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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi,

This is my first time posting, I've spent a few days reading posts and this seems to be a great forum.

I'm one of the many posting to ask for advice about what type of dog I should get, though perhaps a little different than some others as I'm not really interested in breed as much as personality. Let me explain a bit: I grew up with dogs, but only got my first dog as an adult 3 years ago when I felt I was in a stable enough job, living situation, etc. I adopted my dog from a rescue. He was approx 7-9 years old, and unfortunately he died after only 2 years together, about a year ago now, which broke my heart. I loved him dearly and wouldn't have traded him for the world, but he was not what you would call an "easy" dog in terms of personality. He was extremely shy, fearful, and reactive to other people--I worked a lot with a great force free positive reinforcement trainer and did a lot of work with him myself (again, only positive reinforcement clicker training) and while he improved a lot, he was not the kind of dog you would be easy about approaching other people, meaning I largely stopped having people over (and I've always loved having friends over for dinner and stuff as I love to cook), walks had to be very very carefully managed, vet visits were incredibly stressful, etc. I'm sure those of you with similar dogs can understand. When I started dating my bf it took a long long time and a lot of patience before they became good friends.

It's been a year now, and I'm starting to think of dogs again, but frankly I don't know if I could deal with how emotionally tiring, stressful, and isolating it was to have a fearful dog who needed careful management. I NEVER would have given up on him or gotten rid of him, he was the sweetest boy when it was just the 2 of us, but I really don't know if I could do it again.

So my question is this: how do you go about choosing a rescue dog for personality when they're so freaked out and afraid from being in a shelter environment that it's hard to see their real personalities? As an example, my parents adopted a lab mix from a rescue, he was very indifferent and aloof (similar to my guy when I got him) though cautiously friendly but within a few weeks he blossomed into the most loving, friendly to everyone, happy, playful sweetheart in the world. Obviously shelter workers do the best they can to describe a dog's personality, but it just seems like guesswork from people who are above all intent on getting the dog adopted.

So personality is the most important factor for me; I know no dog is perfect and would not expect, there will always be things to work on in one way or another and I'm more than willing to do that. It's just that working with such a fearful dog and managing his life to avoid triggers became very stressful, I really don't think I have it in me to give that a go again. Growing up, I had a dog who was the exact opposite--you had to manage her with people because she was too insanely friendly! That, I could work with and not be so worried and stressed about it :).

I do like the idea of rescuing again, all the dogs we had growing up were strays we found as puppies, so that's important to me. In terms of size my limits are roughly 20-50 pounds, no real breed preferences. I guess I would prefer a younger adult/older pup this time around, 1-3 years.

Sorry this is so long, but I really am curious as to what suggestions would be for how to more realistically evaluate a dog's personality outside of the "meet and greet" at the shelter situation. Would you suggest looking specifically at rescues who are in foster situations? At more breed specific rescues focusing on friendly outgoing breeds? I have a friend who got a shih-tzu from the local shih-tzu rescue, and he's the sweetest funniest loviest little guy, is this typical of their personalities? Or would you suggest finding a breed I like from an ethical breeder (a possibility I've never really considered, but my bf has had standard poodles in the past and just adores them).

I'm not looking to adopt right away, we're looking at houses to buy and a nice sized fenced yard is a must so this would probably be after a potential move, but I really want to think about this a lot and make the right choice. I loved my Bubs so much and it feels disloyal to want a dog who has the opposite personality, but I need to make a rational decision, not an emotional decision to adopt based on a sad little face, looking like a dog I had growing up, etc., and this seemed like a great place to ask for it. Any advice is appreciated!
 

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Welcome to the forums! You have certainly stated your position quite clearly, thoroughly and eloquently. I want to give you a HUGE kudos for living with and loving a high-needs dog like you did, even for the short time you had him, and also for adopting an older dog, which not too many folks care to do. BIG HUGS to you for all these things!

I've had dogs off and on for thirty years and though I'm certainly no expert, I've come to the conclusion that you can, for the greater part, never know how a dog is going to fare in some situations until you put him in it. Yes, most dogs will flourish under solid routines and calm environs, but there is a percentage that for varying reasons (past experiences, mental damage, etc.) do not. Sometimes even after weeks, months and years of work, there might be progress that can be blown with a single bad/confusing/unknown experience that can set back everything.

I want to reassure you that because you did have a high-needs, fearful dog, doesn't mean that MOST of them are. I've been particularly....lucky? I don't know that I can use that word, because some folks are better able to "read" a dog by watching him react while with other dogs, other people, from the pound/shelter when you go to choose one out.

