By Jolanda Spies
After being dog-less for a couple of years, we moved to a new house with a dog-friendly yard. As soon as the contract was signed, I started dog-hunting. I found the Furkidz website and saw so many possible pooches, I started writing the names down, but soon the list was too long. So I took the children and we went "shopping" to all the animal shelters in our area. There are so many, it's just unbelievable.
At AACL in Bellville-South we saw her! She had the most beautiful, soulful eyes, a terrier-beard and rough wired hair. Not the beauty queen of the shelter, but she attracted us immediately. We took her out to the run and interacted with her. She was shy and not very responsive to us, but everything else fitted us like a glove. We visited some other shelters, but finally went back to play with her again. And so one year old Saphire (renamed Gracie) became ours. We took her home the day we moved into the new house. Read more...
About 2 months later, we decided to get Gracie a friend, as I had play-dates with a friend's dog and could see how Gracie enjoyed having another dog around. Once again, we took our time matching our needs to the available Furkidz. This time around we also had to consider that the new dog must be a good match to Gracie. After more than a month we had a shortlist of 3.
Nr 1 on the list was a happy-go-lucky, smiling, 4 year old male which resembled the dog used for the paint advertisement. We arranged with HHAWS in Gordon's Bay for a meet-and-greet where we can introduce Gracie to her new potential friend. HHAWS were so kind to arrange that the animal behaviourist on site assists us with the big introduction.
Well, the 2 dogs had no problem with each other when they met, Gracie immediately wanted to play! And so Dulux came home with us. He has since been renamed Willy (yes, we now have our own Will and Grace).
Willy and Gracie get along like a house on fire! They can sometimes play for hours on end and I have not seen any aggression or nasty dominance-issues. They have unique personalities, but are both just adorable and lovable. Both fits into our family perfectly and I know for sure that we have not made a mistake bringing them home.
I am forever thankful that we adopted adult dogs. From my own experience, my reasons:
- What I saw, is what I got. No nasty surprises with changes in size, behaviour or dominance, as these were already established when we met her for the first time.
- No baby-sitting at night with a yelping puppy, no house-training needed, no chewed up shoes and carpets and less worries when she had to be left alone during the day.
- With the help of shelter staff's advice, we could establish clearly that neither of the dogs are dominant when being around my children. With a puppy, you would not have known upfront.
- AACL spayed Gracie before she came home. No taking the puppy back to be spayed and the nursing (and worries) during that first day after the operation. They took care of that.
- No puppy-mad energy levels. Or a surprise as the dog grow up to be a high energy dog (or low energy if you prefer high energy).
- If you have small children, puppies take time to learn not to bite with their extremely sharp teeth. Adult dogs, luckily, are over this stage already.
- An adult dog tends to be calmer more often than a puppy. Our family's energy levels differ, Gracie and Willy's ability to be calm for long periods of time means lazy me can spend time with them without running around.
- What I found with both my dogs, is that they got used to barking neighbouring dogs while in the shelter. This means when my neighbour's dog is howling at the moon or barking out his boredom, my dogs do not join in. They do, however, bark if something is moving in or around my yard.
- Should there be any behavioural issues, it will be presented to you very soon after adoption in an adult dog. If you are unsure on how to address these, most shelters have dog behavioural specialists which will assist you with solving these problems.
- Bonding with an adult dog was special (both times). It's almost like they appreciate you taking them out of the shelter more and understand that they now have something they did not have before. I can see it in Gracie's eyes when she looks at me and in the pleasure she shows just laying at my feet. Sometimes she watches me from a distance with this funny kind of loving look in her eyes. This makes me feel extremely loved. Willy again, shows extreme excitement each time I return home. He has really latched on to me and would always stay close to me, even when all of us are with them. He was a bit hesitant at first when you reached out to touch him, but now he actually moves closer to be touched. Sometimes I think I get so much more out of this relationship than I ever expected!
