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Older Might Be Better

By Sharon Kay


Not everyone has time to raise a puppy. An adult dog may be the solution. I’m glad I didn’t read about Konrad Lorenz’s research until I was old enough to know better. Lorenz was a naturalist who studied animal behavior in the 1950s and ’60s and came up with a theory he called “imprinting.” Imprinting, he explained, meant that there was a brief, critical period in a young animal’s life during which it became attached to other beings. He theorized that, if a person wanted a dog to recognize it as its parent, the owner needed to obtain the dog as a puppy, so the owner would be “imprinted” on the puppy. His research, incidentally, was done with geese.Many potential dog owners subscribe to the theory that the only way to make a dog a family member is to raise it from puppyhood. My encyclopedia has three paragraphs under the heading “Choosing a Dog.” It talks about what to look for in a puppy, choosing a mongrel puppy from an animal shelter and buying a purebred puppy from a breeder. Nowhere does it mention adult dogs.Where does that leave the person who doesn’t have the time and energy to raise a puppy? Some people get one anyway. My neighbors are such a family. The puppy spends his day in the backyard while the family is gone. He cries for hours. Frequently, he up ends his water dish, which can have serious consequences in the Arizona sun. Some days he digs holes all day. Yesterday, he ventilated the garden hose with his sharp puppy teeth. Then, while tossing the hose in the air to attack it, he managed to wrap the hose around the legs of the barbecue grill. Down went the grill, spreading ashes all over the yard. Of course, he received a beating when the neighbors arrived home. The puppy is unhappy, and the neighbors are exasperated.One of my son’s friends comes here more to play with our dogs than with my son. His parents don’t have the resources for a puppy, so they got him hamsters. I suppose that’s a better answer than paddling a puppy every night, but the hamsters aren’t much companionship for the kid. He’s welcome here, and my dogs love him, but he’d really rather have his own dog.The answer to these problems is so obvious it’s heartbreaking: the adult dog. Today’s paper lists a dozen adult dogs available to good homes. Many of them are already neutered, and the vaccination records are available. Some of them, such as the 1-year-old male Keeshond and the 15-month old Samoyed, have AKC papers. All of them have known personality traits. The Terrier and the Spitz mixed breeds prefer adults; the Keeshond is excellent with children; the teacup Poodle needs an older woman without kids; the Sheltie needs a yard.Of course, any dog, puppy or adult, needs attention and love. Adult dogs just need much less custodial care. The housebreaking is usually complete, and the chewing stage is over. The energy level of the adult dog is much more compatible with a household where everyone is in school or at work during the day.



What about the saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”? Although it’s true the pre-owned dog comes with its own set of personality traits and habits, they can be modified to suit our family life, usually much more easily than training a new puppy.I housebroke an adult Beagle in a weekend. Iwatched her closely after she ate and when she awoke from naps, and deposited her outside when she started to relieve herself. With praise for a job well done, she readily grasped what I wanted. After she learned how to let me know when she needed to go out, the job was done. She wanted to please me, had an adult’s bladder and bowel control, and had a longer attention span than a puppy. This made training her much easier that any puppy I’ve ever tried to housebreak.

Mindy, my Shepherd/Chow mix, had at least two owners before me. She joined our family with habits I was grateful for, habits I can live with and habits that had to be changed. Whoever taught her to ride in the car has my undying gratitude. She immediately retreats to the floor behind the driver’s seat, where she remains the entire trip. This behavior was so strongly ingrained in her that when I put the back of my station wagon down for a long trip, she tried to burrow under the platform. Eventually, I coaxed her to ride on top of the seat, but she still remains right behind the driver. If I could teach my other dogs such good manners, car trips would be a lot easier.

Mindy is extremely possessive of her food. If she thinks anyone is trying to take it away, she becomes a snarling, threatening monster. So I feed her outside on the porch, where she isn’t threatened by the other dog, the cat or any family member who happens by. I can live with that behavior.

Jumping up on people was a behavior I couldn’t live with, so I modified it. It took several training sessions with cooperative friends, but Mindy now sits and extends a paw to visitors. They think it’s cute, Mindy gets the strokes she needs, and l got rid of a behavior I didn’t want.


The other major advantage of an adult dog is that you know what you’re getting. Because I worked for a veterinarian, friends of my parents asked for help in locating a new pet when their old dog died. They gave me a shopping list of qualifications: small, non-shedding, housebroken and well behaved in the car.I knew of a Miniature Schnauzer named Muffin who was going to need a new home, and I made the necessary inquiries. I was waiting for a reply when the family called to say they had gotten a dog being given away at a flea market. It was, they told me, a Cockapoo puppy. While I questioned whether they really wanted a puppy, a Cockapoo was small enough to meet their needs.

Then I saw the dog. I suppose I should have told them my suspicions, but my uneasiness was based on nothing more than having seen a lot of puppies in the years I worked as a veterinary assistant. They admitted that the information regarding the dog’s background had never been volunteered during the transaction, merely confirmed by the man giving the puppies away. He had agreed that the puppy looked like a Cockapoo and that it must be a few weeks old. They didn’t have the name or address of the man giving the pups away, and they hadn’t seen the mother of the litter.

