ADOPTERS : PRIORITIZE YOUR WISH LIST !!
copyright by Pam Green, aka "du Clos de la Fourriere" Bouvier Rescue, 2000, 2002
The purpose of this article is to help potential adopters of Bouviers (or other dogs) to think thorough their priorities, thus to enable them to recognize which available foster dogs they should make effort to meet and adopt. These recommendations are based on over 15 years of experience rescuing , evaluating, rehabilitating, and training abandoned Bouvier and then matchmaking placement in a "til death do us part" adoptive home.
This article should also be helpful to rescuers and foster homes in evaluating dogs and evaluating potential adopters so as to matchmake adoptions.
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Every aspiring adopter usually begins with some kind of "wish list" of desirable qualities it is hoped that the new dog will have and , more importantly, UNdesirable qualities the dog must NOT have. But realistically it is necessary to attach priorities to these items, and to be prepared to accept the next available dog who fulfills your top-rated two or three wishes. Adopters who have too lengthy a wish list will find themselves waiting forever for the "right" dog. Hey folks, perfect dogs are almost never available except when an owner unexpectedly drops dead. But most rescue dogs can be molded by training to become much nearer to your heart's desires. The purpose of this piece is to help you recognize which wish list items are crucial and which of these crucial ones are hard to find or hard to change : these are the items you should put at the top of your priorities.
There are only 3 secrets to adopting a dog who will become a treasured member of your family :
There is a 4th secret :
Under each category below , I will list several possible descriptions of the dog as evaluated by foster home. The particular foster home might use different words to convey a similar idea. In some categories, the number of variations on the theme are almost endless, but I will try to indicate a sample of the more significant ones. By the term "known history" I mean that there is reliable evidence from the dog's former home or from his foster home, ie the dog has been observed in this situation repeatedly and behaves consistently. By "tested", I mean that the foster home has had opportunity to expose the dog to this situation one or several times and behaved consistently. For seriously bad behaviors, a single known instance of that behavior may be enough for you to not want to try that dog.
After each list, I will discuss which qualities might be crucial and which of these could be difficult to find or difficult to modify. Those that are crucial and hard to find or hard to change are the ones you should put at the top of your list.
As you read through these lists, put some positive mark such as a plus or multiple plusses next to each description that seems desirable to you, some negative mark like a minus or multiple minuses next to each description that seems undesirable to you, and put a zero or "N/A" (not applicable) by those that are irrelevant. Then re-read the list and my discussions and next to each behavior category (uppercase heading) give a percentage from 0% to 100% to indicate how much of your total weighting of 100% total would reflect the importance of this category to you. Your total percentages must add up to 100%. Then go back again and circle the three highest percent categories. The total of these three should probably add up to at least 70% , possibly up to 100%. Now is the time to recognize that any dog who "scores" 70% or above is a dog whom you should make an appointment ASAP to meet in person, preferably with every voting member of the family meeting the dog, so you can decide whether or not to adopt this dog. Most rescue groups will give you a "try out" period of 2 weeks to a month (my own preference is a month) of the dog living in your home during which you decide if this is really a dog to whom you are willing to pledge devotion and responsibility for the rest of the dog's natural life.
BEHAVIOR WITH CHILDREN :
DISCUSSION : For adopters with children in home or visiting frequently, (a) and (b) are solid gold, and (c) also good if parents will give extra supervision and kids are dog-wise and gentle with dog. While "safety with kids" should be your very highest priority , it is a quality that is very common in Bouviers. This of course does assume adequate parental supervision, especially with younger or less dog-wise children. Please read book "Dogs & Kids" by Bardi McLennan. For those who only have to deal with children occasionally, (d) or even (e) could be acceptable, but probably dog should be crated or put into private room when kids visit. Dogs with history of serious aggression towards any human are normally NOT offered for placement by rescue; such a dog would be euthanized by most rescue groups.
