PICKING THE RIGHT ADULT DOG
Here we will look at the selection of the right adult dog for you, hopefully you have read the earlier sections covering which breed, where from, what age and all other relevant sections and you are about to go to look at an adult dog for the first time. Hopefully this is not your first visit where you are being asked to make a decision today, for an adult dog will be well set in their ways and more than one visit should be taken to see the dog behaving naturally and showing their true colours so to speak. Sadly some owners will try to pass a problem dog onto an unsuspecting new owner so you must be aware. Do not just have one look at a dog in the owners or breeders house and make a decision for you may well regret it when you eventually get your dog out in the big wide world.
You need to get out and about with your prospective new family friend and see how they react to things in the general environment, that being other dogs (male and female), other people (hopefully men women and children), novel things if possible (like noises, cars, anything in the environment really), how they listen (if at all) to you and react to your voice, how easily you can take things off them (careful in case they are resource guarders, guard food, toys, owners etc), their general behaviour while out on your walk. What you are looking for on these walks is to ascertain the dogs general temperament, any issues the dog may have and if you think you will be capable of sorting these things out if they do present themselves, for the older the dog the harder it will be to sort them out, and you must be realistic with your own capabilities to do this or your willingness to seek professional help if required.
Ideally when walking and interacting with a perspective new addition to your family in the form of an adult dog you are looking for positive behaviour signals, those being;
1:- OTHER DOGS/ANIMALS.
A willingness to interact with other dogs, no over the top reactions to other dogs of both sexes (if possible), dogs go through ritualised behaviour patterns (some innate and some learnt greeting behaviour) when they approach and meet each other and a well socialised dog should not have any real problems with this, a dog that rushes in and becomes aggressive with no preceding meeting behaviour is one to avoid, it is in fact fairly natural species specific behaviour just that the dog has not learned and been taught what is acceptable behaviour in our world and you don’t really want to be the one to have to sort it out, the aggression could be put down to a number of things (nervousness, fear, dominance, territorial, genetic, lack of socialisation, others) which I won't cover here but would only say don’t take a dog like this on unless you are a very experienced dog owner with behavioural knowledge or are willing to get professional help. Also a dog that goes out of its way to avoid all other dogs is one for the inexperienced to avoid too, again this could be down to many reasons which the average new owner might not be able to overcome. In my experience dogs with problems with other dogs be they serious aggression of any sort or strong fear/nervousness issues often have other related issues too.
So you want a dog that approaches other dogs with a fairly relaxed attitude, some stalking behaviour is acceptable if followed by a fairly relaxed meeting though the stalking can produce an aggressive response from the stalked dog (which may not be well socialised itself, there are many out there) and if in any dog interactions your prospective new dog goes for the rear end of another dog or worse attempts to bite then walk away. There is often stalking, strutting and sniffing, staring and growling, even noisy fisticuffs (with no damage though) between two dogs of fairly equal social standing, this can be natural behaviour, (but shouldn’t happen between all dogs all of the time), this normal behaviour can often be miss-understood and not acceptable to many owners and leads to other problems when not handled correctly.
Ideally you want easy going dog on dog meetings with not too much noise and no serious aggression (save for meeting other mal adjusted dogs), relaxed body language with waggy tail and easy movement would be good, but some strutting and noise is acceptable as long as that’s all it is. Not poker stiff body, erect tail, intense staring, growling, fighting or on the other hand low body posture, tail tucked between legs, ears flat to body, growling, fighting. Both types of behaviour (dominant first, scared second) will be a problem for the inexperienced owner. Dogs that are fearful or nervous will want to run away in the first instance to avoid the threat, if they are on a lead obviously they cannot do this and if the perceived threat comes closer then submissiveness to appease may be employed or various forms of aggression or at it's worst instant full on aggression to make the perceived threat go away.
If possible you want to try and see how you're new charge might be around other animals like cats, rabbits, squirrels etc. Obviously you may not be able to come across such things on your walks so just be alert. You are looking for strong instinctive reactions to chase or get at other creatures. If the history of the dog is not known due to rescue kennelling or being stray then beware if they are showing strong interest of a seemingly hunting behaviour as they may well have already developed a strong prey drive instinct that is being utilised and it may cause you heartache.( have a look at the /the-canine-prey-drive-instinct topic)
2:- OTHER PEOPLE.
No over the top reactions to other people you come across, bad reactions similar to the above with other dogs are obvious cause for concern. Make a point of heading for other people and observe the dogs reactions, don't make actual contact with people just yet, if your new charge has serious problems they will react before you even actually meet any people, these dogs should be avoided by the new owner, even if the behaviour is over the top excitement at wanting to meet someone as opposed to outward aggression it will cause problems for you if you handle it wrongly. Hopefully a good previous owner would have told you of problems like this and as a new or inexperienced prospective owner you would not have come for a look anyway (not always the case though). Some dogs can have a reaction to people (and dogs) from a fair distance usually given away by a change in posture, intense staring, pulling on lead towards (not to be confused with wanting to say hello, albeit over the top), low growling leading to more vocal the closer they get, intense barking and baring teeth when at a close distance. The above behaviour is unacceptable and not correctable without professional help. If the dog you are looking at exhibits any of this sort of behaviour then walk away.
