What is a "rescue dog?" Several years ago, I was barely aware that there were a lot of homeless dogs out there. All I knew was that there was a pound that the stray dogs were taken to. As I became more immersed in the dog world, I realized that rescue was so much more. There are millions of cats and dogs destroyed every year in North America. Many of these creatures would make excellent pets. Sure, some may have been very aggressive when they were euthanized, but they were the exception, not the rule.

Many rescue dogs come with some behaviour problems, but most of them are eventually curable with patient and consistent training. However, most dogs in rescue have no real behaviour problems to speak of. Most rescue dogs are owner surrenders, which basically means the previous owners just gave the dogs up. So, if that is true, then why were they given up? Well, there are A LOT of reasons why people give dogs up. Many true dog lovers could never understand why someone would give up a member of their family. Many people just see pets as another form of property and when it is no longer convenient to have dogs, they are simply given up or euthanized. Some of the reasons dogs are given up: a divorce, a death in the family, a move, a new baby, the older dog doesn't get along with the new, cute pup, so the older dog goes... the reasons go on and on. Needless to say, due to irresponsible breeders and irresponsible owners, there is nearly an inexhaustible supply of rescue dogs out there that need homes. Every single dog or cat that is rescued is a life that is saved, and it is one less animal who is destroyed because there is just no room left. If you are thinking of getting a dog or cat, think about getting a rescue before looking anywhere else... "Don't Shop, Adopt!"

So you are thinking about getting a rescue dog? There are many myths about rescue that I wish to dispel. Some of these I once thought were true myself before I became so heavily involved with rescue, so I feel it is my duty to help educate the public.

Myth #1: Rescues are all mixed-breed, Heinz 57s, and they aren't as "good" as single breed dogs.

    While many rescues and non-rescues alike are mixed-breed, there are many, many purebred/single breed dogs in rescue programs all over the country. Many rescue programs are actually breed specific. So if a potential owner is looking for a boxer, he could first look into boxer rescue. Each rescue program has dogs of all ages looking for homes. Even if the dog is a mixed breed, it does not make it of lesser value. I have met countless mixed-breed dogs who are very smart, eager to please, have unique features that make him even more adorable, and are very healthy. Looking for a specific breed is somewhere that a potential owner can start, but before you decide on a breed, go and spend time with some mixed-breeds at a rescue, and you will probably fall in love with one. I promise it will be a decision you won't regret. If you still decide on a purebred dog, look into one of the breed rescue programs and go and spend time with one of them. Any dog you adopt will give you a lifetime of love. If you are looking for a breed specific rescue, please contact Dan and ask him about them. Nova Scotia has some rescue programs, but if you are from another part of the country or are looking for something in particular, let me know, as I am in touch with over 200 rescuers nationwide!

Myth #2: If I adopt a mature pet, he will not be as attached to me as a puppy would be.

Personally, this was my biggest fear before I adopted. I quickly found this myth to be untrue. My Shepherd, Mangus, quickly bonded to me. By quickly, I mean in less than two days! I don't think he could be more attached to me, even if I had gotten him as a puppy. Most rescue dogs will be the exact same way as Magnus was. They will become attached to their new owners very quickly. Many rescues come from an abusing or a neglectful situation and are so appreciative of the food and love you offer them, that they quickly adore you.

Myth #3: When adopting a rescue dog, behaviour problems are more likely than if I get a puppy.

While many rescue dogs do have some sort of behavior problem, most puppies develop them as well. However, if the owner has proper education and guidance from a knowledgeable trainer, any dog issue can be worked through, with the exception of certain aggression issues. So whether you get a puppy or a mature pet from a rescue, you may have to deal with problems that arise. That being said, many rescue dogs display no real issues. Many simply come home and adapt to the environment around them with only minimal stress.

Myth #4: You can't teach an old dog new tricks.

Actually, older dogs are easier to train. Puppies constantly challenge the owner, making it more time-consuming to train them. Older dogs accept the owner's dominance more quickly. Some of the easiest dogs I have ever trained have been between 6 and 10 years of age. Puppies are easier to train for behavioural issues, such as nipping or housebreaking, but older dogs learn the rules a lot quicker.