A new dog, and maybe especially an adult dog, needs time to adapt after being in a shelter or on the street. I must admit, during the first few days after we got Gracie I had some doubt if we selected the right dog. With Willy I was more confident, as I knew these stages would pass. I initially had the following worries, which were all solved over time:
- The first day we took Gracie home, she was nervous and did not respond to our attention all the time. She took her time exploring her new surroundings. On day 2 and more comfortable in the new environment, she moved her attention to us, rather than to the surroundings. And she LOVED the attention and has not stopped since. With Willy I experienced the same thing.
- When it was feeding time, they both gulped down the food in the bowl. This behaviour that I call "shelter-eating" took about a month and a half to disappear with Gracie, while Willy relaxed after just 2 weeks. Besides this "shelter-eating", Willy also did not know how to take food from your hand without lurching and accidently biting the hand that feeds him. But after 2 weeks and lots of patience, he accepted that the hand will not take the food away. He has a gentle approach now.
- At bedtime, Gracie did not want to go into her newly fitted out kennel, but slept on the cold doorstep. This problem we eventually solved by removing the roof of the kennel for 2 days. It seems she was not used to the small enclosure. After that, she had no problem retrieving to her kennel every night, even when the roof was put back. We gradually moved the kennel further away from the back door to the warmest spot undercover. Now her kennel is her own little sanctuary and favourite place to nap. After just a few days Willy made his kennel his sanctuary and safe place.
- Gracie did not know her name (old or new name), neither did she know what "come" meant. Within a week, she knew both her name and the command. It just took a few treats and repeating her name for her to make the connection. Willy was exactly the same, although he has taken longer to respond to his name.
- Gracie did not know what play is. A ball was just an object. She was nervous when we ran or threw the ball. Around week 2, she suddenly clicked while the children were throwing the ball to each other. It was like a light being switched on! With the ball came the running and soon we were playing "chase" around the pool and even hide and seek with my son. Willy still has not made the connection with the ball, but is more comfortable running around with us now.
- When we brought the second dog home, Gracie wanted to play with him all the time. Since she is about a year old and he is about 4 years old, I was worried that he will not be playful enough to satisfy her need. But after a few days, he was comfortable, relaxed and now initiates most of the play.
From my experience, here are a few tips that helped a lot while "shopping" for an adult dog:
- Walk through the whole shelter, sometimes big and small dogs are mixed up, you don't want to miss anything. One walk-through is not enough, take the tour again!
- Be honest with yourself about your needs and limitations. If you are low energy, that beautiful Husky in the corner might not be the best fit, even though he is the best looking lad of the lot. Ask yourself about your energy levels, dominance, available time, ability to train, time to groom, size of yard, etc.
- Ask questions about the temperament of the dogs you like, the shelter staff knows them better than you might think. Ask everything – are they socialized with other dogs, health, age, how long they've been there, energy levels, do they get along with cats, etc.
- Observe them from a distance. When you stand in front of the gate/fence, they all react in an excited way, if you want to see how they behave without you there, stand away and watch.
- Best not to visit during feeding time, they are distracted and will not interact the way you would like them to.
- Ask to interact with the dog in a run/pen, or take it for a short walk. Touch it, talk to it, but don't expect it to be your immediate best friend, the dog does not know who you are yet.
- If you have children, take them with. You will be able to immediately spot the reaction if the dog does not like children or shows too much dominance.
- Don't be worried that the lack of play, the jumping up or licking your face will be permanent. If you do not like it, you can train them once settled in.
- Arrange a meet-and-greet with your other animals. Some shelters like Uitsig Animal Rescue bring the animal out to your home for this meeting.
- Most shelters will allow you to take the dog home for a "test run". Make use of this offer and then decide. They do react differently when at your home than in a shelter.
So my plea to all of you out there is not to ignore the benefits of adopting an adult dog. Depending on your needs, this might just be the perfect solution for you. Although nobody can ignore the cuteness factor with puppies, remember that they will also be adult dogs soon. Your very special "jewel" is out there waiting for you – just go find it!