainly had my share of dog behavior problems. But through seeking professional advice and making the time to address the problem, I've been able to help my dog-- and myself -- overcome whatever behavior problem we've faced. And in overcoming the problem behavior, we've ended up with an even stronger bond with each other.
Almost any problem you have with your dog can be traced back to the way you treat your dog. That means that the problem can almost ALWAYS be addressed. Whether it's your dog going to the bathroom in the house, obsessive behaviors, neurotic behaviors, chewing himself, over excitability, excessive barking, whining, not obeying commands, not coming when called, running off, getting into the trash, destroying things in the house, obsessive digging, chewing the furniture, tail chasing, scratching, aggression towards other dogs, aggression towards other animals, aggression towards humans, snapping, biting, growling -- most problems with dogs can be overcome, if YOU will make the commitment and budget time regularly -- and the results will be not only a better-behaved dog, but a relationship with your dog that will be one of the most precious things you have ever experienced. Don't give up on your dog!
Then there are the shelter animal myths and the older dog myths: how dogs from shelters are more unpredictable than dogs from breeders (not true), how adult dogs or old dogs can't bond with a person like a puppy (not true), and on and on. None of my dogs have been puppies when I got them. Two of them would never have had a home if I hadn't taken them. And all of my dogs have had such a strong, strong bond with me, so much so that my vets have commented about it.
These are excellent sites to help counter the many myths about adopting dogs from animal shelters:
10 Myths About
Adopting a German Shepherd Dog
(My dog now, Albi, is a German-Shepard mix. She was in the German shelter system for a year because people were afraid to adopt a black dog or a German Shepherd, even one as small as Albi)
The Humane Society of the United States has a wonderful and much-needed campaign called "Pets for Life." The campaign features a variety of programs to empower pet caregivers to solve the problems that threaten their relationships with pets. Behavior problems top the list of reasons for sending pets to shelters -- where, in the U.S., millions of adoptable dogs and cats are put to sleep each year. Other dogs and cats are given up because of the owner's lifestyle changes, such as the birth of a child, family members with allergies or a family member with a disability. Still others are given up because their caregivers couldn't find pet-friendly rental housing, or because their owners simply had unrealistic expectations about what it meant to care for a pet. The goal of the Pets for Life campaign is to curtail the numbers of animals relinquished to shelters - or otherwise given up on - by helping people address all of the aforementioned issues, rather than giving up entirely on their pets. These resources can also help those considering the adoption of a dog or cat to better prepare for the LIFETIME experience.
If you don't own it already, buy this immediately: How to Be Your Dog's Best Friend: The Classic Training Manual for Dog Owners (Revised & Updated Edition). Then read it. And if you follow the book's advice, prepare to have a vastly different, more fulfilling relationship with your dog than you ever imagined. Your dog will love you for it. And life will become rather wonderful for you both.
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