Choosing the right rescue dog for your family!

If you are considering adopting a rescue dog into your home, you’ll want to make sure the experience is as positive as possible, for everyone! Choosing the right rescue dog for your family requires a little preparation, but it’s totally worth it to protect yourself, your family and the dog from an avoidable mistake.

There are lots of things to consider, and different routes you can take. Some come with greater risks than others. You’ll be together a long time, hopefully, so this blog is hoping to minimise the risks to you both.

Also check out part one from my “Choosing and settling a rescue dog” course for more information about how to choose a rescue dog and minimise your risks.

Know yourself

Before you start looking at potential dogs and rescues, it would be wise to get to get to know yourself, and your home, a little better! If you know yourself, it’ll be much easier to know if a dog will fit into your life easily, or not.

So, when considering the right rescue dog for you, you should first consider your current lifestyle. Rescue dogs find it stressful to be in homes that aren’t naturally suited to them. They won’t all easily adapt, so better to get a good match from the start. Here’s some things to think about…

  • Are you a naturally outdoorsy person, or more of a home bird?
  • Do you have lots of visitors, or do you live a quiet life in the middle of no-where?
  • Is your home busy, busy with plenty of coming and going, or is it calm and event free?
  • Do you travel a lot, who will take over in your absence?
  • How experienced are you with dogs, and in particular, rescue dogs?
  • How much time do you really have to spare for training and exercise?
  • Do you live in the town or country? How does this affect your ability to socialise and exercise your dog?
  • How houseproud are you, how would you feel if a dog ate your sofa?
  • Do you have money spare in case of unexpected home repairs, additional training needs, or fencing a safe area?
  • How easily could you compromise an any of the above, if you had to?

What about the rest of the family?

There is no right or wrong, there are pro’s and con’s to everything. But let the rescue know so they can help you find your perfect dog.

You’ll probably not be doing it all alone. Choosing the right rescue dog means considering everyone that will come into contact with your dog. So, we also need to consider your dogs main carers. Who will do what for your dog? And who will come into contact regularly with your new dog? Ask yourself…

  • Who makes up your family now – teenagers, babies, adults?
  • Do you have lots of nieces and nephews that visit?
  • Do you like big family gatherings?
  • Are there other animals in the house, or as part of the extended family?
  • Does your dog need to get on with visiting dogs?
  • Who will walk the dog?
  • Do any members of the family have special needs?
  • Will you be relying on someone to keep your dog company sometimes?
A beagle type dog is laying in the entrance of a large wooden kennel. The kennel is painted yellow and has a red roof.

NB: If there are young kids or people with special needs in the home, you might find rescues are reluctant to give you a dog. There is a good reason for this, and it’s not because they think you can’t cope. Moving home can be a traumatic experience for any dog. In fact, the first three weeks are particularly stressful. This transition period makes dogs extra sensitive and they can be unpredictable. We never really know what a dog has been through in his life and costly mistakes can be made during this early period especially.

How might your family change?

You’ll be living with your new friend a long time (hopefully). You already know how your family looks now, and who will be routinely caring for your new dog. But, the average dog lives 14 years, and some live up to 20! I don’t expect that you’ll know exactly what your family will look like then, but some changes might be more predictable than others.

Common changes might include…

  • Spending more time back at the office
  • Switching from part to full time hours when the kids grow up
  • Having a baby or grandchild
  • Maybe the kids are approaching uni age and are likely to move out
  • New partner or elderly parent moving in

Knowing how you plan to care for your new dog, and how your life might change over the years, might affect your decision as to which dog will suit you best.

What rescue?

Once you know what you are looking for, let’s find that dog.

There are four main routes to choosing a rescue dog, and many hybrids, of course. Here is my assessment of the main ones and what you can expect.

You’ll probably notice that my opinion is somewhat biased, it’s for good reason. I have worked in rescue, and with rescue dogs and their families post adoption, and I see many risks and problems. Remember, my advice is there for the benefit of you, your family, and the individual dog. I have no loyalty to any rescue, or rescue type! Leave the risk taking to those that know what they are doing.

Council Pound

Dogs can end up in the local pound for many reasons but many will be unclaimed strays, surrenders from families that ran out of options, or dogs that have been seized. The dogs aren’t temperament tested in the pound, but they won’t ever rehome a dog that shows signs of aggression.

The council pound will not do a home check, or offer advice. Even if they wanted to, the dogs rarely stick around long enough for the staff to know them well enough. Dogs aren’t kept at the pound indefinitely, so they aren’t fussy who takes them. So, the process is quick; there’ll be little time to get to know the dog. You just pick one, there is a quick form, then you pay your fee and take your dog home.

They will microchip the dog for you though, and sometimes they cover the cost of neutering. But there is no health check or routine treatments, unless the dog is unwell, of course.

Some pounds are better than others, of course. But, they usually won’t go into much detail over the history of the dog, and they probably won’t offer any advice. They will take the dog back in a heartbeat, if there is a problem though.

