How to get a Reactive Dog Adopted

For homeless dogs that are reactive, getting adopted can be an uphill battle. Heck–it’s difficult to get adopted if you’re a ‘perfect’ dog. Add a challenge or two to that and finding the right home–or helping the right home find you–can seem impossible. All of these suggestions work for dogs without behavioral issues too–but it helps if reactive dog fosters go the extra mile.

Many dogs have the ability to go to adoption events to be seen by  the public. These events are integral to getting many dogs adopted. But for a reactive dog an adoption event can be a nightmare. There are so many unknowns and there are people and animals everywhere. They are loud, chaotic, and it can last 2-4 hours.

Reactive dogs need a chance to show people how awesome they are and luckily there are plenty of opportunities–you just have to get creative.

Here’s a list of the ways, with information on how to implement them below:

  • Adopt Me Vest
  • Business Card
  • Adoption Video
  • Excellent Photographs
  • Accurate Adoption Profile
  • Training Classes
  • Group Walks
  • Online Presence

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My two favorite ways of promoting a reactive dog and introducing them to people is to show them off during their daily life. Our former foster, Matthew, was very reactive and couldn’t really go near other dogs on-leash (although he integrated with our dogs seamlessly). Matthew had a killer loose-leash walk so we got an “Adopt Me” vest. That way, when people were busy being jealous about how fabulous my dog was, they could see the vest and realize “hey, he could be MY dog.” That really helped getting people to come up and talk to us, even if they weren’t interested in adopting him they often wanted to come pet him and talk about dog rescue.

That got me thinking of all of the missed connections we might be having–Matthew was meeting all of these people but once they finish saying hi and learning a little bit about him, they go on with their lives and, presumably, forgot about that plucky little well-mannered red dog. It didn’t take me long to decide to make cute little business cards (okay, I admit, they are odd) and start to hand them out to people who met Matt. A lot of those cards probably just got tossed, but they also led to people connecting with Matt again online.

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Making a cute video really showing off your foster’s personality is always a good idea, too. A video is probably the easiest way to get a lot of information about your foster across quickly. In most cases, it’s really important to heavily edit footage. People have really short attention spans so you need to keep the video moving and fresh feeling. One  of my pet peeves is an adoption video on a dog that only includes pictures (and that lingers on each picture for 5-10 seconds). NO! That’s boring, even if they are cute pictures. Keep it up-beat and dynamic! Make sure to pair it with happy music! Below is an example of the video I made for Matt. Is it the best video? Nope. It’s amateurish. But it has some really good footage of Matt.

Excellent photographs are sure to catch adopter’s eyes. The first step is to get them to read the profile you’ve written–and the best way to that is to have a gorgeous picture of your foster for Petfinder.

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There is a fantastic local photographer named Angela Boone who frequently donates her time to take pictures of rescue dogs for  their profiles. Angela also has a pet portrait business and it’s obvious she knows how to get the best shot, even with a rowdy dog.  Sometimes that little bit extra is all  the edge your foster dog needs. Check with your rescue and see if they have a relationship with a photographer already. If not, reach out to some photographers and see what happens.

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The above picture is my all-time favorite of Matthew. It’s striking. And eye-catching. And shows off how buff he was (look at his chest!) and how his one little ear always stood up higher than the other.

Photographers don’t have to be professional to be good. Tap your friend pool! The thing to watch out for when taking pictures of reactive dogs is to avoid the dreaded “head-halter face.” I think you can see what I mean:

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If you are taking pictures for the adoption profile, do NOT take them while the dog is wearing his gentle leader.

  1. Some people still think it is a muzzle
  2. It breaks up the lines of their face and makes them look less cute
  3. A gentle leader is a visual cue that screams HEY, this dog needs training! Whether or not this is true, we don’t want the pictures to advertise that. The pictures should be putting your foster’s best paw forward because they are only designed to draw potential adopters in. The adoption write-up is where you can talk about the training the dog is working on.

Speaking of, you need an accurate adoption profile. I can’t stress this enough. You don’t need to list every questionable thing the dog has ever done, but you do need to at least approach the bigger issues the dog has. You can do so softly–you don’t need to write “He looses his shit whenever he sees another dog.” Instead you can write something a little more informative and positive like “We are working with him on barking at other dogs. He’s doing well with his training but it is still easiest for him if other dogs are at least 20 feet (or 60 or 100) away on walks. We are looking forward to seeing his progress.” Avoiding talking about the issues is not going to help your reactive foster in the long term and can potentially turn people away from rescue. When someone sees “Good with Dogs” on your reactive dog’s profile, they may not be equipped to handle the unstated “with proper introductions and when off-leash only” that may go along with that. It is best to be upfront. Don’t have it bee all negative, either. It’s great if you can show your foster with another animal (after intros) or practicing basic obedience commands (like ‘down stay’).

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If you are fostering a reactive dog, it’s (hopefully) a safe bet that you’ve had some training on the matter and you are (hopefully) working with the dog to help them overcome or manage their reactivity. Although you may be qualified to do that on your own, consider asking the rescue to let you take a class with your local positive dog-training facility. This will not only help your dog become comfortable in more situations and give you feedback from different eyes, but it will also introduce the dog to many people at the facility. You never know who your foster might win over.

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For the same reason, I recommend going on group walks (even if that means you are the last one on the walk and about a block away from the other dogs). It’s a chance to train and it will give more people the chance to get to know your foster. They may be interested or may have friends/family that they think would work well with the dog. Getting someone to adopt a theoretical reactive dog can be really difficult because it asks people to put up with vices from an animal they’ve never met. Once someone meets your foster, he then becomes “Matt, who barks at other dogs but is fantastic at heeling and SUPER cuddly and such a lazy potato.” Having friends over to the house can serve a similar function–have people get to know him and start to love him.

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The last thing I recommend is to have an online presence for your reactive foster.  Whether that’s a Facebook page just for them, a blog, or you just repeatedly updating your friends on his progress from your social media. Getting your foster exposure and having people see the dog behind the reactivity is important. I think that in-person connections are still more likely to lead to an adoption, but people can become very attached to a dog through a computer screen (it happens to me all the time). And those people may consider adoption or they may share an update or two and their friends (or their friends’ friends) may be looking for a dog that fit’s your foster’s description.  The photo above was from when I first debuted Matt online, before we busted him out of the shelter and fostered him. His online presence raised thousands of dollars for his rescue–and even more importantly, it led to people caring about him and sharing his story.

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