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The Rescue Dog

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The Rescue Dog/Adopt the Perfect Dog
A practical guide to choosing & adopting an adult dog
Finding your perfect rescue dog

Having decided on the temperament traits and physical characteristics you are looking for (Chapter 1), the search can now begin in earnest for a dog that matches the blueprint as closely as possible.

It may be unrealistic to expect that you will find the perfect dog. If you look hard enough you may do so, but it is more likely that you will find a dog that almost fits your ideal. You can then assess whether or not you can live with the traits that are less than perfect and whether you can change his behaviour sufficiently for him to fit into your lifestyle.

Be realistic about what is achievable. It is not wise, for example. To take a shy dog that is afraid of strangers into a busy, lively and noisy household where it will be the centre of attention. A shy dog can be brought out of its shell with gentle understanding, but is unlikely to ever be the life and soul of a party.

Rescue centres can evoke a variety of emotions in even the most hardened people & it can be difficult to resist what seems to be rows of pitiful eyes & pleading faces. However, it if means you end up with a dog you can be happy with and that can be happy with you, it will be worth it. Do not be persuaded by the argument that unless you take a particular dog it will be put to sleep. It is wrong for rescue centres to use this type of emotional blackmail, however understandable it may be. You cannot save all the dogs in this predicament and you will not be doing the rescue world any favours if you take on a dog only to return it later because it does not fit into your lifestyle. Be single-minded about your search until you find a dog that meets your requirements as closely as possible.

Assessing a dog's character

Before making any assessment of a dog, ensure that he has been in kennels for at least 3 days. New dogs go through a settling in period during which time they behave in a depressed & unusual way. Only after they have adjusted to their new environment, which takes about 3 days, do they begin to behave as normal.

Dogs will not behave in kennels as they would in a home.

Information from staff & the results of your own tests will help you to make a realistic assessment of his character.


Even after a dog has adjusted to life in kennels, he will not behave as he would in a pet home. Kennels can be hostile places no matter how well the dogs are looked after. This saps the confidence of even the most determined dog and there are fewer opportunities to misbehave. It is possible for a dog to appear perfectly behaved when you meet him in kennels and even when you take him out for a short time, but once he settles in to your home, he will revert to previous bad habits. You will not see the true picture so follow the assessment procedure below to find out more:

Assessment Checklist

You will need to take the following items with you when you assess a dog:

  • The whole family
  • Titbits
  • Toys (ball, tug-of-war toy, squeaky toy)
  • Brush
  • A small towel

The assessment procedure

When you assess any dog, remember that you will see just a brief glimpse of a complex animal's character. While assessments are useful and necessary in helping you choose a dog that will be right for you, dogs do react to whatever is happening to them at the time.

A dog may be tired, bored, hungry, lonely or frightened - all such emotions will affect his apparent behaviour.

A dog will also behave differently towards you depending on whether you are male of female, and if you resemble someone he knew in his past this too can influence his behaviour.

Part one

Assessment in the kennel

There is no scientific validation for the following assessment procedure at present, but it works for me & I think it is worth passing on. The initial part of the assessment is quick to do and can be done on any dog that looks as though he may have potential.

Approach each dog in exactly the same way & perform the same tests and you will be able to compare their responses. After numerous approaches to different dogs, you will begin to see differences between their reactions that will help you to form some assessment of their character.

From this very simple test, you will be able to tell a lot about the dog if you are patient & observant. Every behaviour has a motivation behind it, even if it is just a backward or forward step.

It takes experience to guess accurately what the reasons behind behaviour may be, but everyone can guess.


An initial interested reaction indicates that this dog will enjoy meeting visitors and your friends.

A fearful aggressive reaction shows
that this dog mistrusts strangers
and is likely to bark at visitors


Once you have thought about why a dog may have behaved in a certain way, you can begin to make some assessment of his character & predict how he may behave in the future.

Carry out this test in a small kennel with a wire-mesh door where the dog sleeps or spends a lot of time. There should be no distractions such as people walking past or other dogs barking.

