Vol 3 No 2

Spring 2001

Front Page

Features in this Issue:

Adopting the Right Dog for You


Auction Sneak Peek

Special Care & Second Chances

Coming Soon

Happy News

Letters to GRRI

On-line GRRI News Archives --

GRRI News Index Page



Adopting the Right Dog for You

Whether you are considering adopting from GRRI, another rescue group, or a shelter, our hope is that the information provided in this article will help steer you towards a successful adoption.

Millions of homeless dogs are waiting for the right loving homes.

 Let's NOT let them down!

This article contains excerpts from and is based on materials created by Sue Sternberg, a noted animal training and behavior expert who has devoted much of her professional life to enhancing the adoptability of homeless dogs. She has published numerous brochures and videos; owns a boarding, training and adoption center in Accord, New York; conducts seminars nationwide; and is a frequent guest on Northeast Public Radio.

This article may not be reprinted without the express written permission of GRRI & Sue Sternberg.

The Bottom Line on Dogs

If you're thinking about adopting a dog, before you do or consider anything else, consider this:

Every dog is born with an inherent personality and temperament (just like people) that's difficult if not impossible to modify and that requires proper outlets and acceptance.

That doesn't mean training is inconsequential. It just means that you need to accept each dog for who he really is; that you need to be sure you can meet his needs so you can BOTH get what you want out of the relationship; and that you need to be committed to train him according to his essential nature, every single day of his life.

What do we mean by essential nature, personality and temperament in a dog?

Things like:

The dog's intensity and arousal in chasing small animals or moving objects;

The amount of daily aerobic exercise the dog needs;

The amount of daily mental stimulation and physical affection the dog needs;

The dog's confidence/shyness levels in new situations and with unfamiliar people; and,

The amount of leadership, structure and guidance the dog will require to keep his own pushy or insecure tendencies in check.

Once you accept the fact that each dog is an individual, looking for the perfect person to fit his own personality, preferences and needs, you're ready to take the next step.

The Bottom Line on YOU

Nearly every homeless animal in America is in that state because someone else failed to honestly assess him or herself BEFORE bringing that animal home.

Don't set yourself -- and an animal -- up for failure!

Be honest and thorough NOW!

Who is your favorite dog in the world? Why? What is he like? What do you like about him? How old is he?

If your favorite dog is 5 years old, try to adopt a nice, solid, mature dog with similar characteristics. Don't look for a puppy like him -- because you won't find a puppy that's like a 5 year old dog ... anywhere!

Imagine coming home from work, or arriving home after being out all day. How do you envision your dog responding? Where will he be when you arrive? What will you do upon arrival? Do you want to take him right out? Or do you need to chill out first? 

Do you arrive home full of energy after a long day?  Then you'd do fine with an adolescent or young adult dog, because those dogs need lots of physical activity and owners who can provide it regularly. 

Do you work? Or are you out of the house for more than 4 hours at a stretch without someone at home who can care for the dog in your absence? Then you need to consider an older puppy (over 5 months old), an adolescent dog (6 to 18 months), or an adult dog. That's because young puppies need to eliminate often and can't deal with long periods of isolation. 

If you are considering a puppy and are wondering how you can fit your active life into his early needs, know this:  the general rule of thumb is to take the puppy's age in months, add 1, and that is the number of hours a puppy can be left during the day (i.e., a 4 month old puppy can probably hold his bladder for 5 hours during the day).

Do you arrive home exhausted and wanting to relax or eat dinner and not go out for an hour to the park or backyard right away EVERY DAY?  Then select a mature dog, 4 years or older, and one with a calm nature.

Finally, remember that any prolonged period of isolation will increase the intensity of your dog's need for attention and exercise when you arrive home -- no matter what age the dog.

Imagine a typical evening in your home. What are you doing? Where do you imagine your dog is? Is he on the couch with you, watching TV? Is he lying peacefully at your feet? Is he out playing with the kids? (A-ha! Nope! You can't just leave him unsupervised with the kids, so you'd have to be out there with them.)

This mental picture will give you an idea of what kinds of rules and limits you'll need to set in your household and for your new dog.

Do you want a dog on the furniture? If so, choose a non-dominant, submissive dog who is less likely to perceive being up on the furniture as pack rank issue. 

Do you want to prohibit a dog from your furniture? Realize that if you choose a more pushy, confident dog, you'll need to be VERY persistent and set lots of rules and limits to make this work. 