Another dimension to behavior with children is the range from very very gentle, mild type behavior to very vigorously playful behavior. Generally the younger the child (the youngest one in the family) the more desirable it is that the dog behave in mild, careful, gentle fashion towards that child. Generally the younger the child, the more essential it is to have a mature and settled, mellowed out dog. The degree of gentleness can be modified by training, and many dogs will adjust themselves according to their perception of what the person they are interacting with enjoys.
Another dimension is the age of the youngest child and the age of the dog. My own rule of thumb is that for dog-experienced and closely supervising parents, I recommend that age of dog plus age of youngest child (in years) must equal or exceed 5 years. For less dog-experienced or less vigilantly supervising parents, I'd recommend a combined age of at least 7 or 8. (Update : I generally refuse to place any dog in home with child under 5 years old or home where further addition of children is contemplated, because I see too many instances where a young child or new baby results in a dog being harmed or discarded. Of course there are exceptions with parents who are real dog-people and kids who are totally wonderful with dogs)
WITH CATS :
DISCUSSION: If you have a cat, you MUST place high emphasis on adopting a cat-safe dog. Bouviers in category (a) are very RARE, so if one is offered you should adopt it immediately unless there is some other totally unacceptable factor. However even for an (a) be prepared to supervise the first few weeks -- ie separate dog and cat when you are not supervising. Category (b) is acceptable if you are willing to supervise carefully the first month or longer. For (c) the supervision would have to be far more careful and extensive. Types (d) and (e) would be totally unacceptable, and rescuers will not knowingly place such a dog in a home that has a cat. If you do not have a cat, this category is largely irrelevant, though you may need to consider neighbor's cats who are (unwisely) allowed outdoor liberty and may enter your dog's space. I would advise letting your neighbors know that a dog is now in residence and his reactions to cats is not known to you. Possibly you might offer to let the dog into the yard muzzled for the cat to come over and discover the dog's presence in a less risky manner.
WITH OTHER DOGS (in the same household):
DISCUSSION : if you have another dog already, peaceful coexistence with new dog is essential. Dogfights can easily result in human injury if anyone present is stupid enough to stick their body parts into the line of fire -- that goes for you,me, or the Queen of England. Pairings of spayed bitch and neutered male are 99.44% certain to work out peacefully and usually become friends (there may be initial friction). Bouviers are often easy going and so can live well with dogs of same sex, but potential for dominance quarrels if dogs are both inclined to want to be top dog. (a) is of course the most desirable, but (b) and (d) are probably going to work out OK so long as your own dogs are peacefully inclined. (c) can work out if your own dog is very peaceful and fairly submissive. Single most important factor for same sex pairings is that the two dogs be of very dissimilar natural dominance tendency, so that they quickly agree on which one is the higher ranking. Also you and other humans in household must be committed to reinforcing the position of the higher ranked dog by showing it preferential treatment and showing the lower ranked dog "second class citizen" treatment. Types (e) and (f) are not common in Bouvs but they do exist and such dogs should be in single dog households; they may also present some problems and need remedial training and strict supervision and control when out in public as regards dogs met in public. If you do not currently have any other dog, then consider whether you are likely to want to become a multi-dog family in the future.
Another dimension to dog interactions is the tendency of the dogs to interact in a vigorously playful way or a milder and gentler way. Most dogs will tend to adjust themselves considerably according to the feedback they get from the other dog. Still you might want to avoid matching a very vigorous wildly playful young dog with a fragile, creaky, infirm, arthritic old dog.
WITH OTHER ANIMALS :
LIVESTOCK : Take for granted that your Bouv will consider rabbits and poultry to be dinner on the hoof, ie will chase and kill. Take for granted that your Bouv will want to chase and grab at horses, cattle, sheep, goats. It is essential to have absolutely dog-proof barriers between your dog and your stock and any neighbor's stock -- in all states livestock owners have legal right to KILL trespassing dogs who pose a threat to stock. Some Bouvs can with training make wonderful herding dogs; if you want to work your dog in herding you will need testing and training help from a herding expert. The foster home normally will not have evaluated the dog's behavior with livestock nor for herding potential. Most Bouvs can be taught to behave appropriately around horses and will become good trail riding companions.
