Ten Reasons Why Your Next Sport Dog Should Be A Rescue

group post by Kelsey, Michelle, Rebecca and Sarah

This is a post directed at sport people: we’re talking people who tried out dog sports at some point for fun, got bitten by the bug and are now thinking about their next dog(s) with sports in mind (we’re talking to you because we are you: please see our most recent puppy post for confirmation!) This is also a post where we’re going to encourage you to consider adopting a rescue* to be your next sport dog. But before we get to the post, we want to make sure a few things are clear:

*When we say ‘rescue’, we’re using it as a catch-all term for dogs who are adopted from a shelter or private rescue, dogs who are found stray and some dogs who are privately rehomed [i.e. you got your dog from the mean, dog-hating guy who lives down the street]. We’re NOT talking about the  “I Consider Him A Rescue” types, who annoy us.

1) We’re not anti-breeder or anti-purebred/purpose-bred dogs here. One of our members is a fantastic AmStaff breeder (Merissa, of Gekko Staffs), another member has breeding ambitions down the road, and several of our members do conformation and are involved heavily in the world of their breed.  Our own dogs are both purpose-bred and rescued: some of us have both. We know that there are tons of cool things about getting a dog who has been carefully and deliberately bred, and this post is not here to knock those dogs or the people producing them. This is simply to remind you that there are also tons of cool things about rescue dogs, and to make a case that they should be considered with the same seriousness as a purpose-bred puppy.

2) We’re not going to spend a lot of time dwelling on the sad plight of shelter dogs in this post, because you’re a smart person and you already know that.  Yes, we wish that every dog had a home. No, we’re not going to tell you you should adopt a dog because you feel guilty about the situation of shelter dogs. No SPCA/Sarah McLaughlin/sad pictures here. We want you to adopt a rescue dog because you think that dog is amazing and can go head to head with any dog you could buy.

3) We are big competitive jerks pragmatists who enjoy winning, too. We’re not making a ‘The Best Q Is a Res-Q’ claim here. We like ribbons, we’re ambitious, we want to play at a high level. We think you can do that with a rescue dog (just ask TU’s Katie, whose dog Luce (aka ARCHX Siren’s Eleusinian Mystery CD CD-H RA RL3 RLV RL2X RL1X CGC TT) was the first American Pit Bull Terrier to ever be ranked nationally in APDT Rally.  Just ask Wallace.)

So bearing all that in mind, here are ten reasons why we think your next sport dog should be a rescue.

#1) An average owner’s “much too much” is often a sport person’s dream dog:
I volunteer at a local shelter (the shelter that, in fact, produced both my Superpuppy Widget and Sarah’s genius nose work baby, River.) I have volunteered at a lot of different shelters, actually, and I am going to tell you the same thing that everyone who’s ever been involved with a shelter will tell you: shelter dogs generally do not get surrendered because they’re ‘bad’. This is not propaganda: it is an absolutely true fact that has consistently been my experience in shelters.  The dogs who are surrendered to us are nearly always surrendered for human reasons: people lose their houses and have to radically change their living situation, owners die, people move and can’t handle the hassle of bringing their dogs along, people have babies and all the sudden can’t manage the needs of the dog and the new kid, etc. We get a lot of strays in and we get a very small number of dogs with medical issues the owners can’t deal with (frequently either the dog or human has allergies).  These circumstances, I would say, comprise about 85% of the dogs we get in.  The rest are surrendered for ‘behavioral reasons’ (we file all the dogs we get in whose owners say they ‘just don’t have time’ or ‘can’t give him what he needs’ as ‘behavioral’ dogs.)  These are the ones I want to talk about.

DSC03654

Case in point: this is Mariposa, who was a behavioral surrender at my shelter (fence climber!) Fast, focused, smart, toy-driven, gorgeously put together, lives to train, great hiking buddy, ~16 months old and clearly about to maul my face off. [She's been adopted, and I am totally jealous of her new parents.]

