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Thoughts On Adopting A Dog

Updated on August 10, 2012

Adopting A Dog From A Shelter

I know this topic has been covered before and will be again, and again, and this is my two cents.

You’ve made the decision to adopt a dog from a shelter or a rescue. That’s great! Not only will you be saving one life, but two - you will be opening up a space for another dog. Now you have other things to think about.

What Kind Of Dog?

I am only going to briefly touch on this because it requires an article dedicated just to breeds and their various needs, behaviors and health conditions. It goes without saying though that if you live in a tiny apartment you would probably be happier with a small dog.

So, You’ve Picked Your Dog

You go to the shelter and there you find him/her! Look at those big eyes! Awww, how can anyone not take him/her home? Every animal is brought to the shelter for a reason. Most of the time it’s a people reason -no time, no money, moving - you get the picture. Other times, it’s a dog reason - she doesn’t like the cat, the other dog, the kids, the husband. Whatever. It’s your job to ask questions - the shelter is going to ask you plenty of them so return the favor.

There should be a room or a yard where you can spend some time with the dog. If you have kids please make them be calm and behave. They should let the dog approach them and have them hold their hands out for a sniff (palm down and fingers slightly curled is usually best, when a dog has been hit, it’s usually with an open hand so a hand in this position is less threatening). The dog should still be on a leash at this point. Once the dog has had a chance to check them out (and you) bring yourself to the dogs level to pet - reaching over the dogs head can also seem like a threat. Remember, this animal was turned in or picked up as a stray and brought into a whole new world of smells and noise - this is extreme stimuli and some dogs may be a little nervous at first. I wouldn’t suggest removing the leash until it is obvious the dog is relaxed around you and your family.

Generally someone from the staff will be with you to answer questions - and make sure things go ok. Start asking questions.

Why was this animal turned in? Make sure it’s something you are willing to work with if necessary.

Have there been any behaviors the staff has noticed? Example - most shelters do not feed dogs together but during feeding time does the dog hunch over the bowl trying to cover as much of it as he can? This could be a sign of food aggression - even in a one dog house this can be a problem if left unchecked - do some research first.

Is the animal housebroken? Do you have any medical history? Was the dog in a home with kids or other animals? Does the shelter have a history with this dog - in other words, has he been here before as a stray (possible escape artist) or as a returned adoption (why was he brought back)?

Those are just a few questions. You should sit down and think about what is important to you. If you have a high energy house, bringing in a timid, shy dog would be some work and the dog may not adjust. Same thing with a dog that is high energy in a quiet house - someone is going to be really upset when the dog chews up the house from all that untapped energy.

But He's So Cute!!

Don’t be too disappointed if the first dog you look at has problems you aren’t ready for. There were two different women that came to the shelter one day to look at puppies. They each selected a pup from the same litter. It turns out that these two puppies had been in foster care - one with me and the other with a co-worker. After talking to both women I suggested they switch puppies (they looked almost alike) - the reason being that the pup I had fostered was showing alpha dog behavior and needed an experienced dog owner to make sure it didn’t progress into unacceptable behavior and the woman looking at her was a first time dog owner. The other pup that the co-worker had fostered was quiet and easy going and perfectly willing to let the human be alpha and the woman looking at her had had dogs since childhood including a chow and a shepherd. It was obvious to us that the pups would be more suited with the other woman and after explaining it to them and letting them spend time with the other pup, both were adopted into suitable homes. Chances are if the inexperienced woman would have adopted the first pup there would have been issues down the road. The moral here is that if the shelter staff thinks the dog you have chosen would be a bad match don’t get angry and insistent. Listen to the reasons, go home and do some checking into those reasons. Chances are they are right, no one likes to be told no but it’s usually with good reason. Remember, their jobs are not only to find homes, but to find the right homes.

Get Yourself Put On A List

Shelters often keep a list of people interested in a particular type or breed of animal. If you are going to ask them for a dog that is quiet, doesn’t shed, is housebroken and doesn’t bark then do yourself a favor and go get a stuffed animal - it’s guaranteed to be all of those things and won’t run up vet bills either.

Ok, You Adopted A Dog, Now What

Congrats! You are now a parent of a child with four legs and fur. Having a dog is a lot like having a child except you can take your child most places with you, but not so with the dog. If you’ve adopted a puppy keep in mind that constant running around on your part isn’t very effective for housebreaking.

Most shelters will already have vaccinated, spayed or neutered and micro-chipped your new pet. A trip to the vets office should still be in your near future for a general health check if nothing else. Plus while you are at the vet you can get your dog started on heartworm preventative and discuss fleas and ticks. Make friends with your vet - this is the person you will possibly be waking up with emergencies - hopefully not, but you know how kids are. Your vet is also a wealth of information from breed specific health problems to which food is best.

If the shelter didn’t micro-chip your dog, do it now, NOW! A micro-chip is a phone call home if you pet gets lost. Lets hope it never happens to you, but recently my son lost his girlfriends dog. He was picked up by a couple and they drove off with him. 21 web pages and signs posted everywhere did no good. They had no intention of returning him. Then, finally 6 weeks later they got a phone call from animal control - they were called out to pick up a dog that the people didn’t want any more. It was their dog!! He looked like crud and his hair was all knotty, but thanks to that micro-chip he got his phone call home. I can not stress this enough - a collar falls off, tags get lost. That chip might migrate a bit, but it’s still there.

Train, Train, Train And Then Train Some More

No matter if you’ve adopted a puppy or an adult dog there will be a need for training. Your recycled adult dog may have always been allowed on all the furniture - maybe you only want her on the chair. Doesn’t matter, you will need training. Probably the best books I have ever read were written by Carol Lea Benjamin - and I just discovered she’s on wordpress. I put a link to her at the bottom of this article. Her two books that I have always touted to dog adopters are The Second Hand Dog and Dog Problems. The way she explains dog behavior and training techniques is great for beginners or the pro. Her illustrations are cute too. But the point is that the way she gives the information to you makes it so easy for you to apply. I like the Dog Whisperer too, but I don’t think I could afford to have him on standby 24/7.

Keep In Touch

Don’t forget to keep in touch with the shelter - they do love to hear about the animals they’ve adopted out - postcards and pictures are great. When I left the humane society my staff had put together a book of cage cards from the animals we had adopted out and included pictures where they could - it’s been a few years and I still remember those animals whenever I thumb through that book.


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    • Sypsey profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      mvillecat - your husband has to know he never stood a "chance". I think it's great that you took in a Pit Bull. They are such amazing dogs!

    • mvillecat profile image

      Catherine Dean 

      6 years ago from Milledgeville, Georgia

      We always adopt or rescue straight off the street. The last three have been taken off the streets and have been incredible dogs, including our first ever Pit Bull, Chance. My husband tells everyone I love Chance more than I do him. Well....might be a little truth there.

    • Sypsey profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Glad to hear that. Everyone in my family has pets from the shelter too.

    • aivzdog profile image


      6 years ago

      I adopted my whole pack. Im a big adoption supporter.


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