With an adult dog you have a much better idea of what you're going to end up with. A puppy can have the genetic heritage to be aggressive, a fear-biter etc. and you will not know until the dog is older. It's also very easy to make mistakes raising a puppy. With an older dog, the mistakes have already been made and it's generally not too hard to tell which problems will be easily correctable.
So an older dog's previous history is actually an asset, not a detriment. Quite often when a dog is put into a new situation, they are looking for leadership and will attach to you almost immediately. Even breeds known as "one-person" dogs will accept a new master rather easily. For example, observe the relationship between a blind person and a German Shepherd guide dog. These dogs have been through at least 3 homes before they're matched with their blind people.
The research on bonding that is most often quoted (Clarence Pfaffenberger's New Knowledge of Dog Behavior) is almost always misrepresented: i.e. the puppies in those studies were deprived of all human contact until they were older; the research had nothing to do with how well dogs that have bonded with some human or humans transferred those bonds later on.
An additional benifit to adopting an older dog is the truely wonderful feeling one gets when the dog comes out of its shell and bonds with you. The bond feels special, particularly when it is an older dog that no one wanted. The rescue and subsequent bond with that dog is strong, lasting, and special.
Older dogs are often not adopted from shelters because many people want puppies. It is wonderful when one can come in and offer a good life to the older dogs.
Sometimes people give up their dogs because of death or divorce or other personal upheaval. Perhaps the dog was intended for work, but was injured and rendered unfit. An adult dog in need of a home is not necessarily an abused dog with an unknown background.
Ask local veterinarians. They often know of dogs that need adoption.
Keep in mind that many dogs are at the shelter because their owners couldn't or wouldn't keep the committment they had made by getting the dog in the first place, not that the dog was at fault. Reasons include "not enough time for the dog," "moving to another place," "dogs not allowed where living," "divorce," and "not enough space." Frequently dogs with behavior that the previous owners could not handle are fine in new homes. As long as you scrutinize your potential dog carefully and you are prepared for the work of owning a dog, you are not likely to wind up with a problem dog or a problem situation.
About 25% of the dogs at shelters are purebred! If you have a specific breed in mind, you can check your shelters regularly in case one comes in. Keep in mind that even if the dog arrives at the shelter with its papers, many shelters will withhold the papers since they don't want to see people take such a dog and then breed it. You might get its pedigree without the registration, but even that's uncertain. Many shelters will take down your name and the breed you are interested in and call you when one comes in.
If you don't care about the breed, you can check your local shelters for a dog that you want. You should have some idea of what size and coat type you prefer before going in.
Most major breeds are represented in most major cities. You can always contact AKC for the address of the national breed club which you can in turn ask about local addresses.
Go to dog shows and ask around, or contact a breed club (note: for some clubs, referrals to "rescue" dogs are handled by one volunteer, whereas the puppy referral service also handles dogs that were returned to their breeder--so when contacting a breed club, make sure you've made contact with all the appropriate people).
People sometimes give away or sell dogs through the newspaper: ask carefully about why the dog is being given up. Many people are not very knowledgable about dog behavior and will not be aware of if problems are the result of heredity or the result of their own mishandling. There is an advantage here of being able to see how the dog was kept and get an idea of relationship between previous owner and the dog. Sometimes the family is moving, or has lost some income, or there have been deaths or other upheavals where the dog's behavior is not an issue. Do make sure you don't feel pressured into taking the dog just because the person wants you to take it.
If this is a dog through a rescue organization, chances are that a foster family has been taking care of it in the interim. Ask them to tell you what they've learned about the dog. If you have children or other pets, ask them how it would react to them.
If you're looking at an animal shelter, you should have the opportunity to interact with the dog in a fenced-in enclosure rather than simply staring at it through the bars of it's kennel. Many dogs are extremely shy or upset in the kennel and it's difficult to tell what they are like. Bring some tidbits and see how it does outside the kennel. Walk it around on a leash if you can.
If you are getting a dog from a breeder, then you should be able to find out about all its background. Do ask all the questions you have.
You can evaluate it's temperament to some extent. Remember that the dog may be anxious or disoriented and thus not behave as it would normally.
In evaluating temperament,
Indications of friendliness: Ears relaxed or down. Tail level with body, moderate to fast rate of waving. Approaches and sniffs. Watches you but averts eyes if you look at it too long. Play bows (front legs lay down but back legs are still standing).
Indications of submissiveness: Ears down. Eyes constantly averted. Dribbles a little urine. Rolls over on back. Licks your chin or anything near. Tail tucked between legs.
