Tell me about adopting shelter dogs--what sort of behavior is typical?

Inspired by this thread on President-Elect Obama’s comment to his little girls last night.

A few posters in that thread have opined that Obama should fulfill his promise to his daughters with a shelter rescue rather than a purebred from a kennel. This prompts me to ask a few questions:

What sort of behavioral patterns might one expect from such a beast?

How rigorous is the process of weeding out dogs with bad behavior patterns?

Has anyone any stories they’d like to tell about adopting rescue dogs?

It could be anywhere on the map, since it could be a family pet someone couldn’t keep, or a stray that got caught and delivered there. The staff would be able to know an appropriate placement for any given dog.

(Speaking not as a pet owner, but my friend has had multiple shelter dogs – pit bull, bloodhound, indeterminate shaggy dog, and they all turned out fine. Chances are they didn’t suffer abuse in the past so they were able to adjust to the new home, and multiple pets in the house.)

We haven’t adopted, but I did take a tour of our local Humane Society shelter with the Girl Scouts. It sounded like they have a pretty thorough rating system in regard to dogs’ behavior. They also have training classes.

Skald the Rhymer - I have five rescued dogs right now, with several others who’ve died over the years. Pretty much a rescue has many of the same traits as any other dog, although some may have fear or separation issues because of their pasts.

Mike was a german shepherd who had separation issues. He was destructive (he learned if he just worked hard enough, he could unlock the windows, open them up and let himself out of the house. This was not easy on window sills, frames and miniblinds), but extremely loving.

Kate was a doberman-pointer cross who didn’t seem to have any issues except a strange fear of tape measures. She was protective but not aggressive, quiet, good with cats and kids and other dogs.

Patty is an English setter. He’d never been is a house before I adopted him. Now when I’m home, he can’t get close enough. He’s always at my side. Although I’m in the middle of hundreds of acres of farmland, he never goes out of sight of the house. He knows he’s got it good.

Grace is a doberman who was dumped near my farm. She was between 7-9 when she was dumped. She’s sweet and loving and thinks she’s a great hunter because she once caught a rat in the barn.

There have been many dogs in my life, and most of them have been second-hand pets. Like any individual, they have their own personalities and quirks. Some do have issues, but I’ve never had a dog whose temperment I didn’t trust.


Both my dogs are Humane Society girls – one that I adopted, and the other that my now-husband adopted shortly before I met him. I had intended to adopt a different dog than the one I went home with; it’s a heart-wrenching experience, but you should walk the dog(s) you think seem great.

Spend a little time with them, see how they behave with you, with the people and other animals they encounter on the walk, etc. The one I thought I wanted turned out to be too unmanageable; it was clear she needed a lot more training and discipline than I could afford to give her, especially with other pets already in the house.

The one I did adopt is mostly Black Lab with a dash of Rottweiler. She’s sweet, outgoing, non-aggressive toward other animals, and likes to be within 2 feet or less of me or my husband at all times (except on dog park runs). She does get overly protective of her toys and chewies, though. Daytona!

My husband’s dog (now mine, too!) is a Black Lab / Border Collie mix. She’s matured hugely since her adoption. She had separation anxiety, chewed the furniture, and bolted at any loud noise, all of them intense at first and gradually disappearing within a year. She’s completely over all of those things now, and while she teases the other animals in the house (a cat and a cockatiel), she’s never crossed the line into hurting them. Here’s Dharma!