Advantages of adopting an adult dog - KLFY News 10

Advantages of adopting an adult dog

Adult dogs tend to be calmer. With puppies and adolescent dogs, energy level is more of an issue.  © iStockphoto.com/Robert Dant Adult dogs tend to be calmer. With puppies and adolescent dogs, energy level is more of an issue. © iStockphoto.com/Robert Dant
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By Elizabeth Wasserman

When my husband and I were newly married, we adopted an 8-week-old German shepherd. Max required just about as much work as raising a child, given the housebreaking, training, socializing and deterring her from chewing anything in sight.

Several years later, Max grew to be a wonderful family dog. At the age of 12, however, she passed away. We eventually adopted an older dog, a 10-month-old beagle from a medical research lab. She had never been outside before, but she took to housebreaking and other training like a fish takes to water.

The Puppy Myth

As I learned, adopting an older dog has many advantages. "There's a fairly well-ingrained myth that you have to get a puppy in order to train and develop a solid relationship. It's simply not true," says Pat Miller, a certified professional dog trainer and behavioral consultant with Peaceable Paws LLC in Fairplay, Md. Of the five dogs Miller now has, three were adopted between 6 and 7 months old, one at 5 months and one at 8 years of age.

Puppy Versus Adult

While puppies are cuddly, and many grow up to become wonderful companions, prospective pet owners sometimes forget the trouble involved with raising a canine from infancy, and they overlook the countless mature dogs awaiting adoption from shelters and rescue organizations. Here are the advantages adult dogs have over puppies when it comes to adoption:

  • Housebreaking Older dogs are often house-trained. If not, they are at least able to learn quickly. Puppies, on the other hand, are too young to be able to physically "hold it" for very long. You have to take them outside every hour -- often in the middle of the night -- and you still must clean up puddles.
  • Training Mature dogs frequently come pre-trained not to chew furniture or clothing. They also may know basic commands, such as "sit," "stay" and "down." "They know how to walk on a leash and a lot of the other basic things that puppies haven't learned yet," says Adam Goldfarb, director of the Pets at Risk program of the Humane Society of the United States.
  • Energy level Adult dogs tend to be calmer. With puppies and adolescent dogs, energy level is more of an issue. Many adolescent and young adult dogs wind up in shelters because their families weren't prepared for such a high-energy pet.
  • Socialization Older dogs are apt to be more socialized, and therefore, they usually handle people, other pets, cars and noises better than puppies.
  • Temperament and size With older dogs, you have a better idea of who they are, how they act and what they'll look like. With purebred puppies, you can make an educated guess by observing the dog's parents. With mixed breeds, however, you may not know the parents. In addition, paw size is an inexact measure of full-grown size.
  • Spaying or neutering An adult dog has likely been fixed already, taking the responsibility off you.

Questions to Ask When Adopting an Older Dog

Sometimes, adopting an adult dog may have a few downsides. Pre-owned dogs can come with baggage. "If you're adopting a dog from a hoarder, puppy mill or other home where he wasn't well-socialized, you may be facing significant behavioral challenges, such as neophobia (fear of new things), fear-related aggression and general shyness," says Miller. A dog kept in unclean conditions may also be more difficult to house-train. Dogs may end up in shelters or with rescue groups because of health and/or behavioral problems.

What to ask a shelter or rescue group before adopting:

  • Do they have any history on the dog? Do they keep information about how and where the dog was found if it's a stray? Why did its previous owners surrender it?
  • Are there any behavioral issues? How has the dog behaved at the shelter? Is it a high-energy dog, or is it happy sitting around all day?
  • Are there any health concerns? Has the dog been treated for anything while at the shelter or rescue center?
  • What type of home do they think is best for this dog? Has the dog ever lived with children or other pets? Could you arrange a meeting between the dog and your children or pets before adopting?

For our family, an added reason to adopt an older canine was that we knew we were giving a loving home to a dog that was going to be harder to adopt out. For others, the reason can be even more compelling: You may be saving the dog from euthanasia. As Miller says, "You can feel really good knowing you are saving a life."

Elizabeth Wasserman is a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer who has been writing about pets, among other topics, for more than 15 years. Her love of dogs, in particular, was handed down through the generations from her great-grandfather, Eric Knight, who wrote the book Lassie Come Home in the 1930s.

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