Dogs surrendered for behavioral reasons are nearly always surrendered because there was a mismatch between the owner’s needs/abilities/time and the dog’s needs. We are not talking about dogs who go on mauling sprees in the local park: we are talking about under-stimulated teenagers. ‘Behavioral’ dogs are nearly always dogs who’ve been surrendered for classic ‘bored dog’ behaviors: they bark, they dig, they jump fences looking for adventure, they make up jobs for themselves.  The vast majority of behavioral surrenders we get are very athletic, adolescent dogs, frequently from high drive, working breeds (if you’re looking for an intense, year-old cattle dog, there is nearly always one in my current shelter; the shelter I worked at before this one was lousy with bored teenage Labs).  A lot of the pit bulls you’ll see in shelters fall into this category: they are teenagers, they are active, they are strong, and they desperately want something to do.  This is a bad thing for people who aren’t especially dog-savvy, don’t have experience with training and/or the time to do things right.  But for a sport person? Whole different story.  Many of the dogs who are turned in for being “too wild” are between 10-18 months old (an excellent age to get started in sports), are bouncy and playful, are frequently very toy-driven and object-oriented (see: “he keeps stealing my shoes!”), are athletic and are nearly always DYING for some kind of outlet for their smart brains and strong bodies. Which is to say they are the ideal candidates for a sport household. I see sport people spending two grand on sport mixes all the time: I am not anti-sport mix by any means, nor am I anti-(good) breeder, but in general, when these people tell me the qualities that they are hoping for in a dog (and are ready to pay big bucks for), I think about my shelter and can usually think of five dogs right off the bat who would meet/exceed their needs.  The dogs at the shelter generally haven’t had much training–that is why they are IN the shelter, usually–but you’d be training your purpose-bred sport puppy anyway, right? And isn’t working together with your dog and training behaviors kind of the point?

Real talk: my puppy Widget was adopted by a couple in their 90s who returned her ten weeks later because she was a bitey little monster who never stopped moving.  She is a really high-drive dog who is a mix of two very intense breeds and has no off-switch: she would be hell for, like, 90% of families who just want a dog to hang out with. I, however, wanted a working dog with good focus who could do a billion different sports with me, and though she isn’t a perfect dog, she’s a perfect dog for me. [Kelsey]

#2) An adult rescue is ready to go!  I will admit it. I’m not keen on puppies, either adopting or purchasing from a reputable breeder. I don’t want the house training and time commitment and the worries about what their adult personality is going to be like and what if I screw them up for life because I took them someplace and some dog attacked them and Oh my God what have I done? Ok ok, needless to say, puppies scare me. So I adopted my dog as an adult (around 2 years old). As a sport dog, I found one big advantage to starting with an adult: She was ready to go right away. With puppies, you have to be careful of their growing bodies and so you cannot start weave training until they’re adults, you can’t jump them full height until they’re adults. You can do a lot of foundation training, but in some ways you’re slightly held back from doing it all until your puppy has become an adult. With Dahlia, we started jumping her at low heights (8-12 inches) as soon as we pulled jumps out whereas the puppies who were in class with us were on “jump bumps.” If I had started with a dog with some drive instead of having to build that drive (this comes not from being an adult, but from her personality), we could have advanced much faster than we did. My next dog will most certainly be an adult and will be chosen with his/her drive in mind. I’ll be ready to get started right away!  [Michelle]

#3) Cost: Let’s be real. None of us are made of money, right? Well, you might be, I don’t know you. I’m not, though. I’m a student on a pretty limited income that has to cover a lot of expenses, and “dog stuff” just can’t outrank other priorities like, you know, rent, food and transportation. When I started thinking about my next performance dog, I started scrimping and saving because I figured I was going to pay out BIG TIME for our next puppy. I had my eye on a Bostom Terrier, which is a pretty pricey breed to begin with – around here, a pup from a responsible breeder will run at least $1,500, and that’s about half what the going rate is in nearby states (I saw a few breeders wanting upwards of $3,000 for show-prospect pups!). Still, I had resigned myself to forking over that kind of cash for what I thought I wanted – this specific breed, properly health tested, all that good stuff. “You get what you pay for,” I told myself as I mourned my hard-earned savings account balance. Things Happened, though, as they tend to do when you’re working with animals, and both litters of Bostons that I spent a year waiting for turned out to be a no-go. The breedings just didn’t take. Frustrated by the whole process of wait-lists and huge expenses and crushed by the disappointment, I abandoned my search for a high-end purebred and decided to adopt a dog in need instead. I could do everything I wanted to do, performance-wise, with a mixed breed dog. The only thing I’d miss out on was the show ring, and that didn’t really bother me. So I turned to PetFinder, combing the listings of small/medium-sized dogs up to one year old with those funny buzz-phrases like “I will need a lot of exercise!”, “I have lots of energy!”, “I will make you regret ever even thinking about adopting a dog!” (Okay, they don’t say that in the PetFinder ads, but sometimes you can tell the rescues are thinking it.) I found Fly at a nearby county animal shelter, drove out there, handed over $200 and walked out with her that same day. She was spayed, had been fully vet-checked, was up-to-date with her vaccinations, and they could tell me she was dog- and human-friendly and would make a great agility dog. I dropped a little more cash on new crates, toys, collars, leashes and treats, but it didn’t come anywhere close to what I would have spent on the Boston puppy after all of her puppy vet work was done. I ended up keeping my savings account intact, getting a great little performance prospect, and saving the life of this adorable, affectionate little JackPit. Doesn’t get better than that!  [Rebecca]

