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— January 8, 2013 —

Should you adopt a dog with “issues”?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

Every year dogs languish in shelters and at the pound. Often, those dogs would make fine companions, except for one or two behavioral issues. Should you overlook these dogs? We think not.

Sam is a cool dog. He’s probably a bulldog mix of some kind and he’s very good with people. He’s probably two or three years old and he is a handsome beast. Sam got adopted by a very nice couple, John and Dennis. They love him to death and probably spoil him a little bit. He’s their constant companion and our regular guest at Bark Avenue.

Sam has one minor issue. He seriously dislikes other dogs. He can’t go to dog parks, and he only has play dates with one female dog that he has known his whole life, but he doesn’t get to socialize with other dogs as a general rule.

John and Dennis knew this going into the adoption and they accepted the fact that Sam might always be an only dog. They had plans for one dog only, so Sam was a good fit in that aspect. Lastly, since they spend a great deal of their time in the country, dog parks were not an issue.

Dog aggressive dogs like Sam are regularly overlooked because people misunderstand the issue. Often people think that a dog that is dog-aggressive will also be human-aggressive or kid-aggressive. This is simply not the truth. Think of it in this way. Jack Russell Terriers are very likely to be rat-aggressive and beagles usually chase rabbits, but neither would be assumed to be human aggressive. Animal aggression and human aggression are two different things in the dog’s mind. Some dogs have both problems, but this is rare. Sam is the perfect example of this.

Other issues could be house training, separation anxiety or destructive behavior. The fact is, even if you went to a breeder and bought a fancy purebred puppy, these things can all surface. Our dog Gunnar was given to us at 8 weeks old or so. At about 1.5 years, little Mr. Gunnar started getting into fights. We had done all the right things to socialize and train him to be around other dogs, but he is dog aggressive. He simply wasn’t going to have any of it. We made adjustments and he has been a great dog. He has been a huge part of our life and I wouldn’t change any thing about him.

Most of the issues I listed are fixable through training. Training is important for any dog and should be factored into your “dog budget” right up there next to vet care and dog food.

Next time you’re looking through all those pictures of homeless dogs, please don’t let the behavioral notes throw you off. Most of these dogs can make great pets. You should give one a chance.