Indications of fearfulness: Ears down, eyes averted, tail tucked, runs away from you. Shivers in corner [some breeds shiver anyway]. Cringes or yelps at sudden movements.
Indications of dominance/assertiveness: Ears erect or forward, tail up high and wagging stiffly [spitz type breeds can be difficult to ascertain between friendly wagging & assertive wagging]. Holds ground, stares at you. These are not necessarily bad things. If the dog eventually approaches you and is friendly, then it's likely a reasonably self-confident, friendly dog. If it growls, then it's probably more aggressive.
Indications of aggression: Growls at you with ears forward and a stiff-legged stance, tail still. Watchful and alert.
Indications of a fear-biter: Growls or snaps at you, ears are folded flat back, posture is crouching or submissive even though it is growling or snapping.
Some dogs appear totally disinterested. They don't respond one way or another to you. These dogs may be sick. They might be overstimulated or exhausted. Or they might just be very independent dogs. Some dogs are more independent and less overtly affectionate than others.
Plan on making repeated trips to whatever agency/person has the dog for repeated evaluations. Let the dog dictate the speed at which you progress through these steps. For very shy dogs, it may take a full week of visits to progress to step three. If the agency/person that has the dog will not allow you to remove the dog from its current environment for an evaluation, look elsewhere for a potential dog. It is important to get the dog away from its current environment as it may be very shy and timid there, by association, but carefree and wonderful when alone with you, like on a walk. The only way to tell is to remove the dog from the environment. Stated another way, you should eliminate the current environment the dog is in from any potential problems you may see with the dog. You will be able to tell by comparing its reactions in the original environment and when it it outside of it.
The questions you ask during these steps are often a function of the environment in which the dog will be placed should you decide to adopt it. For example, if you have other dogs at home and the potential adoptee is housed with other dogs and seems to get along well with them, chances are better that you will be able to integrate the dog into your home, as opposed to a dog that is agressive towards other dogs.
Implicit in these steps is asking the agency/person that has the dog for all information they have about the dogs background. Just a stray they picked up? Was it an abused dog? How did it come to be where it is? All of these things give you more information that can be used to evaluate the dog's personallity and suitability for adoption.
When you evaluate the dog during these steps, look for any physicaly ailments as well. Lameness, shortness of breath, lethargy, and so on. Above all during these steps, evaluate the dog and how the dog reacts to you. It is important for you to feel confident that this is a dog that you can nurture and spend time with and enjoy, and that it will enrich your life. Do not feel bad if you must reject a potential adoptee. This is part of the adoption process, and it is important for you both to get off on the right foot.
If you decide to adopt the dog, you should always take it directly to the vet before you even take it home. If there is something seriously wrong with the dog, you want to find out before you've had the dog long enough to form an attachment to it.
However, if your current dog is a dominant dog, a dog that has been around you for a long time, or a male dog (generally speaking), your best bet is a dog that tends towards the submissive and is smaller than your current dog (like a small, quiet, female). Size is can be important as your established dog may feel threatened by a newcomer that is larger than he or she.
Introduce your established dog and the new addition in a neutral place, like a park or a home that is new to both animals. Both dogs should be on a leash. If your current dog is obediance trained, a down/stay is in order. Allow them to sniff one another and encourage play, discourage agression. Should your adoptee show agression, forcibly place the dog in a submissive posture and hold it there (as in an alpha roll). Then allow your established dog to come and sniff the new dog. What this does is diffuse a potentially violent situation by forcing the new dog to be submissive to your established dog. The new dog learns to trust the established dog by realizing that the established dog is not going to eat him, and your established dog learns that the new dog is submissive to him. This fosters trust amongst the two animals. This may not be necessary, but sometimes it is. By all means, if the dogs want to play, let them. In fact, encourage them, and don't interfere unless you feel you must.
At home, the first thing you must do is establish a spot for each dog that is physically separated from each other. Kennels, crates, or even different rooms. Never, never, never feed the dogs together. always feed the dogs simultaneously in these physically seperated areas (if in different rooms, close the doors while the dogs eat). If you must free-feed, the dogs should be placed in their respective areas for the entire time each one's food is down. Also use these areas for "time-outs" when the dogs are misbehaving.
The second thing that is required is that you must be sure to spend quality time with your established dog, and just with him. You may even need to increase the frequency of normal activities you would do with your established dog. This helps keep your established dog from feeling misplaced by the newcomer.
