How to Find a Responsible Rescue

So you’ve decided to get a dog. Congratulations! You’re in for the time of your life. 

Take time to evaluate your lifestyle to figure out exactly what sort of dog you’re looking for (e.g., a high energy dog to go running with, or a more sedate dog to lounge on the couch with). Remember that breed is no guarantee of temperament or likes and dislikes, so it’s best to get to know the individual animal.

Start at a shelter or rescue group

Not only are you likely to find a great dog, you’ll also feel great about helping a homeless dog find a loving home. Many dogs lose their homes due to owner-related problems like cost, lack of time, lifestyle changes (new baby, divorce, moving or marriage) or allergies, not because of something the dog has done, however if a dog has had a couple homes already, this is usually a sign of a behaviour problem that has gone untreated. 

Things to consider about rescue organisations

Rescue organisations are not regulated and they really should be…just like Trainers and Dog Walkers and other Pet Professionals. There are a LOT of well-meaning organisations out there but few are ethical in their practices and knowledgeable about behaviour. 

When a rescue organisation imports a large number of dogs without a game plan (foster homes in place and potential homes lined up) it’s not “rescue”; it’s moving the problem from one place to another. Even worse, it’s moving the problem into the hands of well-intentioned, unsuspecting people whose families and pets are being put at risk. We call this “bad rescue”. 

Behaviour assessments are not always done by a qualified behaviour expert who has the credentials to do this type of work. When we see a brand new rescue dog that has been imported, for example, and we see terms like “dog-friendly”, “just wants to be loved”, “cat-tested”, “great with kids”, and “loves being pet by strangers”, we Trainers are suspicious. If it sounds too good to be true, it often is. 

When was the assessment done? Within the first month of the dog landing in the foster home? This is not an accurate assessment. New rescue dogs need 3+ weeks to decompress and start showing their true colours. Not only that, but many dogs are fantastic with the other dogs and cats in the foster home, but once they settle in their new home, we often see dog-reactivity or high prey-drive towards cats. This shocks the pants off the unsuspecting adopter who didn’t sign up for that! 

“Bad rescue” will also blame the adopters who call with concerns after a few weeks and this is a sign that they did not work ethically prior to adopting this dog out. It is NOT a sign that the adopter has done something wrong. 

Here are some questions to ask:

  • Do you import dogs from other continents? How many might you import at a time? How often?
  • How do you support less than fortunate communities in our province/state? (Other than taking the dogs to re-home them.)
  • Who assesses the dogs’ behaviour before placement? What qualifications and certifications do they have? 
  • How long is the dog in foster care before they can be adopted out?
  • Do you support positive reinforcement training?
  • What support do you offer new adopters if they are struggling? If things don’t work out in my home, do you require that the dog is returned to you? 
  • Do you have a qualified trainer that you refer to? Who is it and what are their qualifications and certifications?
  • Do you re-home dogs with a bite history? How is this disclosed to new adopters? 
  • Is your organisation non-profit or for-profit? If you are a public company, can I see your financials? 
  • Do you work with a local Veterinarian to provide health screening when they enter your care and prior to adoption? Will I have access to the full health records prior to adoptions? Does your organisation carry a balance (debt) with the Veterinary Clinic that provides this service to you? 

Why ask all these questions? The answers tell us a lot. Adopting an animal from a rescue organisation or shelter is a two-way street and there needs to be full transparency on both sides. It’s not just about assessing the new adopters, it goes the other way too. 

Look at their training manual that they normally hand out to new adopters. If you see any of the following terms, you might be in for a rocky road:

  • dominance
  • Alpha
  • firm hand
  • pack leader 
  • who’s boss
  • NILIF (Nothing In Life is Free)

You might say, “well, Caryn, all these dogs need homes regardless of how ethical the organisation is.” and I understand that, but just like supporting a Puppy Mill or Backyard Breeder, the more we support them, the longer they’re in business. If we stop supporting them and Bad Rescue, they will not be able to do harm any longer. 

It’s a hard truth.

Don’t be led to believe that if you don’t rescue the dog, the dog will die. No Veterinarian euthanises healthy dogs because they cannot be placed. It’s a common threat and is the most vile of all threats, playing on your emotions. 

