Stereotypes Around Adopting an Older Dog
Stephen Musso, executive vice president of the ASPCA, says many shelters report that large, black dogs are often not adopted. Some shelters even have a name for the problem: “Big black dog syndrome.” Also, if a black adult dog is in perfect health and has a sweet nature, it may remain in a shelter.
One reason is simply that black dogs are more common, perhaps because this color is just genetically more dominant among canines.
Old stereotypes may also be to blame, with “Beware of Dog” signs often showing big, menacing black dogs. Books and movies, such as The Hound of the Baskervilles and the Harry Potter series, tend to present such dogs in an ominous light. The biggest reason may have to do with how well the dog photographs. In this social media age, people often surf the Net before visiting shelters. Professional photographers aren’t always available to snap the most flattering shots of scared homeless canines, so some dogs disappear into dark backgrounds and low lighting.
Each November, Adopt a Senior Pet Month, sponsored by Petfinder.com, grows in popularity and helps save older dogs from euthanasia in shelters by promoting their adoption.
Is Adopting an Older Dog a Good Idea?
“There is a myth that says you must bring a puppy home at seven weeks,” says Sheila Webster Boneham, Ph.D., author of Breed Rescue: How to Start and Run a Successful Program, and founder of the Labrador Retriever Rescue of Indiana. “Nonsense! That idea comes from a misinterpretation of research showing that puppies must have human contact beginning no later than the seventh week or won’t bond to people. But that means people in general.”
Boneham has personally placed 50 adult dogs. She also supervised the placement of more than 200 dogs in rescue and has counseled more than 100 owners who adopted dogs from shelters. Based on her experience, adult dogs bond just as well as puppies do. “Some dogs take a little more TLC, but I have found adult dogs to be extremely resilient, and most are driven to be connected to a person or family,” she says.
Why don’t most people looking at getting a dog consider adopting a grown one? The reasons are varied, from wanting a “clean slate” in terms of behavior, to a puppy’s cuteness, to the misconception that young dogs bond better than adults. But puppy cuteness only lasts a few weeks, and puppies haven’t been trained in anything yet. Adult dogs are usually house trained and know a few commands. Puppies don’t, making them a lot of work. And unless you’re a professional trainer, you may make more mistakes with your “clean slate” than with a “slightly used” adoption dog.
Personal Experience of Adopting an Older Dog
As Elizabeth Wasserman learned, adopting an older dog has many advantages. “There’s a fairly well-ingrained myth that you have to get a puppy 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 five months, and one at eight years of age.
When my husband and I were newly married, explains Wasserman, 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 beautiful 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.
While puppies are cuddly, and many grow up to become beautiful companions, prospective pet owners sometimes forget the trouble involved with raising a canine from infancy. They overlook the countless mature dogs awaiting adoption from shelters and rescue organizations.
Here Are the Advantages of Adopting an Older Dog Over Puppies:
Older dogs are often house-trained. If not, they are at least able to learn quickly. On the other hand, Puppies are too young to physically “hold it” for very long. You have to take them outside every hour and often in the middle of the night, and then you still must clean up puddles.
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.
Adult dogs tend to be calmer. With puppies and adolescent dogs, the energy level is more of an issue. Many adolescents and young adult dogs wind up in shelters because their families weren’t prepared for such a high-energy pet.
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
When considering older dogs, you have a better idea of who they are, how they act, and how they will look. With purebred puppies, you can make an educated guess by observing the dog’s parents. But with mixed breeds, however, you may not know the parents. Also, 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.
Where Can I Adopt an Older Dog?
Check with your local shelter to see what they have available. 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 another 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 Before Adopting an Older Dog:
Do They Have Any History on the Dog?
Do they keep information about how and where they found the dog if it’s a stray? Why did its previous owners surrender it?
Are There any Behavioral Issues With the Dog?
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 them?
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 would be harder to adopt. For others, the reason can be even more compelling: You may be saving the dog from euthanasia. As Miller says, “You can feel terrific knowing you are saving a life.”
When You Adopt Adult Dogs, Do They Miss Their Previous Owners?
But what about the bonding issue? You may be surprised to learn that dogs, even adult dogs, are preprogrammed to bond with humans. What makes dogs able to bond to humans is neoteny; that is, humans have bred the domestic dog to stay in a kind of permanent adolescence. This trait enables a dog to bond with different people over their lifetime.
How Can We Improve the Rate of People Adopting an Older Dog?
Groups across the country are trying to increase the rate of adoptions for all dogs, especially those that need the extra boost. Fricke shares that the HSUS has joined together with Maddie’s Fund and the Ad Council to create the first-ever public advertising campaign to promote adoption: The Shelter Pet Project. Wyoming-based Black Dog Animal Rescue and other organizations are also building awareness while finding dogs homes.
Is a 7 Year Old Dog Too Old to Adopt?
There’s a good reason to pay attention when considering adopting an older dog. As Fricke says, such frequently overlooked dogs often make better pets. “Older animals, for example, are beyond the annoying chewing stage, are typically fully trained and are much more ‘What you see is what you get’ than younger animals who have not fully developed their personalities yet,” says Fricke.
Christina Alvarez, executive director of Hopalong & Second Chance Animal Rescue in Oakland, Calif., adds that such dogs also tend to be:
- Reserved and well-behaved
- Adapted to home life
- Appreciative of love and care
- Eager to bond with supportive owners
Lu, who has adopted three adult dogs, advises that anyone who desires a new pet “should go in with an open heart and open eyes. Rather than sticking to predetermined characteristics, make a love connection.”
Fricke agrees: “We would love for people to bear in mind that most pets wind up in shelters through no fault of their own not because they have problems, but simply because their owners had personal problems, such as they needed to move, had a new baby, etc. They are wonderful, family-ready pets who only need an opportunity to show how wonderful they are.”
5 Tips on Caring for a Senior Dog After Adoption
1. Feed Your Elderly Dog a Proper Diet.
“Veterinarians recommend senior diets for older dogs,” she says. Individual dogs may require other special diets if they have particular health issues.
2. Groom and Bathe Your Dog Regularly, Per Recommendations For its Breed.
If you use a professional groomer, make sure that they are informed of any health conditions, such as arthritis, which could require a more gentle touch for your adopted dog.
3. Provide Regular Physical Activity, Following Veterinary Guidance.
4. Keep Your Home Relatively Quiet.
“If your home is like Grand Central Station, your older dog is likely to become stressed out,” says Buchwald. Make sure your dog has a beautiful, peaceful spot to retreat to throughout the day.
5. Schedule Regular Veterinary Visits.
Prevention and early detection can help to save and extend lives.
So consider the adult dog for adoption. He’s as likely to bond with you as a puppy would be. And he’s far less likely to chew up your couch or pee on your rug. Who knows, maybe your canine soul mate is an older dog.