By Nikki Senecal
We hear it all the time, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Many people prefer to adopt puppies because they’ll be able to train the animal to have desirable behaviors whereas adult shelter dogs are “defective.” This line of reasoning relies on so many myths.
Recently, Deb DeSantis, trainer from Going to the Dogs was over to show Stella how to use her agility equipment. She told me that she has taught one of her senior dogs to weave through her legs since the dog no longer has the energy for the agility course. Old dog, new trick. Just think of the senior citizens flocking to community college and adult school classes: just because the body is no longer able, doesn’t mean the mind isn’t willing.
Most dogs—86%–end up in the shelter because of the owners’ circumstances rather than pet problems. But when dogs are turned in, it’s usually the energy required to train and exercise any and all dogs that lands them in the shelter. The owner is either unable or unwilling to exercise the dog as much as it needs to be “good.” Definitely a problem of a “defective owner.”
Choosing an adult rescue over a puppy does not guarantee you will never have any problems with your new dog, but it increases the probability that you won’t. Of course, with any new pet, there is an adjustment period while the dog learns what you expect of it. An adult dog can be specially chosen for various traits that will make her compatible with you and your situation.
Consider these reasons for adopting an older dog:
- Puppies poop and pee frequently. Puppies can only be expected to “hold it” for short periods. A two month old puppy will probably need to go out every three hours around the clock. If no one is at home during the day, consider an adult dog. Puppies need to have consistent schedules for feeding, watering, and being let out to for bathroom breaks. Adult dogs are often housetrained, and they have adult bladders.
- Puppies chew. Our pup thought of us as human chew toys in the early stages; it took a lot of training to redirect her behavior. I’ve heard of puppies chewing baseboards and drywall, couches, shoes, and clothing. An adult dog is past the teething stage and is more discerning in what he’ll chew. Give an adult dog chew toys and bones to keep him occupied.
- Puppies aren’t done yet. An adult dog is what it is; you know her size, temperament, personality, energy level, and relationship with children, other dogs, and cats. With puppies — especially puppies whose heritage is unknown — you never know. If you need to be sure about what you are getting, get an adult. Shelters are full of dogs who became the “wrong” match as they grew up—but who may be right for you whether that is large or small; active or sedentary; sweet or brilliant. Further, our foster parents can help guide you in choosing just the right match for you.
- Puppies need lots of vet care. Veterinary bills for a puppy are more expensive than for an adult dog. All those trips to the vet for puppy inoculations really add up. Adult dogs are usually already spayed or neutered and have had all their vaccines; a healthy adult should only need to go to the vet once a year.
- Puppies are distractible. Adult dogs are better able to focus, and this helps during training. Although puppies can and should be trained, trainers will tell you it’s often easier to train an older dog. Adult dogs are more likely to already have some training from the rescue organization because it makes them more attractive to potential adopters.
- Puppies have a ton of energy and need hours and hours of play time. Adult dogs are still playful but an hour or two of activity can really wear them out.
- Puppies must learn to play with kids. Puppies and children are not always a good match—puppies can be more easily injured by children and rambunctious puppies haven’t learned how to play with small humans, and are more likely to hurt or scare children. Children should always be supervised with animals but many adult dogs have figured out little kids aren’t little dogs.
- Puppies are very social. Pups are used to being with their litter mates. Time alone can be very stressful for them. Adult dogs still need companionship, but they can tolerate time alone better and they sleep through the night.
- Puppies need to grow up. Adult dogs are ready to be your companion now—you don’t have to wait for them to grow up to go to the dog park (after they have all their shots), to go on hikes, to go jogging (after a year, depending on the size of the dog), to travel. With an adult rescue, you select the dog most compatible with you. You can find one that travels well, loves to play with your friends’ dogs, has the energy for jogging or long hikes, etc.
- Puppies can stress out your adult animals. Do you already have a dog or cat that needs a companion? An adult dog that is good with other animals is a better choice than an energetic, exuberant puppy who has to be trained to enjoy the company of other animals. It may be stressful for your animals while the new pup learns.
- Puppies aren’t the only ones with time on their paws. Adult dogs have years of life ahead of them. All but the largest breeds average over 10 years. And in the US and UK, mixed breed dogs average 13.2 yrs.
Most people get swept away by puppy love because those little faces are so cute and their awkwardness is endearing. People come to shelters looking for puppies, so shelter pups have a better chance of being adopted than most adult dogs. But for many of us, adult dogs make the perfect companions. If a senior dog is right for you, please check out Curly.