People often ask me to help them find a dog. Usually, they want a puppy. Sometimes a puppy is a great idea. Often, an adult dog is a much, much better match and there is a magic in the adult dog.
People sometimes seem to believe that a dog that is 4 or 5 is somehow damaged goods, and that may be true in some cases, but often that 4 or 5 or 8-year-old dog is pure magic. The single best matches I have made and the best matches I have made for our family, have been adult dogs. The oldest dog I have adopted was almost 11. He was a treasure. We had him for almost 6 years, and he was a joy each day. He wasn’t sick until the last couple of weeks of his life and nearly seamlessly fit into our family.
Puppies are expensive and a ton of work. If you have kids, this is doubly so. Puppies mouth and bite and scratch and jump and do all sorts of things that are scary and not at all fun or easy for kiddos or busy parents. I tell people all the time, when you adopt a puppy you are getting potential. Nature and nurture will come together, sometimes in unpredictable ways.
When we adopt a dog that is mature, we know what we are getting. But if there are things you don’t like, the dog is mature enough and young enough to still learn, to adjust and adapt. When we evaluate an adult dog, we know if there is resource guarding or dog-directed aggression or fear… we can determine how social a dog is, how much he or she loves kids, what kind of energy level he or she will have, because they are adults.
The average family I work with wants a relatively chill dog. They want a dog who is “on” when they want the mon and who chills out when they want them to chill out. That takes maturity to achieve.
Today, I have a lesson with new clients who have 2 kids under 6, a dad who travels and they just got a 10-week-old labradoodle puppy. If I were to be completely honest with this mom, I would tell her this is going to completely suck for 2 years. When our kids are still playing on the floor, and when we bring home a mix of two sporting breeds that are orally fixated this is going to be rough. Can it be done, of course, but there were much, much easier ways to do this. If this family had a dog-shaped hole in their hearts we easily could have gone out and found a fantastic adult dog who would have been fun for the kids and easy to integrate. I have had parents ask me why I didn’t talk them out of a puppy. The reality is that I tried! I get it, the heart wants what the heart wants… and of course, I will help a family work through puppyhood but man, it could have been much more magic and a bunch less messy.
I was a human foster parent. We adopted almost exclusively adult dogs. We made sure they were dogs who loved kiddos. We made sure they were dogs who were social and wanted to be with the kids. They had great impulse control and no bite drive. I wanted dogs who would hang out with kids and remove themselves if the kids got to be too much. I wanted dogs who thought through situations and avoided conflict. I wanted dogs who would walk politely on a leash even if a kiddo was walking them or if I was walking them and a kid was running around, and another was riding a bike past us. I wanted dogs that came when called and didn’t require much in the way of “training”…. And, y’all I am a dog trainer. I wanted easy… and when it came down to it, I adopted adult dogs far more than I adopted puppies.
When thinking of adding a dog to your family, please consider adult dogs. They are often overlooked at the shelter. Breeders often have adult, trained, prime of life, well-loved dogs available, looking for a cushy retirement gig. Sometimes these dogs just grew a bit tall or were missing a tooth… there’s nothing “wrong” with them from a family perspective.
What does your family want in a dog? What’s important to your family? When you close your eyes and imagine your life in the company of a dog could that picture include an adult dog instead of a puppy?
If you or someone you know is thinking about a dog, please consider an adult! We recently adopted an almost 5-year-old pug. He’s a riot. He’s neutered, house trained, isn’t chewing up the house and loves everyone and everything. He doesn’t come when called but I can work on that. I am enjoying doing training with him, but I don’t have to do it if I don’t have time.
Magic! Getcha some!
Tina M. Spring
Tina M. Spring is the owner of Sit Happens Dog Training & Behavior, LLC in Athens, GA. She is the creator of the Hounds for the Holidays program to help prepare dogs for the stress of the holiday season and prevent dog bites. She is also the author of 90 Days to the Perfect Puppy which is available as an online course.