I have turned away many dogs that I applied for, based on the ethics of the organisation. The dogs I turned away did not die. I ended up with an ethical organisation and am so proud to support them in Ethical Rescue while I enjoy the most marvellous dog. Win-Win-Win.

When visiting the dog in foster care:

  • If the environment is dirty or the dogs look unwell, leave. Don’t even touch them. Save your time and heart and just leave.
  • Where are they being raised? In a home? Perfect. In a garage, a shed, a basement, a barn? Walk away. These are dogs who will likely present with social deficits. Look elsewhere. 
  • Have they introduce the dog to new people, new dogs, new environments? If so, how does the dog respond and how often are they introduced? 
  • Is the dog ever left alone (without other dogs as well)? Does the foster guardian monitor the dog via video during an absence to ensure s/he is not experiencing isolation distress?
  • What behaviour issues have they noticed while the dog has been in their care?
  • What is the history on this dog? Can they provide details on the type of environment this dog came from? The type of upbringing or at least most recent history? 
  • What type of training has the dog had? Have they been trained using food rewards and play? Or have they been trained using leash corrections and force?
  • What equipment is recommended for this dog? Slip lead, choke chain, prong collar, or e-collar? Run away. Front-clip harness double-clipped to a martingale collar, two leashes for safety, or a conditioned head halter? Sounds good! 
  • Which trainer are they recommending for followup support? Is it a trainer who has actual qualifications? (CPDT, IAABC, KPA CTP, CTC, PMCT, ACAAB, CAAB, DACVB, to name a few) Do they use science-based and positive-reinforcement based training methods? Are they force-free? Are they Fear Free Certified? Great!
  • Or is this a local hobby trainer who compares themselves to The Dog Whisperer? Avoid hobby trainers with no certifications and any comparisons to celebrity dog trainers who have been outed in the science-based community. If they offer Board & Train or claim to resolve problems fast, run in the opposite direction. If they talk about “Alpha“, “Dominance“, “Pack Leader” and other outdated terms, run away. 
  • Does the foster guardian walk this dog daily? Or does this dog simply use the backyard? What does a walk look like for them? How do they behave on leash when they meet people and/or dogs? (Take a walk together to observe and let the guardian do the walking and leash-holding so that you can watch and learn from the dog’s body language!) 

When adopting a dog from a shelter environment:

  • If the environment is dirty or the dogs look unwell, leave. Don’t even touch them. Save your time and heart and just leave.
  • How long has the dog been in the shelter environment?
  • How many hours per 24h is the dog in a cage? What exercise and stimulation is provided and how much?  
  • What is the shelter’s stance on continued socialisation? Are they actively running playgroups for the dogs in the shelter? 
  • What behaviour issues have they noticed while the dog has been in their care?
  • What is the history on this dog? Can they provide details on the type of environment this dog came from? The type of upbringing or at least most recent history? 
  • What type of training has the dog had? Have they been trained using food rewards and play? Or have they been trained using leash corrections and force?
  • What equipment is recommended for this dog? Slip lead, choke chain, prong collar, or e-collar? Run away. Front-clip harness double-clipped to a martingale collar, two leashes for safety, or a conditioned head halter? Sounds good! 
  • Which trainer are they recommending for followup support? Is it a trainer who has actual qualifications? (CPDT, IAABC, KPA CTP, CTC, PMCT, ACAAB, CAAB, DACVB, to name a few) Do they use science-based and positive-reinforcement based training methods? Are they force-free? Are they Fear Free Certified? Great!
  • Or is this a local hobby trainer who compares themselves to The Dog Whisperer? Avoid hobby trainers with no certifications and any comparisons to celebrity dog trainers who have been outed in the science-based community. If they offer Board & Train or claim to resolve problems fast, run in the opposite direction. If they talk about “Alpha“, “Dominance“, “Pack Leader” and other outdated terms, run away. 
  • Do volunteers walk this dog daily? Or does this dog simply use a shelter yard? What does a walk look like for them? How do they behave on leash when they meet people and/or dogs? (Take a walk together to observe and let the shelter worker do the walking and leash-holding so that you can watch and learn from the dog’s body language!)