nutmeg

Hello, we are some awesome ACD/border collie puppies from an accidental litter who are currently at Kelsey’s shelter. Our parents are friendly with humans and other dogs and both work full time herding livestock on adjoining ranches. We cost $85, including all our shots and eventual spay/neuter. Beat that, sport mixes!

#4) What you see is (pretty much) what you get: When you buy a puppy from a good breeder, one of the big things you are paying money for is hope: you have an ideal dog in mind, and you hope that the combination of their breed and their parents’ specific genes will produce the outlines of the dog you want. And then you get the puppy, and you work as hard as you can to shape them into that ideal dog, and then, a couple years into it, you take a step back and see what the combination of efforts and genetics have left you with.

If you adopt an adult dog*, however, you have a good sense of what you’re getting right off the bat. Yes, rescue dogs tend to relax after about a month in your home and you start seeing more of their ‘true colors’, but you can tell a TON of stuff about a rescue dog before you’ve even signed any papers. You can see how toy- and food-motivated they are, how handler-focused, how drivey (with the caveat that arousal is not the same thing as drive), their attention span and a whole bunch of other things. And there are a lot of structural things that are visible in an adult dog that aren’t visible in a baby puppy: my shelter, for example, will let you take a dog you’re considering adopting to your vet so you can get films of hips/elbows/etc., plus you can see their adult gait, have them evaluated by somebody sport-knowlegeable, and so on.  When you’re getting a baby puppy from a breeder, you’re hoping that the structural soundness of their lines will be an indicator that your puppy will be equally sound, but any good breeder will tell you that sometimes you’ll get pups who are wonky even if soundness runs in the family (those same good breeders will generally offer you a replacement puppy).  But with an adult rescue, you can actually look at a lot of different vectors and gauge their soundness with more clarity than you can with any baby dog. [Kelsey]

*and yes, you could adopt a puppy from a shelter just as you could buy a started, older dog from a breeder. But generally speaking, breeders tend to have primarily puppies available and shelters usually have more teenagers/adults than puppies.

b10

Hi, I’m Butchie. I am obsessed with fetch, polite on leash and run like an amazing baby deer. My ears are magnificent and just….go that way. I am a touch straight in the back, but all of my films have come back looking pretty good, and my bloodwork looks great. I get tense around large dogs, and I am allergic to corn. If you adopt me, none of those things will be a surprise.

#5) Waiting period: there isn’t one! I will admit it, I am not a patient person all the time. Especially when it comes to bringing home a new dog – the thought of waiting months or years makes me want to cry. Good breeders typically have extremely long waiting lists because they may only have a single litter every year (or every few years!), and often they may not even have the perfect sport prospect for you in that one litter, so you will need to wait longer. That sounds like TORTURE to me! Don’t get me wrong, I think a purposely bred dream dog is worth waiting for… if that’s what you want and you have your heart set on a certain breed from a certain breeder, I say go for it! However, if you are open to rescue dogs, there are thousands in your nearby shelters and rescues just waiting for you to come evaluate them for sports. Many shelters have same day adoptions and even with the majority of rescues the longest waiting period is typically a few days.

