rescue dog myths

August 1st is DOGust, the National Birthday of Shelter Dogs — because all dogs deserve a birthday, even if they have a mysterious backstory!

In honor of the rescue dogs and shelter pups we all love, we’d like to take the time to address a few myths and misconceptions about rescue dogs. While many pet parents choose to support a responsible breeder, there are many advantages to adopting a dog — not least of which is the knowledge that you’ve changed that dog’s whole life for the better.

1. Can you adopt a puppy from a rescue, or only older dogs?

The idea that you can’t get a puppy from a rescue is simply not true!

Because many shelters are not equipped to care for a pregnant or nursing dog, any new mothers or soon-to-be-mothers that come in tend to be pulled by rescues and placed in a foster home where Mama Dog can raise her pups in peace. The rescues will then begin advertising that they’ll have puppies ready for adoption very soon!

When these puppies are 8 – 12 weeks old, it’s time for them to go to new homes! These rescue pups are every bit as playful, loving and full of potential as any puppy you buy from a breeder. For pet parents who truly want to “start at the beginning” and raise their dog from puppyhood, your local rescue is sure to have available puppies soon.

That being said, there are advantages to skipping the puppy stage! Young dogs that are a year or two old are already potty trained and fully grown, yet still have youthful energy and long lives ahead of them. In fact most rescue dogs are less than three.

And finally, while older dogs aren’t for everyone, many pet parents consider a dignified lady or gentleman to be the perfect choice. Senior pets tend to be quiet, calmer and more predictable. They’re full of just as much love as younger dogs, without all that uncontrolled energy — and they make ideal cuddle buddies!

2. Can you adopt a purebred dog from a rescue or shelter?

While we believe “supermutts” are always Best in Show, the idea that you can’t adopt a dog of a specific breed from a rescue is simply not true!

Purebreds can also be relinquished, abandoned or find themselves alone when their owner passes away. Life circumstances may also change suddenly, leaving a pet parent without the financial means to care for their beloved dog.

Unfortunately, many well-meaning pet parents buy a purebred puppy without fully understanding the breed’s needs. High-energy breeds such as German Shepherds, Dalmatians and Border Collies may be relinquished to shelters when the family becomes overwhelmed.

If there’s a certain breed you have your heart set on, it’s worth it to investigate breed-specific rescues in your area. They are likely to have plenty of young, healthy, purebred dogs that you can adopt for a fraction of the price of buying a purebred puppy from a breeder.

3. Are shelter dogs sick or unhealthy?

Life can be tough for strays, so it’s true that many dogs that enter shelters are underweight or have health conditions. However, rescues will give them a full medical checkup, treat any issues like heartworms or mange, spay or neuter them, and often insert a microchip as well. They’ll also help Fido reach a healthy weight.

By the time rescue dogs are ready for adoption, they’re back to their shiny, smiley, healthy selves! Plus, many dogs enter shelters and rescues perfectly healthy already, if they’ve been relinquished by former owners or if their owner has recently passed away.

Shelters and rescues can treat short-term illnesses, but many pet parents also worry about long-term or genetic illnesses that may develop later. Remember that while a responsible breeder will do genetic testing to reduce the risk of health issues in their puppies, mixed breed dogs are still less likely to be inbred.

On average, mixed breed dogs are genetically healthier than purebreds, and often live longer lives — that means more time with your best pal!

4. Are rescue dogs scared and traumatized?

The classic “in the arms of an angel” image of a shelter dog is a sad face peering through bars, a scared, trembling pup who has been traumatized by abuse and neglect.

Actually, many shelter dogs were beloved family pets before their circumstances changed — happy, spoiled and loved. They then end up in a rescue, where rescue staff and volunteers continue to love on them! So, some adoptable dogs aren’t scared at all.

Of course, many dogs do have unpleasant experiences in their past — but you may be surprised at how adaptable and forgiving dogs can be. Even pups who were treated badly by humans before will naturally respond to love and kind treatment (and yummy treats can bribe even the most wary dog!).

So not all rescue pups have trauma to overcome — and even those that do can quickly bloom into happy, wiggly dogs once in a loving environment.

5. Can a rescue dog be trained? What if they already have bad habits?

One of the most pervasive myths about rescue dogs is that “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. Old dogs can absolutely be taught new behaviors and habits — including trucks! 

It’s true that some adult dogs have developed bad habits or unwanted behaviors, and those behaviors may be harder to correct because they’ve been established for so long — but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. With patience and consistency, dogs can and do learn new behaviors to replace the unwanted ones.

If you adopt from a rescue, they’ll be a great resource on how to teach your new buddy good habits. They may even have started that training already, or have connections to a trusted dog trainer in the area.

In fact, many rescue dogs are incredibly well-behaved already! They may have come from a previous home where they were taught good habits, or may have benefited from training while in their foster home.

No matter what tricks or behaviors your new furiend already knows or doesn’t know, training is a fun way for you to bond with your new adopted dog. There’s nothing else like the sense of pride you feel when you see your pup making progress!

6. Do rescue dogs have behavioral issues?

There’s a perception that shelter dogs are there because they have serious behavioral issues, such as reactivity, or lack basic skills such as potty training. 

The truth is, while a minority of dogs may enter shelters with such challenges, responsible rescues will not list a dog as adoptable until they are certain that Fido would thrive in the right home.

Many behavioral challenges can be overcome with committed training, either on the part of the new family or in a foster home. For example, potty-training an adult dog may not be as difficult as you think, since adult dogs have learned bladder control and can “hold it” for longer than puppies can.

