Adopting a Dog

How do I find someone who will be compatible with me? Who will be “on the same page” as me?  Who will be my friend?

Perhaps these are some of the thoughts that go through your mind as you consider adopting a shelter dog or adopting from a dog breeder.  You definitely have an established routine and yet there is something missing … A warm heart and a cold nose?  A companion to share your day with, one who will not judge you, belittle or nag, except maybe to go for a walk… ?

How does one go about the challenging task of finding the perfect match with knowledge that you will be his lifetime companion?  How do you know where to start and how to narrow down the candidates?  Here are some questions to consider.

Considering a Purebred?

  • If you are going to select a purebred dog, learn about the dog’s basic characteristics.  Read books on the breed. Talk to reputable breeders or rescue groups of the breed you have in mind. Do an internet search and see what you come up with.
  • When selecting a breed, think about your lifestyle and how it will mesh with what you do everyday.
  • Do you have children?
  • If so, how old are they?
  • Is anyone allergic to fur?
  • Is someone there to be with the dog part of the day?
  • How old is the dog?  Is it a puppy?
  • Or, have you picked a “teenager”? (Eight months to three years old) – He looks full grown, but is mentally a child in many ways.  Be prepared to put in some time in training.
  • Is it an older dog?  If so, do you know it’s history?
  • Is it spayed or neutered?  This will affect the dog’s behavior.
  • Do you have a good size yard?
  • How much time can you devote to taking it for walks ?  Grooming?  Training?
  • What’s the dog’s activity level?  What’s your activity level?

  • Is it a “working breed”?  Does it come from “working parents”?
  • If so, be prepared, to have a full time job for it as you will have a high energy dog who will want to put his inbred skills to use.
  • Having a high energy dog, such as a Border Collie, in an apartment is not a good idea, unless you can give it lots of interaction and exercise.
  • These dogs are bred to herd livestock, have quick agile minds, and are high energy. If you don’t provide constructive tasks, he will create his own … unraveling your favorite sweater.

Adopting a Shelter Dog

What about Shelter Dogs?  How do you know what you will end up with?  How do you go about picking one out?

Here are some tips …

Think about what you want in a dog!

  • Do you want someone to watch TV with?
  • A jogging partner?  A quiet companion for long walks?

Your answer to these questions, will determine the age and energy level you are looking for.

  • How do you feel about house training, or, more to the point, about getting a full night’s sleep?   And not having to get up several times in the night to take your puppy outside on the cold, damp grass and tell him how brilliant he is when he finally decides to pee, after chasing several bugs while you stand their shivering in your robe.
  • Will their coat require a lot of maintenance?  Daily Grooming, clipping, heavy shedding? Someone will be doing this … Either you or the groomer.  Either way, be prepared to invest time or money for the next 10 to 15 years …

If that sounds like more then you want to expend, consider getting an older, quiet, short-haired dog.  They need homes too!

How do you Find a Friendly Dog at the Shelter?

  • Look for wiggles.  Friendly dogs wiggle when they see you coming. They may press up against the kennel door to get as close to you as possible.
  • His eyes may be squinty, and his mouth is most likely open in a doggy grin.
  • His tail is wagging and held fairly low.  The wags are soft and loose.
  • His tail is NOT high and tight over his back.
  • If he is barking, it’s an excited, happy bark; NOT coming from deep in his chest.
  • He won’t charge the front of the kennel.
  • He won’t stand rigid, facing you head on and barking deeply.
  • He won’t crouch or sit stiffly, watching you out of the corner of his eye.
  • He won’t advance and retreat, barking and growling.
  • He won’t cower in the back of the kennel.
  • He won’t ignore you; most dogs are seeking human company.

You can also enlist the aid of a qualified dog trainer to come along with you on your visit to the shelter, or ask to speak with the dog trainer at the shelter.  Many of the shelters now have dog trainers who work with the dogs and evaluate them so the dog has the best chance of being placed in a home that is suitable for them. Definitely talk to the shelter staff.  They have worked with the dog since it’s arrival and can give you valuable insight into the dog’s personality.

Your trainer will perform the kind of evaluation the shelter or rescue staff should have done. They will consider many factors:

  • The dog’s body language
  • How he responds to being touched, in both pleasant and mildly unpleasant ways
  • How excitable he is, and how quickly he calms down
  • How rough or gentle he is in play
  • His reactions to other dogs
  • How he reacts if approached or handled when he’s in possession of food or an edible chew
  • How he responds to the sudden appearance of a stranger
  • How he responds to being startled

Last but not least, consider your own mental state when thinking about bringing a new family member to your home.  If you are still grieving the loss of your dog, give yourself time.  You want to be in a well-adjusted mental state where you can be open and fair with your new family member.  Remember, he will not know your routine or moods like your former companion.  He will be looking to you for guidance in a fair, calm and compassionate manner as he gets adjusted to his new surroundings.  Don’t expect him to “ask to go out” the same way “Muffy did”.  He’s not “Muffy”!  Remember, this is a new chapter in his life, as well as yours!

Giving careful consideration to these questions and observations can help make adopting a shelter dog or acquiring one from a breeder a smooth transition.  You will find a new dimension of joy in your life.

My next article will explore some ideas and things you can do to prepare your home for your new companion when he arrives.

Until then, Happy Exploring!