Choosing a rescue dog

When choosing a dog, a great option to consider is a rescue pet, as it gives you the opportunity to provide a pet with a brand-new loving home. However, it is not a simple decision to make, and before choosing to get a rescue pet, you should consider the following:

How old are you and your family? If you are an older person or have limited mobility then a young puppy may not be the best option for you as they will have a lot more energy than an older dog, and will require an owner that can match that energy. Do you have children? If so, how old are they? Dogs can have very different reactions around children, especially young ones. Ask the rescue centre for advice on which breeds and dogs they think will be most suitable.

What job do you have and what are the working hours like? If you work unsocial times or have long shifts, you need to carefully consider this before choosing your pet. You need to ensure you will be there for the dog regularly, so they have company but also are taken out for enough exercise. If you don’t think you are going to be at home enough then you need to be careful when choosing your pet.

Don’t just think of a rescue dog as a cheaper option. Although choosing a rescue pet normally means a lower initial cost, over time your pet can end up being expensive in terms of veterinary bills etc. Never have money as the driving factor for your decision.

Do you have any other pets? If you do, will they get on well with another pet? Although this is difficult to tell before they have arrived home, you normally have an idea of how your pet reacts currently to other animals. Are they sociable? Or are they scared of other dogs or animals?

Consider the pets’ back story. Although it’s not always the case, some rescue pets have been through a lot and can sometimes have experienced some traumatic things which could affect their behaviour. You will never know how they truly are until they have lived with you for several weeks, but ensure you see the dog on several occasions before choosing them. Also, ask the staff at the rescue centre about the dog’s story and try to get as much information out of them as possible so that you are as prepared as you can be. If the pet has had behavioural problems in the past, you need to ensure that you are prepared to cope with this, otherwise it is not fair on you or the dog.

How much time do you have to exercise them? Some breeds of dog require a lot more exercise than others. Do your research on this before choosing a certain breed. You need to make sure that you can provide them with enough exercise to keep them healthy.

Take your time – As exciting as it is, you need to make sure you take your time and don’t rush into a decision. Visit the rescue shelter on several occasions to make sure you are making the right decision. The dog may act differently on some days than others – this is natural, so it’s good if you go on different occasions to see how their behaviour changes.

Take them for a walk – Ask your rescue centre if you can take them for a walk. This is a great way to see how you get on with them and can really impact your final decision. The behaviour of the dog can be completely different in a kennel or rescue centre, which can be noisy and sometimes stressful environments which can make the dog stressed and scared. This is why it’s important to see the dog in a more natural, relaxed environment.

Stroke them – Another way to know how you will get on with them is by stroking them all over. This tends to relax them, and you can see if they like you or not.

Take your dog with you to the shelter – If you already have a dog it’s great to have them meet beforehand to see how they react. If you have a cat, take the dog to a cattery to see how they react to cats.

Ask about medical conditions – It’s really important you know about the dog’s medical conditions before you choose them. Although many rescue shelters will tell you this, you should always be ready to ask in case they don’t supply the information. The answer may heavily impact your decision as you may need to take into account treatment costs, side effects etc.

Don’t be afraid to say no – Seeing all the rescue dogs waiting for new homes can sometimes be overwhelming and sad. However, no matter how much you want to take them all home, you need to choose one that’s right for you, otherwise it’s not nice for the dog either. Always bare this in mind and be willing to say no if you are not 100% sure.

It’s not a quick way to get a pet – You cannot expect to walk in and get a dog straight away. Most rescue centres require a house and garden visit first so that your home can be vetted and make sure it’s a safe environment for the dog.

How much training will the dog need? It could be that the dog is already fully trained, but this will not always be the case. You may need to consider group or even 1-2-1 training.
At the end of the day, you must choose your pet with your head as well as your heart – not just one or the other. You need to make sure the pet you choose will fit well into your household and that you can see them living with you happily. If you have considered everything carefully, then choosing a rescue pet can be a very rewarding way to find a new member of your family.

For advice on dog care, training, behaviour therapy and more please visit our articles page which is full of free advice.

About the author

Dr Shahad Mohammed
Veterinary Physiotherapist
National Association of Veterinary Physiotherapists