And remember -- if you have kids of ANY AGE, no child is ever able to take full responsibility for a dog. YOU will be the caretaker, no matter what you think, no matter what the age of your child, or what he promises. Don't fall into the "Lassie" trap.  In the real world, Lassie would have run off and been hit by a car a million times over; or snapped or growled at someone; or chased a bicycle rider; or learned to bark incessantly; or any number of things NO dog owner wants. NO child should ever be left alone with ANY dog.

Imagine a typical weekend. What activities are you engaging in? How will you include a dog?

Are you a hiking family? Most dogs love to join in -- but need to be on leash in almost all cases. 

A bicycle riding family? That's tougher to do with a dog, but with lots of training it can often work.

Or are you a sedentary household? If so, a mature, low energy, couch potato dog is the dog for you. 

Do you live in an apartment or a house? Do you have a fenced in yard? Do you plan to leash walk for bathroom activities and exercise? Will your dog need to get along with other dogs -- at the park, on walks in the neighborhood, or in a doggie day care situation?

This is actually one of the most critical evaluations of your household and lifestyle, one that can really make or break the permanency of the relationship with your new dog.

If all of a sudden you are going to be leash walking or leash exercising a dog, know that your free time and routine will be drastically altered -- for the lifetime of your new dog. Whether it's raining, or you're sick, or exhausted, or just feeling lazy, dogs have needs that have to be met DAILY -- no matter what. 

If you live in an urban or suburban area where you and your dog will encounter other dogs while on leash, or you'll be exercising your new dog off leash in a doggie park, you will need to specifically select a dog that gets along with new dogs.

Even if you have a fenced in yard, the fact is, most dogs will NOT self exercise. You'll have to go out with him, throw a ball, or somehow encourage activity.

Also, left alone to their own devices, most dogs will teach themselves bad habits while alone in a yard -- more so if they can see passersby or other animals. These dogs learn to bark or dig or scratch or even practice aggression by barking or growling as people or other dogs pass. Practice makes perfect, so if a dog believes that his barking or lunging is effective at making things go away, each bark or growl will be marked as success ... And the dog will learn to bark more and more aggressively. 

Finally, if there is any chance of going after what the dog perceives as prey -- be it a squirrel or a passing child -- that dog WILL break the chain of a tie out, or dig under a fence or do whatever it takes. For all these reasons, leaving a dog unsupervised outside is NEVER the answer.

Frankly, there is NOTHING convenient about owning a dog. It takes lots of effort, which, of course, is returned with the most amazing and loving companion you could ask for. But it is in no way a free ride.

Are you in a rural area with a lot of land that is VERY far from traffic, have no fence, but want a dog that can go with you SUPERVISED off leash, to hang out with you or play fetch relentlessly?

If so, select a dog that is a little insecure about life... One that comes up to you readily and is a little clingy, maybe leaning against you right away, or hiding behind you for courage.

All dogs need supervision when outdoors, so don't expect to let your dog hang out free range. Dogs are predators, they are animals. WE are responsible for them.

The ONLY dogs that are truly savvy about cars and are not getting hit and killed are the ones that are still alive until the day they are hit and killed. You're just meeting those dogs earlier in the eventual sequence. NO dog can be trusted around cars. 

Five Things to Look For in a Dog

With all the variables in dogs and people, there are still five qualities that every pet owner should put at the top of the list when searching for a dog to adopt: 

A dog with high sociability and affection who bonds easily and strongly.

We live in a crowded society, filled with friends and family and relatives and neighbors and children and guests and strangers. We need dogs who are loving and affectionate and congenial with people. These are the dogs who are most fun and the least worrisome to live with.

The more a dog likes people, wants to be with people, and needs people, the more willing that dog will be to accept all kinds of handling and control and strange new people, and different looking people. The more people loving your dog is, the bigger the buffer zone of love and affection there is to chip away at before your dog resorts to aggression to get you to stop doing something he doesn't want you to do ... Like having his nails clipped, or having a tick pulled off, or being hugged for too long by a child or adult, or being pulled by the collar to get him off a particular piece of furniture, etc.

The more sociable and affectionate your dog is, the less likely he is to bite a friend or neighbor who comes onto your property or into your home, and less likely you are to incur a law suit.

And of course, the more affection and loving your dog is, the more joy and return you'll get from the relationship.

A dog who is calmed by touching and petting.