If the dog is hungry, looking forward to a walk or has just seen his favourite member of the kennel staff, he will not pay you full attention and your assessment may be inaccurate. Remember to ensure the dog has been in the kennels for at least 3 days.

Reaction to strangers

When you first see a new dog, you will be a stranger to him so this is an ideal opportunity to test how friendly or otherwise he will be with strangers. Approach the dog in his kennel and crouch down in front of the door with your body sideways on and your eyes averted.

Watch the dog's reactions.

Does he approach in a friendly way, tail wagging? Does he come forward slightly, but look shy & hesitant? Does he give low growls or warning barks? Does he go to the back of the kennel & look worried? Does he begin to demand your attention by barking and pawing at the wire? Or is he more interested in the other dogs & whatever else is going on than in you?

A dog that readily comes forward to meet you is likely to do this to visitors to your home once he has settled in. A dog that is wary, but looks as though he wants to be friendly will probably be a very loyal watchdog, but not necessarily one to take into a busy household. A dog that demands attention by barking or pawing a the wire has probably learned to do this in a previous home & will need careful retraining to eradicate the bad habit.

Once you have determined how the dog behaves towards strangers, swivel round to face him without getting up and talk to him in a friendly way through the bars. Spend a few minutes talking to him & again note his reaction.

Enjoyment of body contact

If you think it is safe to do so, put your fingers up against the bars, but don't put them inside to begin with. Does he press himself up against you so that he can be stroked? Dogs that enjoy being stoked will often shift sideways so they can press their whole body against the bars for maximum contact with you.

Little dogs that are used to being picked up and cuddled will often bounce up and down excitedly at this point.

Dogs that are more aloof will keep their distance. This could be through shyness, their lack of motivation to be touched or because they have not been stroked much in the past.

Love and affection is often in short supply at rescue kennels despite the attempts of dedicated staff, so if a dog does not respond to you at this stage and you want a dog that will enjoy lots of body contact, you may need to look elsewhere.



This dog enjoys being stroked and has positioned herself so that it is easy for the person to touch her



This dog feels uneasy and is licking his lips to try to stop someone staring at him

You may find that it takes a while for the dog to trust you enough to come forward to be stroked. If you are patient and are rewarded by the dog presenting his neck area to be touched, you will have found a dog that will be loyal and trusting with its owner, but aloof and reserved with strangers.


At this stage, you may like to judge his reaction to sudden hand movements. Dogs that have been smacked too much will either take evasive action or become aggressive. Raise your hand suddenly above the dog's eye level. A dog that has had no mistreatment will probably blink and then wag his tail.

A dog that has been hit is likely to cower with his eyes closed, move away, or show aggression towards you. One that shows aggression to a suddenly raised hand is not likely to be safe around children.

If you have children at home and the dog stiffens up and stares when you raise your hand suddenly, it may be worth repeating this movement several times to see if you can push it into using aggression. This may seem unfair to the poor dog, but it would be more unfair if he was to bite your children and had to be returned.

Afterwards talk to the dog kindly until he has relaxed and you have reassured him that your intentions are good.


Staring and raising your hands quickly in front of a dog's face are very threatening to him and should be done only when he is safely behind bars.

It is not pleasant for the dog being tested and you should do this only with dogs that you are genuinely interested in.

If you have any doubts about the friendliness of the dog after you test, look elsewhere.

The book continues with the following assessments:-

  • Strength of character & sociability
  • Trainability
  • Other traits to look for
  • Signs to watch for
  • Part two - assessment outside the kennel

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Click on a picture to learn more ->
Click on a picture to learn more ->
Training for Life - Puppy/Dog Training Classes in a box!
The Rescue Dog/ Adopt the Perfect Dog by Gwen Bailey
The Perfect Puppy by Gwen Bailey
What is my dog thinking? by Gwen Bailey
What is my cat thinking? by Gwen Bailey
Good Dog Behaviour/The Well Behaved Dog by Gwen Bailey
The Puppy Handbook/ The Ideal Puppy by Gwen Bailey