Bringing Home a Dog from a Shelter

Irene Hislop on 25 October 2017

The desire to help a dog in need motivates many, and others also understand that an older dog can be less work than a puppy.  For many people, the sticking point is fear of the unknown.  What will this dog be like?  What terrible experiences has he survived and how have they affected him?  Some worry an adult dog might be vicious or have well established bad habits.  Was there a reason a family abandoned this dog beyond their own circumstances?

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Those are all legitimate concerns.  But it is important to understand that the old saying ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ is nonsense.  You can indeed teach him.  Old dogs can not only learn tricks, they can also learn how to trust and to love.  Bringing home a dog from a rescue can be an incredible and very emotional experience because you’ll see so much change in him.  He’ll get to a healthy weight, and his coat will shine.  As he relaxes, he’ll become more playful.  But the most amazing thing is that you will get to see his broken heart heal.

First Steps for Your New Old Dog

If you get a dog from a reputable rescue, he should be healthy – or you should be well informed of any long-term health conditions he has.  Rescues bring dogs to the vet for a health check and treatment for any injuries or illnesses as well as neutering and vaccinations.  If you get a dog from the local authority dog pound, you will need to bring him to the vet for these things yourself. 

Even if he is neutered, vaccinated and not sick, you should bring your dog to the vet soon after getting him. It is good for your own vet to check him and for your dog to learn that your vet is his friend.  If his first visit is for an illness or a jab, he will not leave thinking fondly of your vet!

Your vet can also advise you about your new dog’s specific nutritional needs.  Quite often, dogs have been straying for a while before the dog warden catches them, and they can be malnourished or downright starved.  He might be recovered and ready to eat a normal, healthy diet such as Connolly’s RED MILLS Leader line of dog food.  Or you might discover your new dog is younger or older than originally thought and requires a food suitable for puppies or seniors. The Leader line of dog food includes products specifically geared for growing pups and senior dogs. It also comes in variations for small, medium and large breeds.

If your dog is still underweight or suffering malnutrition, your vet might suggest a food such as Connolly’s RED MILLS Engage dog food, which is rich in protein, or tell you that although your dog is a young adult, a puppy formulation would be beneficial to restoring his health.  Your vet might also detect that your new dog is a new mother, and she might have extra nutritional needs even though her pups are not nursing.

Getting to Know Your New Best Friend

A dog from a shelter is, by definition, a dog that has suffered.  That means two things are likely.  He is likely to have some fears and anxieties, and some of them might surprise you.  It also means that once he settles in, he is likely to be the most devoted, protective and grateful friend you’ve ever had. 

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Remember, your dog has probably had some bad experiences, some that would break your heart.  One thing to avoid is raising your hand over his head.  The way you move your hand to pet a dog’s head is too similar to the way someone else might have raised a hand to strike him.  Some dogs might cower or flinch.  But others will become defensive and bite. For the first months, always extend your hand slowly and hold it below his head when you reach to pet him.  Start by petting him low on his shoulder and slowly move your hand to the top of his head, talking to him in a calm voice.  He’ll learn.

Take it very slow grooming your new dog.  Let him examine his brush and nail clippers before you use them, and keep plenty of healthy dog treats on hand to reward his cooperation.  As you groom him, watch for any areas of his body that are tender.  If he flinches or won’t cooperate with being touched in a particular spot, it is wise to have your vet check for an undetected injury.

Watch for signs that your new dog is afraid of particular household items, types of clothing or smells.  A certain aftershave or style of hat might trigger memories of a previous owner for him, happy or fearful memories.  If your dog was seriously neglected, he might not be housebroken.  But he does still have an instinct not to soil in space he considers his den.  And he has more control over his body than a pup does, so it is often easier to house train an older dog.

And yes, of course you can teach your old dog some tricks.  Once he’s learned that you are his family, he will be eager to please you. He might have no idea of how to please, but he does want to learn!  It will take extra patience, lavish praise and plenty of treats to let him know when he gets it right
 
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