Translating Petfinder Listings and Rescue-Speak

“Communication is the key to any successful relationship.” True enough, but speaking the same language will help a lot. Here’s a guide to understanding what rescues mean when they describe dogs that are up for adoption.

They say: This dog is housebroken.

  • They mean: When placed in a normal household routine, this dog consistently eliminates outside, and not inside, the house.
  • They don’t mean: The dog will not have any accidents when she arrives in the home. Don’t worry about it.
  • You need to: Spend the first two weeks introducing the dog to the potty routines. Give her limited access to the home and don’t leave her unsupervised until you are sure that she knows what to expect.

They say: This dog is good with children.

  • They mean: With well-behaved children, this dog is superb. With well-meaning but clumsy children, this dog is extremely tolerant.
  • They don’t mean: Your three-year-old can do whatever he wants and the dog will be fine with it.
  • You need to: Keep your children supervised and make sure that they know appropriate behavior around dogs.

They say: This dog is not good with cats.

  • They mean: We have good evidence that this dog will seriously harm or torment a cat if given the opportunity.
  • They don’t mean: Your tough cat can probably scare this dog enough that the dog will behave. They also don’t  mean: You can train this dog out of this behavior.

They say: This dog would do better with a dog of the opposite sex. 

  • They mean: This dog repeatedly clashes with or challenges dogs of its own gender and has shown no signs of improvement with training.
  • They don’t mean: This is a suggestion — take it or leave it.
  • You need: Take their advice, unless you are a skilled and persistent trainer.

These could mean anything:

  • “Fully vetted” — Some rescues define this as having all of the vaccinations up-to-date, while others could mean that every single inch of the dog has been inspected and treated. You need to ask exactly what the rescue means by that.
  • “Separation anxiety” — This term is thrown around a lot. It can mean extreme anxiety that evidences itself in destructiveness, it could be accidents when the human is away. Definitely ask and take notes.

Other tipoffs

You know the joke that a house listed as “a handyman’s dream” is falling apart? Some rescues have similar phrases. They aren’t necessarily put there to mislead people, but they can have that effect if they aren’t accompanied by additional detail on the dog.

  • “Wants all of your attention” = Hates other dogs.
  • “A big baby” = This dog looks imposing and is undertrained, but will respond well to training.
  • “Adventurous” = This dog might be an escape artist, and definitely will get into things.
  • “A great running partner” = Incredibly athletic and energetic, possibly hyper.

Putting it into practice

Now that we’ve established a few of the ground rules, let’s translate a Petfinder listing, shall we?

A picture of a black and brown dog.
Photo courtesy of Petfinder.

Meet Grover! He is a four year old overgrown (Rottie) puppy! Grover loves all dogs and all people. He is housebroken, neutered, microchipped, and up to date on vaccines. He is beyond friendly! Grover is a very active dog. He does need basic obedience school and would do whatever you want him to once he learns what that is. Grover is convinced that when anyone comes to visit they are only coming to play with him.

This big fella requires a home with a fenced yard. He needs to run and play. He would do very well in a home with a female dog that would play with him but can be an only dog as well. Grover CANNOT tolerate a crate. He is only available to a home with someone there during the day. He is so active he would knock small children over. If you think you have the quality time to spend with him and the right environment this great dog will be your best friend!

This is a good listing because it spells out the characteristics that define Grover. Grover is an enthusiastic dog, which is another way of saying that he will be all over you like white on rice the second he meets you. He’ll be in your face, jump up on and gladhand visitors, knock over small children, and will otherwise do whatever he wants, all good-naturedly, of course. He needs a fenced yard, because he’s got energy to spare and you won’t be able to burn it off just with walks.

Here’s what gives me some concern. They say that Grover cannot tolerate a crate and is only available to a home with someone there during the day. That means that Grover is destructive, and very likely suffering from separation anxiety. When you leave him at home alone, you risk having him freak out.

THE VERDICT: If you are an experienced pet owner who is willing to invest time and energy, Grover could be an excellent bet. He’s extremely sweet-natured, which is typical of Rotties, and he’s clearly eager to please. However, he’s completely untrained, and he’s got what could be a serious issue — separation anxiety. Ask the rescue to explain how exactly he has shown this separation anxiety.

How about another?

Petunia  was left at a high kill rural shelter, about 5 yr. old, we feel she’s a purebred Walker Treeing Coonhound. Classic in coloring and build, this girl has it all! She’s friendly and kind with people and other dogs. Would probably need to be placed in a home without cats, just because we feel she’s been used to hunt and many have a prey drive on cats.

