Our Life with Morty – How to Successfully Adopt a Rescue Dog

Meet Morty. He is likely part miniature Australian shepherd, part… who knows what? We just don’t know.


After taking care of a friend’s dog for over a month last summer and experiencing all the joys dogs bring to people’s lives, we decided we are ready and started looking for our own furry bundle of happiness. We searched and searched for the perfect dog for us and finally one day on Petfinder.com we saw Morty. His face peering up at us from the computer screen – we instantly fell in love. His foster family also uploaded a video of him and he seemed just perfect: calm, playful and well adjusted. They also shared a little bit of his story: he was kept in a Florida shelter and was scheduled to be put down but a rescue group saved him and found him this foster home in Iowa (with 15 other dogs!). He spent 3 months there and now they felt he was ready for adoption and we felt ready to offer him his new forever place.


We brought him home and wanted to share our new member of the family, so we invited over a few neighbors. Bad idea. After about half an hour of violent growling and snapping, we had to sheepishly tell our neighbors to leave because we didn’t want them getting hurt. This was the just beginning of our challenges with Morty. For the first two weeks, we had absolutely no idea how to deal with his aggressiveness. We tried being friendly, thinking that would fix it, but his behavior, not just towards strangers but also towards us, seemed to be getting worse.

We decided it was time to ask for a professional help and started looking for trainers and dog behavior experts. The first trainer that came over asked a lot of questions but didn’t give us much hope nor direction. She said bluntly that Morty isn’t a good dog for us and no matter what we do, there is a chance that his fearful aggression may not go away at all. This left us discouraged and full of doubts. More than once we had thoughts about giving him up (which would mean putting him down). But in truth, we couldn’t do it. That would be quitting, and we felt that by adopting him we made a commitment to do everything we can to make it work.


Looking around the internet I found a great article about how to successfully adopt a rescue dog. Reading it was such an eye opener for me! Of course we had no idea what to do with a new dog and I found out that, even though we had good intentions, we did a lot of things wrong with Morty. But that was going to change. I kept reading all other dog behavior articles on that website. At the end of each post the author recommended Cesar Millan’s books and DVDs as excellent guides to communicating with, understanding, and controlling your dog. I checked the links and my mind was blown. Cesar’s plan is simple: exercise, discipline, and lastly, affection. Most people, us included, start with affection and that creates issues. Cesar also talks about the importance of calm and assertive energy. I ordered Cesar’s books,  spent countless hours watching every available YouTube episode of “The Dog Whisperer” and started applying what I learned. And this new approach made a difference at our home almost immediately! With our calm but assertive leadership Morty became calmer, more relaxed and very respectful. We all felt like he really wanted to be good and was just looking for our guidance.


In stepped Christine for a booster shot of optimism, a trainer who – although she was on her way south for the winter – gave us a few trial lessons and hope that we could master Morty’s behavior. The next local trainer we met was also much more optimistic and gave us lots of hope. Sebastian (of Naughty Paws Dog Training in Baraboo, WI) got right to work with Morty, and at the end of the first meeting, although Morty was still tense, Sebastian was able to pet him. We were all in awe, and wondered if it would be possible to enroll Morty in his group classes. Sebastian enthusiastically agreed, saying group classes would be even better than private classes for Morty, because he does need to be more exposed to people and other dogs. It turned out that our dog is a very fast learner and loves to be trained. Over the past five months Morty has aced Beginner Obedience, mastered the walking pattern from Advanced Obedience, and just last week had fun at his first agility class.


Our constantly growing knowledge about establishing a pack structure, as well as obedience training, helped with Morty’s behavior, but he still has a long way to grow and much to learn about trusting others.  He is still apprehensive when he sees new people, however his reactions are now way less aggressive and he can calm down reasonably quickly. Sometimes he doesn’t have any reaction at all!

After those small successes I know I’m committed to do my best to help Morty become a happy and balanced dog. After eight months of our life with Morty we understand now quite well what we’re dealing with and realize that he’ll always be a special need case. We’ll always have to control his environment and handle him correctly so that he does not hurt anyone. He is probably never going to turn into a super friendly puppy that wants to be petted by everybody, but that’s OK. As long as he’s calm and neutral in the presence of strangers all is good.


As far as our family is concerned – he is a perfect dog. He’s a loyal companion and brings smiles to our faces each time we look at him or pet him. With us he’s loving, respectful, playful, curious, super smart and always ready for adventure. We’re all grateful that he makes us go for long walks every day and for even longer hikes on weekends. We still have a list of yet unexplored natural areas to check out together and it’s so much more fun to do it with our dog. Even the kids love hiking now and are looking forward to it every weekend.

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Morty loves to explore and is always ready to check out new things or learn new tricks. He’s almost never still during walks and capturing him is quite a challenge. So for me he also provides a great practice with models on the move. I know I’ll need those skills at photo sessions with toddlers. 🙂


first time walking on ice


“I wonder if I can learn this trick, too…”


“you want me to jump on this tire? Why not!”


“Can I have it? I’m asking so pretty :)”

 After all the walking and running it’s always time for a nap or a snuggle or more play…


this is his favorite mat…


but in winter he often prefers a sunny spot on the floor


Morty is a perfect buddy for watching movies


or a snuggle


whenever we are ready he’s also ready to play with his favorite ball

sometimes gets tired of waiting, but the ball is still handy

sometimes he gets tired of waiting, but the ball is still handy

He doesn't mind playing dress up

He doesn’t mind playing dress up

and is even ready to do tricks in his new outfits

and is ready to do tricks in his new outfits

Our journey with Morty took us places we were not prepared to explore but I believe that everything happens for a reason and somehow it was meant for us and him to have this experience together. We’ve learned that dogs love us unconditionally – we need to apply that unconditional love to Morty too. It was a huge learning curve to absorb and a challenge to understand dog psychology. There are still things we don’t fully get but despite our challenges we’re happy we didn’t give up. 🙂

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