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Old 01-16-2013, 03:46 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Evaluating Shelter GSD?

I'm new to the forum, but not to GSDs, having previously found/adopted a byb GSD with multiple temperament issues (separation anxiety, and similar, but nothing big). Turned out to be a great dog with a little work. He died happy at 13+.

I may be in position to consider a shelter GSD. What kinds of tests can I do in that limited environment to suss out behavioral issues? I know the shelter wouldn't offer him unless he passed some minimal testing, but I'd like to focus our time together on evaluating him for typical GSD issues to determine how big a project he might be. I understand even a good GSD may be aloof and untrusting during an initial interview, so I need to dig a little deeper than that.

Thanks for any help.
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Old 01-16-2013, 03:55 PM   #2 (permalink)
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You might want to go with a rescue who will have assessed the dog, often as it lives in their own home.
What state are you in?
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Old 01-16-2013, 04:25 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Hi there,

Welcome to the forum!

One option you may want to consider is becoming a foster volunteer. You can be upfront and tell the shelter/rescue that you would like a foster-to-adopt situation. In any event, fostering is a great way to get to know a dog. And, if it turns out not to be a good fit for your household, well, you are still helping the dog find the right home for him/her.

I should tell you that some rescues/shelters do not have formal "foster-to-adopt" programs. But, most will give the foster the first option to adopt if they decide that is what they want.
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Old 01-16-2013, 08:00 PM   #4 (permalink)
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It can be really difficult to get an accurate evaluation done on this breed while they are still in a shelter environment. In general, they just don't do well and mentally start to shut down. As a result, some behaviors are somewhat masked.

During the years that I worked as a foster program coordinator for a large humane society, I was able to observe GSDs in the shelter itself. Then, after taking them home to foster, I could compare the temperament/training evaluations done in the shelter with what I actually saw living with the dog. There was often a very big difference.

I have seen this breed respond to no commonly used obedience commands while in the shelter, only to get them home and "de-stressed" and find them to actually be well trained.

It is just really hard to get a real feel for what you will end up with when they are still in a shelter. Poor things can just kind of disappear inside themselves.

A rescue that has their dogs in foster homes for a minimum of 3-4 weeks is the best bet.
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Old 01-16-2013, 09:53 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Thanks to all for the useful comments, all of which make sense with this breed. [Here comes a little rescue rant - apologies in advance, and no offense intended to msvette2u in case she is a rescuer] Re: Rescues - As detailed by others in the excellent thread re: giving up on rescues due to their seeming over-process, I, too, find their process daunting and confining. While the shelter wants a 1 page application, the Seattle area rescues want 6 pgs of info, some of it personal (name/address of employer, etc.). I appreciate that they've been misled by others who've misrepresented their circumstance, and that a rescuer's effort is a labor of love, etc. Rescues seem to insist on a fully-fenced yard, but mine is only partially fenced to permit the deer to move through. The fenced portion is there to prevent an excited dog from running to "greet" other dogs that walk by on the street (little to no traffic, and what there is slow on this dead-end street). I've owned the property for 17 years and have had 3 permanent dogs, as well as multiple foster dogs, living in the house and using the yard without incident. I've never lost a dog because I don't let them off-leash until they're ready, a timing I've learned from lots of experience, including fostering dogs for 20+ years. I've obedience-trained many dogs, including some problem children. How do I adequately communicate that level of dog awareness to a well-meaning but previously fooled rescue person via a 6 pg questionaire that is prefaced with "all yards must be fully fenced or no adoption"? I'm placed in the position of taking time and effort to plead my case (and possibly lose it) to someone who may have less experience with dogs than I do. Sure it's doable, but it's a lengthy, time-consuming, potentially frustrating process of which the shelter's is a mere fraction for the same result. I've got $$ to get a sweet puppy or young adult from any one of several qualified breeders within 50 miles of my house (very lucky in Washington state). In fact, I'm going do just that, along with the shelter dog, if that works out. Those breeders will be able to accurately size me up as a possible puppy purchaser in 15 minutes by talking to me without a questionaire, and they'll accurately match my needs/abilities to the proper puppy based on their own experience. The rescues, however, state they will match me with one of their rescue dogs based on their determination of the best fit as set forth in the questionaire (and other input, I'm sure). Frankly, when I consider a rescue dog, it's because I've seen a particular one I want (based on appearance, as well as the description provided). I don't want to take additional time/energy to also plead my case as to why I don't want one of the other dogs. The rescues may have their own reasons for promoting one of the other dogs. If I'm not appropriate for the dog I'm interested in, tell me - I can take it, but telling me up front in the application process that you'll pick my ADULT dog for me is enough to make me not want to undertake the burdensome process. It sounds like I'm arrogant, imperious, etc., but I'm really not. Getting a good dog is part of my life and I'm willing to devote reasonable effort/time to the process. Happy to provide the vet references, home visit, video, pictures of past happy dogs, etc., but I'm not prepared to be judged on whether my yard is fully fenced, nor to be told which homeless dog in need of a home is best for me after I've expressed interest in a particular dog. Has any of this happened to me? Not yet, and maybe the rescue process is less cumbersome than their questionaire and edicts make it appear. For the time being, however, I'm looking at the shelter and to professional breeders to fill my 2 slots. Re: Fostering the shelter dog - that's a good idea, especially if they'd give me the right of first refusal if someone else expressed interest. I'd hate the idea of getting attached and having to give it up. We fostered a death row pitbull that we just had to adopt. Her death, after 14 years, is what has opened the 2 slots for GSDs. I've written the shelter to ask if they'd xray their dog's hips/elbows and let me know the results. No response, so I'll have to call. Even the shelter's a bit of a process. :] Thanks again for the helpful responses.
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Old 01-16-2013, 10:16 PM   #6 (permalink)
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And my apologies for the large block of text. I added returns to designate paragraphs, but they didn't take.
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Old 01-16-2013, 10:22 PM   #7 (permalink)
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How do you do it? Well, you vent your frustrations here (see! you have a good start) then you just buck up and do it and hope for the best. That is, fill out the application, explain yourself, attach map and photos if you want, submit it. Like applying for jobs, schools or a loan (or a dog club for that matter), the applicant thinks they are a good match. The employer, university or loan officer may disagree. Yup, the applications are a lot of work and there is no guarantee of acceptance.
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Old 01-16-2013, 10:46 PM   #8 (permalink)
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My public shelter's application for a GSD is 6 pages, asks for your employer name and contact info, and for permission to verify employment (to assure financial ability to care for a large, expensive-to-maintain dog)-- as well as personal and vet references. We even contact landlords of renters to verify permission to have a dog, if the adopter doesn't own the property.

