Here at HOLI, we pride ourselves in supporting local (and all) rescues. For National Rescue Dog Day, we turned to dog trainer Tess Marty to offer some answers to common rescue-specific training questions.
HOLI: Some people are looking for certain traits; is there a way to do that with a rescue versus buying a purebred or 'designer' dog?
TM: A lot of people have typical traits they’re looking for, whether that’s a high energy breed for a hiking family, one that’s good with family, one who will lounge on the couch with you, etc. If you’re really looking for specifics, look into a breed-specific rescue, like Border Collie Save, Green Mountain Pug Rescue, or Labrador Rescuers for labs.
If you are looking for a mixed breed, most rescues run temperament and behavioral tests to learn about the dog’s traits. Rescues benefit from doing these because it will help find the right home for the dog and reduce the chances of returns. Most rescues will help you if you’re interested in getting a certain personality to match you to your perfect dog.
"Most rescues will help you if you’re interested in getting a certain personality to match you to your perfect dog. "
HOLI: Could getting a rescue dog be a 'shot in the dark' in terms of personality?
TM: Common misconception. All dogs are a shot in the dark for their personality! There’s generally not too much you can do to absolutely guarantee specific traits. Shelter dogs are often given up due to a lack of training, and as long as you have the resources to put in effort to train your dog, you’ll likely end up with a pup who fits your life perfectly. As I said before, rescues are looking to give you a perfect match to reduce the chances that you’ll send them back. If you’re really concerned about if their personality will mesh with your lifestyle, most rescues have a foster-to-adopt program, where you can foster a dog while you’re looking to adopt, and you can apply to be their forever home if it’s a good fit!
"Most rescues have a foster-to-adopt program, where you can foster a dog while you’re looking to adopt, and you can apply to be their forever home if it’s a good fit!"
HOLI: What about people with allergies who need a 'hypoallergenic' dog?
TM: Surprise! There is actually no such thing as a 100% hypoallergenic dog. There are definitely dogs that are reduced allergens, but it’s a marketing ploy for low-shedding dogs. If you ask your rescue about a hypoallergenic dog, they can likely point you in the direction of a dog who won’t bother you too much. These include low-shedders like poodle mixes or dogs with hair and not fur. Make sure you’re not actually allergic to dog saliva (the more common allergen), because at that point it won’t matter if you go with a “hypoallergenic” dog or not. When you adopt your dog, making sure they are brushed and bathed regularly can reduce a lot of the problems you might experience!
"Surprise! There is actually no such thing as a 100% hypoallergenic dog. There are definitely dogs that are reduced allergens, but it’s a marketing ploy for low-shedding dogs."
HOLI: What are the most common behavioral issues you tend to see in rescue dogs you work with?
TM: The most common reason a dog is brought to the shelter is a lack of training. Either the dog chewed something it shouldn’t have, it jumped on people, or it stole food off of the counter. All of these things are easily fixable using a trainer and a formulated preventative training plan. The most common things I see with adult rescues are leash reactivity, pulling, and jumpiness. Depending on your rescue dog’s history, they may be more prone to resource guarding if they had to fend for themselves. Leash reactivity, I think, is normally from a lack of proper walking and teaching, and not getting proper exercise. It’s especially common for city dogs, who sometimes come from the South and need to adjust to a life with sirens, people, dogs, and construction. If you utilize a trainer and good positive reinforcement techniques, you’ll be able to “fix” the majority of their behavioral issues. Remember too, they’re not always “bad” behaviors, they’re dog behaviors that don’t fit in with our human lifestyle! Take your time and be patient and kind with them.
"The most common reason a dog is brought to the shelter is a lack of training."
HOLI: How do you introduce a rescue to other dogs/pets?
TM: It’s likely that you’ll be able to ask the shelter if you can do a meet and greet with your other pets before bringing your new rescue home. If you don’t get the opportunity, you’ll want to first introduce them to the smells of each other. Maybe a collar or a bandana that they’ve worn, or a blanket they use regularly. You want to make sure introductions are done first with some kind of barrier, like a fence, a leash, or a door for safety purposes. I usually tell clients to do introductions outdoors in a neutral area so your current pet doesn’t feel territorial. If it’s another dog, take them on a walk together with a second handler. You can walk next to each other at a bit of a distance and let them approach naturally instead of forcing a face off that could be stressful. Take your time, know that sometimes it takes a while, and have a plan if you need to keep the two pets separate for a bit!
"I usually tell clients to do introductions outdoors in a neutral area so your current pet doesn’t feel territorial. If it’s another dog, take them on a walk together with a second handler."
HOLI: How long will it take a rescue to adjust to their new home?
TM: Rescue dogs all have different histories, so it’s hard to say for sure if your dog will adapt quickly or need a little time. For the most part, though, behaviorists, trainers, and rescue organizations will tell you to follow the 3-3-3 rule. It will take around 3 days to stop feeling scared and overwhelmed, to start eating and drinking normally, and to come out of their shell a bit. Use these days to really allow for decompression. Let them hide or sleep it off. Don’t scold them for any accidents or mess-ups. They’re still figuring things out. It will take around 3 weeks, or 1 month, to feel more settled. They will begin adjusting to your routine and their new surroundings, and will probably start to show some of their true colors. This is when you’ll want to take notice of any “quirks” that may require some training. They’ll learn how to be left home alone if you leave, when their normal bathroom breaks are, and learn the overall lay of the land around where you live. It will take around 3 months for your dog to truly feel 'at home.' This is when you’ll notice they’ve adjusted to routines, formed longer lasting habits, and formed a bond with you. You don’t want to lessen training at this point, but you’ll probably have a decent sense of their behavioral issues that you’re focusing on, and know how to go about fixing things.
"Behaviorists, trainers, and rescue organizations will tell you to follow the 3-3-3 rule."
HOLI: Any final thoughts to leave us with?
TM: Adopting a rescue is a commitment like any other pet. Just because it is an adult doesn’t mean your pet will be free of any “bad” or puppy-like manners. Puppies will grow out of certain traits, but only if you work to train them out. Some dogs never had someone to tell them that chewing on furniture is a bad idea, or were scolded for peeing in the house, causing them to try to hide it when they need to go. As with any dog at any age, you’ll want to have a training regiment in place with a professional that works only with force-free positive reinforcement in order to come up with the best strategies for them to adapt and live their best life. Not much beats the pride you’ll feel in conquering an issue that your rescue has, or finally breaking the nerves they’ve been feeling about having a new home. It’s something unlike anything else! Some people I’ve spoken to have a hard time with the waiting process in adoption, but it’s there because of the care the rescues have for those in their care. They want to make sure you’re a good fit, and will take the time to play matchmaker far more than most breeders will. Your perfect dog is out there in the shelter! Take me for instance. When I was in college, my mom and I agreed we could adopt a dog if any only if I agreed that he would stay with her when I moved out. I agreed, of course, and I decided I wanted an Australian Shepherd mix or a Border Collie mix. Low and behold, a couple months after that talk, I found a five month old Border x Aussie mix looking for a home. I can assure you, your perfect rescue is out there. Happy rescuing!