The Truth About Dog Adoption and Rescue Dogs

There is a popular myth that dogs who are seeking new homes from Britain’s overstretched rescue shelters are, somehow, ‘damaged goods’. There is a notion that these dogs ended up in shelter because they have a behavioural defect or health problems or personality disorders  (know more from this veterinary app) or are in one way or another not quite as dependable as pedigree dogs purchased from breeders. All of this is bunkum. Absolutely, categorically incorrect.

Part of the problem is the stigma that can come just from use of the word ‘rescue’

The definition of rescue is:

“To set free, as from danger or imprisonment; save.”

This alone gives the wrong message about dogs in rehoming shelters. It creates a feel that these dogs need to be saved. That they are in danger. That they are on their last chance. Whilst that may be true in a minority of cases, it is absolutely not an accurate description of the majority of dogs seeking adoption.

Dogs, like people, end up homeless for a whole variety of reasons. It may be that their carers have died. It could be that their previous owners have been uprooted, separated or their circumstances have changed to such a degree that they are no longer able to offer their well behaved, well socialised, perfectly ‘good’ dog the care they require. Fortunately, we have rescue shelters who can pick up the slack in these situations.

There are tens of thousands of dogs in rehoming shelters around the United Kingdom. Given such numbers, it is reasonable to expect such a diverse number of personalities and characters are looking for new homes. Boisterous dogs, shy dogs, energetic dogs, confident dogs, nervous dogs, cheeky dogs, defensive dogs, playful dogs – the whole range of canine personality types, breeds and life histories are there.

It is absolutely safe to assume that no matter what sort of dog you might like to share your life with, that very dog is probably in a shelter somewhere right now.

So let us look at how and why dogs get rehomed, why ‘rescuing’ a dog is not and should not be considered an act of charity and what steps to take if you are thinking about adopting a dog.

Why Do Dogs Become Available for Rehoming?

There are hundreds of reasons why dogs end up looking for new owners. Just like young children, dogs are 100% at the mercy of their human carers. Dogs rely on us to provide them with food, water, shelter, exercise and affection. They are one of nature’s most robust survivors and have we’ve discovered just how adaptable they are to change.

Think of the most spoiled, overly pampered dog in the world and then think of the dog who spends his nights outside with a homeless owner – neither dog would be defined as happier than the other based purely on their living arrangements.

Dogs are social creatures, they thrive on routine. They actually need very little in order to be happy and content in their lives. Occasionally their owners find themselves unable to continue to provide the basics and the dog, through absolutely no fault of their own, finds themselves in an adoption shelter seeking new owners and a new home.

Sometimes a dog may be given up due to a behavioural issue. But this is often as a result of them originally being owned by a person or family ill equipped to provide the dog with a suitable level of obedience training. Sadly, some people will sometimes buy the wrong dog for their particular lifestyle and will ultimately find themselves having to give the dog up as it grows.

Of the many thousands of dogs in shelters, it is absolutely not the case that they are, in any way, ‘problem’ dogs. Their only ‘problem’ is that they have a lot of love to give and would dearly like to give it to a new owner.

Dogs in shelters are not charity cases. Contrary to the human thought process that leads us to conjure up images of sad dogs waiting patiently for new owners to come along, shelter dogs, by and large, are actually very happy, well balanced dogs.

Why would a rescue dog be an ideal pet?

Adoption shelters are usually full of dogs who are brilliantly suited to be pets, often coming already well socialised, house trained and used to living in a family home. In many ways, adopted dogs can sometimes be the LEAST risky option when acquiring a new dog, the reason being – you already know what you’re going to get.

It is very important to speak at great lengths with the staff at the shelter about the dog you are interested in. Sometimes they have plenty of background information on the dog and other times they don’t. What they will have though is an assessment of each individual dog’s suitability to go into a new home and fit a particular lifestyle.

