Absolutely YES! Now, let me explain and qualify my response.
What is a shelter dog?
“shelter dog (Noun)
A dog temporarily resident in or obtained from an animal shelter.”
A shelter dog has either been removed from a home by authorities due to abuse of some kind, has been given up voluntarily by its previous owners, or was a stray dog. A lot of the times you will not know your shelter dog’s backstory. All of these situations can be difficult to overcome when training a dog to be a working dog, but not impossible! You have to remember that you are not there to rehabilitate a dog, the dog must meet the mark on certain things (see below).
The majority of my dogs have been shelter dogs, and our newest addition (Nubs) was a stray right off of the streets. One of my first shelter dogs, Dino, turned into the best emotional support animal that I could ever wish for. And Daisy, pictured below, is my husband’s awesome emotional support animal!
What should I look for in a shelter animal?
The first thing I have to emphasize is that you are going to have to spend several hours to several days at the shelter before you can pick out an acceptable candidate. And, you might not even find an acceptable candidate on your first try, please do not accept an inferior candidate out of desperation (you will regret it later).
Don’t worry about the backstory of the dogs, what matters more is how they react to you, how they react to other dogs, and how quickly and easily they pick up on new things. Dino, mentioned above, was taken away from his owners because they kept him locked up in a cage and only let him out when it was time to provide stud services. He was not well socialized and not well cared for and I cannot tell you enough what an awesome dog he was!
When you go into the shelter you are looking for the dog who is interested to see you but who is not going crazy barking or snarling. I would avoid any dog whose kennel is labeled “bite risk”, the staff does not label them without cause.
For more information on picking out a good candidate, you can view this video by the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners (you can fast forward to the 13-minute mark if you like), brush up on dog body language, and how to interact with dogs safely before you go to the shelter.
Another thing you need to do is consider what tasks the dog will be performing, where you live (apartment vs big yard), and your family make-up. This will help you to decide ahead of time what sizes and breeds of dog that you are looking for. (refer to the video above)
The video demonstrates how to test a dog for food guarding using a fake hand but you can also use a cane to carefully do the same thing.
ALWAYS have a shelter staff member help you to handle a potential candidate!