Should experienced dog owners adopt the more challenging dogs?

One of the best decisions I ever made was to take the time to find the right dog for me.

The “right” dog for me at the time was a medium-energy, housebroken, kennel-trained dog that was good with cats and dogs.

It’s not easy to take your time to choose the right dog when there are dogs available pretty much everywhere.

But it was worth it.

Ace causes me very little stress. He sleeps a good 19 hours or more a day. He never chews things that aren’t his, and he hardly ever barks. He’s never had an accident except that one time when he was sick.

But there’s a question that’s sometimes in the back of my mind whenever I think about adding another dog to our family:

Should experienced dog people (like me and many of you) adopt the more “challenging” dogs?

Because we know how to exercise, train and manage some of these dogs better than the average dog lover, do we have some sort of obligation? Should we leave the “easy” dogs, like Ace, for first-time dog owners?


The answer, of course, is no.

We should all adopt (or buy) dogs that are best for our lifestyles. After all, a dog is a longterm commitment of 10+ years. You don’t want to pick the wrong one.

Still, I’m drawn towards the more hyper or reactive dogs at the shelters sometimes. I like to think I could help them. (Maybe I could, maybe I couldn’t.) I do like the challenge of helping and training a more “difficult” dog. But really, aren’t all dogs challenging in their own ways?

So, I thought I’d raise the question to you.

Have you ever purposely adopted a more “challenging” dog? Or have you ever thought about doing so?

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23 thoughts on “Should experienced dog owners adopt the more challenging dogs?”

  1. I think this is a very interesting question. I agree with your answer. Although I suppose the corollary is: What happens to the difficult dogs who get adopted by novice or unexperienced owners? Sometimes, it’s a great fit, but often, I’d wager, those dogs get returned to shelters. In my experience, I adopted a difficult (fearful) dog as my first dog, which is not necessarily something I’d ever recommend to others. Of course, I wouldn’t trade her for anything now, but learning how to raise a dog with issues has been tough at times. For the third dog (many years from now), I’m dreaming of an easygoing pup like your Ace!

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I appreciate your thoughts. It seems like a lot of first-time dog owners do end up with more challenging dogs. Maybe it’s because some of them just don’t know what they’re getting themselves into. And it’s not like you always know the dog’s issues when you first meet it.

  2. Great question. Years ago I would have said yes. Today, I know that everyone who has a dog or who has had a dog consider themselves experienced. I want a dog that will be a good fit for our family and will make everyone happy. And what’s challenging to one person may not be for another. I just want to make sure that I’m honest with myself on what I can handle and offer to a dog instead of always letting my heart lead my decisions.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Yep, great point. What’s challenging to me may not be challenging to you or to someone else. For example, I can handle exercising a dog but I wouldn’t be able to deal with severe separation anxiety.

  3. I share your thoughts exactly. I was drawn to the hyper dogs we saw at shelters because I felt bad for them bouncing in their cages, and I felt like we’re active enough and committed enough that we could help them. But realistically, I also knew that we’d really like a dog who would sit quietly on the floor beside us while we watched TV. I’m very glad that I was realistic about our lifestyle and what we felt we could take on… especially as first time dog owners. Although I’d like to help a more high needs dog, I’m not sure that I can make that commitment. It’s about the dog’s quality of life as well as mine. I think we’ve been royally spoiled with our first dog, and it will be hard (many years from now) to adjust to someone new.

  4. I’ve thought about this before too, and I’ve reached the same conclusion as you. No, you don’t have to bring a challenging dog into your home, just because you theoretically “could” handle it. It’s unfortunate, because it’s not like inexperienced people should adopt dogs that are poor fits for them either. Where I live now, there does seem to be a fair amount of experienced dog people (because dog ownership is fairly high), so even challenging dogs do tend to find their “right” person or family eventually. I also feel a little bad knowing that I wouldn’t choose one of these dogs for my home, at least not in my current living conditions.

    I’d add two more aspects to this for some like you or who has similar experiences with dogs:

    1. Bringing one challenging dog into your home and family would likely leave you with less time and less energy – both physical and mental – for helping or working with other challenging dogs. Some of the dogs you might be “missing out” on helping could have even more challenging behaviors and issues and a greater need for an experienced trainer/runner/foster/etc, until they can find the right person or home too. Except you won’t be able to because there is only so much time in the day, so much stress you can introduce in your home (and expect family to go along with), management, etc.

