Anyone who knows me knows that I love to make matches between the right humans and the right dog. When a friend asks for help finding a dog, I’ll scour my local shelter, peruse the web pages of my favorite Northern California rescue groups, and pay special attention when I see a post from acquaintances or trainer friends who are trying to help find a home for a certain dog. I love the challenge of making a good match – and the prospect of getting one out of a shelter!
At the same time, I will tell my dog-hungry friend to BE PATIENT, because it’s been my experience that once people make the decision to get a dog, they are often over-eager to bring one home, even when the dog doesn’t feel like the best fit. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this scenario: A friend asks for help finding a dog. A week later, I get an email from that friend saying “Never mind! I found one!” and photos of their new dog. And then, a day or two later, I get a phone call from the same friend, saying, “Oh my gosh! I need help! This dog is a lot more than what I was expecting!”
Sometimes, it’s a matter of a fairly good match; it’s just that the person sort of forgot what it was like to have a young untrained dog or puppy (maybe they recently lost an older dog, so it’s been a decade or more since they’ve had to deal with a dog who hasn’t been taught any sort of house rules yet). But more often, I find, the people who adopt quickly, tend to adopt a dog who doesn’t even slightly resemble the criteria for their dream dog that they gave me!
If they are really out of their element or feel a deep mismatch with the dog, I would so much rather that they realize their mistake and return the dog than to keep him or her for months (or even years) – and THEN decide they can’t keep the dog. The older a dog gets, the more difficult it is to find him or her a new home, particularly if he’s not trained. Let him be rehomed while he’s still familiar to the staff of the shelter or rescue who placed him! Give them honest and open feedback about what didn’t work for you, what behaviors you found difficult, so they can try to find him a more suitable placement next time!
Even though I think it’s better to return a mismatched dog sooner than later, even if it takes months (or years, though I hope not!), I think it’s better to try to find a happy home for a dog than to keep one that you don’t enjoy or who doesn’t enjoy you. Spending an unhappy, ill-matched lifetime together doesn’t do the dog or the dog owner any favors. To me, it’s the saddest thing ever to witness a dog who was relegated to a 24/7 outdoor life (or life in a garage, which I’ve seen, too!) because someone – years earlier – couldn’t manage to housetrain them or teach them indoor manners such as refraining from counter-surfing or not jumping all over the furniture.
There is so much stigma about rehoming! People often feel like failures to “give up” on a dog, or to admit they are afraid of the dog, or just don’t feel comfortable with him or her. Others worry that the dog’s prospects will be reduced (or ended) by being returned or rehomed. But if I were a dog, I wouldn’t want to be unloved or untrusted for the rest of my life! I’d rather take my chances of finding an owner who knows more about dogs like me!
One of my trainer friends is trying to find a perfect home for one of her clients’ dogs right now – an adorable little dog who has proven to be a bit reactive when on-leash and beyond the ability of her family to handle appropriately. My friend has fostered the little dog for a few days, to get a complete picture of her leash-reactive behavior, and says the behavior will be easy to modify in the right hands and home; now we just have to find that home.
I was prompted to write this post because I JUST experienced a scenario like the one I described at the beginning. I was keeping my eye peeled for a dog for a friend; she wanted a dog around 25-30 pounds, adult, and calm. Two weeks into her search, she announced she had adopted a 40-pound, 6-month-old, Cattle dog-mix. YIKES! I have to say, the dog was one of the calmest 6-month-old Cattle Dog-mixes who just spent a month in a shelter that I have EVER met (which is what fooled my friend into thinking it might work out) – but she is still an adolescent herding breed.
Within 24 hours, the dog had terrorized my friend’s cat, refused to pee outside, sneaked a few pee puddles inside, and is showing no signs of having to poop, EVER (so we knew it would come sometime, likely in the night, lol). She chewed some things, knocked over things, and generally acted like who she is. And my friend, who only recently lost a well-behaved 13-year-old dog, was in shock – but fortunately, she realized her mistake quickly and asked me for help. She wanted to know whether the dog’s prospects would be harmed by going back to the shelter (nope!) and whether I thought that was the right decision (yes!).
But coincidentally, I knew a trainer who had recently lost her older dog and was maybe casting about for a new companion. I asked the shelter if I could foster the dog for a few days and make the introduction – and when I did, sparks flew. This beauty is now living her best life in a home of a trainer who recognizes and appreciates her super smarts, joy of learning, and playful zoomies and isn’t put off by her adolescent chewing and digging.
Yay! One dog out of the shelter and into a PERFECT home, and one friend educated about the importance of being patient and waiting for just the right dog to come along. Now if we can just find a spot for the cute little reactive dog…