Claire Arrowsmith advises on the pros and cons of adoption an older dog, rather than bringing a puppy into your home and starting from scratch...
(Q) We are looking at buying a three-year-old Whippet bitch. Are there any pitfalls to getting a dog of this age? We can't have a puppy as the dog would be left alone for four to five hours a day.
(A) Behaviourist Claire Arrowsmith says: Buying an adult dog clearly allows you to avoid the puppy training challenges. However, the adult dog must also be used to the type of life you intend for her and may not be challenge-free. An adult dog who has lived in kennels or in a very quiet home may find it very difficult to adapt to a busier home, so try to ensure the dog matches your situation.
The early weeks and months are vital to the development of a robust temperament, and if the critical socialisation wasn't done in the early weeks (from three to 12) then it's possible that this dog may have some temperamental weaknesses which you need to find out about. Although some improvements can be achieved at a later age, it is never as reliable as the results from early socialisation. Find out as much as you can about the dog's history.
Find out her origins, and whether she attended training classes. What's her temperament like? How much experience with people and dogs has she had? How does she respond to you when you visit, and have you seen her mixing with other dogs? If she is only ever left with the company of other dogs or for a short time then you will need to see if she can cope with time by herself. Find out about her health history and get a complete copy of these records for your new vet.
While preparing your home, most things recommended for puppy owners still apply. Comfortable, private bed areas and pheromone diffusers will make her feel comfortable and encourage her to settle in. If possible follow her current routine for a while and gradually change it as she relaxes. Try not to do too much in the first few days when she will be at risk of feeling overwhelmed.
Rehoming an older dog
There are many reasons why older dogs need rehoming - their owners getting ill, the break-up of a family, or the dog getting lost. According to the Oldies Club, which specialises in rescuing and rehoming older dogs aged seven and over, there's no such thing as a typical older dog or home.
Oldies are often happy with a short walk and a mooch in the garden. But some older dogs are ideal for families and couples who are active but out for part of the day. These dogs can thrive in a lively household and will enjoy a couple of brisk walks a day and longer ones at the weekend.
The commitment involved in taking on an older dog is just as immense as it would be for a pup or young dog but the time frame is likely to be shorter. An older dog can make a great pet for first-time dog owners. They're generally less problematic than their younger counterparts who still need guidance and training.
Julie Haworth, spokeswoman for the Oldies Club, said: "Unfortunately older dogs who end up in rescue can find it difficult to secure a new home because they often get overlooked due to their age. We think that older dogs have a lot to offer. They can be ideal for families who are active and have lots going on as they don't cause as much chaos as young puppies, and they're also a perfect fit for older owners who are looking for a more sedate companion. Older dogs are often used to family life, living with children and other pets, and lots of our oldies are still very active."
Call the Oldies Club on 0844 586 8656 or visit www.oldies.org.uk