These are just some of the common myths surrounding rescue dogs. If you have any questions or comments about rescue that you want to be addressed honestly, feel free to write me and ask me. Click here to contact Dan.

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Puppy or rescue? These links will help you make an informed choice.

So you are thinking of getting a puppy? This is a more difficult selection than you may think. Do you want a dog with a lot of energy, protective instincts, a family dog, a hunting dog or a companion dog? Or were you just thinking of getting a pup because it was cute? Picking a puppy is a LIFETIME decision. Most dogs live between 12 and 15 years, so you should pick one whose personality and temperament is compatible with you and your lifestyle. If you are uncertain what kind of dog would best suit your lifestyle, feel free to email Dan or give him a call. He will help match you with several breeds that would work best for you. If you have a breed picked out, the best suggestion would be to go out on the internet and research this breed. Every breed was developed for a specific purpose and they still have their basic instincts for which they were bred. For example, if you have gotten a Husky, but you live in the city and are gone 10 hours a day, you will find out very soon that the Husky is unhappy and difficult to manage because of his energy level. Huskies were bred to run most of the day pulling sleds. They are not city dogs.

So you have a specific breed in mind and have done the research, and you know that this type of dog will suit you and your lifestyle... now what? Finding a good breeder can be very hard, and you may be tempted to just purchase one that has been listed on Kijiji for $100. However, in the long run, getting a dog from a responsible breeder pays for itself. Many times "backyard breeders" just breed two of the same breed, without checking out the background of either parent, and call the offspring purebred. The health and temperaments of the parents directly influence the health and temperaments of the pups. By purchasing a pup from good stock, you will save hundreds or thousands of dollars in veterinary expenses over the dog's lifetime. So how do you find a good breeder?

1. A good breeder will want to meet with you in order to make sure one of their pups is going to a good and responsible home. If the breeder doesn't even care to meet you, they are not responsible, and are likely only concerned about getting your money rather than finding a good home for one of their pups.

2. Make sure to see both of the parents and the whole litter of pups. The parents should have full health records, should be no younger than 1.5 to 2 years of age, and should be of sound temperament. Also, a bitch should not be bred more than once a year AT MOST. Preferably, a bitch should be bred only once every 18 to 24 months. If you are not able to see both parents, just walk away. Walking away can be very difficult with all of those cute puppies, but you should definitely see both parents before agreeing to take a pup home. Once you have seen both parents, watch how the puppies interact with each other. Is one more aggressive than the others? Is one cowering in the corner, trying to stay away from the others? Watch the puppies before going up to meet them all. You should be able to get a good idea of the type of dog they'll be by watching the puppies interact with one another.

3. AVOID PET STORE DOGS! Pet stores are essentially fronts for puppy mills. What kind of breeder would sell their pups to a large, nation-wide pet house? Only a puppy mill will wholesale their dogs to a corporation. If you have ever bought a pet store puppy or have known someone who has, how much of the decision was based on guilt? Was it pity that led to its purchase? Few people go to pet stores looking to buy a well-bred puppy. NEVER buy a pup from a pet store. You are only supporting the whole puppy mill infrastructure. Also avoid any puppy wholesalers online. Get detailed information on any breeder you decide to go through with online. If you can't view the area where the puppies are being raised or even see the parents, then just walk away.

Have you recently bought a puppy from a pet store? Don't fret, these dogs, with proper veterinarian care and a healthy lifestyle, will still live a happy long life. However, next time you should first try and find a reputable breeder. In fact, the puppies from reputable breeders often are less expensive, more healthy, and better socialized than those found at pet stores.

4. When you are looking at the parents and the puppies, make sure the area is reasonably clean, and that the puppies or any other dogs in the area aren't wallowing in their own filth. That is how diseases are spread.

So you found a good breeder and the parents and the area seem to be in good shape. How do you select one of the pups from the litter? Puppy temperament testing is very important. By knowing how a dog responds to you when he is a young pup can tell you a lot of how he will act when he gets older. Below is a general outline on how to properly temperament test puppies.