Finally, be sure and do activities with both dogs. This encourages the dogs to do fun things together, as well as fostering pack cohesion and communication.
Remember, the general rule of thumb is to make sure that both dogs realize you are alpha. They will need to work out their own hierarchy among themselves, but they must understand that you are on top and you are in charge.
With cats, you should make one room be cat accessible only. The easiest way to do this is to put up a barrier in the doorway. As long as your dog does not want to kill the cat(s), they will eventually adjust. Make it very clear to your dog that it is not to chase cats -- correct it for even looking at the cat -- and things should work out. Keep in mind that cats can take up to six months to adjust to a new dog, even a friendly one. Patience.
Take care to enter through doors before the dog does. When you feed it, be sure you've already had your food, or eat some tidbit first. You want to tell your dog, without fanfare or histrionics, that you're in charge here. This puts many dogs at ease since they won't have to wonder who the alpha is.
The dog should sleep in the same room with you, but not on the bed. You should either use a crate, or a sleeping pad/towel, or tie it to a bed post, although the crate is best.
Try and get into a predictable routine as soon as possible. Dogs prefer a routine, and you will help your new dog settle in more quickly by adhering to some routine. Examples: feeding at the same times, walking at the same time, going to work and returning at the same times.
Start right away with expected behaviors. If you don't want the dog on the furniture, then don't let it on them from day one. Don't fall into the common trap of thinking that the dog is moping and should be given more leeway initially. If you expect good behavior matter-of-factly from the beginning, you'll have less trouble in the long run.
If the dog appears to be moping, leave it be but stay nearby. Don't let it mope too long -- distract it with a walk or a bit of playing.
Before a dog is locked into a crate, the dog must be as comfortable with it as possible. If a dog is put into a crate while it is afraid of the crate, the dog's fear may build while inside and the resulting trauma may be impossible to overcome.
To make a dog comfortable, the dog must first learn not to fear it, and then to like it. To alleviate fear, the following things can be tried.
Finally, put the dog inside for progressively longer periods of time, always praising the dog as it goes in, and perhaps giving treats.
You should definitely look up obedience training in your area and enroll yourselves. You will probably both enjoy yourselves quite a bit, and it's a good way to build a strong relationship with your new dog.
In addition, it is important to get the dog into obedience not just to teach the dog good maners, but to get the dog socialized for other dog and people. Plus, it will give the dog something to do, which is often very benificial with older adopted dogs.
You should train these dogs exactly like you would a puppy, with the big difference that they will catch on much more quickly, being adult and having a full set of bladder muscles. Confine them to a crate or otherwise watch them; take them outside regularly to eliminate. You might try using a phrase such as "Do it" or "Go potty" -- especially if your dog is a retired show dog, it may already understand this. Patience is your best ally -- keep your dog's schedule consistent until you're sure it understands where you expect it to go.
Don't punish a dog for going inside. You will get much better results much more quickly if you anticipate its needs and have it go outside, to your praise, each time. In fact, it is generally your fault if the dog eliminated inside rather than the dog's.
You should note that some aggressive male dogs may mark your entire house in an attempt to claim the house as his territory. You should first get him neutered, and then, since such aggression is likely to be a problem in other areas (such as growling when you approach his food), you should consult a book such as Evans' People, Pooches, and Problems.
Some dogs urinate submissively. If it is lying down, even on its back, when it urinates, this is not a housetraining problem. This dog needs work to raise its self-esteem. For now, avoid the problem by toning down your approach to the dog. If it is urinating submissively when you come home, make your arrival much less exciting. Don't look at it for a few minutes, then just talk to it. Finally, scratch it a bit on its chest (petting it on the head is very dominant). Avoid bending at the waist over your dog. Squat instead.
In the long term, to deal with the problem of a too submissive dog, you will have to teach it confidence and help it build up self esteem. A good way to to do this is to some obedience training, though take care to use motivational methods with little or no corrections (try Communicating with your Dog by Ted Baer for some good hints). Be unstinting in your approval when the dog does something right.
As a general rule, all rescued dogs should be neutered. There are some special circumstances, such as rescuing a dog of a known breeding and returning it to its breeder, but these are extremely rare ocassions and not likely to happen to the average dog-adopter. Neutering an older dog of either sex will not hurt it at all.
If you find out that your dog is afraid of something, remove it from its environment, intially. Plan out how you want to deal with it, what steps and increments you want to take. Then slowly work on it. Work on one thing at a time to reduce stress on your dog. By doing it this way, you will build up the dog's self confidence and trust in you.