How to Pick a Shelter or Rescue Dog

No matter whether you are looking for an adult dog or a puppy it’s so important to consider your lifestyle before you do anything else.

Ask your self the following four questions:

  1. How active do you want to be during the work week?  Do you already go to the gym afterwork and would you be willing to switch that out for an evening jog around the neighborhood with your new dog.  Do most nights after work you come home, prepare dinner get the kids to finish their homework and then finally sit down for 30 minutes of TV before you head to bed?  It is best to consider your busy nights instead of just weekends.  When considering your new dog’s energy always round down, so if you think you’re a super active five than get a four energy level dog.  This will make sure that your dog always has his needs met and will save your pillows from being chewed up if you take on a few extra hours at work. DON’T RELY ON YOUR YARD AND DON’T INCLUDE THAT IN YOUR ACTIVITY SCORE UNLESS YOU HAVE MORE THAN 2 ACRES.
  2. How often do you travel?  Would you want to take your dog with you?  Some breeds and individual dogs do better with new people who might come over to dog sit and some dogs would be easier to fly with simply because of their size.
  3. Will you be moving in the next five years?   Why is this important?  Well, if your in your early twenties and still doing some apartment hoping it’s important to know that most apartments have breed and weight restrictions which could end up restricting where you live if you want to keep your dog.  In addition to this some HOAs and even some cities and countries have breed restrictions which doesn’t allow you to own a specific breed or mix of that breed.
  4. Why do you want a dog? Dreaming of cuddling on the couch with doggy pal watching your favorite chick flick, going hiking and to the park or hoping for a pal to keep your other canine company?  These would all require a different dog.  Not all dogs like to cuddle, not all dogs like to run and some might not like other dogs.  Keep this in mind while you search.
  5. Life changes?  Hoping to start a family in the next six months? Making sure the adult dog likes kids and more importantly babies is a MUST.   Making sure you introduce your puppy in a positive way to both babies and toddlers will be a must be prepared to jump in full training mode to make sure your dog is ready for baby. Already pregnant?  Choose an adult dog waking up to take puppy out, giving adequate attention to socialization and manners will have to be a priority and being a new mom will make this nearly impossible.  If you must choose a puppy remember you have no time to slack get that puppy into as many training classes as possible before the baby comes.

Are you looking for an adult or a puppy?  Well, the answer should depend on primarily time.  In a study that looked at dog owners contacting trainers for reports of aggressive behavior where a bite breaking skin occurred they found that 78 percent of dogs that had bitten another dog or person where purchased between the ages of 8 weeks and 12 weeks.    What does that study tell us?  Well, no one adopts a new puppy in hopes it’s going to turn into a problem dog, but it happens way more often than we think.  The problem is WAY too many people get puppies hoping to raise them how they want them but don’t actually have the time or experience to do it correctly.  If you have lots of time to take your puppy out in the world to do training sessions than your good either way.  That being said if you are already balancing the kids soccer games, work, helping with school work and volunteering for carpool maybe an adult dog with already good manners is the way to go.  Remember we are talking after a busy day of work… not just weekends.

Choosing where to look for your new dog

If you live in a small town you may only have the choice of one shelter or one rescue, but if you live in a busy area like Denver you may have an overwhelming amount of options. You might not know, but not all shelters are created equal and not all rescues are either. Rescues range greatly from little old ladies who have 12 dogs and a 501c3 and major ones with 1000’s of volunteers and dozens of staff. How do you pick? Don’t start looking for a dog before you know where to look. While most shelters and rescues push for full disclosure some feel full disclosure may scare people away.

Start by asking these questions:

  1. How do you get your dogs? Some transfer in from other shelters and rescues, some (not many) sit at auction houses and purchase dogs and others take them only as owner surrenders or stays. It doesn’t matter which you choose, but this question can give you insight as to if this is an organization that you want to support.
  2. How do you get to know your dogs? Some shelters provide playgroups, training classes and three times a day walks to their dogs so that is a great way to get to know them. Many rescues are foster based and actually living in the home with the foster parent. Other places may only get to know a dog by throwing a bowl of food and cleaning the kennel. It doesn’t matter which you choose, but this question can give you insight as to if this is an organization that you want to support.
  3. For very young puppies you want to ask if they were born in the shelter or in foster. You also want to know what type of socialization they get while in foster.

The process of shopping for your new dog.

You walk into the shelter pass an old lab, a barking border collie then you spot him.  It’s love at first sight!  Your head over heels for him, just the dog you have always dreamed of…… wait a minute, slow down this isn’t speed dating.  I’m always shocked at how people seem to be able to pick their new dog quicker than they do a couch.  This dog will be with you for the next 12 years,  maybe you should get to know who he is first.

Start by reading the card on the outside of the kennel.  Then ask the shelter staff if they can tell you about his history and how he got there.  Was he a stray?  Maybe he can’t be left alone in the backyard.  Did his owner surrender him, if so why?  This can give you very important information.  Also, ask if they know how he is with kids, dogs, cats and people.  Next ask them what type of energy he has (REMEMBER DON’T BUDGE ON YOUR EXERSIES NEEDS ACTIVE DOGS IN LAZY HOMES DEVELOP LOTS OF BEHAVIOR ISSUES)  Finally, ask the staff to meet the dog.

Meeting the dog

  1. Sometimes when you meet a dog at the shelter they put you in a room and sometime they let you take them for a walk.  Ask if you can do both, many dogs act differently outside then they do inside.  You want to get the full picture of who this dog is by letting them show you.  Here are somethings you’ll want to do with your dog before saying “yes”
  2. Have everyone who lives in the home meet the dog, if you have a cat ask them to re-cat test even if they have already said he is good with cats.  If you have kids, a roommate or a dog they should have a say too.
  3. See what the dog does when you run, drop something, rub his belly, touch his toes or act silly.  If Your kids came have your kids run around.  Hug and pickup your kids to see if there are any issues there.  If your dog came with you pet just your dog, then just your new dog.  Toss the ball for the two of them. 
  4. Try giving the dog some treats and seeing if you can teach him something like down or stay to see how he focuses and how quickly he learns.  See if he will play fetch.  Try to have someone else come in the room to see how he responds.
  5. Spend at least 30 minutes with the dog and even if your in love meet at least three dogs to be sure.

Adopting a new dog is a lifetime commitment.  Staff that works at animal shelters and rescues do their very best to give you accurate information about the dog.  Sometime you may see things they didn’t if they give you information about the dog’s history it is important to take that into consideration even if YOU don’t see it right then and there.  Shelters are scary places for dogs and dogs show their fear in different ways like shutting down or over excitement.  They may show behaviors at home that they didn’t show in the shelter.  Staff can give you this sort of important insight.

Photos of some HSSPV Shelter Dogs

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