Puppy Aptitude Testing

Each test below is graded from one to six with the following guidelines:

1. Extremely aggressive/dominant

2. Very dominant/easily enticed to bite

3. Slightly dominant/active

4. Submissive/willing to work with humans

5. Very Submissive/shy (fear biter)

6. Independent/unaffectionate

Puppies scoring consistently in the one to two range are likely to be dominant and stubborn in training. However, these types also make good watch/guard dogs. Scores in the two to three range require training, but the dogs should become excellent working or family dogs. Scores of three to five indicate a dog who will be an excellent family pet; however if there are more fives than fours, the puppy will require intense socialization at an early age. Puppies scoring consistently fives and sixes will require a lot of socialization and training in order to turn into a good family dog.

The tests should be performed in an area relatively unfamiliar to the pup, when the pup is by himself, and when he is at an age of 6 to 8 weeks. After watching the pups interact with one another, approach them and see how they react to you, a perfect stranger. Which ones cower, which ones come to you? Take notice and then test one pup at a time.

Test #1: Social Acceptance

Set the pup on the ground and walk away a few steps, bend down and call him to you, "Puppy, puppy!" Reactions will vary from the puppy not coming at all, to the puppy bounding over to you with tail erect. Test is a good predictor of puppy's interest in human interaction.

Test #2: Following

Walking away from the puppy, calling "Here, puppy, puppy!" patting your side, encourage him to follow you. Reactions will vary from the puppy following so close he almost trips you, maybe biting you, to puppy being totally disinterested and the going the other way (independence). Test is another good predictor of future dog/human interaction and dog's dependence/independence level.

Test #3: Restraint

Gently turn puppy over on his back and place your palm lightly over his chest, using only enough pressure to keep him in this position for 30 seconds. Reactions vary from the pup struggling frantically to get away, to just laying there quietly. This is a very important test to gauge puppy's acceptance of human domination.

Test #4: Social Domination/Forgiveness

Immediately following the restraint test, attempt to have puppy "buddy up" to you. Kneel down, have him sit, and pet him. You are looking to see if the pup will "forgive you" or "hold a grudge." If the puppy reacts in a friendly manner after your domination over him, he will easily forgive you; if he holds a grudge, he won't forgive you and is likely to be pouty and moody after being corrected in training. This adds a complication to training, although this complication can easily be rectified through patience and consistency in training.

Test #5: Elevation Dominance

With your fingers entwined under the pup's ribcage, lift him off the ground so that he is in a suspended, helpless position. Reactions vary from the puppy struggling fiercely to get away, to just lying there calmly. This test helps to gauge a pup's future reaction to new, strange situations such as a visit to the vet's office.

Test #6: Retrieving

With a small wad of paper or a small toy, kneel down with the pup and attempt to capture his interest in it. As soon as the pup indicates his attention is on the paper, toss it a meter or so in front of him. While he is chasing it, back up a meter. Reactions vary from the puppy grabbing the paper and carrying away, to the puppy returning the paper to you. Test is a fairly reliable predictor of puppy's willingness to work with humans.

Test #7: Sound Sensitivity

Very unexpectedly make a sharp, loud noise a few feet away from the puppy, such as banging a metal spoon on the bottom of a pan. Reactions vary from totally ignoring it or mild curiosity, or total fear and panic. Test indicates how he will be able to handle unexpected sounds such as gunfire, fireworks, heavy machinery, etc. in the future. Severe reactions to loud noise would indicate a very shy and skittish temperament, and it would require careful and patient training to work with this pup.

Test #8: Sight Sensitivity

Pass a moving object such as a towel attached to a string laterally in front of the pup. Reactions vary from attacking the object to mild curiosity. Test indicates the puppy's future reactions to sudden unexpected stimuli.

Temperament testing is one of the most important aspects of picking out a puppy. While it is never a certainty a pup will turn out a certain way, by looking at his parents and examining his behaviour and temperament as a pup, you can definitely get a better idea of the type of dog he'll become. Good luck!

Thinking of getting an older dog and helping out an animal in need? Try rescuing a homeless dog. Thinking of rescuing but want a pup instead? Well there are all kinds of different dogs in rescue. By adopting a mature dog, you know exactly what type of dog you are getting. Furthermore, he is likely already housetrained, may have some obedience training, and will form a tight bond with his new owner; a bond that can only be formed between an owner who has reached out for this neglected animal and given him the love he so desperately needs. Click here to find out about rescue dogs.
Choosing a Puppy Considering a Rescue