10 Things You Didn't Know About Rescue Pets

Get the facts before you adopt a deserving pooch.By Arricca Elin SanSone

Adopting a dog through a shelter or rescue group is a win-win. You save a life and gain a best friend; a dog gets another chance at happiness. But rescue dogs may require more time and TLC than new-to-the-world pups to become part of your family. Here's what to know to ensure a rescue dog finds a forever home with you. Photo by Thinkstock.

1. Only about 30% of pets are adopted.
The remaining 70% come predominantly from breeders and pet stores. "Even though people like the idea of adopting a pet, they're not adopting from shelters in large numbers," says Inga Fricke, Director of Shelter and Rescue Group Services with the Humane Society of the United States. Unfortunately, that means millions of shelter animals remain homeless or get euthanized each year. Consider the long-term commitment of adopting a dog to prevent your potential pet from ending up in this position. And make sure your new family member is spayed or neutered to control the population.

2. Adoption takes time and effort.
Some organizations host adoption drives that allow you to take a pet home the same day. But most have a lengthy screening process, which can involve an application, reference check and even a home visit. "We want to make sure we find the right match for these animals," says Fricke. Don't worry if you don't click with the first dog you meet; it may take time to find a good companion for your personality and lifestyle. Also, there's usually a small adoption fee (generally from $25 to $250) to defray the shelter's spaying/neutering/vaccinating expenses. But it's less expensive than similar care at the vet (spaying/neutering alone can cost $500) and buying an animal from a breeder, which can set you back thousands.

3. Adult dogs are great companions too.
"They're often calmer and less likely to destroy things than energetic puppies who need constant supervision," says Bonnie Beaver, DVM, past president of the American Veterinary Medical Association and Executive Director of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. Another bonus: Adult dogs can hold their bladders longer than puppies, so housetraining may be quicker. And you can teach an old dog new tricks, says Beaver.

4. Your dog may - or may not - be housetrained.
Housebroken canines may not be reliable in their new home. "Assume your new dog isn't housetrained, no matter what you've been told," advises Beaver. Establish a schedule immediately: Take him outside when he wakes up, within 30 minutes of eating, drinking or playing and before bed. Puppies need to go out more often, lasting without a walk about one hour more than their age in months. So a three-month-old needs a bathroom break every four hours. During housetraining, have a pet sitter walk your pet on schedule when you can't. And pay attention to your pooch's potty signals. They may be as subtle as standing by the door or staring at you or as obvious as whining or barking.

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5. Bring your dog to a vet.
Even if the shelter or rescue group gave your new buddy a clean bill of health, take him to a doctor as soon as possible to "know you're not bringing home internal parasites or fleas, which is especially important if you have other pets," says Beaver. It's also a chance to ensure he's current on all vaccines and get heartworm and preventative medications for ticks and the like. Plus, you can establish a relationship with the vet so you'll feel comfortable working together throughout your dog's life.

6. Dogs in shelters and rescue groups aren't necessarily "damaged."
"Most dogs aren't given up because of their problems but rather because they don't fit into their owners' lifestyles any longer," says Fricke. And that could be due to a move to a home that's not pet-friendly or an inability to afford veterinary care. Looking for a specific breed? Some rescue groups provide foster homes to one type of dog until a new home becomes available. To find a furry friend near you, check out your local shelter or search Petfinder.com.

7. Rescue dogs may need extra time to bond with you.
A rescue animal has experienced total upheaval in his life and is recovering from the stress. "Many rescue dogs have no idea how to relax when you first adopt them," says Mikkel Becker, animal trainer for VetStreet.com. "It can take a month or two for your dog to settle in." Encourage bonding by spending quiet time together. Keep your dog close indoors in an exercise pen or on a leash as you go from room to room (bonus: this prevents potty accidents). And hand-feed him to teach him to rely on you. Foster a positive environment through rewarding good behavior with treats instead of yelling "No!" when he does something inappropriate, suggests Becker.

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8. Training is essential with rescue dogs.
Most dogs adopted from a shelter initially have behavior issues, like house soiling or chewing, says Beaver. But with three months of training, these problems tend to dissipate. "Of course animals may act inappropriately in a new environment," says Becker. "It's your job to teach them which behaviors are acceptable and not." To help him along, take a class together to learn basic obedience commands such as sit, down, stay and come. Go on regular walks and share playtime. Be consistent with house rules. If you encounter tricky issues, like a fearful or aggressive dog, ask your vet for a referral to a good trainer.

9. Rescue dogs need lots of patience.

This virtue is vital with adopted dogs. "They've had no stability. They've been caged in a strange place with sights and smells they've never encountered. All of a sudden, they're in your home and unsure about what you want," says Fricke. "Most of them are resilient and will open their hearts to a second chance. But give them time to acclimate." Dogs like routine, so start positive training from the beginning and stick with a schedule for eating, walking and bathroom breaks. Just know that your dog may take longer than expected to "unlearn" from his old experiences.

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10. Your dog's history will be somewhat of a mystery.

You may think you're getting a retriever. Or a corgi. Or a beagle. But one study showed that 65 to 70% of the time, the breeds were misidentified, says Becker. And while certain breeds exhibit common characteristics, there's no sure bet. In fact, your dog's personality in the shelter may change once he gets home. "Male or female, previous learning, environment and genetics all compound what an individual dog becomes," says Beaver. "Avoid having preconceived notions about what kind of dog you think you're getting. After all, part of the fun is discovering your pup's unique personality."

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