Dogs who are calmed by touch and stroking typically make better pets. These dogs, in general, will be easier to live with and easier to train, simply because they like the attention and find it relaxing. Dogs who are overstimulated or become mouthy or over excited by touch and attention may still be highly trainable, but will require much more work on your part, and much more overall training to learn general household manners.

A dog with low arousal.

Arousal is defined as a state of agitation. Aroused dogs have an unsettled, jittery quality to them, and are often mistaken for being "hyper" or "excited" The aroused dog will usually be wagging his tail, usually panting; he will look very "friendly" to the inexperienced eye. But "friendly" is really defined as a dog who distinctly WANTS to interact with you, who will engage in soft, loving eye contact, who may nudge your hands, lean against you, or paw at you for physical affection.

Dogs who are easily aroused and slow to calm down are dogs who are going to be much more difficult to live with, deal with and train. Dogs who are calmer in nature or who can get excited but then calm down quickly are going to be easier to live with, deal with and train.

Look for a dog, who (indoors in a quiet environment) is basically serene and calm after a few minutes of initial excitement. Look for a dog who may perk up with stimulation, but who then calms right back down again, especially with your petting or touch.

A dog with low to medium prey and play drives.

Some dogs are more playful and intense than others, and some dogs just get more worked up in play than others. Some dogs are not really into playing much and seem kind of old even when they're young. Some people really like a "doggy" dog -- one that could play fetch for hours, one that really gets going. Other people prefer a very gentle, low key dog with more human qualities -- a dog who would rather lie on the couch and watch TV than go out for a walk in the rain.

What's important here is knowing that these differences pose different demands on YOU. One dog is no better than the next -- all have instincts, some just have more intensity than others do. People like different levels of OOMPH in their dog -- but with these different levels come with different requirements.

A dog with a high threshold for aggression.

All dogs, as long as they are alive, are capable of aggression. Aggression is NATURAL for dogs. It may not be appropriate, or safe, or pleasant, but it's natural and all dogs can bite. That's why you want a dog with a long fuse, a dog who's threshold is so high you might never reach it. That's why it's so critical to seek a dog with high sociability, who LOVES affection and petting and touch and kisses and kind words and attention.

If You Have Children

If you have children, rely on the help of experts to help you adopt. Don't go it alone -- the risks are too great.

If you are considering shelter dogs, consult a local trainer or behavior specialist who has experience in going to shelters and evaluating temperament. Hire him or her to accompany you, advise you on what to look for, and help you decide whether a specific dog is right for you. 

Or work with a rescue group who carefully evaluates temperament before placement and who puts YOU through the paces about your decision to adopt. Don't be put off by rigorous applications or interviews -- they are good signs of caring and thorough placement decision making, which is EXACTLY what you want!

In general, neither shelters nor rescue groups will place strays in households with young children. Unless an honest and extensive history could be taken during intake of the dog, caution MUST take precedence.

Puppies and Kids

Although it's part of the American Dream to get a puppy for the kids, the truth is, its hell to raise a young puppy while trying to raise young kids. A young puppy can hold his bladder for only 2 hours, needs to be taught everything about life, considers everyone (including the kids) his personal chew toys, and requires constant supervision and total socialization. And 9 times out of 10, the responsibility falls upon one parent. 
There's also a myth that in order to get a good dog, you have to start with a puppy, a "clean slate" and raise it right. But the truth is that every dog is born with a temperament and personality.

Training and behavior modification are great and effective and necessary -- but in the end, they don't CHANGE underlying temperament or personality -- whether you are starting with a puppy or an older dog. And a dog's TRUE temperament can be evaluated BEST when he is over 6 months old.

Temperament Testing 

Dogs are never just who they are in an isolated bubble. No amount of temperament testing can truly predict what a dog is like and how he will act. That depends as much on who the dog is as it does who the person handling and dealing with the dog is.

But imperfect as it is, temperament testing helps. 

Quality breeders routinely temperament test their puppies at 7 weeks of age to better gauge their personalities and inform placement decisions.

Rescue groups like GRRI also evaluate temperament on every intake -- to determine whether the Golden is temperamentally sound, and again, to inform placement decisions.

Even if you plan to rely on a quality breeder, rescue group, or professional behavior specialist to help you find the right dog, knowing more about the temperament evaluation process can help you be a more informed and confident adopter.

Sue Sternberg, who's materials are the cornerstone of this article, has prepared a number of excellent temperament testing materials in print and video, and also conducts seminars.

To find out more about these resources, visit:

Or contact Sue at: Rondout Valley Kennels, Inc. 4628 Route 209, Accord, NY 12404