dog rescue, Flannery Oconnor, fostering, Gala, hard to adopt, training

Risk Worth the Reward: Long Term Dogs

Flannery is about to enter her sixth month in OPH care which makes her a ‘long-term dog’.

photo Nancy Slattery

Currently, up to 30% of the dogs on our site are ‘long term dogs’. There’s a reason why each dog got that label and it certainly doesn’t mean those dogs aren’t good dogs.

It’s just means that these dogs don’t fit the cookie-cutter mold of what many people consider a desirable dog. Each of these dogs will need an intentional adopter who is willing to continue training the dog and understand how to manage the dog. This person will need to be patient and loving and committed. He/she will have to respect the dog, listen to the dog, and set the dog up for success.

As I write these words I realize that they describe what every adopter should be doing.

In our fast-paced world where we’re so comfortable outsourcing much of our lives—from meal-planning to lawn care to wine selection, we’d like a new dog to fill our home with love and joy and no extra work or mess. We’re disappointed if the dog isn’t house-broken and crate-trained or pulls on the leash. We expect that the dog will be good with other dogs, tolerant of cats, and friendly with all kinds of people. We want a cuddly dog, who already knows commands like sit and stay and down, and certainly, we can’t have a dog who barks excessively. The dog should have plenty of energy to play, but not so much energy that they bounce off the walls, leap on visitors or tackle the two-year-old. Oh, and the dog needs to be young and cute and just the right size.

Don’t get me wrong there are a few dogs that fit that bill, but truly, most don’t.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of not having been exposed to those things and with the right introduction, training, and patience, many dogs will fulfill those ideals. But some dogs won’t. It could be their upbringing or their breeding, or it could just be the personality of the dog.

[SIDEBAR: And, for the record, how many of us are so perfect?]

I spent nearly a year with my last ‘long-term dog’ and she is still in foster care now with a different foster home, a year later, having been adopted and returned. Gala is a gorgeous girl who tugs on my heartstrings every time I see her face pop-up on Facebook.


The depth of love and smarts in that dog still echoes in my life. She needs the right adopter and it breaks my heart that there has been no one willing to give her a chance in all this time, because landing Gala in your life would be like winning the love lottery, so complete is her devotion.

Flannery, like Gala, can be complicated, but like Gala she is also an absolute love, completely devoted to the people in this family. She has plenty of happy energy and is easy to train, but needs assistance negotiating the human world, mostly because, like Gala, she is so darned sensitive and smart. She notices things that other dogs might not and reacts to people with her whole heart, both traits that can overwhelm her.

For instance, I took Flannery to an adoption event on Sunday in a small, busy, crowded pet store. She did really well for the first twenty minutes.

Flannery is a small dog and couldn’t see beyond the piles of cat trees, people legs, and store shelves that surrounded her.

Consequently, each new person surprised her and this was terribly exciting. Her tail was on full speed wag and it was all she could do to give me a few ‘sits’ as I tried to distract her from the activity and dogs around her. Her adrenaline sky-rocketed when two little boys approached and she slathered them in kisses, leaping up again and again for attention, before collapsing in a puddle beside them.

Eventually, though, the high energy and stress of meeting person after person got to her. She grew tired of the constant hands reaching for her and began to growl a low warning. That was my cue and we made a hasty exit. I knew she wouldn’t take her fear any further, as long as I heeded her request.

That growl said, “I’ve had enough. Even though I know this is all terribly exciting and part of me wants you to rub my belly and let me lick your face, the other part of me is overwhelmed by processing so many sights and sounds and smells. I need a break.”

The pictures and video of Flannery’s time at the event all document a happy little pup, lapping up the attention, but had we stayed much longer the pictures would have shown a much different dog. Because I know Flannery and because I listened to Flannery, we came home and had a perfectly pleasant rest-of-the-day.

So, is Flannery people friendly?

Absolutely. But Flannery has a limit to how much stimulation she can process. Flannery will need an adopter who knows this about her and who will listen to her when she’s had enough.

I think adopting a dog is a bit like getting married. You choose your dog/mate because you love this other soul, but you know (or should know) going in that there will be times when you will not love everything about the dog/mate and you will need to take a step back and figure out how you can help them and how you can co-exist.

Maybe your mate doesn’t like a houseful of noisy guests, maybe that stresses him/her out. So, it works better for you to meet your friends out at a bar or to go away for a weekend together. This doesn’t mean that your mate doesn’t like you to have friends, it just means you need to be respectful of your mate’s needs. Because your mate can tell you these things, it’s clear when change is necessary.

[SIDEBAR: When your mate doesn’t tell you these things, the car can begin to go off the rails…]

This works the same way with your dog. Maybe your dog finds meeting new people stressful, so you crate your dog when friends come over. You let your dog hear, smell, even see the people, but you don’t force your pup to meet them. Maybe your pup will be ready to meet them after the hype of entry has ended, maybe not. This does not mean you don’t have a good dog, it simply means you are being respectful of your dogs’ needs.

