Eight things to consider when adopting a shelter dog

Adopting a fully grown shelter dog is usually not considered when a family decides to get a new pet. It may actually be the best choice for your family.

A fully grown shelter dog may already be house trained, trained in basic obedience and be past the teething stage. That means no messes in the house, no damaged furniture and a dog that listens to it’s owner. That sounds like a dream dog to me. You’ll also know what you’re getting in your new dog regarding it’s size, color, temperament and personality. There are fewer surprises and you’ll have the advantage of knowing what you’re getting before you get it.

If you’re looking for a loving family pet a shelter dog just may be the answer. If your looking for a show dog it’s probably not. I say probably because I’ve seen pure bred animals, with papers, in the shelter I worked in. It was rare but it did happen. Sometimes the dog out-grew it’s family and sometimes it was disobedient or chewed up something in the house. Occasionally the owner just wasn’t responsible enough to own a pet and it was just too much work. There were many reasons why they were brought to the shelter by their owners.

When shopping at the local grocery store, most people are picky about what they choose. There are many things they take into consideration before making decisions. They check the dates on perishables, squeeze the grapefruit and look for bruising. They make decisions based on color, quantity, packaging, size, fat content, calories and price. That works well for shoppers who want what’s best for their families but for some strange reason some of the same people don’t make the same kind of careful decisions when it comes to choosing a new family pet. A pet that may be around for ten or fifteen years. This is where the “cute” factor can really work against a pet and the family as well. The cutest dog in the bunch gets adopted and that usually means a puppy.

When you adopt a puppy, especially a mixed breed, you may be in for an unwanted surprise or two. When the dog becomes mature it may be too large or not look the way you thought it would. It’s really a crap shoot. You can guess how big the dog will get but it’s still just a guess unless you know the mix. Now mind you, I’m not speaking out against adopting puppies, it’s a fine idea, what I’m saying is that there are benefits to adopting an older dog too. Besides the reasons mentioned above, you’re also giving an older dog a second chance at a happy life. He probably deserves that chance.

A pet has to become part of your family, a part of your pack. He or she has to fit in well and be of the proper temperament and size for your family. Not taking those factors into account can have disastrous repercussions for both the pet and the family. I’ve seen it happen in failed adoptions and when families turned their pet over to the shelter. A family gets a puppy, the puppy is small, cute and manageable and then it quickly grows to maturity and is larger or more energetic than expected.

It wasn’t long after becoming an Animal Control Officer that I began to believe that it wasn’t a pet problem at all, it was a pet owner problem. After all, you can’t blame it on the dog. The dog just wanted a home, a family to be a part of, in essence, a new pack. Choosing a pet carefully is very important for your family and the pet. Here are a few tips on what to do if you’re interested in adopting a shelter dog.

(1) – Speak with your family and make sure they know the dog will be everyone’s responsibility. Feeding, walking, training and loving your new pet should be shared between family members. If everyone is in agreement it’s time to search for your new family member. Bring the entire family. You’ll want to know how well everyone will get along. It’s important that everyone in your family sees, pets and interacts with the dog if it’s possible.

(2) – If you have other pets, bring them with you to the shelter and have them meet the dog you may adopt if you’re seriously considering a specific dog. It would be a good idea to call the shelter first so that they’re prepared. They’ll usually be happy to work with you and help you find a dog that will be a great match for your family. You don’t need to arrive at home with your new pet and find out there’s a big problem. Do that at the shelter. It’s best done outside the shelter with shelter staff present. In busy shelters this may be a problem which is why you should always speak with them in advance. All of the pets should be on leashes so they can be controlled easily if there’s a problem.

(3) – Speak to anyone that has had contact with the dog. You can learn a lot from the staff members that feed and interact with the dog on a daily basis. After all, they’re the people that probably know the dog best.

A good shelter will appreciate someone that makes a careful decision before adopting. The shelter staff wants the dog to find a new home. They certainly don’t want to see a dog returned. It’s depressing for the shelter staff to see a dog return after being adopted.

(4) – When you first visit your local shelter get as much information as you can on a dog you may be interested in adopting. Don’t rush, take your time. Take a few days if you have to. It’s an important decision and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Use your best judgement when making your decision, not just your emotions.

(5) – Ask about the dog’s history, medical records and temperament. The more you know about the dog the more informed your final decision will be. Find out as much as you can about the dog’s shelter history. Ask if he or she has been neutered or spayed. You’ll also want to know what shots and flea and tick treatments the dog was given. Ask if the dog has been adopted and then returned to the shelter. If the dog has been returned find out why. The staff will almost always know why a dog was returned.

(6) – Ask about the dog’s appetite and either check or ask if the dog’s stool looks normal. This can be valuable information especially if the dog has no medical records. There’s a lot you can do to make a good, informed decision when adopting from a rescue shelter.

(7) – If the dog is a mixed breed ask the shelter staff what mix the dog is. This will give you a reasonably good idea how large the dog will get if it’s not already fully grown. The shelter staff may know from the previous owners or they may at least have an idea just by looking at the dog. Either way you’ll get some facts or at the very least, an educated guess.

(8) – Ask the shelter staff to allow you to meet the dog out of it’s run or cage and get to know the dog a bit. It’s very important and you can learn a lot in a short amount of time. If you feel comfortable with the dog it’s also a very good idea to take it for a walk if the shelter will allow it. Just remember, any dog can be trained. If the dog isn’t perfect, that’s ok. You’ll work together to improve.

Those 8 steps are good to keep in mind when adopting a dog from a shelter. Just remember, even an older dog can be trained with a little patience, love and understanding.

I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying “You can’t teach old dogs new tricks”. I’ve heard that saying many times and I couldn’t disagree more. As an animal control officer I was often in charge of adoptions and taking care of the dogs and cats when I wasn’t on patrol or on an abuse investigation. I spent a lot of that time training some of the older dogs in the basics to give them a better chance at being adopted. They learned quickly and some dogs already knew the basic commands. Dogs want to please, it’s in their nature and with some patience you can teach an old dog new tricks!

Shelter dogs don’t get a lot of one-on-one attention from people. They get some from the staff but it’s limited. The staff is usually pretty busy and there are usually quite a few dogs to take care of so finding the time for one-on-one attention is difficult. So try to remember that a dog may be very excited when he first meets you. Spend some time with the dog so you can find out what he or she is really like. Spend that time with the dog and you may find that the dog is a lot different than your first impression would have lead you to believe.

If you do adopt a shelter dog be sure to visit a local vet as soon as possible. A healthy pet is a happy pet. If the dog has no known medical history then you have to start developing one. If there is a medical history then it’s still important that the dog is current on all vaccinations and treatments. Let the vet tell you what the dog needs.

Good luck if you’re considering adopting a dog from a shelter. I’m sure you’ll be very glad you did. It’s a great feeling to know you may have saved your new, best friend’s life.