Pet connection: An adult dog may be the one for you

04/23/2013 12:00 AM

04/22/2013 3:46 PM

In recent years we've seen a shift in attitude when it comes to adopting an adult dog.

"Recycled rovers" used to be a hard sell, not only because puppies have the "cute factor" advantage, but also because many people believed adult dogs were less likely than puppies to bond with a new family.

Rescue groups, shelters, veterinarians and trainers alike have long argued that's not the case, and the message has gotten through: Adult dogs are widely considered a wonderful adoption option, especially for people who aren't in a good position to raise a puppy.

When choosing an adult dog, however, you need to ask questions and think about the answers. While expecting to work on some things as your new dog gets used to you is reasonable, you want to make sure you know what you're getting into when it comes to such things as health, behavior and even shedding.

There are no wrong answers, but here are some questions to ask about any dog you're considering adopting:

What do you know of this dog's history? You may be dealing with a shelter, a rescue volunteer, the dog's original owner or breeder, or a nice person who found a stray. While it's certainly possible for a dog found as a stray to be a perfect candidate for "rehoming," knowing a dog's history is usually helpful when it comes to predicting its potential future in your home.

Why is this dog available for adoption? Dogs become available for lots of reasons. Humans losing their home, divorce and humans' death don't reflect badly on the dog; but "bit our daughter" should give you pause, at the very least.

Listen, too, for what isn't said: "He needs more exercise than we can give him" may mean a dog with exercise requirements only a marathoner could meet, or it could mean the previous owners wanted a dog with the exercise requirements of a stuffed animal. When in doubt, ask more questions.

What behavior problems does this dog have? What health problems? Many things are fixable and worth considering if you honestly believe you'll take the time to work with the dog. Remember, too, that some problems don't need anything more than a dose of common sense to fix.

"Won't stay in the yard," for example, may be easily cured by a decent fence and neutering. As for health, some dogs (like some people) need daily medication for chronic conditions, which might be a problem in some families.

How is the dog with children? Other dogs? Cats?

Even if you don't have children, you're going to run into some from time to time. The same is true with other dogs.

You can successfully avoid cats if you don't have them, but make certain your prospective pet at least tolerates them well if you do share your home with a cat or two.

As for dogs with aggression issues, in many cases these can be worked out, but you may need the help of good trainer or behaviorist, plus a dedication of time and money.

Love is not enough for a good match. While almost any dog can be successfully rehomed with experienced, patient new owners, dogs with severe problems are usually not good projects for beginners.

You'll be happier and better able to offer your dog a great new home if you take your time to make sure the fit is a good one.

Follow your head as well as your heart, and you'll be off to a great start on a new life with the adopted dog you finally choose.

In recent years we've both taken adult dogs into our homes, including ones with health or behavior problems.

Because we knew what we were getting and knew what we could deal with, everything worked out just fine. And it can for you, too.

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best- selling pet-care books. Email them at petconnection@gmail.com or visit www.petconnection.com. Back columns: www.sacbee.com/spadafori.

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