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Adopting a Shelter or Rescue Dog

adopting a shelter or rescue dog

Are you interested in adopting a dog from a rescue or shelter? We applaud you! The number of abandoned, surrendered and abused dogs in need of loving homes is staggering and there just aren’t enough homes to go around. Anyone can buy a dog from a breeder or pet store. We can’t say there’s anything wrong with finding your new dog this way, it’s just not our first choice. Triple think your idea to purchase from a pet store. You can pretty much bet the farm that these dogs are from a puppy mill which means they can be very sick. Their health problems may not be visible until weeks or months after you take your new pet home.

Some people have the idea that adopting a dog from a rescue or shelter is no different than buying a used car and that all you’ll wind up with is someone else’s problems. We don’t believe that here at Riley’s Place! We believe you can wind up with one of the very best dogs in the world when you give a rescue dog a home of it’s own and a family to love.

We’re glad you came to visit us and we hope that you’ll find lots of helpful information on rescues and adoptions. Our hope is that we can help to give you good information that will help you make informed decisions no matter where you are in the process. We’re not asking you to believe everything we say. We hope you will do your own research and that this is one of the stops you make along the way. To make things interesting, we’ll also talk about important other topics involving dogs, like dog health and safety, training and behavior.

No matter how you find your new family member, how you do it isn’t as important as why you do it. Before you take that big step (and it is a big step!) please think hard, consider every angle you can think, do as much research as possible, and take puppy steps all the way. This is not a decision that should be made like you make impulse purchases at the store. Lives truly do depend on the end result. Not only the dog’s but yours and your family’s as well.


  1. Bob Gravely says:

    Thanks for all of this wonderful and helpful information. We’ve had our 2-year old German Shepard/lab mix Roscoe for about a week. He was born into a litter with distemper and was one of the ones who survived and was raised at a German Shepherd rescue by loving women. He’s a smart, sensitive boy and seems overall well-adjusted. He loves my wife and is fine with our kids, but isn’t warming up to me. I suspect he’s not used to men. We had an unfortunate incident on the first day we had him where he tried to bolt through a small opening in a gate. I had to step in front of him and got bit. It did break the skin a bit but I understood. It wasn’t vicious. It’s been a bit touch and go over the rest of the week. He acts like a normal dog around my wife and even has become friendly with our baby-sitters (young women). But I still get growled at. I’ve had two more incidents. One he suddenly came up and kind of gently mouthed my arm as I reached down to get something off the floor. No growling, teeth baring or any sign, just a sudden movement. A second incident I was sitting at the table eating and he walked up and again gently mouthed my arm. Neither of the last two incidents felt vicious either and it didn’t hurt or break skin, but it also didn’t feel like attempts to play. I’m still hopeful that the dog is just getting used to me and all will be fine. After reading this site, I will avoid eye contact with him and not try to pet him and just let him take things at his pace — but I wanted to check on the second two biting/mouthing incidents and see what you make of them. Just a reaction to continued fear and uncertainty and getting adjusted to a new home and being around a man for the first time, or something else? Thanks.

    • Mom says:

      Hi Bob,

      Thank you for taking an understanding viewpoint of Rosco’s behavior early in his adjustment to his new home and giving him the benefit of the doubt. A lot of people wouldn’t have done that for him. People tend to think dogs magically adjust quickly to new environments after they’ve been rehomed which in many cases is far from the truth. Unfortunately, in too many instances if the dog fails the new home’s expectations and doesn’t adjust overnight, they’re returned to where they came from (or worse). This can happen multiple times when no one gives them a chance and the dog winds up in on a merry-go-round never having the chance to settle in anywhere before they’re carted off to the next home and the next and the next. Every time this happens more damage is done to the dog’s sense of security and some get to the point they never trust enough to truly feel welcome in their own home.

      When you wrote me, Rosco had only lived with your family for a week. If you can, please give him time to adjust, and I’m talking at least 4-6 months. He has to learn how things are at your house and where he fits into the hierarchy.

      He does sound like he favors females and children, which would be understandable being he’s been around females the most. Please don’t take that personally, it’s just one of the things some dogs do. It does sound like he hasn’t had much contact with males so you can think of yourself as somewhat of an alien being in his world and he doesn’t quite know what to do with you. Give both of you a chance for him to trust you.

      Always remember that especially in the case of Shepherds they almost always pick their favorite family member. If it’s not you, nothing you do or say will change that, it’s a Shep thing. Their loyalty will always remain the strongest with the one they pick. They can and do love and protect the entire family but they always have their favorite person which you may nor may not ever be.