BIRDS, REPTILES, RODENT, RABBITS : usually there will be no information on the dog's inclinations towards these household pets. You should take for granted that your Bouv will consider them to be toys or dinner. The responsibility for training and separation is up to you.
WITH HUMAN FAMILY : general AFFECTION / ATTENTION needs
DISCUSSION : The level of affectionate interaction that you want is a matter of personal taste, but can be a very important factor in your enjoyment of your dog's company and vice versa -- ie I suggest you avoid gross mismatches. It is usually possible to shift a dog from one level to an adjacent one. (a) dogs usually mellow down to (b) once they are really secure in the new relationships -- also consistent training can teach them that being a "pest" gets them a total "cold shoulder" ie ignored. (d) will usually shift to (c) when they become secure and have been encouraged to ask for petting. I have yet to encounter a Bouv who is an (e) with familiar family members, though some are like this with visitors or with strangers outside the home. An (f) will need a lot of rehabilitation if fearful -- and such rehab should be attempted only by knowledgeable adults, as a fearful dog may bite in "self defense" ; an aggressive dog would be euthanized rather than offered for placement.
As in other interactions with humans, there is the dimension of playfulness and exuberance, vigorousness, etc vs milder, calmer, gentler , or more self-restrained behavior by the dog -- and by the human. One can make substantial changes in the direction of mellowness by deliberate training, and many dogs will adjust themselves without much formal training.
WITH GUESTS :
DISCUSSION : You can usually shift a (b) to an (a) with consistent training -- may need some cooperation from dog-wise guests for early lessons -- also may benefit from use of"Halti" or "Gentle Leader" to calm and control overexuberant dog. Dog's level of watchdog bark can also be modified by training to some degree. (c) may improve with knowledgeable training and help from guests who are dog-wise ; needs remedial socialization. for (b) and (c) put dog on leash before opening door, or if guests are afraid of dogs you might crate the dog or put it in the bedroom.
DISCUSSION : Although everyone wants a housebroken dog, this need not be a high priority. It is amazingly easy to housebreak an adult dog if you "follow the rules" for two weeks -- often much quicker if you have a dog door into a safely fenced yard. I strongly recommend following the housebreaking procedure for the first two weeks even if the dog is already reliably housebroken -- especially if you do not have a dog door as part of your system. The (d) category may need more medical exam and my need some lifelong extra care (often quite easy & inexpensive) -- should not be placed until cause has been determined. the (f) dog will require up to 6 months of a very strict housebreaking regimen -- but can be reformed of this bad habit.
CHEWING / DESTRUCTION ?
DISCUSSION : your weighting in this regard will depend on your willingness to place valued chewables out of the dog's reach, your willingness to supervise and teach dog what items are legal chew toys, and for (c) dogs your ability and willingness to deal with the underlying anxiety. I have not encountered many Bouvs of fully adult years who are seriously problem chewers, ie (d). Most puppies and adolescents will chew for amusement. This can be more of an issue if you have young children who leave their toys, shoes, books, or other stuff out where the young dog can get hold of it.
HOME ALONE TOLORANCE (= absence of Separation Anxiety)
DISCUSSION : If your families work or lifestyle mean that the dog must be home alone a lot, then put major emphasis on getting an (a) or (b). During first week try to arrange to come home for visits and leave again, and on weekends, make a lot of short absences and returns. Keep all leave-takings and returns very low-keyed and boring. Don't adopt a (c) or (d) unless you have educated yourself about methods of treating separation anxiety and you are willing to do the work involved. Very few Bouvs are (d) but some rescues may be (c) especially during first weeks or months in adoptive home. A (c) may do better in home where there is another dog who is totally at ease when home alone. If your lifestyle does allow you to be home a lot or if you can take your dog along with you when you go to work or go out and about, then please do consider adopting a (c) or (d) and gradually working on making the dog more confident of being home alone.