From the time I first saw River in her shelter kennel to the minute Kelsey and I put her in my car was about… two hours. I went from “wow, this puppy is fantastic!” to “… this is my new puppy! I shall name her River!” in that short time frame. Now, granted, I am not telling you to run out and make a snap decision about a new dog (like I did! ha!) but timing is important. If you are ready to bring in a new sport dog, why wait? With the help of websites like Petfinder.com, it is so easy to quickly browse through potential dogs and make a list of who you would like to go see for a meet and greet.   [Sarah]

#6) Funky good looks:

I'm funky and I know it.

I’m funky and I know it.

Look, I’ve been around, okay? Around. I’ve seen some dogs, man, I’ve seen some dogs. Hanging out at UKC events is awesome because you see not only the standard fare – Border Collies, Goldens, Poodles, Labs – but a lot of rare breeds, too. I feel like every time I go to a UKC event, I meet a breed I’ve never heard of before. A few years ago it was the Portuguese Podengo; recently, it’s the Berger Picard. This year, I saw a dog I’d heard of before but never seen: the Thai Ridgeback (cool dogs!). Still, whenever I find myself whipping around and thinking “What is that?!”, it’s usually some sort of funky-cool mixie with all the best traits of his motley pedigree. There’s something about rag-tag mixes that just draws the eye and I get a special joy from watching them compete. Sitting by the obedience or agility rings, sometimes the dogs start to blend together – there’s Aussie after Aussie after Aussie, a gaggle of black-and-white Border Collies, the expected throngs of German Shepherds, Malinois and Tervuren. They’re regal and gorgeous, yeah, but so is the next one, and the next one… Give me the stubby-legged long-dog with bat-ears and five different colors of fur any day!  [Rebecca]

Check out these funky-looking adoptables - all available on PetFinder right now!

Check out these funky-looking adoptables – all available on PetFinder right now!

#7)  Rescues’ conformation can be GREAT for sports!: I adore Australian Cattle Dogs. Before I got River, I was absolutely set on the idea that a female ACD was what I wanted for my next sport dog. I looked at a lot of local and not so local breeders just to browse around and while I love the heavier boned and squared off dudes, their body types are not always well suited to higher impact sports like agility and flyball. River’s breeding – random high drive working Cattle Dogs living on a ranch, most likely – made a dog who is leaner and lighter than your average AKC registered ACD. She moves effortlessly and has pretty great structure. This isn’t an anomaly, either! So many rescues in shelters and foster homes are magically built well for sports. If you know what to look for and spend some time putting your hands on different dogs, you can find a rescue who will be brilliantly suited for your chosen game. Adopting an adult means it is even easier to see right away what you will get conformation wise, but don’t discount a nice puppy either!   [Sarah]

Left: This is River (with Owen the Cardigan and another little buddy). Right:  This is the stock photo that the AKC uses to illustrate the conformation-bred ACD on their site. Different, right?

 

#8) Improving Your Own Skills: I don’t want to say that purpose-bred sport puppies are easy: anyone who’s ever had one can tell you that a LOT of work goes into harnessing their nuclear reactor-like energy and Ferrari-like precision.  What I am saying, though, is if you buy a puppy from a long line of dogs bred specifically for, say, flyball, you will probably end up with a puppy who has maniacal toy drive, an inborn desire to retrieve and a slightly obsessive personality.  This is fine–this is, in fact, one of the major reasons WHY people buy puppies specifically for flyball.  However, having a puppy who just naturally does the kinds of things you’re hoping for means that it’s really easy to just skip a lot of the foundational work that, to begin with, teaches you a lot about the mechanics of your sport and also, teaches you a ton about your specific dog and her motivations.

Nellie tug

Believe it or not, this took a while.