Benji, as they named the puppy, is now Big Ben. One parent was probably part or all Newfoundland, as Ben weighs more than 100 lbs. Housebreaking was never an issue: Ben can’t be in the house because of his slobbering, shedding and bearish behavior. Their once-attractive backyard is Ben’s domain. They feel responsible for Big Ben but declare they will never get another dog.

For the Schnauzer, the outcome was much happier. She has belonged to an elderly woman who had been admitted to a nursing home. The little dog was begrudgingly adopted by her son’s family. Unfortunately, Muffin didn’t like the other pets in the family, the children or the noise. She had become depressed and surly. To make matters worse, the daughter-in-law had tried to clip Muffin’s coat and had made a mess of it. I found Muffin a home with a recently retired couple. They were reluctant to take on a new dog, as they were planning to travel, but they missed the Sheltie that had been a member of their family for many years. They agreed to meet Muffin, however, and her manners and attitude won them over instantly, despite her haircut. They took Muffin home with them, and she never looked back.

I called some time later to check on how Muffin was adjusting. I left a message on their answering machine, and their son returned my call. He reported that Muffin was fine. The three of them were vacationing in Florida. Muffin not only enjoyed riding in the car, she also liked flying in their private plane. According to his mother, the son said with a laugh, what Muffin liked best was riding in the bow of their boat when it was going high speeds.

I wonder what Dr. Lorenz would say?

Adopting An Adult Dog




It’s easy for anyone to fall in love with a puppy or kitten. But it takes a special person or family to adopt an adult pet. You’ll find there are many advantages in acquiring a mature dog. The love and companionship you’ll share are only the beginning.



With a puppy you are taking a chance, not knowing how large it will be, or what sort of disposition it will have.With a grown – or nearly grown – pet, what you see is what you get. However, what you do not see is your new pet’s past. It’s important to remember this. The dog may or may not have been housebroken or trained. He has certainly learned to live in different patterns. Be patient, and give him time to become accustomed to your pattern.



On his first day home, show him where he is to sleep, where fresh water is always available, when and where he is to be fed. Take him outside at frequent intervals (every hour or two) so that he may relieve himself. Until he learns the new housebreaking routine you will have to be very watchful. Mistakes will happen – especially during the first few days when the dog feels strange in his new environment. If the dog makes a mistake in the house firmly and loudly say “NO” and take him outside instantly. Praise him every time he eliminates outside. Be consistent.



During the first month expect an occasional problem. Your new pet doesn’t know you, doesn’t know why he has come here or what is expected of him. He needs to be treated with watchful kindness. Anticipate problems before they occur: Don’t leave tempting items such as shoes, clothing, handbags or dinner plates within reach of the dog. Having a new pet can have quite a tidying effect on a family! It is highly recommended that pets left alone be crated rather than loose in the house. It is safer for the dog and your possessions.



Plan to spend time with your new family member. He will appreciate it and respond warmly. Long walks, periods of play, or just being together will make him feel happy and secure. Many families find that the best time to acquire a new pet is during vacation, when they have ample time to spend with him.



Children are always excited about a new pet. Don’t allow them to overwhelm him with attention and handling. They should be taught to play gently with him, and never to disturb him when he is sleeping or eating. Parental supervision is important.



You’ve probably given your dog a new name. Use it frequently and try always to associate it with good things: affection, approval, and fun.



When he’s first settling in your new pet may have problems of shyness, anxiety, restlessness, excitement, crying or barking. Physical symptoms may include excessive water drinking, frequent urination, diarrhea, or a poor appetite. If any of these symptoms last for more than a few days call your veterinarian.



Be consistent. Decide on the rules and stick to them. For example, be sure you and your children understand whether or not the dog is allowed on the furniture. Does that mean all the furniture or just some of it? If you change the rules the dog will be confused. Don’t allow him to do something one time and forbid it the next.



Obedience training can be very helpful to the adult dog and to you. However, it is not the same as training a puppy who is a blank slate. Your dog may have learned commands other than the ones you use. It will take awhile for him to adjust to yours. You can train the dog yourself or take him to an obedience class with a qualified trainer. Wait until after the first week to start formal training. The training period can be a good way to create a strong bond between you and your dog. In addition the dog learns what you expect of him and how to please you. Both of these things are very important to him.



Most dogs adjust quickly to their new families within a week or two. Some take longer. Very few are unable to adjust at all. In most cases the dog will be a well-adjusted member of the family within a month. In fact – you may find it difficult to remember a time when he wasn’t one of you.

Here’s to a long and happy life together.

Pre-Owned Dogs


“Why on earth would anyone want to adopt a rescue dog? After all, aren’t they like used cars? Who wants someone else’s problems? If the dog is so wonderful, why would anyone give him away’? If he was a stray, why didn’t someone try to find him? I’d rather buy a puppy so I know what I’m getting, and besides they’re so cute!” Rescue groups often hear a variation of this conversation. Many prospective dog owners are just not convinced that owning an older (i.e. 6 mo.+) “pre-owned” dog is better than buying a puppy. But there are a number of reasons why adopting a pet from a rescue that carefully screens and evaluates its dog can provide an even better alternative.

