How (Not) To Adopt A Rescue Dog

“I’m going to go see a dog today that I am thinking about adopting. It’s a rescue, is there anything I should be looking for?“

Without a doubt the first thing you have to do, is add 15 to your current age. Take that number and put it at the end of the following sentence:

“I am prepared to accommodate the needs both emotional and physical of this dog until I am ___________ years old.“

It’s just so that you are extremely careful about adopting a dog with a problem with its disposition. People think they are going to “fix“ the various insecurities and idiosyncrasies with a dogs personality. When in fact, if it’s what they would call an “abused“ or “difficult” dog, you will probably end up walking on egg shells around it, and protecting your guests from spontaneously petting it until you are ___________ years old.

Go see the critter, and leave her behind if she seems at all skittish, if they say “She’s been abused” or if they say “Don’t worry about it she warms up to strangers after a little bit” or “ She’s just scared“

Just know that you will be saying all of the same things every time you have a visitor to your home. Or worse. Once they develop some confidence that kind of dog can be a real liability.

How To Adopt A Rescue Dog

However, if she runs right up to you, if she sniffs your face upon pick up, those are good signs.

  1. Look at her teeth and see if they agree with the age they say she is.
  2. Look at the lenses of her eyes and notice if she has cataracts at all.

“What if she won’t let me look at her teeth?“

That is by no means a dealbreaker, but if she’ll let you look at her teeth, take the dog home with you. She has passed the ultimate sweetness test. Letting you look at her teeth on the first meeting with her, she is a regular canine Mahatma Gandhi.

I would like to take a moment to discuss the adoptive term “she’s been abused” or “we think she was abused“. Use of that phrase may be an excellent reason to leave a dog behind. Here’s why:

It’s not hard to find a dog that has been abused for real, but it is three times rarer than finding a dog that was never socialized. There is a huge difference.

Most of the time, a dog that has been actually abused would not bite a flea. They have had all defiance beaten out of them. They sometimes make the best dogs you could get.

The other 75% of the time, the dogs that organizations think were “abused“ simply spent the first three months of their life neglected in a cage with no socialization so that they are almost feral, and everything scares them.

If you are a Googler, take a minute and look up “reactive attachment disorder“ and that is 75% of those dogs that the rescue organization would call “probably abused.“

Less common among rescue dogs is the one that was never socialized because it was always up under mothers petticoats. It is imprinted on one person, and everyone else is simply terrifying.

This is especially true with the “vigilance breeds“ from Germany who were carefully hand selected from generations of puppies to imprint on (pretty much) one person and be terrified of everyone and everything else, and to engage only the FIGHT response when scared instead of the flight response so normal among other dogs.

If the dog is big enough to do damage, never let anyone try to explain away “he’s just scared“ about an animal you think you will introduce to your home.

Real abused dogs, are submissive, and very likely to roll over and pee when approached by just about anyone. The last thing a beaten dog would think about is curling a lip.

Are All Skittish Dogs a Loss?

How (Not) To Adopt A Rescue Dog
How (Not) To Adopt A Rescue Dog

There are hundreds of heartwarming stories where a dog has been adopted, wild eyed and tearing up peoples hands every time they reach out, blood stained bandages and people moving through MedFirst like a revolving door…. with the “after“ picture of the dog curled up on some owners lap. Go ahead and scroll up to the top of the page where you put your future age into that sentence and figure out if you want that only *potentially* heartwarming experience, until you are ___________ years old. Because it may never happen.

You have no idea whether you are, or are not, the Jane Goodall of dogs.

Ask them for a 48 hour approval phase where you’re going to take her to the house to meet everybody and arrange to let me look at her for a minute so you don’t get someone that is going to plague you with dermatology cardiac or orthopedic bills for the next 15 years.

Angels Among Us is my favorite pet adoption group I consider them top-notch and I have seen hundreds of excellent puppies from there, and I’ve never seen an instance where they would lie about anything.

The key thing to keep in mind, is that with any luck you will be with this dog for 12 to 15 years and if it has a “stone in its shoe” about anything… that is a long time to cope with it and, depending on the age of the adopter, it may be the last dog they get.

My next dog will be coming along and when I am 64 years old, if the dog lived 15 years I would be 80. I refuse to put up with a difficult dog for 15 years.

If they are concerned about a 48 hour approval, or you need me to say something, I will be happy to take their call and I will tell them that this dog they are about to adopt has “really hit the jackpot“ and that it is worth whatever little extra step it takes to get a dog into the Rowland home.


Dr Johnson’s Fish Disease Arsenal, 2019

For Flukes = PraziPro Praziquantel:
For Almost Everything = BSDT Formalin Malachite:
For Anchor Worm & Fish Lice = Microbe-lift Fish Lice and Anchor Worm
Salt = 25 lbs Non Iodized Pure Salt:


Dr Erik Johnson is a Marietta, Georgia Veterinarian with a practice in small animal medicine. He graduated from University of Georgia with his Doctorate in 1991. Dr Johnson is the author of several texts on Koi and Pond Fish Health and Disease as well as numerous articles on dog and cat health topics.