You could also have problems with a dog being overly excitable about meeting people, dogs are social animals and most do seek attention (of the right sort hopefully) and companionship, some dogs due to bad early learning will crave attention and will employ many ploys to get it. If the dog you are looking at is exhibiting well over the top greetings with people and you are a new or very inexperienced dog owner then you would be better of looking elsewhere, these sort of problems are sortable but would require someone with good canine behaviour knowledge to sort out. Often dogs that have intense greeting/attention seeking problems also have other issues too.
3:- CONTROL OF RESOURCES.
Anything that a dog sees as valuable to it, that is perceived to make it's life better, can be seen as a resource to them, for instance, attention from you, food, exercise, treats, toys etc. These things have resource holding potential and you want to make sure that your new prospective friend who is already an adult dog and set in his/her ways will not put these resources above you. You should be able to approach your dog and take things of them. You don't want to continually take things of your dog, you should just be able to do it. Obviously this will be the first time you have met this dog so don’t go straight up and take his best and biggest bone as he doesn’t know you and the result may not be good. If just approaching something of value brings on aggressive behaviour then look elsewhere.
Some dogs will see certain things as very important to them and they may well be willing to fight over them so be careful. Don’t pressurise the dog too much and look for signs of over the top protective behaviour, growling, snarling, teeth showing, aggressive barking, lunging forwards. Some dogs will let you take anything of them, this would be good and you should look for this. If the dog is in possession of something and is showing any aggressive tendencies to you or your approach then look elsewhere.
What you are looking for here is how the dog reacts to novel or surprising stimulus, not easy to do as you have to expose them to such and this may not be possible on a walk so just make a point of watching the dog closely and how they react to any stimulus.
As for other dogs and people you are looking for calm reactions to things, nothing over the top either way, that is aggressive or very frightened. It is OK to have an immediate scared reaction to something (as long as it is not hyper scared) as long as they calm down and become inquisitive again quite quickly.
It is in a dogs genes to be inquisitive and explore things so this is normal behaviour and I am a great believer in letting a dog do this, let a dog be a dog, if the dog wants to stop and have a sniff and a pee then let it, its what it is all about for dogs, obviously if the dog is staying put in one place for a long time then he is probably trying it on with you, give him a few small tugs on the lead with a c'mon or similar, don’t use one big heave and have a tug of war with them.
Things to look out for in relation to reactivity apart from the afore mentioned dogs and people are Affection demand (is it excessive ), Excitability (again is it excessive), Snapping at children, Excessive barking and General Activity Levels. Obviously some breeds like the terriers, spaniels, setters and some of the obvious guarding breeds like Rottwieler, Doberman, GSD, Akita will have a genetic predisposition to making them more reactive and if they have had the wrong start in life before you get to see them then these genes will have become expressed and so beware for they could be a big problem. You are looking at adult dogs, well set in their ways which will be difficult to change, especially if that behaviour was learnt at a young age and has become well entrenched, you will inherit the problems that come with them if you pick unwisely.
5:- PHYSICAL APPEARANCE.
I am not a Vet, but you can look at a dog for obvious signs of any physical problems that might cause you and the dog problems in the future. As an adult dog they should have done all their growing unless the dog is a juvenile. Look for ease of movement when the dog is moving with no obvious or not so obvious limping or favouring of certain limbs. Check that the dog is able and willing to jump up, not to be encouraged in general but good to show its hips are Ok, if a dog does not want to jump in general then be wary unless of course you are looking at a senior dog who already has problems and you are willing to take them on.
Look at the coat, is it healthy and well kept. Are the eyes clear and bright.If you have any concerns bring it up with the present owner. Many people out there like to take on an older senior dog that possibly has not had the best life and I applaud that whole heartedly if you can manage. One of your first trips if you do take a dog on should be to the vets (see the going to the vets section) to get a check up for any obvious (to a vet) problems.
I would like here to quickly talk again about rescue dogs, any good rescue centre should have done some of the work for you, if the history was not known then some evaluation of the dog should be done by the centre giving you some basic guidance on how the dog is with other dogs, animals, children, people (male and female), temperament, health etc. Take the time to visit a few times and walk the dog, if they have a safe off lead area use it to play and interact with the dog to see if all seems Ok for you and the dog. Be honest about your capabilities and lifestyle so a good match is found for you both. If you run a restaurant and have little time don’t take on a springer spaniel from a farm background that will eat your lovely house or worse out of boredom and frustration (see the Rescue Dogs topic).
Hopefully all the above will help you in your choice. Reading all the other relevant sections, well all of this site really will help for the commitment to a dog or dogs is huge.
Have a look too at my /preparing-your-home-for-a-new-dog page.
Why not have a read of my first book, a realistic novel about a wolf called Elmer, his family and their life. My hope is that you would learn much about wolves and mother nature, and come to understand why man first thought to domesticate these amazing social animals to give us our best friend, the dog.