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“I want a Saluki. I want a young male cream feathered Saluki who’s in perfect health and fully housebroken, is good with kids and cats, and can be trusted to live inside a four foot fence without trying to escape and be left alone for hours and hours at a time while I work ten hour days. And I want it now.”
Sounds like the perfect dream dog, doesn’t it? Well, a “dream dog” is exactly what the above describes, and not something the adopter of a rescue is likely to encounter. After a long, patient stretch of training, reassuring, and loving they may realize some of the above hopes, but I’ve found that people who apply to be a rescue home often come into the picture with expectations that aren’t very realistic.
Oh, there is nothing wrong with dreaming big, and I’d never want to dissuade a person from their hopes. But someone who expects their dream dog to materialize for them should probably look at sources other than rescue. The Saluki Club of America, on their website (www.salukiclub.org), has links to a very good breeder referral program, where those who wish to find a dream dog can be put in touch with nearby breeders, mentored and educated on the breed, and have a greater hope of eventually purchasing the dog they have hoped for. Even then, the “I want it now” part isn’t likely to happen. Dreams, more than anything else, take patience to bring to reality. I personally waited ten years for my first Saluki, and most people who are now owned by the breed will be able to tell you similar stories.
When a potential adopter applies to rescue, they must do so with reality in mind. The word “rescue” in itself should clue people in to the fact that these dogs probably aren’t going to be perfect. Certainly, some come from loving homes that have fallen on hard times of one sort or other, but many do not. Some come from shelters, from running the street, from abusive situations. The majority of the Salukis who come to STOLA arrive with “baggage in tow” ... some more severe than others. Very few of them are “easy dogs”, and potential adopters must sign their names on their adoption applications with that fact in mind, and perhaps lower their expectations (and raise their patience levels), just a bit.
The first item to tackle in the task of raising patience levels is that “I want it now” thing. Salukis are not a common breed. We don’t always have a large number or wide variety of dogs to select from, and therefore the first thing a person must realize when they apply as a home is that there is an ever growing waiting list ahead of them. Some of our applicants have been on the list for months, years, waiting for the right dog to come along. Add to that the fact that STOLA also focuses hard on rescue prevention. The best way of preventing any dog from finding itself in rescue’s hands again, is to do our very best to place that dog in the right home. Our motto of “The welfare of the dog always comes first” is an effort to try to always keep that priority in mind. For many dogs, this may mean avoiding extensive travel, and therefore we look first at homes that are closer to the dogs' physical location. For another, a priority may be a home with a high stockade fence because the dog has proven an ability to scale wire fencing. Others may have health issues that necessitate a certain level of skill in treating and medicating. Some dogs may be terribly under-socialized and truly need homes with a long histories of Saluki experience. STOLA’s application process, therefore, cannot be on a “first come first served” basis. Each individual dog must be matched with the home that is right for that dog’s needs.
The personality issues listed in the hopeful first paragraph of this article all fall into the patience category as well. Rescued Salukis rarely come with good social skills. Many of them have been through the proverbial mill, and have never had a chance of being well socialized -- or if they were at one time, have forgotten those skills due to their focus on basic survival. No matter what the history of a rescue is, when he comes into your home, treat him as if it were a new born puppy. Put no expectations on him, because chances are if you expect too much, you will be disappointed ... and in many cases, will blame that disappointment on the dog. If your new friend lets you down in the behavior department, the first thought in a new rescue owner’s mind should always be, “Maybe I expected too much of you.” Patience is not just a virtue when it comes to helping a rescued dog settle in ... it’s often a life-protecting necessity.
In addition to looking at the new family member with “new puppy eyes” in theory, the dog must be treated that way in practical application. Educating oneself on puppy housebreaking with positive reinforcement, leash training, and basic obedience is a necessity. Even a dog who was once an obedience champion is going to forget his skills after he has been through a traumatic experience ... and no matter how loved and cared for they are when they come through rescue, being separated from their previous owners and situation has been traumatic. Supervision is a huge key. When you finally receive your new rescued friend into your life, make sure you’ve arranged to have uninterrupted time home with him. Consider it “maternity leave”. Your new dog will not, I can practically guarantee it, settle right in to your home. It’s going to take a period ... sometimes months ... of adjusting before he understands the rules of your home and that he belongs there. Of particular importance in the supervision process is to never let him outside, even in a six foot fenced in yard, unattended for the first six or so weeks. It takes a long time for a new dog to learn that he’s home. Many Salukis have gone right over high fences trying to get back to their owners, because they have no way of understanding, until taught by time, patience and love, that this new place is home.
While much wisdom regarding a rescued dog can be generalized by keeping that one word, “patience”, in mind, one particular pet peeve of mine is housebreaking, so I’d like to close by spending a moment on that particular issue. I’ve so often heard new dog owners complain, “But the shelter told me he was housebroken!” while on hands and knees cleaning up the fifth puddle of the day. Pay attention to the following words, please, hopeful adopters, and ingrain them into your memories:
No Rescue Is Housebroken.
And not just rescues: Even the most well behaved, cleanest, “would not dream of going in the house” dog is not going to be certifiably housebroken in a new situation. At the very base of that many-faceted issue is the fact that no dog comes into a new house knowing where the bathroom is! Even you, when visiting a friend or relative for the first time, have to be shown to the toilet, don’t you? It takes a while for any dog, even one who has always been reliable, to learn where the doors are, what parts of the yard he can go in, and what the schedule for his “outsides” will be. There will almost definitely be accidents along the way. If so, the person to blame is always the owner, never the dog ... he’s only having accidents because he hasn’t been taught yet, by his owner, what is the correct behavior.
Once that teaching commences, with (another word that should be ingrained by now) PATIENCE, and he learns the rules, things will get better. But even then, rescues that have come from more difficult situations, often having reached full maturity without any form of training at all, can have a real problem learning. Problems with housebreaking should be expected with a rescue. If you expect the problems, think of how delighted you will be with the progress toward true housebreaking. If you don’t expect the problems ... or you are in denial about their potential ... you are only setting yourself up to be disappointed.
Being disappointed in the dog, though, is never fair to the dog. Be disappointed in yourself, instead, for having set your expectations too high.
Owning any dog means work, commitment, lots and lots of love, and, yes, Patience. If you have those key components in mind first and foremost, however, and set your expectations accordingly, you will be rewarded with a lifetime of wonderful experiences with your new friend, and be paid back with the unconditional love of a dog who has been removed from adversity and given the chance to blossom. Your Patience Shall Be Rewarded.
Always remember, too, that we at STOLA are here to advise and answer questions, help in training, and give full support to all our adopters. If the above article makes adopting a rescue seem scary, don’t forget that you’re not entering the arena alone. The support council and volunteers of STOLA don’t stop supporting you once the dog is in your home. We’re here for any needs or concerns, and even have an e-mail discussion list, STOLAAngels, set up on the internet for new Saluki owners to come together and receive mentorship.
Housetraining Tips (pdf file)