If a dog displays a truly difficult behavior, such as reactivity, resource guarding or too-rough play, the shelter or rescue is likely to put stipulations on their adoption (no small children in the home, or experienced dog owners only, for example) to ensure every dog is set up for success.

Furthermore, many, many rescue dogs do not have behavioral challenges! Many sweet, trained, well-behaved dogs end up in shelters due to bad luck and changing circumstances. These pups may already have good manners, such as walking nicely on the leash and sitting for attention. Getting a “pre-trained” dog can definitely be one advantage of adopting!

7. Can you really know a rescue dog’s personality?

There’s the perception that because so much of a rescue dog’s background and/or genetics are often unknown, that this makes rescue dogs an “unknown quantity” compared to purebred dogs, which are seen as more predictable.

But guess what? All dogs are unknown quantities!

Any breeder who tells you they know what a puppy’s personality will be when they grow up is mistaken. Any puppy of any breed may grow up to be outgoing or reserved, loud or quiet, bold or cautious, cuddly or aloof. 

Even dogs whose histories are completely mapped out — you know where their lives began, and you know they’ve been with you since they were a few months old — can unexpectedly develop phobias, habits or strange behaviors later in life.

It’s true that your new rescue dog who seems reserved and quiet at first may develop an entirely different personality once they settle in — suddenly becoming boisterous and loud, for example. But any dog you welcome into your home, whether from a rescue or breeder, is on some level a roll of the dice.

In fact, that’s part of what makes being a dog parent so fun — our best furiends always keep us on our toes!

8. Is it expensive to adopt a dog from a rescue?

When you adopt a rescue dog, you’re not paying for a pedigree — you’re paying for vet checkup, any needed treatment, a microchip, training and evaluation, plus funding all the other good work that rescues do saving innocent lives.

Adoption fees can range but are usually a few hundred if you adopt from a rescue, slightly cheaper from a shelter. Puppies typically have higher fees than adult dogs, and seniors are typically discounted.

Considering purebred or “designer” puppies (such as Labradoodles and other -oodles) are often a thousand dollars or more to buy, adopting is still the more affordable option for many people.

Plus, many shelters and rescues will have special low-cost adoption events throughout the year, and many dogs have their adoption fees reduced or waived by generous donations from private individuals or companies.

9. Is it difficult to be approved to adopt a dog?

The difficulty in adopting a dog depends greatly on where you go, and depends on if you are going to a shelter or a rescue.

Shelters are typically high-volume facilities that are required per town or county rules to take in all strays or drop-offs. Because they can’t turn a dog away, they typically fill up quickly and have a high turnover. Unfortunately, because of the constant influx of new dogs and need for space, many shelters have a high euthanization rate and may only hold a stray for a couple of weeks before euthanizing for space.

If you adopt a dog directly from a shelter, the process is typically very quick. Because shelters need to get dogs out the door and can’t afford to be picky, it’s not uncommon for prospective pet parents to walk in, pick a dog, sign some papers, and walk out with their new family member the same day!

Shelters often have partnerships with local rescues, which operate quite differently. Rescues will pull high-risk dogs from the shelters: dogs that have a health concern, or are in need of some TLC prior to adoption, or are simply running out of time.

This process is where many of the myths about rescue dogs come from, as rescues do tend to prioritize dogs that aren’t likely to be adopted immediately, such as dogs that are older or have a behavioral challenge (which could be as simple as cowering in their kennel when prospective adopters walk by). 

Rescues keep their dogs in their own facility or in a foster home where pups can relax and let their true personalities shine! Unlike shelters, rescues don’t take in an unlimited number of dogs, so they have the time and resources to devote to each dog in their care.

The amount of time and care rescues devote to each dog gives them the chance to get to know each dog’s personality and needs, and even to begin basic training for dogs who need it. Dogs with health issues such as mange or kennel cough are treated; shy dogs are socialized; and so on.

This is why rescues are strict about who adopts a dog from them: they’ve invested a lot of time and effort getting each dog physically and mentally ready for a new family, so they don’t want the precious charges in their care to go to just anyone.

Many rescues have an application process, will ask for references from your friends or veterinarian, and may even want to visit your home before you are approved. Even then, the adoption may be on a foster-to-adopt basis, where the new family can give the new dog a “trial run” before committing.

Some adopters grumble about the paperwork and hoops they have to jump through, but there are many advantages of adopting from a rescue. Shelters often know next to nothing about the dogs they take in; rescues are much better able to help you make an informed decision.

Rescues work hard to “matchmake” their dogs to their families, and they’ll do all they can to help you find the pawfect pup for you! They’ll even give all dogs a full vet checkup and a microchip, and may even have a deal with local vets for a discounted first visit.

10. Will a rescue dog really bond with their new owners?

Finally, the idea that rescue dogs will spend their whole lives pining after their previous owners and never truly bond to their new family is absolutely ludicrous!

Dogs were bred to love and connect with human beings — that desire is literally in their DNA! Rescue dogs are fully capable of falling in love with their new human.

Your new rescue dog may be disoriented by their change in circumstances, and they may not realize right away that this relative stranger who has taken them to an unfamiliar house is going to care for them forever — but as they get to know you better each day, it’ll sink in that they truly are home and loved.

And when a rescue dog does begin seeking you out for cuddles, getting excited when you appear and showering you with love, there’s no better feeling!

Check out our other DOGust posts.