Written by Sam Martinez
“Adopt, don’t shop.” It’s something all of us likely have heard from proponents of animal rescues at one point or another. And while we here at Ruff Translating certainly are huge supporters of rescues, we’re not big fans of that popular phrase.
For starters, adopting a dog is a shopping process itself, and potential owners should be prepared for that. While it’s entirely possible that someone could go to one rescue and find the perfect dog for their family that day, that’s not always -- and most likely won’t be -- the case. Instead, owners should start by researching local rescues and compiling a list of the ones they want to check out. You also should get an idea of what kind of dog you want, even if you’re not looking for a specific breed. The types of characteristics you can consider are things like size, activity level, coat type, and health. There’s a lot of research to do before getting a dog, even if you’re willing to be flexible once you actually go to a rescue!
The more damaging part of the phrase, though, is that it suggests buying a dog from a breeder is a bad thing, when that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Service dogs are the first thing that comes to mind when we talk about the necessity of reputable, responsible breeding. Choosing a rescue dog already is labor-intensive for someone looking for a pet, but it’s even more so if you’re looking for a service dog. Service dogs must be stable, smart, and free of health issues, and finding all of that in a rescue dog can feel like a one-in-a-million chance. Many service dog handlers also prefer to raise and train them from a young age, and it’s very common for puppies to come to shelters from backyard breeders, puppy mills, or because they were taken from their dam too early, all of which are highly unlikely to make a good service dog candidate. Simply put, it’s wildly unfair to expect people with disabilities to have to put the extra time, travel, and money it will take to evaluate a rescue dog into purchasing what already is an expensive and time-consuming medical device. You can learn more about what goes into making a service dog a service dog from our owner Ejay Eisen here.
But there should be no shame in using a breeder to get a companion dog, either.
The mere existence of rescues proves that not every person should be a dog owner. But we also have to reckon with the fact that not everyone should be a rescue dog owner. Rescue dogs can be extremely difficult trains, and just because a potential owner doesn’t have the experience to put in that kind of work doesn’t mean they won’t be able to train any dog. Dogs in shelters can be a unique challenge!
Rescues also aren’t always the best at placing dogs in the right homes, by no fault of their own. They rely heavily on volunteers and donations, which means there are many people involved who aren’t experienced in knowing the kinds of behaviors and body language that can turn difficult or even dangerous. They are unbelievably well meaning people who don’t want to see dogs living their lives without a place of their own, but when your bottom line is getting them adopted, the lines between wanting to see a dog in a home and wanting to see a dog in the right home can get blurred. Plus, when the ultimate goal is to get all dogs out of shelters, how would people continue to own temperament- and health-tested dogs without responsible breeders?
Ultimately, what we’d like to see is people fighting to help rescues employ dog trainers and behaviorists who would be able to make rescue dogs more accessible to owners, especially first-time owners. But for now, we need to make sure rescue dogs don’t get bounced around to people who aren’t quite ready for that type of responsibility yet. A stable purebred dog can be a gateway into getting a new owner excited about training and give them the experience to make a rescue dog their next choice. Good breeders also make their clients sign documents that include language stating that if the dog needs to be rehomed for any reason, it should be returned to the breeder, which will prevent more dogs from winding up in rescues and shelters in the first place.
When it all comes down to it, we all want to see a world full of healthy, happy dogs. And if breeders play a vital role in making that happen, then we shouldn’t be shaming any potential dog owners for using them.
Written by Cara Wehmhoefer
In my past year of teaching private lessons, the subject I most often run into first is decompression. We trainers see it too often: A dog gets adopted, gets thrown into a handful of overstimulating situations too soon, then becomes fearful and reactive. The same goes for a dog and family that has recently relocated. Many of these behavioral issues they face could have been managed or prevented with proper decompression.
We often hear from clients, friends, and family who are moving soon or are getting a new rescue, and the most frequently asked question we receive is, “How do I get them settled into their new space?” There are a number of answers, but what we always say is make sure they have proper decompression.
