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title. Rescuing an Adult Dog from a Shelter

date. 2016

aboutIf you are considering opening your home and your heart to one of these very deserving dogs, here are some tips.

location : everywhere

"Ruckus" adoption promo pic, 2014. Stay tuned - more about him at the end of this article!

 I work as a dog trainer for an open-intake, city-run shelter in an urban area several days a week. We are on the front lines of rescue there, and often get calls about dogs in situations that are less than ideal.  And yet, once those dogs have had a chance to get the care they need and a behavioral evaluation (done by myself and my co-trainer) these dogs are ready and especially deserving to get adopted to better homes. Many of the dogs we meet are elderly, which is heartbreaking to see as it’s clear that they have known some version of a home. These dogs are especially close to my heart. If you are considering opening your home and your heart to one of these very deserving dogs, here are some tips.

Damu, who never met a stranger! Adopted from the Mt Vernon Animal Shelter.

New-to-you dogs likely don’t know rules of your home


  When fostering a shelter dog myself, or advising others about adopting, I won’t assume that a dog of any age is going to be familiar with any basic rules : where to potty, what to chew on, and how to play and interact with their humans. Adopting a senior dog might involve setting up your home as you would for a puppy - limiting their space they have access to and keeping in mind that a gentle approach is best, as it’s possible that no one ever taught them basic house manners.  My suggestions as a trainer on this subject center around the theme of the human not being “the bad guy” but instead using baby gates, crates, etc to manage where the dog can go. This limits the potential for accidents during the first few weeks. Your local shelter will not know whether or not the dog you're taking home is potty-trained, especially in a new environment. The shelter environment definitely can’t give a clear indication as to whether a dog is house trained. Same goes for other rules - your new Senior adoptee may not understand that they might not be allowed on the furniture. No matter what the behavior, there is a gentle and kind way to teach it without resorting to yelling and frustration.

Freedom Ride : Mac on his way to the “Funny Farm”, a special home for Senior dogs in need.

Pets Alive dogs Maxim and Trip at "Karen's Funny Farm", a retirement home for Senior dogs from shelters

Behavior issues


When one of our Senior Citizen dogs goes home, (after we’re done celebrating!), we offer phone and email support to the adopter for any questions they might have. This is the time period to expect insights into the past life of your dog. One Lab mix at my shelter demonstrated an astonishing understanding of a long-distance Sit/Stay that was better than my own dog's!

Sadly, once the dog has gone home, there can also be signs of lack of understanding of normal household activities and even signs of maltreatment. They may refuse to go in to a crate, or choose inappropriate items to chew on. One memorable phone call from an adopter revealed that her dog would panic and retreat to a corner to cower whenever she picked up a Swiffer mop. In these very sad cases, be sure to ask the shelter you’ve adopted the dog from for help. Remember, a dog with fear issues such as the one described above needs humane training and kind guidance to get through these issues.

Hospice candidate Champ gets T-Touch therapy. Champ lived at the Pets Alive facility for years, and was a favorite at the Senior Citizen homes he visited.

What a training class covers, and what it might not cover


Basic manners and obedience classes at your local training club might be very helpful for you and your Senior adoptee.  Finding a trainer that uses humane methods is easy!  That trainer will be able to determine an appropriate class for your dog, or whether your dog might be happier with in-home lessons. It’s likely that your adult dog will be happy to show you what they’ve already learned, though his interpretation of your hand signals and verbal cues may not be exactly what you expect. (Did you know that there are at least 6 different ways to ask a dog to Sit?)

 Your dog’s understanding of the “Drop it!” cue may also need a bit of refreshing. Also look for Loose Leash Walking and basic husbandry behaviors to be offered as part of the curriculum.  Refreshing the basics with your new adoptee can only help - additionally, if your local training club offers classes in Nosework you may discover a whole new world of fun activities for your dog!

Your group class may not be able to cover topics such as Separation Anxiety or significant fear issues that your new dog might have. Fearful dogs may not enjoy a group class at all and might become worse!  I've never met an instructor that couldn’t take a few minutes to answer questions about whether their class would be suitable for you and your dog.  A referral to a positive trainer will help you in finding solutions for these issues.

When it’s time to ask your shelter for help

Other Options

have worked for shelters that have offered “Forever Foster” programs for dogs - ideal for Senior dogs and their owners. Many larger shelters are able to offer free medical care for the lifetime of the dog, and some even offer free food - from the shelter’s point of view, this is absolutely worth it if the dog can go to a real home.

Some shelters might be able to offer low-cost boarding for your adopted dog, and some will need to refer you. However, it’s important to consider how being back at the shelter, even for a short time, might affect your dog. Shelter staff will likely be able to provide insight about your new friend. Talk to them - they will likely be thrilled to share information with you.

Bath time at Mt Vernon Animal Shelter

In closing, I thought you‘d enjoy reading this letter about Ruckus, now known as Augie, a beloved dog who went to his fantastic forever home in September of 2014.


Why an adult dog?   Puppies are cute but they are a huge undertaking.  I knew I didn't have the resources or lifestyle to accommodate overnight feedings, potty training, and puppy proofing my home from destructive chewing.   

My dog came to me extremely house broken.   He would hold it for up to 20 hours because he didn't want to mess up his kennel at the shelter.  He would be the first to be let out by a volunteer in the wee hours of the morning.  As an RN, who has also had to "hold it" for many,  many hours (hence the term nurse's bladder), this broke my heart.  

With adult dogs, you know what you're going to get.  For the most part, you know what kind of temperament and personality they have.  The trainers will evaluate if the dogs are good with other dogs,  kids,  etc.  When I walked my dog as a volunteer, I noticed he was not a barker, he was affectionate, and shy.  He is still pretty much who he was, although more playful.  

Augie also came to me knowing several commands.  I did enroll him in obedience school but it was really because I needed the training!   Adult dogs may already be trained or receive training at the shelter and know how to behave in a home setting.  They settle in and get the routine quickly, provided you maintain one.  

Adult dogs are very special as you get to give them their second chance.  I see the love and devotion in Augie's eyes and I have no regrets about my choice.  He has rescued me from myself many times over.  

People say I spoil him but it's entirely untrue. He absolutely deserves everything I give him.  I don't know what the first 3 years of his life were like but I am determined to make the rest of his years wonderful. - S. Choi, Dec 2015

Misa Martin is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer. Years of attending agility seminars, workshops, seminars and camps with her first dog led to the beginning of her professional dog training career as a PetSmart Trainer in 2008. In addition to teaching at PCOTC's Family Manners and Agility programs, Misa is a staff trainer at the Mount Vernon Humane Society, active with Waggytail Rescue as a consultant for training and behavior issues, and a trainer with the Briarcliff SPCA education program. Misa owns, providing reward­ based training to private clients. Through her knowledge, experience, and sense of humor, Misa encourages students to approach dog training as a team effort, where students learn as much from their dogs as dogs learn from their "parents," making training fun for humans and dogs alike!

Misa can be reached at

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