I helped the shelter model our current application on a rescue app (and had a rescue help us with it) because we were getting a lot of returned GSDs. We needed to reduce the return rate by helping shelter staff make better decisions on homes, and for that, they needed better information. With the new app, our return rate has plummeted, and we're adopting more dogs than ever (into better homes!).

I get that it's a burden. I get that it rubs some people the wrong way. Once you see what we see with prospective adopters wanting to keep dogs on chains in unfenced yards, and worse, adopters lying about every aspect of the home they'll provide, you'll understand why the process is daunting.

Fencing requirements vary by rescue. Some are sticklers about it and won't budge. Some prefer it but will be flexible depending on the home. If the one you are talking to is a stickler, move on to a different rescue or shelter. If one wants to pick the dog for you and won't budge on that, move on to one that will let you apply for a particular dog -- many will!

Also, if you want the shelter to do X-rays, you might consider offering to pay the shelter's cost for them, if your shelter is like most (barely staying afloat due to chronic underfunding). I honestly think our shelter would ignore an adopter who asked for x-rays -- they don't even have the equipment to do it at the shelter, and if they did, they wouldn't be able to afford to take xrays for a non-emergency. When a dog comes in after a car accident, we literally have to do volunteer chip ins sometimes to get money together to get it x-rays at a local vet who will do it at a discount for the shelter. There's simply no money for it in the shelter budget here. It is another reason for you to foster, though, as you could pay to have your own vet take the x-rays....

Last edited by Magwart; 01-16-2013 at 10:56 PM.
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Old 01-16-2013, 11:14 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Back to your original question about testing at the shelter...

Take high value treats, and a kong. Plan to spend an afternoon. Get the dog out and go for a walk to clear the dog's head a bit. Sit with it for a while. Play some games in a fenced yard. Don't rush it, give it time.

I can usually get the shutdown, lonely, depressed ones to start opening up this way. I won't get a fully accurate personality read, but I'll start to see some glimmers of who they are after a long afternoon together. They'll always be holding a lot back in the shelter environment, but I usually will see a few flashes of what's lurking beneath the surface. That is what you are looking for.

I usually get better and better reads the more I see them -- after several visits, more trust develops and they'll give me more. A puppy might start to tentatively nibble a finger for example -- that tells me that once it gets home and comfortable, it's likely going to be mouthy (I've had a few fosters like that--a few tentative nibbles at the shelter were the sign that foreshadowed a little landshark waiting to get comfortable enough to put its mouth on everything).

Try to be very cognizant of subtle clues like that -- the glimmers of the real self, underneath the shelter depression.
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Old 01-16-2013, 11:37 PM   #10 (permalink)
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The rescue we got Tasha from and where I volunteer at times... has a 3 page application form. I did not feel uncomfortable answering any of the questions asked unlike some of the other rescue applications. They do not ask for social security numbers or long invasive questions on philosophies of raising a puppy. They do ask for a vet reference and questions about other pets in household being spayed and neutered.
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