For example: Nellie, my flyball dog, is….not from a long line of dogs bred for their toy drive and speed and exquisite handling. Nellie is a BYB pit bull who spent the first ten months of her life outside on a chain.  She didn’t have much toy drive when I got her (which I knew, which was fine), and so once I started thinking about sports with her, I built a retrieve from the ground up, and worked to build her interest in toys.  In the process, I learned a ton about how to channel her energy, how to motivate her in different circumstances and how to get exactly the kind of behaviors around toys that I wanted. She’s now a dog who will chase a ball until her feet fall off, and she loves tugging as much as any dog I know; she also has a bunch of other things that she’ll work for, all of which I discovered in the process of getting her interested in toys.  This is very helpful in real-life situations: I have definitely run into people in class who show up with their new dog and a tug, and are shocked when he’s too overstimulated by the class setting to tug with them. “He’s been tugging since he was born, and also, he is a border collie and that is what border collies are supposed to do! His parents will ALWAYS tug!”  Nellie is also easily overstimulated by class, but we did enough foundational motivation work that I can usually find good ways to keep her up and focused on me regardless of what’s happening.  Also, the fact that she hasn’t been obsessively chasing balls since I brought her home because HER BRAIN SAYS SHE HAS TO OMGGGG(!!) is, in my mind, a good thing: she can keep her brain in her head when toys are around, and her built-from-scratch retrieve means that the ball she brings back always ends up in my hand (hence, we’ve never had a problem with her spitting the ball halfway down the lane).  The extra training we did means that a) I know more about the mechanics of flyball than I did before, and b) we never have to hope that her instinct ‘just kicks in’: our training has allowed us a good level of precision.

Also, if the idea of “yay, extra training!” doesn’t do it for you, you absolutely can find rescue dogs who are instinctively maniacal around toys  For example, let me introduce you to my bad baby cattlejack.   [Kelsey]

#9) Adopting the Unadoptable Dog: Active, energetic dogs don’t fare too well in shelters. Staff have limited time to exercise all the dogs waiting for homes, and those runs and cages aren’t too spacious. After a few days of waiting, even moderately-active dogs might be climbing the walls in boredom. As a potential adopter walks down the aisles, how many of them seriously consider the leaping ball of frantic energy when there might be a quieter, less energetic, um, more polite dog in the next run over? Unfortunately, what makes some rescues ideal performance prospects makes them practically unadoptable to most people just looking for a good family pet who’ll hold down the couch during the workday and relax at their feet at night. My Fly was at the shelter for months before I found her. She was adopted once and returned days later for being “too much dog.” I look at her now and laugh – too much dog? I guess my threshold for “too much dog” is set higher than others, because she’s exactly the right amount of dog for me. I wish that more performance competitors would consider adopting an active dog so that the number of suitable homes for these dogs would increase! Rescue dogs might need a little bit of remedial manners work, maybe a bit of a refresher on things like leash walking and appropriate greeting behavior, but this time is a drop in the bucket compared to the many years of partnership they can offer.  [Rebecca]

Too much dog, you say?

Too much dog, you say?

#10) That sense of accomplishment that comes from overcoming their issues. Dahlia was a quiet, sweet dog, but she had obviously been controlled to within an inch of her life and had a complete lack of confidence. She wouldn’t get on furniture. She didn’t bark. She was worried about going into different rooms of the house. She shut down if you accidentally ran into her. She may have ultimately been the perfect family dog because she was the perfect example of that horrible thing called “being calm submissive” but she wasn’t a happy dog who was willing to try new things. Agility class opened her up, gave her a chance to shine, and gave me a chance to show her that the worst thing that would happen to her when she screwed up was that we’d have to go back and try it again. So when I see her out there in agility class or at trials doing it, I feel so proud. I feel like we’ve come so far from the dog she was when we got her back in 2008. And so even though other people might not be able to see it, since they don’t know her, I feel such a great sense of accomplishment, that I could turn this somewhat sad dog with no confidence into a dog willing to give it her all.  [Michelle]

Finally, we thought we’d take an incredibly unscientific survey on our Facebook group: we asked people to tell us about their rescued dogs who’ve titled in some sport venue and we got a great set of responses.

Nancy has two rescued pit bulls adopted as adults from county shelters.  They both have flyball titles (one has an FMCH, one is just starting out and has her FM).

Martha and her (deaf!) dog Moo (adopted from Last Day Dog Rescue) got their Nosework 1 title on their very first time out (thanks to Lynn, whose dog also competed in that trial, for the tip!)

Jen‘s dog Pongu is more formally known as ARCHX TDCH Pongu the Insane, RL1X2, RL2X and is from Morris Animal Refuge in Philadelphia, PA.  He does tricks as well as rally and this is the impressive list of all his titles: Novice Trick Dog, Intermediate Trick Dog, Expert Trick Dog, Trick Dog Champion; RL1 (AOE), RL2 (AOE), RL1X, RL1X2, RL2X, ARCH, ARCHX (and they’re working on their RL3 right now!) [oh, and to see him and his (also rescued) brother Crookytail (RL1 NTD) in action, go here and here: I laughed until I about cried when I saw these).