    It’s difficult when you see a challenging dog and think “I could handle you, but I’m choosing not to” because when you see or spend time with that dog, you’re likely not thinking of the flip side, which is knowing all the other dogs you’ll see or spend time with in the future that you’ll be less able to help on account of having the challenging dog.

    2. This might sound heartless, but: if your source of income is from serving clients who have pets (e.g., dog-walking, trainer, pet store owner, etc.), then there are some challenging dogs who are just “bad for business.” Sometimes, it’s about time and energy – you will have less of it for working with other dogs (same as comment 1). However, some of the issue is that depending on what you do, your own pets serve as ambassadors for your skills, and sometimes, they are even part of the business. A “demo” dog in a training class. A friendly dog hanging out in the store. A stable/balanced dog that helps you work with other dogs. Meanwhile, a challenging dog can do the opposite. They might not be able to safely or easily be around dog-people or other dogs. [And for people who are still building up a clientele, having a pet that appears to be poorly behaved, even if you just adopted the dog that very day with a host of issues!]

    Last, I’d just agree 100x with the part about this being a commitment of a decade (or more) in many instances. My threshold for when I’d rehome a dog is very high, and I’d imagine it is for you too. Inconvenience or it being costly are not good enough reasons for me to rehome a pet. I have moved instead of rehoming before (not that everyone has the ability to do this). For the most part, it’s a choice for the life of the pet (or mine, I suppose). Given the lengths to which I know that I would go to help my dogs with any challenges they have and to be able to keep them, I have to be more careful in which dogs I get in the first place. If that’s your mindset too, then no apologies are required for being very picky about your choice of dog.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Appreciated your second point about what the person does for a living. I didn’t think of that while writing this post, but many times I have been grateful that my dog is so easygoing and friendly. As a pet sitter/dog walker I can often bring my dog along to walk clients’ dogs and I never have to worry about how he’ll act.

  5. I knew instantly that Ruby was young, distractable and high-energy and that she would be a challenge, but I was unprepared for her extreme reactivity. I still wouldn’t have it any other way – I’m really happy we ended up together because she would be a prime candidate for return if she had been adopted by a less experienced person. One reason I decided to admit foster failure with Boca is that she is so laid back, low-energy and calm that I thought she would actually make life easier for Ruby and me, and I was right! I am drawn to challenges and have always loved the more independent dogs. They aren’t for everyone but it continues to be a wonderful and educational experience for me.

  6. I think it really depends on the personality of a human. My mom likes a challenge and would be bored to death with a reliable, easy to train dog which is why she has a Kuvasz and two GBGV’s, but many people, even experienced like dogs that do what they are told without a lot of training. Just like we never avoid situations that could be trouble. Mom marches right into the middle and is determined to work it out.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Great point, Emma! That’s a good question for the dog owner to really think about. Am I ready for a challenging dog, or do I like a more laid-back dog?

  7. We got in over our heads with Bruce. I admit it. But…we did not know what we were getting into at the time, and I am grateful for all that the big boy has taught me along the way. Having said that, someday I would love to own an “easy” dog. : )

  8. I think the problem is right with the first word – should. Should implies pressure. Decisions made under pressure of any kind aren’t likely to be good decision. NOBODY should adopt a challenging dog (or do anything else for what matter) just because they should. Everybody should be free to make their decision freely and pick up challenges only when they’re ready for them, not because they should. That’s what I think, anyway.

  9. We’ve adopted seniors for the last 3 of our new family members and while we didn’t know it at the time both Jack and Maggie had some behavior problem we had to work at pretty hard. I don’t know if I would have chose them had I known, but we just dealt with it. Luckily we had the resources to do that and the skills to know we needed a different trainer for Maggie then we had for Jack. But I think it’s critical to get the pet you are prepared to make a part of your family for the good or the bad.

  10. I agree – you should always pick the dog that is right for you and your family’s lifestyle. Having lived with a high energy dog for over 4 years now I can honestly say that even if I’m more than qualified and able to look after a hyper dog, when the time comes for us to get another dog I will pick the laziest one available :-))

  11. We put Belle down two months ago. The reason being that she bit my fiance. We were both crying buckets when she left us but we couldn’t have a dog that would bite.

