Many clients of mine have adopted dogs from shelters, and they've found them to be the best dog they've ever owned. Maybe it's because these shelter dogs know they've been rescued, their lives have been saved, and they're grateful and give you their undying devotion. I also have had great experiences adopting from a shelter. Many of the dogs in my family came from animal shelters. And, almost invariably, when I was doing a tremendous number of commercials and movies, the dogs who appeared in these commercials and movies were "shelter" dogs, usually of that renowned breed known as the Great American Mutt, dogs whose lineage is, so to speak, questionable and varied. For instance, I adopted Chelsea, the cutest dog imaginable, with over one hundred different breeds in her, from a shelter. She really was a treasure and one of my most requested dogs in the entertainment industry, shooting countless television shows, commercials, and print ads. (Her resume includes commercials for Mounds, Almond Joy, and Cheerios.) But I was equally (if not more) proud of her work as a therapy dog. Her incredible personality made many of my early pet therapy programs a success.
On the other hand, with shelter dogs the likelihood of emotional "baggage," which manifests behavioral problems, is much greater than with dogs from a reputable breeder. Frankly, oftentimes the reason they end up in shelters in the first place is because of behavioral problems. Shelter personnel will be happy to give you as much information as they have on the dog's history and lineage, but quite often they have very little information to give.
With training applied with patience and persistence, these behavioral problems can often be solved. But, being a professional, it's easier for me to resolve these problems, so if you're thinking of getting a shelter dog, seek out professional trainers or behaviorists to help you. Many shelters nowadays retain trainers on staff to address these potential problems and to be sure that adopted dogs will be well behaved and able to adjust to their new homes, thus breaking that sad cycle of pet abandonment, recycled dogs and overpopulation.
Occasionally, you can find purebred dogs in shelters, as well. This is frustrating because oftentimes these are perfectly good dogs but not a good match for their owners. Often, the owners have given the dogs up to the shelters because of their unfamiliarity with breed-specific traits, instinctive traits that the owners perceive as bad behavior.
One final word in favor of those Great American Mutts that predominate in shelters. Cross-breeding often creates a stronger gene pool, resulting in fewer genetic problems. It can also create adorable one-of-a-kind dogs (just like Benji), which is why the mutt remains a popular favorite in films, television, and commercials. And, since mixed breeds tend to be savvy and street smart, they can often be easily trained. Many clients who have always owned purebreds, but for one reason or another ended up with an adopted pet, swear that a dog who is rescued is the most devoted, affectionate, grateful pet on the planet. It's a gratifying experience to take an animal into a new and loving home
Bash Dibra, author of Your Dream Dog: A Guide to Choosing the Right Breed for You, is an internationally acclaimed animal behaviorist and trainer. His celebrity clients include Martin Scorsese, Jennifer Lopez, Sarah Jessica Parker, Mariah Carey, Kim Basinger, Alec Baldwin and Naomi Campbell, among others. He is a member of the Bronx County Kennel Club, as well as the Animal Behavior Society, the ASPCA and the Humane Society of New York, and is on the board of directors of New York SAVE, a nonprofit organization devoted to saving animals in veterinary emergency. Bash is a recipient of the New York State Humane Association Award and the New York City Veterinary Medical Association Unsung Hero Award. He resides in Riverdale, New York, with six dogs, four cats and a bird.
Reprinted from Your Dream Dog: A Guide to Choosing the Right Breed for You by Bash Dibra © 2003 Permission granted by New American Library