Review: Adopting a Dog

Adopting a Dog, by John Ross and Barbara McKinney

Since I’m leaning more and more into the adoption camp, I thought it would be a good idea to read a book specifically about adopting a dog. One of my primary hesitations about adopting a dog from the shelter is handling the behavioral baggage that these abandoned dogs may come with. I picked up Adopting a Dog from the library and looked forward to learning more.

The beginning of book provides some helpful insight on choosing a dog and bringing it home from the shelter or rescue agency. For instance, Ross and McKinney point out basic facts, such as that it’s probably unwise to choose the dog who cowers at the back of his kennel when you approach. Even though your heart may be moved by his fearful display, this will be a dog who will–most likely–be extremely difficult to train.

Ross seems to have written most of the training chapters and I wasn’t hugely impressed by his methods. I’ve been completely sold on positive training methods since the first serious dog book I read and so I get suspicious when people like Ross criticize positive training as being unable to produce results and insisting that dogs need physical discipline. Ross commonly recommends physical corrections like leash pops and forcing a dog into positions (like sitting, down, etc.).

Suffice it to say, I wasn’t very impressed with his training regimen. Unlike positive trainers like Pat Miller and Patricia McConnell, who are actually certified in their fields, Ross does not appear to have any serious credentials–aside from the fact that he’s owned a lot of dogs. This is certainly more than I have, but I’m not inclined to take his advice too seriously–especially when he maligns positive training methods and encourages physical punishment.

Overall, I was disappointed by this book and was hoping that it would provide some more useful information about issues like house training an adult dog, working through separation anxiety, and discerning a dog’s behavioral background. Have you read a good book on dog adoption? If so, please share! I’m still eager to learn more.

(Also. There’s a seriously unfortunate typo on the cover of this book. Can you spot it? As a copy editor, I just have to wonder how this stuff gets by. Did no one proof the cover??)

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7 thoughts on “Review: Adopting a Dog

    1. Thanks, Julie! I’ve heard great things about that book and I’m a HUGE Patricia McConnell fan, so I think I’ll need to get myself a copy soon!

  1. A lot of Jon Katz’s books deal with adopting/rescueing dogs.

    I know you don’t want to leave your dog locked up for 10 hours a day, but seriously consider crate training to help with separation anxiety. It has to be done right. Our Aussie was crate traumatized by his first owners, but our Beagle LOVES her crate. She occassionally crates herself, because its her space where no one bothers her, not even the terrier.

    As for housetraining adult dogs, I think the best advice anyone can give you is patience. Even dogs that are housetrained will have accidents when they come to a new home (and shelter dogs have more problems because they haven’t had an “outside” to go to). In addition to patience, set a routine about when outs happen. Make sure that there’s an out 30mins-1hr after feeding time, one when you first get up, one right before bed, and one when you get home from work.
    Praise when they go potty outside. Worked well with the Beagle puppy, but she also had our Lab/Pit mix training her.
    However, it might not be all a dog needs. With the terrier, we had accidents for a few weeks. We praised outside, but he still didn’t think that meant he should wait for me to get to the door in the morning. One day, I let out a single, sharp “No” as he started to poop on the floor and took him out. Praised him for completing the job. After the “No” (this was not the first time we’d interrupted, just the first time there’d been a reprimand), we had no more problems.
    Also be aware that some dogs have potty problems that have nothing to do with housetraining. Our Lab/Pit has submissive bladder isses that took years to go away, and would come back if there was a major change in the household (roommate and 3rd dog moved in). But we learned what would set him off and were able to work around the issue.

    No matter what, give it a few weeks and by then the dog will know the routine and you’ll have learned the dog’s cues and triggers.

    Read about my dogs: http://www.lifebypets.blogspot.com/

    1. Thanks so much for your thorough and helpful advice, Shanendoah. I really appreciate your insight and look forward to reading your blog.

  2. Your blog is delightful! Thank you so much for all you share. I’m especially enjoying your comments about positive reinforcement training. I started out training my four horses almost exclusively with R+, using targeting instead of pressure-based communication and now, I’m directing what I’ve learned from them to my adult rescue terriers/terrorists of whom I previously thought were a lost cause for any training beyond sit. As it turns out, though they need more repetition than the horses, they are blasting all my preconceived notions about the terrier mind, out of the water. Serious proof positive that “positive” is truly powerful and wonderful for both two legged and four. Have you read Coercion and It’s Fallout by Murray Sidman?

    Here’s a link to my blog with the horses: http://paintinghorse.wordpress.com/
    And a a few photos of my terriers: http://paintinghorse.wordpress.com/2009/04/18/a-penchant-for-fuzzies/

  3. Sounds like this one isn’t a winner.

    For a start, the first dog I adopted was TERRIFIED of men. Any man. He barked like crazy when he met my partner and wouldn’t come out from under the kitchen table for hours… He would cower any time a man bent over just to pat him. This went on for several months. But you know what? With lots of love and patience, he became a really confident dog. He was highly intelligent. So yeah, that rubbish about not choosing that dog is such a croc. Just because a dog has been treated badly before, it doesn’t mean you can’t gain their trust and work with them!

    And secondly, anything BUT positive training makes me really mad. We had a trainer come to our house last weekend to give me some help with our dogs and with one he used positive and with the other he used a choke chain and gave her a tug every time he said “come” which I thought was really unnecessary – and you could tell my dog was getting upset about it. You don’t earn trust from dogs that way… Ugh. There’s my rant!

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