Feel free to go and meet the dogs. Ask if it would be OK to take the dogs for an accompanied walk and generally get to know the dogs outside of the kennel environment.

Never judge a dog by how it acts in the kennels. Some dogs are totally different to how they appear when behind the kennel gates. Don’t be put off by noisy or shy looking dogs based on how they behave in kennels.

It’s good to do lots of research before visiting any shelters to try and get an idea of the types of dogs who could suit your lifestyle. Choosing the wrong breed for a particular lifestyle is one of the most common mistakes that leads to dogs being rehomed in the first place, the last thing any dog needs is to become someone’s ‘experiment’ – that is, people who want to ‘give it a go’. Honestly, the dog is better off in shelter waiting for a permanent owner than for someone to ‘give it a go’. So it makes sense to try and narrow down a number of types of dog that could suit your circumstances before you even start looking to see what’s out there.

The website, run by K9 Media Ltd the publisher of K9 Magazine, is a very user-friendly, national database of hundreds of dogs seeking new homes from all over the UK. Log on and start looking at the huge variety of dogs available. Don’t be overly constrained by location. If the RIGHT dog for you happens to be 100 miles away then it’s worth the petrol money. A dog is for life, after all.

Bringing Your Dog Home from the Adoption Shelter

When you first bring your dog home, try and establish routine as quickly as possible. It’s always tempting to make the dog’s first few days full of play and excitement. This can lead to problems though. So get the dog settled in, show them they have their own private area of the home which is just for them and let them settle in and relax and speak to your veterinary practice, your vet will be able to recommend natural pheromone products, such as D.A.P., which will comfort and reassure your dog, helping them settle more quickly and easily.

The staff at the shelter will provide guidance on the dog’s diet and health requirements.

Don’t do too much too soon. Dogs can be excitable and whilst it may be tempting to show the dog off to all your friends, family and neighbours, too much too soon can make the dog unsettled early on. Gently introduce them to new things.

Something that crops up a lot with newly adopted dogs is a good old dose of anthropomorphic expectation on behalf of the dog’s new owners. Because the dog has been adopted/rescued (there’s that word again) new owners can sometimes be taken aback when they realise the dog is actually pining for its old life at the shelter. Contrary to popular belief, not ALL dogs dislike kennels. Dogs are creatures of habit. They can and will miss the familiarity of the shelter staff, the smell of their canine friends, the noise, the routines, the whole environment. Sometimes owners can find this unsettling as they (wrongly) assume the dog will instantly be ‘grateful’ for being rescued. Provided you are ready for all eventualities – including a dog who is missing his old friends at the shelter – you will have a better chance of over coming any initial settling in problems.

If you encounter problems with the dog, be prepared to call the shelter, speak to a vet or get the advice of a professional behaviourist. Too often people let little problems develop into big problems because they weren’t sure who to turn to for advice. Remember, with dogs there is never such a thing as a ‘silly question’.

Finally, be prepared to love the dog for the rest of its natural life. As mentioned earlier, the very name ‘rescue’ dog is a little misleading. It suggests the dog needed to be ‘saved’ or that the new owner is doing the dog a great favour. Well yes, the dog will be forever grateful for being given a happy, safe and stable home life and this is certainly something that owners of shelter dogs can rightly feel warm and fuzzy about but please, don’t consider rescuing a dog as something to try out. These dogs need and deserve long term stability and a home for life. If you are in any doubt at all that you can provide that, you may be better suited to offering your help to the rescue centres and going and helping out with the dogs on a part time basis before you commit to giving the dog the life they deserve.

If you are looking to get a new or indeed first dog, do consider a rehoming shelter. Don’t consider it an act of charity, consider it a fantastic opportunity to get the dog of your dreams and bring joy to a dog who is sure to reward your decision wholeheartedly.

For information and advice in relation to anxiety based canine behavioural issues, please telephone the D.A.P. helpline: 01494 781510

To research hundreds of dogs seeking new homes from all over the UK visit

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