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:
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:
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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