Sadly, the high number of long-term dogs in OPH care is a reflection of the fact that few people are willing to figure out how to manage a dog that acts outside the boundaries of what we expect. Dogs are not machines, though, and even the easiest dog needs your respect and effort. They love us with such complete devotion and in return deserve our respect and willingness to adapt to their needs.

The amazing thing about both Flannery and Gala is that neither really needs that much management, and the unbridled devotion you receive in return is off the charts. Both of these girls are funny, smart, quirky dogs who will adore their ‘person’ until the end of time. Once more, they both make exceedingly entertaining company.

OPH has begun exploring ways to better market our long-term dogs to help them find their forever families. They are offering more free training, more support, longer trial adoptions, even reduced fees for these special dogs. We want adopters to know that we will not desert you once the adoption takes place—we are invested in your success and the dog’s.

Finding homes for long-term dogs is a challenge that all rescues and shelters face. It’s a problem that only grows as we strive for a no-kill nation. Saving all the dogs, including the ones that a little more complicated will require effort and education and adopters who are open to a dog that is not a cookie-cutter pup.

And the thing I know, that all of us who have fostered a long-term dog know, is that the risk an adopter might feel they are taking in adopting one of these pups, is not a risk at all because all these dogs need is a little understanding and in return you’ll get a lifetime of love.

The bottom line when it comes to dogs and to marriage and to life is this – the more time and love and effort you invest, the bigger the payoff.

If you’re ready to make an investment, you can find Gala, Flannery, and many more incredibly amazing and absolutely adoptable dogs at

Thanks for reading!

If you’d like to know more about my blogs and books, visit or subscribe to my monthly e-newsletter (which is rarely monthly, but I’m working at it…everybody needs a goal).

If you’d like to know more about the book, Another Good Dog: One Family and Fifty Foster Dogs, visit, where you can find more pictures of the dogs from the book (and some of their happily-ever-after stories), information on fostering, the schedule of signings, and what you can do right now to help shelter animals! You can also purchase a signed copy or several other items whose profits benefit shelter dogs!

If you’d like to know how you can volunteer, foster, adopt or donate with OPH, click here. And if you’d like more pictures and videos of my foster dogs past and present, be sure to join the Another Good Dog Facebook group.

I love hearing from readers, so please feel free to comment here on the blog, email or connect with me on Facebooktwitter, or Instagram.



Released August 2018 from Pegasus Books and available now

Another Good Dog cover



8 thoughts on “Risk Worth the Reward: Long Term Dogs”

  1. I love this blog. I work in retail so I know how Flannery feels! On busy days it’s fun at first but the longer the day gets, I am overwhelmed. People can be so demanding and impatient I have seen an increase in these behaviors over the years. Everyone and every dog deserves “chill” moments, no human is perfect and neither is a dog. I like OPH’s willingness to work harder and better. I adopted a dog in foster for over 2 years and although he’s had his moments he is great. Give him a few more years he’ll be the best dog ever. I truly believe shelter/rescue dogs are far more superior than any pedigree could ever be!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s exactly it – they deserve the chance to become the ‘best dog ever.’ they just need the right person to believe in them. Shelter dogs come with history and wisdom and we need to give them the space to share that with us.


  2. I love this post. ❤ In my life, getting to know who my dogs are, and "allowing" them to be themselves, has been tremendously enriching. I ended up with friends and accomplices rather than pets. Watching Dusty blossom here in a place where most people love dogs has been wonderful. Gaia and Flannery deserve a person who can work WITH them and enjoy the dogs they are.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. People unwilling to respect the dog’s cues for what they need are the same ones that don’t abide a baby’s or toddler’s cues. They get overstimulated similarly and give very clear indications long before you see that child beside themselves with upset in a stroller or cart, mom/dad taking the time to read labels or continue to shop, tuning it all out.

    Years ago I had an aging Golden retriever. A real people dog and lover of all humans. When he was about 11, an 18 month old was visiting and was petting him. All was fine, toddler was gentle, although a tad loud. After quite awhile, my dog looked up at me while the toddler was petting him. I saw his snout ever so slightly wrinkle. No teeth showed, no growl was made, but he let me know he’d had enough. I got him out and all was fine.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Our dogs are always communicating with us. I never realized that until Gala. Now I feel their stress often and do my best to respond. Because there is a language barrier, I don’t always catch the messages, but I do look for them. I had to learn that. We need to teach children (and adults) to listen to the messages our dogs are giving. And like your dog, just because they’ve tolerated kids all their lives, doesn’t mean that patience can’t still run thin!


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