Here are the “Top 10 Reasons You Should Consider a Rescue.”

10) In a Word – Housebroken. With most family members gone during the work week for 8 hours or more, house training a puppy and its small bladder can take awhile. Puppies need a consistent schedule with frequent opportunities to eliminate where you want them to. They can’t wait for the boss to finish his meeting or the kids to come home from after school activities. An older dog can “hold it” much more reliably for longer time periods.

9) Intact Underwear. With a chewy puppy, you can count on at least 10 mismatched pairs of socks and a variety of unmentionables rendered to the “rag bag” before he cuts every tooth. And don’t even think about shoes! Also, you can expect holes in your carpet (along with the urine stains), pages missing from books, stuffing exposed from couches, and at least one dead remote control. No matter how well you watch them, it will happen. This is a puppy’s job!

8) A Good Night’s Sleep. Forget the alarm clocks and hot water bottles, a puppy can be very demanding at 2am and 4am and 6am. He misses his littermates, and that stuffed animal will not make a puppy pile with him. If you have children, you’ve been there and done that. How about a little peace and quiet? How about an older rescue dog??

7) Finish the Newspaper. With a puppy running amok in your house, do you think you will be able to relax when you get home from work? Do you think your kids will really feed him, clean up the messes, take him for a walk in the pouring rain every hour to get him housetrained? An adult dog still requires time, attention and care but not as exhaustively as a puppy.

6) Easier Vet Trips. Those puppies need their series of puppy shots and fecals, then their rabies shot, then a trip to be altered, maybe an emergency trip or two if they’ve chewed something dangerous. Those puppy visits can add up (on top of what you paid for the dog!). Your donation to the rescue when adopting an older pup should get you a dog with all shots current, already altered, heartworm negative and on preventative at the minimum.

5) What You See Is What You Get. How big will that puppy be? What kind of temperament will he have? Will he be easily trained? Will his personality be what you were hoping for? How active will he be? When adopting an older dog from a rescue, all of those questions are easily answered. You can pick large or small; active or couch potato; goofy or brilliant; sweet or sassy. The rescue and its foster homes can guide you to pick the right match. (Rescues are full of puppies who became the wrong match as they got older!)

4) Unscarred Children (and Adults). When the puppy isn’t teething on your possessions, he will be teething on your children and yourself. Rescues routinely get calls from panicked parents who are sure their dog is biting the children. Since biting implies hostile intent and would be a consideration whether to accept a “give-up”, Rescue Groups ask questions and usually find out the dog is being nippy. Parents are often too emotional to see the difference; but a growing puppy is going to put everything from food to clothes to hands in their mouths, and as they get older and bigger it definitely hurts (and will get worse, if they aren’t being corrected properly.) Most older dogs have “been there, done that, moved on.”

3) Matchmaker Make Me a Match. Puppy love is often no more than an attachment to a look or a color. It is not much of a basis on which to make a decision that will hopefully last 15+ years. While that puppy may have been the cutest of the litter; he may grow up to be super active when what you wanted was a couch buddy); she may be a couch princess (when what you wanted was a tireless hiking companion); he may want to spend every waking moment in the water (while you’re a landlubber); or she may want to be an only child (while you are intending to have kids or more animals). Pet mis-matches are one of the top reasons Rescues get “give-up” phone calls. Good rescues do extensive evaluating of both their dogs and their applicants to be sure that both dog and family will be happy with each other until death do them part.

2) Instant Companion. With an older dog, you automatically have a buddy that can go everywhere and do everything with you NOW. There’s no waiting for a puppy to grow up (and then hope he will like to do what you enjoy.) You will have been able to select the most compatible dog: one that travels well; one that loves to play with your friends’ dogs; one with excellent house manners that you can take to your parents’ new home with the new carpet and the new couch. You can come home after a long day’s work and spend your time on a relaxing walk, ride or swim with your new best friend (rather than cleaning up after a small puppy.)

1) Bond-Rescue Dog Bond. Dogs who have not had the best start in life are more likely to bond very completely and deeply with their new people. Those who have lost their families through death, divorce or lifestyle change go through a terrible mourning process. But, once attached to a new loving family, they seem to want to please as much as possible to make sure they are never homeless again. Those dogs that are just learning about the good life and good people seem to bond even deeper. They know what life on the streets, life on the end of a chain, or worse is all about, and they revel and blossom in a nurturing, loving environment. Most rescues make exceptionally affectionate and attentive pets and extremely loyal companions.

Unfortunately, many folks think dogs that end up in rescue are all genetically and behaviorally inferior. But, it is not uncommon for Rescue to get $500 dogs that have either outlived their usefulness or their novelty with impulsive owners who considered their dog a possession rather than a friend or member of the family; or simply did not really consider the time, effort and expense needed to be dog owner. Not all breeders will accept “returns”, so choices for giving up dogs can be limited to animal welfare organizations, such as Rescues.

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