Why You Should Adopt an Adult Dog


Deborah Hoffman

When you think of your ideal dog, what comes to mind? A big dog to romp outside and play with the kids? A hiking companion? A mellow friend who will hang out while you're watching TV or reading? A dog that gets along with other dogs, cats, and horses? One that alerts you when a stranger is at your front door? Certainly you want a dog that's housebroken and not destructive, that's well-mannered and easy to train. As one who lives with five canine companions, you can take it from me: adopting adult dogs is just as rewarding as raising dogs from puppyhood. Plus, with an adult you generally know what you're getting, so you can pick the dog that best suits your exact needs.

Don't get me wrong: I love puppies. Two of my dogs were under ten weeks old when they came to live with us, one was ten months old, one was just under four years and another about five. The puppies were cute, endearing, and responded well to both puppy and adult obedience classes. But...one chewed the wooden molding in our kitchen, and another destroyed hundreds of dollars of irrigation. The ten-month old managed to eat an entire foam chair (yuck!) and liked tearing chunks out of our berber carpet when we weren't looking. Eventually, with training and the passage of time, they outgrew all of these behavior. They're models of dogdom now, but did they test our patience and our checking account.

The two adults were a different story. Both came from Albuquerque's Animal Humane Association but they each had remarkably different backgrounds. Kylie was a border collie who'd been turned in as a stray. He'd been sick, but nursed back to health at Animal Humane. He stayed there for over a month and with no potential takers, was about to be euthanized. As a once-a-week volunteer, I had passed his cage and was struck by his sweetness. No one knew if he was housebroken, or even house-savvy, but I took him home anyway. It's been four years, and in the first year he had a few accidents in the house, but it wasn't hard to break him of the habit. He's never destroyed a thing. Adult dogs are likely to be already housebroken. If they're not, they DO have the physical capacity to hold it in (unlike puppies) and are generally fast-learners.

Rusty, the Australian shepherd we adopted, was turned in by previous owners who complained that she and another dog (which they also turned in) jumped the fence and bothered the neighbors. She was sweet, gentle, and very pretty (one blue eye, one brown), but as a 60 pound fence-jumper, no one wanted her. She was also about to be euthanized. I took her home and it was true--she could jump our 5-foot fence. But our four other dogs couldn't, so she only tried it twice. Now, just to be sure, we keep her in the study when we're gone, but give her free run of the yard when we're home. She's perfectly housebroken and adores our toddler nephews. Success!

A few hints for adopting an adult dog:

Know what qualities you're looking for, and what you can't tolerate. Be honest.

Whether you're at a shelter or adopting from a private individual, tell the person you're dealing with the truth about what you can handle and what you can't. Ask lots of questions about the dog(s). Shelter adoption counselors often know the dogs fairly well and will probably be unbiased. Judge for yourself whether the individual giving up a dog is telling you the truth.

If you're looking for a purebred dog, don't forget rescue groups and breeders. Rescue groups find homes for unwanted purebreds, and many breeders want good homes for their show dogs that "didn't make the grade."

Wait for the dog you want. You don't have to take home the most miserable, homeliest, least-socialized dog. The sad truth is that even the sweetest and most wonderful dogs are euthanized. While young purebreds that are the smaller breeds have the best chance of being adopted, purebreds are put down every day at shelters. Whatever dog you adopt, remember that you're saving a life.

Know that your new adult dog is grateful to you for rescuing him from a bad environment. Give him all the attention he deserves.

Take the dog to obedience class right away. Your trainer can help you with troublesome problems before they become ingrained.

Give it time--at least a month. In Rusty's case, our four other dogs had formed a close-knit pack, and shunned her for a month. They wouldn't play with her, and at first they refused to look at her! Eventually they learned that she was here to stay, and now everyone gets along fine.

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