The word is very simple: to release from pressure. In the context of our dogs, it is to release them from any and all excess stress and stimuli during a time that is challenging and stressful. We use a decompression protocol mainly in two instances: when a family is relocating to a new house or when a family acquires a new dog.
Many of our dogs have struggled with behavioral challenges in the past that we are still working through and continuing to manage. Many of us also will be working through them for the rest of their lives. We do this, with the help of our trainers, by creating an established routine with a training and exercise regimen that best fits our dog. When life happens, and we move, it is important that we stick to these very same routines, but add in another layer that we call a decompression protocol.
What would this look like? It can vary depending on the dog, but the principle is the same. A decompression routine is mainly lots of time in a confined space, with short bursts of structured walks, quick training and play sessions, and supervised yard time. If your dog is not crate or space trained, make sure their downtime is in the quietest part of the house. The dog does not get very much freedom at all during this time to minimize their need to make more decisions during a heightened period of stress. This is the main purpose of decompression: to release the dog from pressure during a stressful time.
Let’s talk about moving houses. It is easy to imagine that dogs can sense a routine change. If they see suitcases, they know something is about to change. That may be a known pattern for some. However, it is very important to note that there is no way for them to know what actually is coming next. The furniture starts to disappear, boxes start to pile up, and their humans are extra stressed all the time. That is very anxiety-inducing in a dog! This is something many people miss amid the craziness of their own routine changes. Everything starts to change for your dog before the biggest change, putting them in an increased state of anxiety already.
In order to manage this, we have to keep their routine as consistent as possible leading up to the move, adding in some decompression time as we go. Supplement extra crate time, especially during the busier moments, like movers and family members coming and going. Keep things quiet on the training front with low-stimulation walks and avoid any new or harder concepts until after everyone has settled into the new place.
Another option to consider is boarding your dog with a trusted friend or dog sitter who can keep your dog in a quiet, steady routine during the busiest parts of your move. I made this choice with my personal dog, Jonas. I sent him to my trusted friend at South Shore Dog Squad in Abington, Mass., where he got daily structured pack walks, downtime in a crate, and lots of yard play. While it mainly kept Jonas from absorbing the chaos and anxiety that is moving, it also took the weight of maintaining his routine completely off my shoulders! All I had to worry about was packing and getting myself to the new spot in one piece. I got settled in, then I brought him into our new established space. His crate already was set up and ready, and I had plenty of stuffed Kongs ready to go for his crate time.
After your move is complete, make sure your dog has their own quiet space where their crate will be. Set up a noise machine or radio, a crate cover (not all dogs enjoy this), an Adaptil plug-in, or anything else you feel would enhance the space. As soon as your dog arrives, begin your decompression phase.
Here is an example of what decompression would look like in a single day. We normally suggest implementing this for about two weeks. After that two-week mark, you can slowly start to add in more freedom and privileges over time. Please understand that these are approximations and we acknowledge that every dog is different and needs will vary!
7:30 a.m.: Wake up and potty/20-minute morning walk
8 a.m.: Breakfast in a Kong or Toppl in crate
12 p.m.: Midday walk/training session/yard play
12:30 p.m.: Back in crate with snack
5 p.m.: Evening walk/training session/yard play
5:30 p.m.: Dinner in Kong or Toppl in crate
7 p.m.: Supervised free/cuddle time, on leash (This is a great time to work on conditioned relaxation!)
8:30 p.m.: Nighttime potty
9 p.m.: Bedtime
If your dog is not crate or space trained, dedicating conditioning exercises to your training time will help them to learn more settling and coping skills!
This same routine can be applied to a newly adopted dog or puppy. These dogs too often come from backgrounds of very little stability from being bounced around or living in a shelter environment. The best gift you can provide for them is that stability they never had.
Think of your decompression protocol as a clean slate for not only your dog but for you as a human. It is a chance for you to leave behind old patterns that didn’t serve you and start fresh. You never know, you may have needed it more than your own dog!