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By Gina Spadafori
Pet Columnist

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Adult Dogs can be Perfect Matches for many Families

In recent years we've seen a shift in attitude when it comes to adopting an adult dog. "Recycled rovers" used to be a "hard sell," not only because puppies have the "cute factor" advantage, but also because many people believed adult dogs were less likely than puppies to bond with a new family.
Rescue groups, shelters, veterinarians and trainers alike have long argued that's not the case, and the message has gotten through: Adult dogs are now widely considered a wonderful adoption option, especially for people who aren't in a good position to raise a puppy.
When choosing an adult dog, however, you need to ask questions and then think about the answers. While expecting to work on some things as your new dog gets used to you is reasonable, you want to make sure that you know what you're getting into when it comes to such things as health, behavior and even shedding. There are no wrong answers, but here are some questions to ask about any dog you're considering adopting:

  • What do you know of this dog's history? You may be dealing with a shelter, a rescue volunteer, the dog's original owner or breeder, or a nice person who found a stray. While it's certainly possible for a dog found as a stray to be a perfect candidate for "rehoming," knowing a dog's history is usually helpful when it comes to predicting his potential future in your home. 

  • Why is this dog available for adoption? Dogs become available for lots of reasons. "Losing our home," "divorce" and "death" don't reflect badly on the dog; "bit our daughter" should give you pause, at the very least. Listen, too, for what isn't said: "He needs more exercise than we can give him" may mean a dog with exercise requirements only a marathoner could meet, or it could mean the previous owners really wanted a dog with the exercise requirements of a stuffed animal. When in doubt, ask more questions.

  • What behavior problems does this dog have? What health problems? Many things are fixable and worth considering if you honestly believe you'll take the time to work with the dog. Remember, too, that some problems don't need anything more than a dose of common sense to fix. "Won't stay in the yard," for example, may be easily cured by a decent fence and neutering. As for health, some dogs (like some people) need daily medication for chronic conditions, which might be a problem in some families. 

  • How is he with children? Other dogs? Cats? Even if you don't have children, you're going to run into some from time to time. The same is true with other dogs. You can successfully avoid cats if you don't have them, but make certain your prospective pet at least tolerates them well if you do share your home with a cat or two. As for dogs with aggression issues, in many cases these can be worked out, but you may need the help of good trainer or behaviorist, plus a dedication of time and money. 

Love is not enough for a good match. While almost any dog can be successfully rehomed with experienced, patient new owners, dogs with severe problems are usually not good projects for beginners. You'll be happier and better able to offer your dog a great new home if you take your time to make sure the fit is a good one. Follow your head as well as listen to your heart, and you'll be off to a great start on a new life with the adopted dog you finally choose.
In recent years we've both taken adult dogs into our homes, including ones with health or behavior problems. Because we knew what we were getting and knew what we could deal with, everything worked out just fine. And it can for you, too. - By Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori
Puppies need mom past weaning age
Q: What is the right age to take home a puppy? We are looking at a litter the breeder says will be weaned and ready to go at four weeks, which seems young to us. -- via Facebook
A: Behaviorists have known for decades that puppies pick up some very important lessons from their mom and their littermates well after the time when they are weaned. They not only learn the complex social language that will help them get along with people and other dogs, but they also learn skills that set the stage for teaching them the manners all dogs need.
The earliest these experts say puppies should leave their siblings and mom is seven weeks, but many good breeders hold them even longer, up to 12 weeks, while providing them with individual attention, house-training lessons and even the beginnings of reward-based obedience training.
If you cannot convince the seller to keep the puppies together longer, my suggestion is to find another breeder, one well-versed in the developmental stages of dogs and the breeder's important role in raising puppies properly. Or go to a good shelter, where young puppies are placed with others of their age and socialized by savvy volunteers.
Choosing the right source for your pup is just as important as choosing the right breed or mix. A seller who isn't patient enough or doesn't know enough to provide puppies with the proper foundation for a lifetime of good habits is one best avoided. -- Gina Spadafori

Texas court affirms: Pets are 'property'

  • In a ruling watched around the nation, the Texas Supreme Court denied the ability to sue for emotional damages in the death of a pet. In overturning a lower court's ruling, the state's high court confirmed the status of an animal as property by law, saying compensation for a death "is limited to loss of value, not loss of relationship." The case concerned a lost dog who'd been mistakenly killed at an animal shelter despite a "hold for owner" tag on the cage. Efforts are underway to get the law changed to recognize the value of animal companions beyond property, including in Florida, where Tampa veterinarian Dr. Kenneth Newman is trying to find legislative support for his proposed Gracie's Law. Dr. Newman is at odds with veterinary trade associations, including the American Veterinary Medical Association, which argued against a change in status in the Texas case. 

  • The University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine is testing a drug that may treat bone cancer in dogs -- and subsequently, in humans. The treatment uses modified listeria bacteria to teach the immune system to attack cancer cells. The study is part of a growing trend to develop trials in hopes of developing effective treatments for people and pets simultaneously. 

  • The increased acceptance of marijuana use, and the formulation of the drug's active ingredient in so-called "edibles" such as candies and baked goods, has perhaps not surprisingly led to reports of increases in the numbers of dogs ending up stoned at the veterinarian's. One emergency practice in Oregon told the Portland Oregonian that marijuana cases have doubled to about one-fifth of all canine toxicity visits. Clinical signs of marijuana ingestion in dogs include a "drunken" stagger and dribbling urine. Most pets recover after treatment with no after-affects. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori

Date Published: 4/22/2013 1:03:00 PM
Date Reviewed/Revised: 04/22/2013


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Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of Dogs for Dummies, Cats for Dummies and Birds for Dummies. She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her at

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