    Belle was adopted from our local shelter at about 18 months. We figured we were her third home, as the owner surrender form said they had gotten her from the pound. While she wasn’t high energy, she was reactive to other dogs and would get fixated on a dog, food, etc. We gave her five wonderful years where she really blossomed into a pretty good dog. However, she would bark, and lunge and snarl at other dogs from the back of the truck and when a nieghbor got a puppy she decided that she didn’t like it and actually broke out of Charlie’s canopy to go attack the young dog. The first day she did this, my fiance was able to call her off, the second time he got her back in the car and she nipped his finger for him scolding her and telling her she was a bad dog.

    And the horrible/wonderful thing is now that we are down to our more mellow dog the stress in the house has gone way down. We are no longer worried about the nieghbor kids, dogs in the yard, D.O.G. will just lay in the yard and watch them walk by. I did not realize how much of our life had revolved around making sure Belle wouldn’t do something and how much we worried about her taking off, not listening, not playing nicely.

    You and everyone who’s commented are right, people have to realize that getting a more challenging dog may mean a lifestyle change, and make sure they are willing to make it. We did change our lives a lot for Belle and I wouldn’t change any time that I spent with her, but I am glad that I can go for a walk and not worry when I see another dog.

    Eventually, we will probably get a puppy, but there will never be another Belle in the house, that name and memory is sacred.

    Thanks for the post.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Oh my gosh, I am so sorry to hear you had to go through something so difficult. I know how much you loved Belle and gave her the best life. I wish I had something to say that could help.

  12. I have one year+ experience 😀 but than Donna is a pretty easy to train dog. One of the reasons we adopted her was because she was smart. She was hyper in the shelter and labeled as “dog aggressive” though. We were advised to just avoid contact between her and other female dogs and it should be fine.

    What we thought we adopted turned out to be totally different at home. She never was aggressive with any female dogs we met and she became pretty laid back after a few months. She showed a patience that we would never have guessed she had.

    So it least to me, what you see in the shelter doesn’t necessarily will be what you get at home.

    And we also didn’t expect the extreme thunder phobia we had to manage. I am rather fastidious about cleanliness in the house, and I get cranky without sleep. So to have to clean up after a fearful peeing and pooing anywhere dog consecutive nights and days during the rainy season drove me nuts. And of course, I wouldn’t be too helpful to a fearful dog when I myself wasn’t feeling calm about it. It got so bad that my husband was considering rehoming her at one point, because it just wasn’t healthy for me.

    It was actually lucky that we managed to finally help her with it so that after a year of trying everything and consistent desensitisation, we got her to a point where she only worries for a first few minutes and then goes back to sleep.

    Lots of people just get by with a thunder phobic dog, so I guess I am lucky to be pretty successful in having really toned down her thunder phobia until a level that no longer troubles us. So in that sense, you can say I am experienced with it?? But no, I will NEVER adopt a dog with thunder phobia again.

    Sometimes, it’s not about experience. The human’s own temperament and lifestyle needs to match the dog’s needs or the relationship can be destructive.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      That makes perfect sense. You don’t always know everything (or very much at all) about the dog you are adopting. I’m so glad you have found a way to help Donna with her thunder phobia.

  13. I adopted a dog that I *thought* was going to be an easy dog. Med-high energy, good with cats, kids, dogs. They got the last one wrong. Okay with the other foster dogs? Yes. Good with my super non-reactive dog? Yes. Strange dogs? NO. Too late, I’d fallen in love with her and now I have her to thank for my specialty in dog training. But at this time in my life could I take on another dog like her? No.
    My mom and I just adopted an “easy” dog, and I had to convince myself that it was “okay” to adopt an easy dog I knew we couldn’t adopt a “difficult” dog because of our living/work situation, so I guess I just told myself that it’s better to give a home to an “easy” dog than to not give a home to any dog at all. I felt like I should leave an “easy” dog for a novice owner. Turns out she is behaviorally “easy,” but she has a lot of health issues and allergies so she wasn’t so “easy” after all. No need to feel guilty after all! HAHA! But we can deal with that far more easily with health issues than an aggressive or fearful dog.

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