Tips for Adopting an Older Dog

Adopting an older dog can be a win-win situation. You will be skipping the puppy’s messy stage, like when she chews off your shoes, pees, and poos inside your house, and the nipping and piddling. Adult and older dogs have excellent bladder and bowel control. They have lower energy levels, so they are not as likely to be bouncing off the walls and running around a lot. And also, most mature dogs will know when they have been given a second chance, and the love and devotion they will lavish on you will be priceless.

However, dogs are creatures of habit, and what they have learned or have been ingrained in them before is hard to change. The longer the dog had that habit, the longer it will take for you to correct it.

There are both pros and cons to adopting an older dog, so here are some tips to consider when deciding to adopt one:

Choose a dog shelter wisely.

This is one of the most important things to consider when adopting. Visit your local shelters or animal rescue groups, and spend time interacting with dogs. Try not to judge a facility from its exterior. Check if they are treating the dogs nicely and if the staff knows what they are doing. A good dog shelter will provide you with helpful information about a dog you have an eye on – whether they are picked up as a stray dog, put there for adoption, and more.

Be mindful when choosing a breed.

When choosing a dog, don’t base it all on a preferred breed that looks pleasing for you. The dog’s breed also indicates its characteristics, like if it’s an active dog, if it gets bored easily, if it will thrive outdoors or indoors, or if it has a friendly temperament. Learning about dog breeds will help you decide what kind of dog to bring home.

Take the breed into consideration, depending on your purpose for the dog. Are you looking for a jogging partner, a playmate for your kids, or a show dog? Do you want to take it hunting, or bring to obedience classes? Do you want your dog to just chill at home with you?

Also, some dog breeds are easier to train than others. For instance, terriers are known for being stubborn and tenacious, so if the dog has an annoying habit, it’s hard to change for a brand-new pet parent.

You can find a lot of mix-breed dogs in shelters, but if your heart is set on a specific breed, there are purebred rescue organizations you can go to. But don’t worry, around 30% of dogs in pounds and rescue shelters are purebred.

Consider your family.

In determining what kind of dog to adopt, consider your home life and family. Adopting older dogs may not require you to spend a lot of time housetraining, feeding, and exercise, but there’s an important thing to consider: your household members. Make sure that they all feel comfortable interacting with the dog.

When going visiting the pound or rescue shelter, bring a family member or two with you and let them interact with the dog. But don’t clamor at the dog all at once, as it may terrify the dog. If you have children under the age of seven, it’s best to have a professional trainer to accompany you with picking out a dog with the right temperament, because children these age are more likely to suffer from dog bites.

Assess the dog’s sociability.

Some older dogs are less friendly than others. If a dog looks back at you with a low wagging tail, ears back, blinking eyes, and a spine not rigid, it’s a friendly dog. Try to also offer the back of your knuckles to the height of his head, then move your fist in a little square, holding your fist for about two seconds at each point. A friendly dog will lick or nuzzle your knuckles at three out of the four corners of the square. If the dog sniffs and then jumps away or doesn’t come near to you, it’s not a friendly dog.

Schedule a visit to the vet.

The pound or shelter often has documentation (they should!) about the veterinary care the dog has received since taken under their supervision, including vaccinations. They have probably also dealt with anything major or urgent, but it’s a good idea to get a basic assessment to ensure there are no underlying problems that you are not aware of.

Don’t change his diet too much.

As much as possible, find out what food your dog was eating at the pound, breeder, or shelter and buy the same one to start with. Then, gradually switch your dog food while still incorporating its old food, to avoid digestion issues from a sudden change in diet.

If you don’t have information about your dog’s previous food, simply choose a premium dog food fit for his age and size, then add a handful of cooked white rice for a few days.

Keep a routine.

Dogs thrive on routine, and the sooner your dog learns how to function in your home, the more comfortable he will be. You can help your dog adjust to its new home by feeding him the same time every day, going for a daily walk at the same time, going to bed the same time every night, and any other daily games or activities he will be involved with. He will feel much happier and more secure that way.

Start out the way you want to continue.

Many dog owners tend to spend as much time as possible with their new dog, which’s a wonderful thing to do. But try to add some of your normal activities into the day during those first weeks so your dog can easily adjust to what will become his regular routine. If you spoil your dog with too much attention at first, he will crave it and may likely get anxious once you start on your normal routine.

Do not allow things that you don’t intend to do later. For instance, don’t let your dog sleep beside you on your bed on his first night at home if you’re not going to do it later on. Don’t feed him scraps and leftovers if you expect him to eat dog food tomorrow. At first, everything is new for the dog, so it’s easier to start with the right habits than to undo the wrong ones later.

Be patient.

When it comes to training your dog to fit into your home life and lifestyle, it’s wise to take it slow. Remember, your dog has been used to living somewhere, with its own habits. He has been through a lot, so it’s not surprising if he is anxious, loses his appetite, has loose stools, cries, or whites, or won’t settle down at first. These are signs of stress, so stay calm and gentle with your new dog to ease the anxiety he feels. Within a week or two, most dogs will feel right at home. But if this behavior lasts a few more days or weeks, refuses to eat, vomits or has diarrhea, or seems sick, bring him to the vet.

To help your dog settle smoothly in your new home, give the dog a quiet place to settle in. Make sure it’s a retreat where he can enjoy no disturbances if he prefers. A senior dog or a much older dog may have formed a strong bond with his former family, and he might be mourning over the loss of his humans and the familiarity of his former home. It’s important to go slow and give him time to settle in his new environment. For these dogs, the best way of dealing with them is to give them space and allow them to choose where they want to be, and when he wants to be with you and your household.

Unless the dog’s behavior is indeed problematic, allow some time for the dog to see you as a safe, predictable human, who is the source of wonderful things like food, treats, toys walks, petting, etc. Teaching them new behaviors and habits will be easier once your dog is more relaxed and trusts you.

Don’t expect too much.

Chances are, you and your new dog are going to enjoy a loving relationship. But it can take time and effort. Sometimes, dog adoptions won’t go as smoothly as expected. There are benefits to adopting a dog who may already be housetrained and well beyond the messy puppy stages. But since adult or senior dog adoptions aren’t always trouble-free, the longer you’re together, the better you will understand each other.

You may behave as though your new dog isn’t housetrained. He may have belonged to another family who forced him to soil indoors, so he may think your carpeting is the appropriate place to eliminate. Plan to implement a management and a dog training plan by using a consistent housetraining protocol.