Advantages of Adopting an Adult Dog

By Elizabeth Wasserman

Advantages of Adopting an Adult Dog

When my husband and I were newly married, we adopted an 8-week-old German shepherd. Max required just about as much work as raising a child, given the housebreaking, training, socializing and deterring her from chewing anything in sight.

Several years later, Max grew to be a wonderful family dog. At the age of 12, however, she passed away. We eventually adopted an older dog, a 10-month-old beagle from a medical research lab. She had never been outside before, but she took to housebreaking and other training like a fish takes to water.

The Puppy Myth
As I learned, adopting an older dog has many advantages. "There's a fairly well-ingrained myth that you have to get a puppy in order to train and develop a solid relationship. It's simply not true," says Pat Miller, a certified professional dog trainer and behavioral consultant with Peaceable Paws LLC in Fairplay, Md. Of the five dogs Miller now has, three were adopted between 6 and 7 months old, one at 5 months and one at 8 years of age.

Puppy Versus Adult
While puppies are cuddly, and many grow up to become wonderful companions, prospective pet owners sometimes forget the trouble involved with raising a canine from infancy, and they overlook the countless mature dogs awaiting adoption from shelters and rescue organizations. Here are the advantages adult dogs have over puppies when it comes to adoption:

  • Housebreaking Older dogs are often house-trained. If not, they are at least able to learn quickly. Puppies, on the other hand, are too young to be able to physically “hold it” for very long. You have to take them outside every hour -- often in the middle of the night -- and you still must clean up puddles.
  • Training Mature dogs frequently come pre-trained not to chew furniture or clothing. They also may know basic commands, such as “sit,” “stay” and “down.” "They know how to walk on a leash and a lot of the other basic things that puppies haven't learned yet," says Adam Goldfarb, director of the Pets at Risk program of the Humane Society of the United States.
  • Energy level Adult dogs tend to be calmer. With puppies and adolescent dogs, energy level is more of an issue. Many adolescent and young adult dogs wind up in shelters because their families weren't prepared for such a high-energy pet.
  • Socialization Older dogs are apt to be more socialized, and therefore, they usually handle people, other pets, cars and noises better than puppies.
  • Temperament and size With older dogs, you have a better idea of who they are, how they act and what they'll look like. With purebred puppies, you can make an educated guess by observing the dog's parents. With mixed breeds, however, you may not know the parents. In addition, paw size is an inexact measure of full-grown size.
  • Spaying or neutering An adult dog has likely been fixed already, taking the responsibility off you.

Questions to Ask When Adopting an Older Dog
Sometimes, adopting an adult dog may have a few downsides. Pre-owned dogs can come with baggage. "If you're adopting a dog from a hoarder, puppy mill or other home where he wasn't well-socialized, you may be facing significant behavioral challenges, such as neophobia (fear of new things), fear-related aggression and general shyness,” says Miller. A dog kept in unclean conditions may also be more difficult to house-train. Dogs may end up in shelters or with rescue groups because of health and/or behavioral problems.

What to ask a shelter or rescue group before adopting:

  • Do they have any history on the dog? Do they keep information about how and where the dog was found if it’s a stray? Why did its previous owners surrender it?
  • Are there any behavioral issues? How has the dog behaved at the shelter? Is it a high-energy dog, or is it happy sitting around all day?
  • Are there any health concerns? Has the dog been treated for anything while at the shelter or rescue center?
  • What type of home do they think is best for this dog? Has the dog ever lived with children or other pets? Could you arrange a meeting between the dog and your children or pets before adopting?
For our family, an added reason to adopt an older canine was that we knew we were giving a loving home to a dog that was going to be harder to adopt out. For others, the reason can be even more compelling: You may be saving the dog from euthanasia. As Miller says, "You can feel really good knowing you are saving a life.”

Elizabeth Wasserman, a Washington, D.C., area-based freelancer, has been writing about pets, among other topics, for more than 15 years. Her love of dogs, in particular, was handed down through the generations from her great-grandfather, Eric Knight, who wrote the book Lassie Come Home in the 1930s.

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Posted on November 12, 2009

Dave mostrom says:

Posted on November 5, 2009

Zac says: Practice walking dog around yard and house on leash with plenty of praise. On walks keep just enough leash so they can't get away from your side but enough so that it doesn't pull tight when they are in correct position.

Posted on November 5, 2009

ddkk says: My bf and I adopted a 2 yr old Chihuahua from a local shelter and I can say that is the best thing we've done. We have busy schedules so a puppy was way too high maintenance for us. We were expecting to have a few accidents but we never did. Frankie came home housebroken and when he needs to do his biz out of the walking schedule he whines and sits by the door telling us he needs to go. Adult dogs are smart and more focused than puppies. Frankie has learned all the tricks in the book really really fast. Sometimes I wonder if he's really 2 yrs old cause he cuddles and plays like a puppy... (We decided to keep his name since he responds well to it. ) I would adopt another adult dog without a doubt. They are awesome...

Posted on October 22, 2009

Jenn says: I adopted my Yorkshire Terrier at 7 years old. She was "retired" from being a breeding machine. It's been six years and I have never regretted it. Sure she needed some TLC (her teeth needed to be taken care of and she was very skittish around people) but now she's been part of my family and going to turn 13 years old next month and is now very social, walks without a leash, housebroken, and even knows how to sit, stay, and come! You can teach an old dog new tricks! What's even better is that you can see her appreciation of having a loving home, unlimited amount of treats and a king size mattress to snuggle on. I love the other dog I have (got him at 8 weeks and he's now 2 years old) but the bond I have with my yorkie is incomparable. Give an older dog a shot,you will really have a nice pet who is calmer and less frustrating in your life! Guaranteed! :)

Posted on October 21, 2009

Martha says: Hi, I am the owner of an adorable Australian Terrier. I walk him daily and he continues to pull very hard on his leash. I have tried stopping when he's pulling very hard and then going on but before long, he's at it again. Also, I have tried turning and going the oposite way when he pulls. Nothing seems to work and I am having neck problems which I believe are related to his pulling so much. Help !!!! Martha Carpenter

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