My last two dogs were picked up at a protective league (shelter) and the last one from the pound. Tiger was a puppy, and at that age it's easier to help mold them into a confident, calm and happy dog that he is today. Spicey, the one I got from the pound was already an adult, so our procedure was to bring the two dogs that we already had (Kirby my oldest, and Tiger) to the pound to see how they would react to each other while in their fenced in yard. I did this with a number of dogs, and Spicey did the best under observation; was not fearful, was relatively happy and calm (as much as the situation was able to permit!). She had been there for several months, and was on her last week before euthanasia, which also contributed to our decision to take her home and give it a go.

Spicey is one of our greatest joys, and hands-down the most loving of life and people that she encounters, with some caveats. All that said, my suggestions would be to follow your own gut, and possibly take along another well-read dog person in your search. You can't possibly know ALL of what a dog is going to be like until you get him wherever he's going to be, but you can tell a lot while you watch him meet with other dogs, places and people.

Yes, definitely see foster dogs wherever they may be; that's a good idea too. You could also foster one yourself (there's an excellent thread from a "Foster Failure 101" about a foster family that, yet again, adopted the dog they were hoping to find a home for. :D) But all-in-all, I do want to assure you that, if my situation is any guide, there's not a massive population of damaged/needy dogs out there. A great deal of them will blossom into loving, joyful members of your family under a calm, reassuring transition period once you get them home.
 

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Welcome to the forum! The only advice I can really offer would be to adopt from a rescue that places dogs in foster homes. I know a few people who foster and they are in a good position to evaluate the true temperament of the dogs.
 

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Also if you get a puppy, you have more control over how their life is, with some dogs, fearfulness is innate, but with some, they may not have had a great life before being with you.
Of course it is not a guarantee by any means, but the younger they are, the more you get a chance to desensitize them.
 

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I am 100% for becoming a foster home. Not only because I feel they do great things, but because it gives you an inside perspective on what sorts of dogs best suits your wants, needs, lifestyle, and heart. If it weren't for me being a foster home, I never would have guessed the type of dog/breed that just meshes so well with me. It is the most interactive way of finding the perfect dog for yourself since you will be the one caring for him/her and will know exactly what you're getting. And if the foster(s) you have are not the "one", the dog is up for adoption anyways and you can wait for the next one.

If this is not an avenue you want to pursue, you can become a volunteer at your local shelter. This will give you the opportunity to get to know the shelter dogs on a more regular basis as opposed to only a couple short walks.

or

you can visit shelters and bring along a trusted friend of yours and their well-rounded dog and see how the dogs there react.
 

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I do think it's helpful if the shelter places its dogs in foster homes, where the people fostering the dog can give you all kinds of information regarding the dog's ability to get along with dogs, cats, children, strangers etc. It's also helpful if the shelter does a good job with temperament testing.

I got my dog from a shelter that does both of those things. They had not had him long enough to get him settled into a foster home, but they had done temperament testing, so when I called and explained that I was looking for a dog who would be a candidate to do therapy work, they were able to tell me that it was worth a trip up to see him (the shelter was about an hour away). Once I got there, I was allowed to interact with him in a separate room, take him outside on the grounds for a short walk (which also gave me time to assess what basic commands he might have and how quickly he would take to learning commands), see him interact with other people and other dogs etc. I spent about an hour or so with him before I signed the papers to adopt him. It was a shelter in a smaller city, so they didn't mind my taking the time and no one attempted to rush me into a decision.

He was a little more reserved, though never shy, when I first got him, and he has become progressively more outgoing over the last two years, particularly in the last year, when he's done regular therapy work. They were dead on in terms of the temperament testing too--he's very people oriented (when they went to roll him over on his back, he flipped over onto his back on his own and pulled the hand down to his chest to get a tummy rub while wagging his tail). In fact, while he's fine around other reasonably behaved dogs, he's far quicker to focus on people than on the other dogs, having figured out, I guess, that the tummy rubs and treats aren't going to come from the other dogs. But a dog who focuses on the humans in the room instead of the other dogs in the room is ideal when doing pack visits with other therapy dogs, so I got exactly what I needed there.
 