This option comes with medium risk and might suit an older, quieter family, with some doggy experience. I definitely wouldn’t recommend it for families with young kids, busy households, or those that will be leaving the dog home alone at the start.

Traditional Rescue

With traditional rescue, dogs might be kept onsite in kennels or via a network of foster homes. With this type of rescue, many of the dogs have been handed in by families. This could be for any-and-all kinds of reasons, including family death, behaviour reasons, change of circumstances, or something else. Some dogs might also come from local pounds and other rescues. In all cases though, dogs get a chance to decompress and receive assessment before being offered for adoption.

The rescue situation can be stressful for some, and the dogs often aren’t being assessed in homes, so this can be a drawback. However, the volunteers and staff will spend lots of time with the dogs, so they’ll get to know them as they settle in. The dogs are not usually being rushed out the door either, so they’ll take their time to find the right home for each dog. The adoption process will usually include some vetting, so you’ll often have time to visit the dog and get to know them a bit before you take them home. This does sometimes appear a little fussy, but they know the dogs and want the best for them.

Choose traditional rescue for the most support

You’ll get lots of support from a traditional rescue and they will always take the dog back if things go wrong. They will usually neuter the dog for you too, and do all routine health care before the dog is rehomed to you. Most will also cover the cost of any ongoing treatments!

This would be my preferred route, there are lower risks all round. Of course, there are never any guarantees in rescue, but the support is there and they will have spent time with the dog, and you, before the final adoption. In my opinion, traditional rescues put the dogs needs first more than any other kind of rescue! They want the best for the dog and they want you to succeed – its a win-win!

International Street Dog Rescue/Resale

Street dogs are rounded up and impounded in countries like Spain, Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey. The dogs might be beloved pets, abandoned dogs, strays, feral dogs, or something in between. Organisations formed in the UK connect with these pounds and import the dogs, on demand, to homes in the UK.

Many of these dogs have limited experience living in a home or being a pet, and many will have learned to fend for themselves. Sometimes dogs are feral (born in the wild) and completely unsuitable for homes. In fact, one rescue adds it as a disclaimer on all their paperwork that this might be the case (screenshot below). These dogs will not fully adjust to family life, and yet they are given to anyone willing to pay their high adoption fees (often many hundreds of pounds). Any organisation that includes disclaimers like this are not a rescue, they are a reseller!

In fairness, street dog rescues are not all like this. But, this has become such a good way to make money, that you’ll struggle to find a decent rescue amongst all the many, many others that have sprung up around them. If you choose this path, do extensive research first. Speak to people that have used them, speak to their volunteers, and read comments on their social media.

Street dogs don’t always make good pets

With the best will in the world, the whole process is extremely traumatic for even well adjusted dogs. From being captured, forced to live in a pound with other dogs and very little comfort, then being transported for hundreds of miles, over many days, in a stinking van to being handed over to you – another stranger, it takes it’s toll. And that’s the lucky ones, the unlucky ones will have experienced worse conditions and abuse too!

Then he will have to decompress in your home, there is no where else. The first three days your dog will be in fight or flight mode, he’s scared for his life, and could be extremely stressed and reactive. He could be destructive, aggressive, shut down, try to escape, or something else. It’ll be at least another three weeks before he starts to realise he is safe in your home – unless he’s feral, of course!

With this type of rescue, the dog is usually still in his country of origin when you choose him, so you’ll not have met him yourself. You’ll only have the rescues word for the dogs temperament and his behaviour. You’ll see plenty of photos and videos though, but they don’t always show the full story. Not that it matters, many people don’t even get the dog they chose anyway!

Two large dogs behind a wire fence at a rescue centre. The one at the back is laying down and looking quite relaxed, the one at the front is sitting by a water bucket that has been hung from the fence.

Extremely expensive and high risk

The system needs massive improvement and fast. There are too many people involved that aren’t part of the organisation. You’ll probably never meet them directly, you might get a home check, possibly over zoom. But the only people you’ll meet are possibly a volunteer home checker and the transporter, who is just paid to deliver dogs to addresses. You’ll receive very poor support if things do go wrong. In fact, you’ll often get the blame for it!

You could get an awesome family dog and live happily ever after! Or, you could get a feral dog that will never enjoy living in your home or being handled. Or something in between. The problem is that you won’t know what you are getting until he is handed to you by the transporter.

I personally would never use this type of rescue, and I don’t advise anyone else to either! The dogs needs are rarely put first as most organisations are only in it for profit. Due to the risks and pitfalls, I cannot recommend this type of adoption, even if you are experienced at rehabilitating dogs. Too many of my clients have regretted it on some level.

I would support this type of rescue if the dogs were first imported into bricks and mortar centres or foster homes. There they could be properly assessed, given appropriate health care, and then be matched to suitable homes!