ESCAPING THE YARD / FENCE RESPECT
DISCUSSION : Almost any healthy Bouv can jump over a 4 ft fence and many can climb out higher fences; we recommend at least 5 ft, preferably 6 ft. Most Bouvs are (a) or (b), are not very inclined to leave home so long as they are part of the family and have access to the house when home alone -- and assuming no irresistible temptations outside the fence. Almost any "escape artist" (c) can be contained if your fence is high enough (preferably 6 ft) and if you are willing to add some "hot wire" to the inside of the fence (needed only for hard core escape artists). alternatively you might have a small potty run that has dig proof floor and is securely topped with solid roof or woven / welded wire fencing, plus dog door into home. Most dogs who escape are bored and lonely and looking for company of dog or human kind. Bouvier do not tolerate being kept as "backyard dogs". If you are not looking for a housedog, please don't get a Bouv! ( Note : we highly recommend that all gates be kept locked so no one accidentally turns the dog out into the street to be run over. Also collar and phone number tags (plus license and Rabies tags) are essential for your dog's safe return if he should get out ; microchip is a backup ID in addition to the collar and tags.)
EXCERCISE WANTS & NEEDS, NON-EXCERCISE TOLORANCE
DISCUSSION : matching your dog's exercise level with your own preferences and your ability to provide can be an important factor in your enjoyment of each other -- try to avoid serious miss-match. Especially don't get a (c) or (d) if you are not able to ensure sufficient exercise nearly every day -- either doing it yourself or making provision fo another to do it (eg a friend who jogs, a paid dog exerciser, trips to the dog park so you can sit while other dogs play chase games with your dog). Likewise don't get a dog who is (a) a real couch potato, or is elderly or infirm, if you really crave a dog to go jogging with. (Of course every dog will "slow down" with age and you will have to accommodate yourself to this. Likewise be prepared with plans for periods when you might be ill, injured, or otherwise unable to go on walks.)
OBEDIENCE TRAINING (or any specialized training)
DISCUSSION : (a) are rarely available unless the owner has died or some other unusual circumstance. The majority of rescued dogs start out as (c) but some foster homes will work a dog to level (b) or sometimes quite a bit beyond. Bouvier are very smart and very trainable, so you can turn a (c) into an (a) if you are willing to go to class and do your homework. For any specialized training , you probably need to find a teacher who can help you.
With STRANGE ADULTS & CHILDREN :
Generally the same set of descriptions as for behavior with humans within the family. However because in public your dog can and should be on leash (possibly using a halter), you have a lot more control about which people you allow the dog to interact with. So unless the dog is a real "spook", really fearful, or aggressive, you can probably deal with the situation adequately if you use good sense.
With STRANGE DOGS :
Generally the same set of descriptions as for behavior with other dogs in the home. In most public situations except at the fenced off-leash dog park, your dog can and should be on leash (halter?) and thus under your control. Learn to judge other dogs before allowing your dog to interact. Be even more pre-judgmental at the dog park before the leashes come off. If your dog is dog-aggressive in any way, your dog can NOT be off leash with other dogs unless your dog is securely muzzled.
DISCUSSION : most Bouvs are (a) or (b) and thus will work out well for you. (c) are less common and can be a problem if your lifestyle requires dog to be in public a lot. Only an (a) should be considered for disability assistance work or therapy work.
IN THE CAR :
Most Bouvs adore car travel and are easily taught to behave calmly in the car -- usually the foster home will have done this already.
No reputable and responsible rescuer will offer you any dog that is not already spayed or neutered. (The rare exceptions involve medical conditions and an adopter who the rescuer knows is totally trustworthy). If you have another dog or dogs already in your home, the best bet for compatibility is of course a dog of opposite sex --- see section on behavior with other dogs in the home. Otherwise, there are no behavioral differences between a spayed bitch and a neutered male that are consistent and of serious importance for most adopters. Focus instead on the individual's personality.