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You can try to ease in to the decision by volunteering at a local shelter, this will make you more knowledgeable in the decision that you will be making.
I hope everything works out. Decide soon. :)
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Wow, thanks for all of the helpful responses! I've thought of getting a dog in foster care before, but never actually fostering myself, which is a really good idea. I'll have to see how my bf feels about it, too, but that's definitely a really good way to get to know a dog.
Also thanks for the idea of talking to shelter volunteers and staff. What's always puzzled me is that when I look on petfinder and see a dog I might be interested in, they want you to put in an application, etc., as a first step, when my thought is I would never do that without meeting a dog because personality is very important. @Tilden, thanks for your advice. I've always been interested in doing therapy work with a dog (I assume you mean like going to retirement homes, etc.?) but obviously I never even tried to pursue that with my last dog because of his fearfulness/reactiveness. That is something I would LOVE to do with a future dog, though.
We're not in a hurry right now, but I really did want to think this through, I'm definitely going to contact some rescues about volunteering and/or fostering!
 

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If you do get one from the shelter it's the ones that are cowering in the back of the kennel trying to disappear that you want to avoid. Learning to read body language will also help.

If the dog is going belly up to you, curved into a comma with it's tail pressed against it's belly it's not asking for a belly rub, it's letting you know it's fearful and doesn't want you to hurt it.

If it's lip licking it's stressed and nervous about you. Yawning is also a sign of stress.

If it's doing whale eyes (showing the white of the eye) it's very uncomfortable, fearful, stressed.

Pick the dog that is showing the least amount of all those signs. The belly up one is very easy to mistake as a dog that's being friendly when what it really wants is for the person to back off. A dog that's offering it's belly for rubbing will have loose body language, and an untucked tail.
 

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Wow, thanks for all of the helpful responses! I've thought of getting a dog in foster care before, but never actually fostering myself, which is a really good idea. I'll have to see how my bf feels about it, too, but that's definitely a really good way to get to know a dog.
Also thanks for the idea of talking to shelter volunteers and staff. What's always puzzled me is that when I look on petfinder and see a dog I might be interested in, they want you to put in an application, etc., as a first step, when my thought is I would never do that without meeting a dog because personality is very important. @Tilden, thanks for your advice. I've always been interested in doing therapy work with a dog (I assume you mean like going to retirement homes, etc.?) but obviously I never even tried to pursue that with my last dog because of his fearfulness/reactiveness. That is something I would LOVE to do with a future dog, though.
We're not in a hurry right now, but I really did want to think this through, I'm definitely going to contact some rescues about volunteering and/or fostering!
Yes, that's what I meant by therapy dog work, though there are all kinds of places it can be done, depending on the groups you and your dog relate to best, including nursing homes, hospitals, hospices, assisted living facilities, veterans home/hospitals, schools, libraries etc.
 

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I've never done this, so people who know better than I can tell you if what I'm about to suggest is a bad idea or not. Around here, at the local PetSmart and PetCo, on Saturdays the various rescues and shelters bring dogs to the stores and have them both inside and outside in little pens for the customers to visit with. It's a chaotic scene with hundreds of strangers petting and greeting the dogs throughout the day. I've always figured a dog that tolerated that kind of environment well is probably a solid citizen? Just a thought. There might be huge downfalls to going that route, and if there are, I'm sure they'll get pointed out.

Otherwise, getting a younger dog, and just taking him everywhere with you that you possibly can to keep him exposed to people is the best advice I can think of. Plenty of puppies in shelters that need to be rescued too. I know an older dog often has benefits, plus is/seems more "in need" of being saved, but often they are in the shelter for a reason. :( Not always, of course, but there is a higher likelihood that they might have issues.

Also, at the shelter, look for the one that seems to love EVERYBODY that walks by. Steer clear of the shy types that are sweet but unsure. Gosh, that sounds so harsh and wrong! But if you want a social dog, and you don't want to go through what you did before, it's just the reality of the situation.
 

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I think you have to be a little careful with the "sweet shy" issue. It could be that the dog is simply uncomfortable in the kennel situation at the shelter. A lot of shelters now have visit rooms or will allow you to take the dog out on leash on the grounds, sometimes with someone from the shelter, depending on the situation, and away from the kennel itself, some of those dogs may lose that shyness pretty quickly and still retain the sweetness. A dog who has been recently surrendered, for instance, may be confused as to why he/she is suddenly stuck in this cement block kennel instead of at home or wherever he/she was before but once outside or in a regular room, he/she is more relaxed and more likely to show you whom he/she really is. Getting the dog into the visit room or outside on a leash can also give you some idea of whether the dog has any basic commands or seems fairly teachable (e.g. does the dog pay a lot of attention to you when you talk to it? does it seem to catch on fairly quickly when rewarded for the action you asked for? ). But if you just give up on a dog after one pass by it in the kennel, you might not find any of that out.
 
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