      Sounds like his mouthing is gentle and that he’s not being aggressive which you understand (thank you!) and Sheps are known to be “mouthy” dogs .. just how you explained your dog is behaving, it’s a Shep thing. But that doesn’t making mouthing an acceptable behavior. Riley used to do the same kind of mouthing behavior when he moved in and until he learned our “no teeth on skin” rule. Becoming part of your family also means he needs to learn his rules and boundaries.

      Whenever Riley would mouth my arm, I quickly but gently wrapped both my hands around his snout and said “No teeth.” while holding his jaw together for 2 or 3 seconds. You have to be careful about exerting pressure here because the nose area is a dog’s main road to its brain and you don’t want to damage any senses so no squeezing. Most dogs don’t like having their mouths held shut because that’s where they do most of their breathing. The object of my method was to show him that when he mouthed my arm the consequences are uncomfortable – NOT painful – just momentarily uncomfortable but only because they aren’t able to open their mouth to pant. You don’t want to panic your dog either, so it has to be very quick and let go. The flip side of this is that you have to trust your dog is not going to bite you and being that Roscoe is new I’m not suggesting you try it, only passing along what worked for me.

      You might also consider that if he knows the “leave it” command when he grabs your arm tell him to leave it and then sit and treat him for both. Start with leave it, treat, sit, treat.

      Other things you can do to help him learn to trust you would be for you to be the one to feed him a good majority of the time, work on his training with some yummy treats and more importantly for him to realize that you’re fun to be around so play ball and other things with him.

      You could also call the rescue where he lived and ask them if there is something they taught him that involved him mouthing your arm that you need to be aware of. It almost sounds like perhaps they taught him that mouthing your arm means “Come see this.” or “I want to show you something.” Since you know he spent some time with this rescue, they can be a wealth of information about what they did and didn’t teach him and how.

      Good luck! Let us know how things go!

  2. martha ogrady says:

    I would like to adopt any kind of dog that needs a loving home. must get along with cats

    • Mom says:

      Hi Martha,

      That would be wonderful, I hope you find just the right dog to join your family!


  3. Mary Anne Sgriccia says:

    I put my name in to adopt this dog: http://www.adoptapet.com/pet/11197724-wyandotte-michigan-german-shepherd-dog-mix
    He does not look this pretty now. I suspect he has hip dysplasia. The volunteer says they don’t walk him far because of it. His heart worm status is unknown. He has a hairless patch over one hip. But he was a sweet boy, and melted my heart when after ten minutes he came to me and put his head between my legs for a neck rubbing. I adopt older, big dogs from my local humane society, so his size is no impediment. My last boy died in his sleep a little over a month ago, and I’m missing the company of dogs terribly. This is my first GSD. Oh, did I mention he’s not fixed? He is very thin. He has had no vet attention.
    I’m sorry for the disjointed ramble, but I just came across your blog, and would gladly accept any input/advice from you or any of your readers. I have already benefitted from just reading it. Thanks!
    My immediate plan, if I’m allowed to adopt, is to immediately bring him to my vet. I’ve already spoken with her to alert her to this adoption. We go from there…. Oh, he does not look like a mix to me, but I bow to your expertise.

    • Mom says:

      Hi Mary Anne,

      What a handsome boy! He looks purebred to me. I commend you from the bottom of my heart for being one to adopt older dogs! Thank you!!! It also looks like Jax has been adopted so perhaps congratulations is in order???

      I agree, vet vet vet this dude! He sounds like he’s got multiple but fixable medical issues. Make sure the vet checks his thyroid levels, very important because hypothyroidism can cause aggression issues and GSD’s are prone to this disease. That hairless patch you mentioned could be from other things but also may just be from hypothyroidism. If you have a fenced yard, I personally would be one to leave neutering to last and concentrate on his overall health first. You don’t need him to be making puppies and he needs to get healthy first! Sounds like this poor boy is in severe pain. If he’s got hip dysplasia he may be a candidate for FHO surgery although he does look like and older boy he may not be a candidate for this any longer. But you can help him be more comfortable through medications and a good diet.

      Good luck to you and please come back and let us know how Jax is doing!

  4. interested in adopting

    • Mom says:

      Hi Jaclyn,

      It’s GREAT that you’re interested in adopting a dog! I like to think of it as “Save a life and make yours better!” We don’t do adoptions at Riley’s Place so I’d suggest you contact dog rescues that deal with the breed you’re interested in. Smart animal shelters don’t hold Shepherds to long because they don’t do well in a shelter environment and so they try to get them to a rescue as soon as possible. Of course because rescues are many times full and don’t have as many foster homes as they need, it can take awhile which is very unfortunate for the dog. Good luck! Please come and let us know how it goes and tell us about your new furkid after you adopt!


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