Interviewing Prospective Dog Owners

If you are fostering a dog, it is important to screen out owners who will not provide a quality life. We can foresee how a dog’s life will be by asking, listening to, and personally observing the prospective owners concerning the way they view physical contact with the dog and the frequency they expect to provide; the way they touch and handle dogs; whether their interactions are soothing; whether they encourage dogs to engage in social interactions; the kind of effort they describe or show they will invest including finances to provide materials, training, play, and life exposure experiences; their views on dog training, behavior and house rules; where the dog is expected to stay and sleep; the number and types of people in the home, including visitors; and the frequency and intensity of the expression of positive or negative feelings about dog ownership. If you perceive they find dog ownership to be a burden, then the dog will surely be neglected. Finally, ask them what kind of good things and frustrations they expect to have with a new dog.

Put them in front of a nice dog and see how they interact. Test them. Are they kind and attentive? Does the dog like them or try to avoid them? Try this with several dogs, they will pick up on things you can’t. Ask them to interpret how each dog is feeling, especially when interacting. Give them a few simple problems and ask them how they would deal with them: house soiling, jumping on guests, being on furniture, barking, pulling on a leash, and not coming when called.

This topic came up recently regarding a potential dog adoption. From the application, several concerns vividly popped up.

They wanted the dog to be an outside dog. That just won’t work in Phoenix. All dogs are cuddlers and do well with their people. What good is it for a dog to live in a yard? What kind of a life is that? Go live in a yard for a year and tell me how that works out for you. Dogs aren’t cattle or sheep, and you don’t have cattle or sheep, and you aren’t probably adopting a proper flock guard dog for your ranch. Furthermore, many dogs will become way too territorial, and potentially dangerous, by letting them guard the yard. If the dog gets out, it won’t be good. It is also unreasonable to expect an outdoor dog to not bark at all times of the day and night, while you are inside your air conditioned/ heated home while they are left alone to do nothing outside. Plus, over the next week (as I write this article), temperatures are going to go from 111 ° F to 114 ° F. Dogs should not be forced to handle that kind of heat: they have a good chance of dying, even in the shade. And don’t give me the fiction that dogs are just fine outdoors. They are not. Flock guarding dogs aren’t kept outside in 110 ° F weather, or to exist in pouring rain or in freezing temperatures, either. That excuse of the lazy neglectful dog owner has worn out its welcome.

Furthermore, I researched their home. The yard has no shade, no grass. What’s the dog supposed to do out there? I also know this dog previously had a skin condition because of stress. Stress can cause the production of histamines, which is why a lot of rescued dogs have pink itchy skin when you get them.

Finally, because I have met this dog, I know he will bond closely. When I met him in his previous foster home, he was already showing separation anxiety towards the wife. That can only be worked out if the dog develops a stress-free safe attachment to his new home and owners.

Other factors to evaluate can be very subtle. I look at how the family members relate to one another, the condition and age of any dog toys they might have, what happened to their last dog, and several other small details that can reveal how the dog is going to be treated. Do a home visit. Where will the dog sleep? Where will the dog potty? Where will the food be stored and what kind will be fed? What are the other pets in the home like? Undesirable responders will tend to recommend punishment as a first resort.

Good rescues get good at screening out the better homes from the not so good homes. There are a lot of things to consider, and the more you do this, the red flags will become more readily apparent. The last thing you want as a rescue is to place a dog into a horrible home. So, start with a written application, do an in-person interview, get a second opinion from someone who doesn’t feel the need to place that dog in a new home (sometimes rescues get so desperate that they will ignore the obvious warning signs), and do a home visit. Have them put up a security deposit on some dog lessons in advance. Get references.

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