Generally you have two schools of thoughts when it comes to rescue dogs. You have the people who assume the dogs in shelters are all there for a reason — generally some sort of bad behavior. Then there are those that think all shelter dogs are blameless angels who deserve the best. I lie somewhere in between. Having volunteered in shelters and pounds, I’ve seen dogs who feel on both ends of that spectrum.
I’ve met dogs that I quite liked but who had been returned multiple times for biting their new owners, and dogs whose mere presence was so unnerving that I found it irresponsible of the shelters to even be trying to adopt them out. At the same time, I’ve met perfectly wonderful dogs that make we wonder, “Who would ever give this guy up?”
The truth is, though, that most of the dogs are somewhere in between. They’re nervous and scared, and probably aren’t used to living in a kennel. The constant barking is hard on the nerves, and many dogs don’t do well without a human to “belong to.” Even the best dogs can develop problems while living in a shelter — thank goodness for foster homes — but with any luck those will disappear once they’re in a home setting.
All of our mutts have their quirks. Tulla is a scaredy-cat: fast movements, loud noises, and random household objects all freak her out. Maybelle was filled with plenty of nice surprises — she knew all her basic commands and then some — but can obnoxiously herd other dogs, and remains convinced that the cats want to eat her food. Charlie, who was adopted as a puppy, had the weirdest quirk of all. He would only poop while dangling from a chain link fence — a sort of “gravity dump.”
For all their weird behavior, they’re all friendly — with people and other dogs — and well-behaved. And I can’t help but think back to some of the most badly behaved dogs I’ve ever known. Every one of them was a purebred that had been raised by its family from puppyhood. When I was a kid I had friend whose family went through a string of completely neurotic dogs: a Golden Retriever, a Beagle, and a Chocolate Lab. Every last one of those dogs was wrong for their family and had behavior issues. The lab couldn’t be allowed to roam the house at night because it would poop all over, but when you kept him in your room he would run up and down the end of the bed, keeping you awake almost all night.
I don’t mean to disparage purebreds. I grew up with two German Shepherds — one a rescue on his third home by the time he came to us, and the other we got as a puppy — and they were both good dogs. But I’ve always said you can tell a lot about people from their pets (which is why I’m weirded out by people with no pets). And when someone relies totally on breeding and the assurance that “you get what you pay for” when choosing a pet—or buys on impulse in a pet store—I find that they probably have their priorities backward and it shows in their dog’s behavior. People who choose a dog based on its personality — and not just breed traits — are more likely to end up with a dog that actually suits their lives.
So before you write off all rescue dogs, do your homework. If you have your mind on a specific breed all you have to do is a search on Petfinder. We, of course, recommend a rescued mutt–find a dog that incorporates your favorite breed. If you’re lucky they’ll have the best of all its ancestors’ traits.