Crystal‘s dog Pallo (aka Pallo the Viking, CGC, FM, TF-2, CA) came from Linn County Dog Control in Albany, Oregon. With all of his titles listed, he is Pallo the Viking, CGC, FD, FDX, FDCh, FDCh-S, FDCh-G, FM, TF, TF-1, TF-2, CA.

Not only is Duncan (SPGD Pretty Boy Floyd)  Flona’s public access service dog, he also has his RL1, CD and CGC, along with an Expert Trick Dog title. Duncan came from Wayside Waifs.

Jennifer‘s dogs, Cricket and Bailey, both have CGCs and are tearing up the DOCNA agility field right now: Cricket is officially Union Hall Dance Night (Cricket), CGC, C-BAA and Bailey, who’s just finished Level 1 in DOCNA, is officially Union Hall Be Bop Bailey, CGC, TBAD.

And that’s just the results from the handful of people who happened to see one Facebook post on one specific day. There’s nothing to stop you from having the same kind of success with your own rescued dog!

14 thoughts on “Ten Reasons Why Your Next Sport Dog Should Be A Rescue

  1. Pongu has his RL3 with another Award of Excellence (three for three!) now. I think we got it about a week after that Facebook post, although I could be off on that by a bit.

    It is probably worth noting that just about any other rescue dog on Earth would/should be able to accomplish more than Pongu has, given that he is actually insane. I think ingrained/genetic fear is one of the hardest things for a competition dog to overcome (not that there aren’t a ton of other obstacles out there to choose from), and Pongu’s about as fearful as they get, so… no excuses!

    There really is something to be said for the satisfaction of succeeding with a Problem Dog, and I do think it’s tremendously helpful to have those examples out there for people struggling with their own Problem Dogs. IT CAN BE DONE.

    …but man, it’s a ton of work, and not a path I’d advocate for anyone who knows from the get-go that they want a sport dog, vs. happening to fall into sports with a dog they already have. Happily, there are tons of other shelter dogs that are issue-free and just need a directed outlet for their energy, as you so rightly point out. :)

  2. While I agree with this post in if it applies to adult dogs, adopting rescue puppies has a lot fewer benefits. You don’t know how they’ll develop, physically or psychologically, and if they have been spayed or neutered early, they are probably not suitable for dog sports (i.e. early aged desexing leads to differences in bone growth which may result in injury).

    That being said, I like this post, and will be sharing it on Twitter soon. :)

    • While you can’t always tell how a rescue puppy will turn out, a good amount of pre-adoption temperament testing and getting your hands on them will help out a lot more than some people think – and besides, that same thing applies to dogs from purpose bred litters as well. You can get a much more educated guess, but we all know dogs from breeders who turned out to be shy (when that is not typical of their lines) or a dog who looked great at their 8 week old conformation eval but grew up to be questionable too. I adopted River at 14 weeks and she is turning out to be exactly what I thought in the first five minutes I met her: decently put together, high drive, dog reactive, and very willing to work. Oh, and she is also intact. Some shelters and rescues are changing their ways about that too! :)

      • Yeah, one of the main reasons I was happy to adopt from my shelter is that they don’t do pediatric alterations. They still do it when the dogs are a little young for my taste, but they’re not spaying any eight week old puppies. And they were happy to work with both me and Sarah when we said we wanted to wait because our dogs were going to be sport dogs. Widget is actually out at the spay clinic as we speak, but I was able to take her to the vet and get films first to ensure her growth plates had closed (plus she had a heat cycle.) Actually, come to think of it, I have three shelter dogs and none were spayed pediatrically. And while I do agree with you (Tegan) in some ways (I actually was explicitly NOT looking for a rescue puppy when I got Widget because I wanted to have a good sense of how the dog would develop) I will say that my experience with Widget mirrors Sarah’s: Widget, so far, is very much turning into I thought she’d be when I picked her. Granted, she was 17 weeks when I got her–it would have been harder if she was a little teeny ball of fluff and teeth.

