Tuesday, January 19, 2010

An un-tapped resource

As a dog trainer I regularly see people who have chosen to add a dog to their home that isn’t always the best match for them. My job is to teach them how to live together in spite of the challenges a mismatch may bring with it. Most of the time I can help, but sometimes sadly the dog ends up in rescue instead, despite my best efforts.

What I don’t understand is why more people don’t ask trainers their opinion in finding the right dog for them. Dog trainers see and work with more breeds and shelter dogs regularly than the average person will ever meet in a lifetime. Some of us even live with multiple breeds in our own homes. Not to mention the fact that dog trainers know about dog behavior and breed traits because it is our job to know this information.

I know some people end up with a puppy because they are cute and people can be impulsive, but that isn’t everyone. There are also people who go to shelters, or try to find breeders, that do have an idea what they want. Unfortunatly looking at a dog in a shelter can bring up emotional responses and people can then make a bad choice based on that emotion.

Or maybe people don’t know how to find a reputable breeder that will tell them the truth about any negative traits of the breed they choose to share their life with. Those breeders also conviently say nothing of the health issues that their breed may be prone to. Non-reputable breeders, who don’t do any health testing nor care about temperment, only care about making a sale.

My favorite adoption technique comes from large volume breed rescues. They typically show potential adopters only 3 dogs that they have pulled as the best match for the home in question after an interview with the whole family. This keeps the potential for mismatches at a minimum. I’ve seen this done with greyhound rescues and a pitbull group. Breed specific rescue groups are also very good at letting adopters know before hand all the breed traits and health issues their dogs can have.

Considering a purebred dog from a breeder? Visit the breeds rescue website first for lots of valuable information on the breed of your choice. If you are looking at mixed breed dogs at a shelter, sometimes knowing what breeds are in the mix can also be helpful for knowing some of the future behavior traits you might expect from that dog.

Slumber parties, or “trial period” adoptions, can also be helpful to see if a specific shelter dog is the right match for your family. Be forwarned though that some dogs take a few weeks to settle in and really show some of their true behavior. We call that the honeymoon period.

This started me wondering, that we can do as trainers to help make people more aware that we ARE a valuable resource in their search? Should we advertise this as a free service? I know I am happy to help people find the right dog at a shelter, or even find a reputable breeder to keep them out of pet stores. Sometimes just a discussion about breed traits is enough information for them to make a much more informed decision.

If you are considering adding a canine companion to your family, or know someone who is, consider talking to some of your local trainers for their opinion. Talk to as many as you can to get as much information as possible. Trainers love to talk about dogs, we love to help dogs, and we love to help the people who also love dogs. Educating yourself before adding your next family member is a great way to make the best start, for all of you.


puppynerd said...

I would have been very interested in a trainer offering 'adoption consultations' when we were in the choosing a dog stage. I felt awkward approaching someone about that since we didn't have the dog yet, and couldn't really develop a relationship by using their services before asking for favors. It would have been really helpful in a shelter environment where it's so hard to read body language because the dogs are so stressed to begin with.

I think part of the problem with asking for advice is while the trainer, or rescue coordinator or shelter worker knows about dogs, they don't necessarily know about you. We felt like we were bad enough at putting our preferences into words, that it seemed easier to educate ourselves about dogs than the dog people about us.

So, we did a TON of reading and so far it seems we made a good choice, but having advice we trusted would have been nice.

Yrro said...

I would just like to share that, as a prospective pet owner, the rescues who will only let you see three dogs on a visit are a real turn-off. By all means, I would love whatever advice you have about which dogs will most likely match my personality and lifestyle requirements, but in the end it comes down to the personal connection with the dog. If I don't get a chance to meet and interact with a large number of dogs, finding that connection just becomes harder. This can become a real problem when the rescue only allows a few appointments a day and requires a long drive to get there. Any one of these things on its own isn't too bad, but when you're asking me to schedule two weeks in advance to drive 45 minutes to only be able to look at 2-3 dogs (out of the thirty you have up for adoption) that *you* picked out as being right for me? I understand wanting to make sure the dogs are in homes that match them well, but let the potential adopter have some control over this process, or you're just going to lose people who want your dogs and would give them a good home. There are too many good dogs out there who need rescued for me to jump through hoops for your specific dogs.

We ended up instead visiting every shelter within three counties(meeting dozens of dogs in the process) and found the absolute perfect dog for us there.

Like I said, recommendations and matchings and opinions are awesome. I definitely prefer to rescue from someone who knows the dogs and has an idea of what they need to be happy. Just don't narrow things down so much that you as the rescuer are trying to make a very personal decision from a quick phone call and an application form.

Also, I definitely agree about asking a dog trainer for breed recommendations... the only problem is, who knows a dog trainer that they can trust when they don't have a dog yet?

Marie said...


I love that term "adoption consultations" and I may use that. Thank you.

I hope this article helps people realize that we DO want to talk to you about your preferences. The more honest and up front an adopter is the better we are able to help them. (BTW your blog cuts off the right side of your sentences. Maybe your settings need to be adjusted?)


You sound like an adopter that was more willing to put the time into choosing a dog than many people are. It isn't a perfect system for all people, but for the majority of people looking for a shelter or rescue dog it does work.

I agree you need to connect with a dog but my argument on that count is that I think that is a human reaction to think that can happen so quickly. I think we have can be drawn to a dog when meeting but that may come from a place of an emotional response to that dog. I think long term connections are made over time with a dog by bonding with it. I'm not convinced that it is a deep connection so immediatly for the dog in question. Out of my past 5 dogs, I met none of them before agreeing to share my life with them. Yet I have had a strong connection to each and every one.

If you don't have a dog but are looking for a trainer you can ask around at your local vet, the local animal shelter or do a websearch. Like I said, talk to as many trainers as possible. Not all trainers are good or as knowledgeable as others may be so questioning more than one will get you more information to go on. If a trainer won't take the time to help you with this for free then find one who will.

Thanks for the feedback!

Cait said...

I've tried offering this service (and I do it for free if they just want breed recommendations or a referral to a good local rescue, and a VERY minimal fee if they're looking for something super-specific which is going to require me to drive all over the metroplex evaluating shelter dogs for them- I didn't used to charge but decided a $10 fee would weed out the folks who weren't serious. Unfortunately, I don't seem to get many takers unless they're referrals from former clients who can tell exactly HOW much different and easier the puppy-shopping process was with someone who knew which questions to ask.

I'm wondering if some of this is marketing- I'm currently working on a banner ad type thing for my own site and see if I can get other trainers on board with finding a cute name for it ("Perfect Match Adoption Consulting" is what I'm currently looking at) and getting the idea out there that a trainer is a GREAT person to call when you are looking for your next dog.

WoodRUFF Pet Resort said...

This is such a great article. We see so many people come through our pet resort that struggle with their pet because the type of breed doesn't quite mesh with their life style. We'll be encouraging them to seek the advice of "adoption consultants." Thanks.