You've wanted a dog for a long time now, and there’s never been a better time to adopt. While you could get a new puppy, there are already thousands of dogs in need of a good home who have been abandoned for one reason or another. These dogs may be young or old, sick or healthy, but they need your love. With that said, rescue dogs can be a big responsibility. Here’s what you need to know to properly socialize your new pet and give it a good home.
Socializing A New Dog
Socializing a dog can be difficult. Basically, the idea of socializing is to get the dog into an area with other people and pets - be it other dogs, cats, or other animals that may be in your home. Ideally, you would want to take the dog to a dog park so that it could interact with other animals in a natural setting.
But, shelter dogs do not get the benefit of weekly dog park visits. Instead, you may have to make an assessment based on the condition of the dog at the shelter, which may not be accurate since many dogs suffer from shelter stress.
Socializing, therefore, will probably have to be done on a trial basis after you’ve selected a dog you want to take home. At first, you may want to keep the dog at home in a safe environment to allow it to acclimate.
However, you should also be considering socializing the dog as soon as possible. As long as there are no existing aggression issues, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.
If the dog does have aggression issues, you will need to retrain the dog through obedience school or dog rehabilitation. The aim of rehabilitation is to slowly reintroduce the dog to other dogs with the ultimate goal being total integration into a large “pack” of dogs where it feels comfortable.
Dogs are, by and large, social creatures. They tend to do best when they’re around people or other dogs. With rare exceptions, socializing is one of the best ways to bring a shelter dog “back to life.”
How To Assess A Dog At A Shelter
Shelter dogs often suffer from something called “shelter stress.” This is the stress a dog experiences as a result of being taken out of its familiar surroundings and placed into a hectic environment with other dogs that may have temperaments that are different from the dog.
Shelter stress can make otherwise normal and healthy dogs anxious or aggressive. Shelter stress can also magnify small behavior problems, making it difficult to know what you’re really getting yourself into.
Some facilities use a temperament test to assess the dog’s personality traits, like stability, confidence, shyness, friendliness, aggressiveness, protectiveness, and play drive.
But, before you bring it home, you will have to make a determination as to whether it’s safe for the dog to be in your home. A serious liability issue could arise if the temperament test does not uncover potentially dangerous behavioral problems. And, since dog bite and aggression laws vary in every state, there’s no way to know what you’re getting yourself into until or unless you research the law before you take on the responsibility of a shelter dog.
Even then, you’ll have to keep a close eye on the dog and possibly do your own testing after a week or two of the dog being under your care.
Some dogs also just don’t do well with temperament tests because they’re naturally shy or more aggressive than the “average breed.” Some dogs have been seriously abused so they don’t respond well to certain kinds of confidence tests.
Evaluate Your Own Lifestyle
Do you have the time to train a dog? Shelter dogs sometimes require more care and attention than dogs that are purchased or adopted from a loving home. If you’re a jet-setter, then a shelter dog may not be right for you.
Owning a dog is like raising a child. You must constantly watch it, train it every day, take long walks (with most breeds, except perhaps larger breeds like Mastiffs, who are inherently lazy), and spend several hours a day training, feeding, and nurturing it. It can feel like a full time job if you’re not a true dog-lover.
Know What You’re Getting Into
If you’ve never adopted a dog before, it might be best to stick with breeds that tend to be calm or have a reputation for low-maintenance. These tend to be smaller dogs and some larger breeds that don’t require much activity. Also, don’t be afraid to take a shelter dog to a trusted veterinarian to have it assessed before you make a final decision.
Judge Anthony P. Calisi (ret.), has a strong background as a personal injury lawyer. He has spent over 30 years of his life helping people. Judge Calisi is a former chief felony prosecutor, and spent over a decade as a Municipal Judge in Collin County, Texas.