        Also, I should say that I do flyball with my tripod dog who probably has iffy CCLs, so I am obviously not of the opinion that a dog has to be an Arnold Schwartznegger-esque top-notch physical specimen to compete. I believe very much in conditioning and supplements and stretching and prophylactic therapies like chiropractic, and those things have kept my dog healthy and running just fine. I would have preferred she not have crummy CCLs, and I of course would have preferred that she hadn’t suffered the neglect that caused her to lose her leg, but I don’t think either of those things makes her ‘not suited’ for sports. She rocks pretty hard, despite being dealt a bad hand :)

    • You could say the same thing about many adult rescues as well. Many dogs come into the shelter system already spayed/neutered. How many of those were done later in life? It’s impossible to say. So unless the dog comes in intact you may not know if they were an early spay/neuter. So what you’re saying here is that unless your rescue dog came into the shelter system intact, don’t get it if you want to do dog sports? I don’t agree with that.

      Also, I don’t believe for one moment that being spayed/neutered early means the dog is unsuitable for dog sports and I find that assessment entirely unfair. Many people are out there doing sports with dogs who were spayed before they were 6 months old and telling them their dog is not suitable due to that and that alone seems wrong somehow. I’ve seen plenty of dogs who were spayed/neutered later in life get injured, so there’s no guarantee of no injuries based on spaying/neutering time periods.

      • I actually do think there’s a pretty sizeable amount of evidence suggesting that early spay can be very problematic vis a vis physical development. I think it’s generally a good idea to wait until the dog matures to alter them if you’re going to be doing high impact sports. That said, while I wouldn’t OPT for pediatric neuter, as you say, sometimes you don’t get a choice about that, and I don’t think that should disqualify dogs from competing, (even at a very high level). My feeling on the matter is that every dog has some challenges that you have to work around, no matter where you get them. Pediatric alteration does, I think, stack the deck against your dog a bit in terms of their long term health, but so do a billion other things. Corgis, say, have the deck stacked against them in terms of the potential for back injuries (in comparison to the overall population of dogs). And that’s OK: corgi people know what to watch out for, and they do their best to prevent problems, and god knows there are a million awesome sport corgis out there who are tearing up various courses with no problems at all. Same thing with a dog who was altered early: you keep the potential problems in your mind, and you do your best to prevent them in the long term.

        I guess what it comes down to is that I don’t want dog sports to look like the Olympics, where the only people competing are people who are in their absolute physical and mental prime. My feeling is that most dogs shouldn’t be considered unsuitable for sports, and that you can have a heck of a lot of success with all different types of dogs.

        • Oh definitely if you have the choice it’s better to alter later than earlier (if you alter at all). There’s no doubt that the research has said it’s better to later due to growth plates and hormones. My objection was more to the concept of early spay/neuter making a dog “inappropriate” for sports.

          I’m lucky that I know my girl was spayed late (she came into the shelter intact at around 2 years old) so I didn’t have to worry about such things. But if I had adopted a dog of a similar age who had come into the shelter already spayed, I wouldn’t hesitate to get him/her involved.

          Frankly, many might consider my dog inappropriate anyway. Not enough drive, built a little funny. But she loves it and I’m not going to pull her from it. We train to keep her in good shape, jump her low to not stress her body. And it all works pretty well.

    • Pongu was a pediatric neuter (it was the shelter’s non-negotiable policy and I didn’t know enough at the time to realize any possible complications that might result from it down the road) and he does have the long gangly legs that can result from that procedure, but it hasn’t actually had any detrimental effect on his career yet (KNOCK ON WOOD).

      Of course, he’s only three and a half. And we don’t do high-impact sports like flyball and while I’m hoping to take a stab at agility next year, I don’t know how he’ll hold up in that arena if he’s fortunate enough to even have an agility career. So, you know, take this with a major grain of salt!

      But (a) there are lots of sports that don’t stress a dog’s body as much as agility and flyball can; and (b) it’s no worse a gamble (maybe better) than playing sports with a breed prone to structural or health issues. I know WAY too many people whose purebred performance dogs’ careers got cut short by unexpected health problems.

      Everybody always says puppies are a gamble, even from the healthiest breeds and the best breeders. I am certainly not going to stand here and argue that shelter mutts are BETTER gambles (that would be silly, and also hypocritical, given that I’m hoping to go with a purebred performance puppy of my own for the next dog*), but I don’t think they are necessarily worse, either, particularly depending on your breed.

