Choosing A Rescue Dog – How to do it!

Choosing a rescue dog

Why choose a rescue dog?

Rescue dogs are the best dogs out there! Yes, I am probably biased because I have 4 rescue dogs but that also means I have some experience and knowledge to share about choosing a rescue dog.  There are thousands of dogs in rescue centres across the UK and sadly, many healthy dogs are put to sleep because there are simply not enough homes out there for them.

If you are thinking of choosing a rescue dog instead of buying a puppy from a breeder you will be doing a wonderful thing for that dog. It can seem like a hopeless situation when the problem is so large but there is a fantastic story which shows the difference you make.

The starfish story

There was once an old man who had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. One morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions. 

Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching.  As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea.  The boy came closer still and the man called out, ‘Good morning!  What it is that you are doing?’

The young boy paused and replied ‘Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves. When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.’

The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”

The boy bent down and picked up another starfish which he threw as far as he could into the ocean. He then turned and smiled…’It made a difference to that one.’ 

Why are dogs in rescue centres?

There are many reasons why dogs find themselves in rescue centres.

  1. Some are young, even puppies and can be from unwanted litters or remain unsold.
  2. Others have been in a home and have been rehomed due to no fault of their own (not that I believe it is ever the dog’s fault!) and are victims of changes in circumstances- marriage breakdowns, home relocation, new babies, owner death etc. There have even been cases where dogs no longer match a house decor!
  3. Other dogs may have physical or health problems which have resulted in owners abandoning or surrendering them. These may need on-going health care which will not be insurable since it is pre-existing.
  4. Rescue dogs are often though of as being problem dogs behaviourally and there are indeed some which have been unwanted due to behavioural issues. Some of these issues can be quite easily sorted with training and more attention, others are more deeply rooted and require more specialist understanding. I will talk about this more later.
  5. Old dogs who have possibly been replaced by puppies or may have elderly owners who have died or can no longer cope.
  6. Numerous other reasons!

Where to go when choosing a rescue dog

I have 4 rescue dogs and had 2 before these so have amassed some experience when it comes to choosing a rescue dog. My first were over 20 years ago and it was a case of turning up at a rescue (Birmingham Dogs home for my old greyhound) and speaking to the staff about what doges were available.  Times have changed and choosing a rescue dog is now far easier thanks to the internet.  Here are some of my suggestions:

  1. The first place I suggest for an overview of many rescues is    Dogsblog has dogs listed from many rescues countrywide and you can search the available dogs according to location, breed, temperament characteristics etc. Not all rescues use the service but if you are looking for the first time then it is a good place to start.
  2. Large rescues-
  3. Smaller rescues – these may have rehoming policies which make them suitable only if you are within a certain radius of their centre/base but others rehome nationwide. My favourites are   (where 2 of my dogs are from) and
  4. Breed rescues – man breeds of dog have their own rescue organisations. Some of these include:, 
  5. Facebook groups- some of these are for the kinds of rescues already mentioned and can be more up to date than their own websites.  In addition there are smaller groups which only exist on Facebook and these can be worth a look, especially those local to you or for specific breeds. You can sometimes find dogs needing homes on ordinary Facebook pet groups but please be wary of these because you will probably have no support afterwards and there could be medical or behavioural issues which are not disclosed.

How to choose where to look from all the options available

Before you are actively looking at choosing a rescue dog, I suggest you look at some of the options I have suggested just to ‘get a feel’ for what is required from each and which may be possibilities. Each rescue will have their own rehoming criteria and some may be more suited to you. If you have children you may find your options are more limited: some rescues have a blanket ban on rehoming to families with small children while others may take each individual dog and assess accordingly.  I have adopted 2 dogs and a cat from one particular rescue and will always look there first if I am going to be rehoming another dog into our family.

Homechecks will be required and this can be one of the reasons for rescues rehoming locally. They also often provide follow up support and this is harder to do over longer distances.

Some rescues house their dogs in large centres where the dogs are kept in kennels, but others have them in foster homes. This may also influence where you choose to look for your new dog.

All rescues will charge a rehoming fee which goes towards medical bills, feeding etc which will have been incurred during the dog’s time at the rescue. The fees can vary and some will include 4 weeks pet insurance once you adopt.

Choosing a rescue dog

Before choosing your rescue dog you need to think hard about whether a dog is actually an appropriate pet for you to have. Wanting a dog is one thing but if you are out at work for long hours each day you must consider whether it is going to be fair to the dog. It can be possible to get a dog walker to visit your dog during the day but this may not be acceptable to a rescue. Some of the dogs in rescues have developed behavioural problems such as excessive barking and destructive behaviour in their previous homes due to this situation having already happened.  Please think long and hard – if you are not going to be accepted by a rescue, are your circumstances right for a dog? It is easy to go out and buy a puppy in this instance but does that make it ok for the dog?

Ok – here are the things I would be considering if I was looking for another dog.

  • Breed/type/size – there are all shapes and sizes of dog in rescue and I love them all!  However, my house is very small and I need to consider practicalities. I don’t have huge amounts of time for grooming and will take the dog into muddy fields with horses so the longest haired breeds won’t be top of my list. It is worth looking up breed characteristics to get an idea of which may be most suitable for you but dogs are individuals and there are exceptions so please listen to the rescue who will have assessed each dog’s temperament.
  • Age – there are dogs of all ages in rescue from young puppies to OAPs in their twilight years. The oldies can be incredibly rewarding to rehome and can be perfect for older people.
  • Training – many dogs will be house trained, have good lead walking skills, be cat safe etc but others will not. Rescues such as have lots of ex-breeding dogs and bitches who have only lived in kennels so have no experience of home life at all. Again, the rescue will be able to advise and help you find the ideal dog for your experience and capabilities. It isn’t unusual for a dog to forget some of their training with the stress of a new home so you may need to be patient if things aren’t quite as you expect.
  • If I already have dogs in my home, will they get on? A ‘meet and greet’ will be essential to check all the dogs are going to be happy in each others company.

I will be writing another post about  meeting your potential new dogs and what to expect when you bring them home. Hopefully this has been a useful start to your search and please do seriously consider choosing a rescue dog as your next family member!