What are the pros and cons of rescuing older vs. younger dogs? Is it really easier to rescue a puppy than a senior?
Puppies can be easier. They tend to follow Mom’s example, and if Mom is approachable, chances are the puppies will be, too. Even if she isn’t, though, if the puppies are young enough (under 12 weeks), their natural curiosity might still work in your favor. A good rescuer can take advantage of it, and turn the whole rescue into a game.
In a puppy, also, the natural affinity dogs have for humans might still be unchecked by negative experiences (which produce fear), so although they might be wary at first (they’ve never seen one of us), the domestication gene may be a good rescue ally.
But—you knew there was a but coming, didn’t you?—not all is peaches and cream with those cuddly balls of fur (i.e., they’re not always quite as willing as we’d like to be cuddled). Some of those fear-producing negative experiences seem to be passed on genetically; we fostered a dog once who turned out to be pregnant, probably had just become so a couple of days before we picked her up, and although her puppies were born at home and never knew a bad experience (trust me, we kept three of them and they’ve been as spoiled as any dog ever could be), they’re still fearful.
If Mom isn’t around, and especially if the puppies are under 8 weeks, their instinct is to hide… Which makes them incredibly hard to find. (Remember the Botched post?) Also, they rarely come singly—there’s usually a litter—so you’re going to have to deal with several of them at once. Pick carefully which one you’ll get first: if that intrepid explorer gets spooked, cries out or fights you as you pick him/her up, chances are the rest of the litter will run and—yep, hide.
And you also have the mom to contend with. Even the most docile of dogs will become a lioness when her babies are in (what they perceive as) danger.
Adult dogs, on the other hand, may seem like a tougher job for rescue—but they don’t have to be. If they’ve survived on their own for however long, it means they’re street-smart, which may mean they’ll be warier of humans, but may also mean they have the necessary experience to make judgment calls: is this a good human, or a bad human?
Don’t misunderstand me; these judgment calls don’t happen overnight, certainly not in a few minutes. What I mean is that these dogs will be willing to give you the chance—they’ll stay at a safe distance, and watch you from there—to show your true colors. But that is one chance, and one chance only. Squander it at your own, and the dog’s, peril.
Because of these street-smarts, adult dogs may also fall easier into a feeding routine than puppies, and, through it, into a relationship with you. Adult dog brains (just like adult human brains) are already wired to look for the pattern, to understand cause and effect, to analyze possible outcomes. If you are constant and consistent, if you follow the Trust Quadre, you have a good chance of establishing yourself in their good graces.
The truth is that, like with everything else concerning rescuing, the issue of age cannot be taken as hard and fast. The only rule, when it comes to dog rescue, is that every dog is an individual. Every situation is unique.
As they’re so fond of saying in investment disclaimers, past behavior is no indication of future results. No truer words…