      (* — fwiw my main reason for going with a purebred the next time around is because I am looking to possibly get into IPO/Schutzhund, and I think the protection sports are one of the arenas where it is really, really hard to find a suitable candidate in shelters, particularly if [like me] you are a total novice to the sport in question and don’t know exactly what to look for in spotting puppy potential. Plus I’ve never actually done the performance puppy thing, and hey, I want to give that a try once. Could be fun!)

  3. I love this. Also, I have a 4 yr old super high drive American Pitbull Terrier x German Short Haired Pointer in rescue right now. Rosy *needs* a sport home. This is an awesome post that I will be sharing!

  4. I have 4 adopted rescues all involved in dog sports. My oldest has a long list of accomplishments in agility: ADCH-Bronze, LAA-Bronze, PDCH, C-ATCH, Top Ten, etc. Oh…and he’s a beagle mix. Not what most people picture when they think “agility dog”. I’ve had my newest addition, an 8 1/2lb JRT, 2 1/2 months and he is all kinds of awesome – probably the smartest dog I’ve ever owned and full of drive. Who wouldn’t want this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJqCJbLDPbs
    And that was his first time working serpentines…and layering with weaves. Oh yeah…he just learned to weave last week.
    It has saddened me to see the trend of so many people who first got into agility with their rescue dogs decide that they now need to buy a puppy to be competitive in the sport. There are so many awesome dogs out there waiting for their chance to shine. I can’t adopt all of them! ;-)

    • “It has saddened me to see the trend of so many people who first got into agility with their rescue dogs decide that they now need to buy a puppy to be competitive in the sport.”

      Agreed! My plan for my next dog is to adopt a 1-2 year old Border Collie, probably from Glen Highland Farm (unless we move a good distance away before I’m ready to do that, in which case I’ll be looking for another BC rescue to adopt from). Every time I go to the farm I meet fantastic potential agility dogs.

  5. “It has saddened me to see the trend of so many people who first got into agility with their rescue dogs decide that they now need to buy a puppy to be competitive in the sport.”

    YES.

    …and, also, maybe, “not yes.”

    I started in dog sports with a pound puppy and I’m almost certainly going to be buying a Fancy Purebred Performance Puppy as my next sport dog and, in the wake of this (excellent) blog post, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to my reasons for wanting to do that. It is, not surprisingly, Complicated.

    Ultimately I think there are a lot of good and valid reasons to go either way, and some maybe not-so-great, kinda-selfish/kinda-stupid reasons that I’m nevertheless swayed by.

    One thing is for sure, though: I am always going to be supportive and enthusiastic of anyone who’s pursuing sports with their rescue dogs. And also I think it’s pretty darn impressive that you’re doing such great things in agility with your team. :)

    • I just wanted to also stress that I almost went in a Purebred Performance Puppy direction; had I not found Widget, that is what I would have done. It may be something I will do in the future. What we REALLY didn’t want to do in this post was a ‘Rescue dog=good, Purpose-bred sport puppy=bad’ thing; there are pros and cons both ways, and it’s a complex decision that balances a lot of different large and small scale issues (it should be, anyway). What I wanted to push against was the automatic assumption that if you want to be competitive in spots, you must buy a dog; our major goal here was to make an argument that rescue dogs are not going to be inferior sport candidates and in many cases, will be equal or superior to many dogs you could buy. There are a ton of kickass dogs in rescue who are not getting the kind of attention from sport people that they really merit; I had a foster dog once who was one of the most impressive natural canine athletes I have ever met, and I have met a LOT of dogs. I was pretty determined to find a sport home for her, and I got very tired of hearing that poisonous phrase that rescue dogs “are just better suited to pet homes” [boy, if I never hear the words "pet home" used in a dismissive way again, it will be too soon.] I will never fault anyone for getting a carefully-bred well-cared for purpose bred puppy; I just think rescue is a bit of an untapped market for serious sport people.

  6. Not sure anyone will see this comment so long after the initial post, but I would LOVE LOVE LOVE for those who are doing sport with their rescues to post in my facebook group Working Mutts and Rescue Dogs. I want to have a central place with success stories that can be shared when people are looking to get into dog sports! What a wonderful thing it would be if more people knew about shelter dogs’ working ability!

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