Home from home

Finally, you might find a dog on a site like Gumtree, Facebook, or via word of mouth. There are many reasons why a dog might need a new home, and moving from one home to another is probably one of the best options for the dog.

The downside is that you’ll probably not receive any support at all post adoption. You’ll also be relying solely on the previous owner telling you the truth about the dog, why they are being rehomed, and their behaviour.

On the plus side, you’ll normally meet the dog first and you’ll see how they behave in a home, and with you, before you commit to them. You’ll also get to see how they are with their current family, and you’ll hopefully get an idea of whether they are telling you the truth or not. If you are getting bad vibes, you are probably not getting the whole truth.

This is often (but not always) a cheap way to get a dog as many are offered free to a good homes. You might have to pay for neutering and routine health care yourself. Whilst most rescues are very strict about neutering and breeding; when you rehome a dog privately, it’s entirely your choice.

This is a good option for many families and many dogs are successfully rehomed this way. Just be vigilant and look out for any bad vibes. Aside from that, as long as the dog seems to fit with your lifestyle and family, you should be fine.

Meet the staff

So, you’ve decided on a route to rescue. If you’ve opted for a traditional rescue or pound, start by speaking to the staff, they’ll know the dogs best. Rescue centre staff are often limited in number so it’s very likely the same people are working with the dogs regularly. Staff in pounds might have limited knowledge, but they might have some ideas so talk to them anyway to see how they can help.

Hopefully, you have already taken some time to consider your home and family situation as it is now, and in the future. Be honest with them about your situation, and let them make recommendations for you. You might have an idea about what kind of breed or size you want, but be open minded. You’ll live with the dog for a long time, its much more important they fit into your home and lifestyle.

Also, remember that not all dogs have happy pasts, so not all dogs are right for all homes. If you get knocked back a few times, it’s not necessarily a reflection on you.

Meet the dogs

Whatever route you’ve taken, it’s time to start looking at the dogs that are available. We all know you shouldn’t buy a pup without meeting the mum and breeder. Well you shouldn’t commit to a rescue dog without meeting them first too. So try to hold off making any decisions just yet!

While you are checking out the dogs, notice the environment they are living in. You have spent some time thinking about your home and family. Now spend some time meeting different dogs and considering how they will fit in with you.

As you narrow your choices, take extra time to get to know the dogs a bit. And not just you, everyone that will be affected by the adoption – that includes all household members, your dogs potential care givers, and your other dog! When you meet up, it can be helpful to go for a quick walk together and try out some common commands. Also offer them treats and toys, and give them plenty of cuddles. Most rescues will encourage this and it’ll give you a basic sense of who he is and how he might connect with you all.

As you get to know him, don’t forget to ask about his story. Find out how he’s settled into rescue and how long hes been there, if appropriate. Talk about any health or dietary issues, known or past training needs, and what he was like as a puppy. At the same time, expect to answer questions about yourself too!

Before you commit

If you’ve made your mind up, you’d better start preparing yourself for your new arrival. If you’ve chosen a traditional rescue, find out what support the rescue can offer you as you settle your dog into his new home. Then start investigating local support services such as behaviourists, training classes, dog walkers, groomers, and boarders. It’s not always easy to find good services with availability, so be prepared, especially if you live in villages or off the beaten track.

Reputable rescues and current owners will want the best for their dogs. They’ll expect to do a home check to ensure the dog is going somewhere he will thrive. They don’t care how tidy your home is. But, do make sure you have a safe, fenced area for him to explore, run, and play, while he settles in. Also, be prepared to answer questions about how you might cope if the dog did something undesirable. They might also ask questions about how you’ll meet his needs. Employing a dog walker to socialise your dog because you live remotely is a perfectly good idea. But they might worry about whether there is anyone available in your area. Be prepared with all the answers!

Now all you need to do is get a cosy duvet, a lead, and some of their favourite food and toys and wait for your new arrival!


How can I help you with your rescue dog?

My recue dog course talks you through how to choose and settle a rescue dog over the first few months. Check out the FREE sample video which takes you through every step of how to choose your next rescue dog. The rest of the course focusses on the phases that follow and how to meet his changing needs over the days, weeks and months that follow.

Or if you’d prefer more support, Private Dog Behaviour Consultations are currently available in the Dundee area and beyond. If you are looking for help with your rescue dog, then please get in touch! I’d love to chat about how best to help you find the right dog for you, or help you with a dog you have already rescued!


I have more than 15 years experience solving all kinds of canine behaviour problems, at home and in rescue. A bad experience with a old fashioned dog trainer inspired me to learn more about dog behaviour, and it is because of him, that I wall never use harsh methods when training and rehabilitating dogs.

I work privately with clients in Dundee and the surrounding area with dogs of all ages, breeds and issues including anxiety, aggression and hyperactivity.

In 2009 I was proud to publish a book about dog behaviour and training. How to be the Perfect Pack Leader (by Caroline Jenkins) remains popular today and a follow up is expected very shortly.

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