They’ve got very little specific to tell you about this dog, but at least you’ve got background and approximate age. The most important insight here is that the rescue believes she has been used to hunt before and may have a prey drive. Former hunting dogs have specific characteristics, so you should do some research about what to expect. They are emphasizing this girl’s appearance a lot, which might be to appeal to the people who love the breed, but it also might be because they haven’t gotten a read on her yet.

The rescue did provide an awesome tipoff, though, in the form of the pictures.

A picture of a hound dog sniffing.

This lead picture is from a photo session, but you’ll notice that Petunia is not paying attention to the photographer. She’s concentrating on something else. This is typical of hounds — when they get outside, they go into sniff mode. However, as an adopter you should anticipate that Petunia will not always be attentive.

A picture of a hound dog on leash sniffing air.
Photo courtesy of Petfinder.

The second picture shows Petunia sniffing the air. She’s a former hunting dog, all right. Again, humans are around, she probably hasn’t had as much attention as she wanted, but it’s all about the sniff. Notice how taut the leash is. She’s oblivious.

And finally…

A picture of a hound dog on leash howling.
Photo courtesy of Petfinder.

Yes, children, yes. She is sounding off like a champion, and something tells me by the way she is throwing back her head that you can hear Petunia from quite a distance. Again, the leash is as taut as a wire, but she doesn’t care.

THE VERDICT: Get your earplugs ready if you adopt this dog.

Have you ever encountered a dog description that hasn’t matched the dog you met?



By Moretta

Moretta will take that applause. Her Twitter is

15 replies on “Translating Petfinder Listings and Rescue-Speak”

Our dog is older than dirt and has a hind paw in the grave. There’s a snowball’s chance in hell we’ll ever find another as big hearted and patient with our cats as she is (and is still a superb guard dog) but we plan on adopting shortly after she passes (we have a loving home for a pooch, no sense in possibly letting a dog get put down while we dry our tears, Kylie would get pissed at us for it!)

My fiancé is in trucking and that means most of the time I’m home alone. My neighborhood is a tad sketchy and a big smart dog has been my security. When the time comes we’ll adopt another, we got lucky adopting Kylie from a farm where she was already trained to guard a home.

Our next dog we’re going to adopt as a puppy so we’re going to have to do all the heavy lifting ourselves to make sure it’s well adjusted and happy, but still able to do a job while we’re away (look after our home and our other animals) Do you recommend a specific breed or is it all in the training?

A lot of getting the right kind of dog is training, but if you want a lightly protective dog, I would say a shepherd/lab mix would be a fantastic mutt to adopt. The shepherd is protective, but the lab is a pragmatist, and it’s a nice blend. Or a dobie mix — hear me out — they are protective but big softies at heart, and they train like a dream.

Kylie is adorable, BTW. She appears to have a nice ruff, too. Have you got a theory on her breed combination?

She’s built like a cross between a lion and a polar bear lol. She was an outside dog for 9 years so she’s not exactly into being clean. The hour after she got her last bath she dug a hole in our garden and rolled around in fresh mud. But she’s gorgeous when she’s groomed.

Aha. This is helpful and will be a good reference when I’m able to adopt a doggy.

My county’s SPCA has a “personality match” system, which I will definitely work with (they observe the dogs in various settings, including in a room by themselves, and have a questionnaire for the human). But the online listings basically focus on age, size (including expected weight) and overall energy. And “LOOK I’M CUTE” pictures.

Your first translation is what gets my sister. My sister tends to freak and dump new/being babysat dog on either me or my mother as soon as the “adjustment pee” happens. On the down side, this means my niece doesn’t have a puppy at home. (Though their cat is awesome.) She does, however, see my doggie a lot (so knows how to behave around dogs with trauma histories) and sees her “brother” aka my mom’s Pitt Bull Boxer mix Sargent pepper regularly.

(And yes, my niece will talk about her “brother” being tied up at grandma’s house to strangers because he got into porcupines again to strangers so we really have to be ready to explain. She’ll instantly back you up about what a good puppy he is when you explain to the person trying to decide if they have to call CYF/CYS/CPS that he’s a dog though.)

This is such an important article, and the real examples are great.
I’m loving the oblivious hound ad. She would fit right in here.
Hopefully, most people who love the breed would know what’s up, because coonhounds are clueless if you’re not holding something edible..

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