Generally the younger dogs have been abandoned or surrendered because the former owner failed to give the dog a basic education; these dogs are initially rowdy or ill behaved, but this is readily changeable thru training. Adult and middle aged dogs are more apt to have been surrendered because the owner has had a personal catastrophe; these dogs are often mellow and well behaved. Senior dogs are almost always very sweet, gentle and well behaved, but may have increased needs for health care and of course generally have a lesser amount of life expectancy remaining. Almost everyone who adopts a middle aged or senior dog reports that they treasure the dog and are very glad to have adopted an older dog. (Note: rescue very rarely gets young puppies; if you crave a baby pup and your lifestyle allows you to maintain a reasonable housebreaking and training schedule, then please seek out a reputable and responsible breeder.)
DISCUSSION : Most adopters prefer an (a) or (b), but realistically you must understand that a dog that is an (a) when placed could become a (c) later on -- possibly as soon as next week -- and almost every dog who lives into late geriatric phase will become a (b) or (c) and (d) eventually -- just as every human who lives long enough will do so. Responsible foster homes will fully inform you as to any known health problems. Please remember that even the healthiest dog needs lifelong preventative care and that a few ounces of prevention can be worth a ton of cure. (Note: most rescuers will have already taken care of getting the Rabies and DHLPPv shots and will have tested for heartworm, as well as having gotten the dog spayed or neutered.)
APPEARANCE FEATURES :
Issues of coat color, ears cropped or natural, tail docked or natural, really good-looking or plain or odd-looking will NOT matter to you very much after the first week or two. It is the dog's personality and behavior that will make shared life together a joy or a misery.
PUREBRED or possibly MIXED :
Very few dogs arrive in Rescue with registration papers. Thus it is never a certainty that they are 100% Bouv. If it looks like a Bouv, acts like a Bouv, and smells like a Bouv, then as far as Rescue is concerned, it is sufficiently a Bouv.
There is one very important ADOPTER factor that has not yet been discussed : the degree of training experience, behavioral knowledge, Bouv breed experience, and "alphatude" (pack-leadership qualities) of the members of the adopting family. Please be candid with your rescue interviewer about these factors, and please don't get "bent out of shape" if a foster home tells you that a dog you might like needs a more experienced or more alpha adopter than yourself. We do get dogs who are appropriate for inexperienced homes or for less alphatudinous people.
Please be candid with your interviewer about all personality and lifestyle factors. Responsible rescuers will be extremely candid with you about the characteristics of the dogs available. You should feel free to ask as many questions as you like, including questions about the type and amount of evidence for some characteristic that is of great importance to you -- not every foster person will automatically tell you the extent of the history or testing because they are not used to that sort of evidence weighing attitude. (The author of this piece was trained extensively in both science and law, so that makes for an unusual pattern of analytic thought.) Ideally every rescued dog would have been living as a full-time or part-time housedog in the fosterer's home. Sometimes that's not possible (especially when we are short on foster homes and get too many dogs in at once), and so the dog may have been living in a kennel run or even in a boarding kennel ; if so then the quality of the evaluation and evidence may be less than we'd like.
Most rescue groups will place dogs with the understanding that the initial period is sort of a "try out" period and the dog will be returned and the adoption fee refunded if the placement is unsatisfactory. So unless it's a safety item that is at issue, it can make good sense to try out a dog for whom rescue does not have evidence on some item that is important to you. All responsible rescuers INSIST that if you are ever unwilling or unable to keep the dog, then the rescuer MUST be notified and the dog MUST be returned unless rescuer agrees to some other arrangement that assures the dog of a superb home.
For the majority of adopters the most important characteristics will be
I hope this article has enabled you to identify and prioritize your wishes and needs. If you can go to your rescue contact with your two or three top items clearly identified and with your mind made up to meet any dog who satisfies that short list, then I assure you that within a few months rescue will be able to match you with a dog who will become a treasured member of your family. That's what it's all about!.