CHOOSING THE RIGHT SHELTER DOG TO ADOPT

Do your research first! You want to make the proper selection by researching the breed(s) that may work well for your family’s lifestyle. Two very helpful books to help you figure out which breed (or mixed breed) to adopt for your family’s lifestyle are: Animal Planet’s “Complete Guide to Dog Breeds” by Diane Morgan (available in paper and digital (ibooks), and “Meet Your Dog,” by Kim Brophey (available online in e-book and also as audio). Nothing is 100% guaranteed, but this sure is a good way to get started before you walk through the shelters.

The problem with going to the shelter prior to doing your research is… you will fall in love with a dog! It’s very easy for all of us to make an impulsive decision. This happens a lot, and then within the first couple of weeks, adopters may already be feeling remorseful about having made a bad choice. Doing your research and making good decisions can prevent you from having to return a dog back to the shelter. 

Observe the dog’s behavior and demeanor with everyone in your family. When you’re observing the dogs in their cages, look for the dog that seems happy and excited to see all of you.  However, some dogs can’t stop barking because they’re so anxious and miserable in that environment. It’s a good idea to ask to meet and interact with a dog outside where he’s feeling less confined.

I know it’s very sad to see a dog hunkered down at the back of the kennel, but I would avoid that dog unless you are experienced working and living with very fearful, and possibly aggressive dogs. Don’t think that your love will cure him and all will be fine!

Remember that there is always a ‘honeymoon period’ when adopting a dog. That honeymoon normally lasts anywhere between 2 weeks and 6 months (I adopted a dog years ago that took one solid year before I learned exactly who he was). Little by little your new dog will eventually show some behaviors that you hadn’t seen before. As he becomes more secure in his new home and environment, and as you develop a relationship with him (based on trust!), he will become the dog he was. This is why early on, you must train your new rescue with positive methods! You must set some rules (sit for everything he wants and all food, and no attention on demand), create some boundaries from the start (no sleeping in your bed for at least a year!), and no spoiling tactics because his past life was most likely very bad!

Watch for soft body language when considering a dog. Is the dog playful? Does he seem happy to be around you, your husband and your children? If he seems anxious during your entire visit, but you still like him, try coming back the next day or at least a second time. He may remember you and feel calmer. I visited my last dog at the shelter 3 times! I also walked him each time. If you want to do that, and a shelter staffer says that “you’d better decide because other people are interested in him,” don’t feel under pressure! Take your time!

Is he very quiet? Quiet doesn’t mean he’s a calm dog or that he will be calm always.  Many times those quiet dogs are actually “shut down” from being extremely stressed or having gone through some trauma. This is called “learned helplessness.” They’ve lost their home and are now in a very anxiety-producing environment. Again, come back and meet him a second time!

Does he accept petting from you and your family? When you are petting him, does he maintain that friendly demeanor, or does he freeze? Some dogs do have handling issues. To help that dog, he will need some behavior modification training.

Sometimes adopted dogs are fearful around men and have a difficult time adjusting to them after adoption. Make sure all the males in your family are with you when you make this very important decision to bring a dog home. I’ve met families who adopted a dog when the husband was on a business trip at the time. Or, the husband was at work and came home later in the evening after the dog had been there for several hours. What a disaster that can be! Dogs can see this “new person” as an intruder!

Do You Already Have a Dog? If you do, you’ll need to bring that dog to the shelter to see if your dog and the prospective new dog get along. Remember that nothing is 100% guaranteed. Sometimes dogs will play with each other at the shelter, but once they’re home and together, squabbles can occur, often due to competition for owner-attention or other resources.  Your dogs will need you to provide excellent guidance and leadership skills to keep peace between the dogs at all times.

When determining if both dogs are going to get along at home, an obvious red flag would be that one or both immediately show inappropriate behavior during their initial meeting. Another red flag to look for is if one or both completely ignore the other.  Ignoring doesn’t mean things are fine and dandy.  It means there’s a problem!  Don’t assume that things will change once the adoption is finalized. Also, don’t let anyone at the shelter try to convince you that everything will eventually work out, even when you see these red flags! The truth is, there is never a guarantee that those dogs will accept one another later on!  What you see is potentially what you can get! You don’t want to experience the heartache of returning the dog.

If you already live with a female dog, consider adopting a male. More than one female in the house can a bit risky because serious fights can break out. They don’t call them “bitches” for nothing 😉  If you already have a male and you want another male, the risk is not quite as high as two females, but you may see some competitive behaviors and/or urine marking in the house once they’re living together. If you already have two males living successfully in the home, the best dog to adopt would be a female.

When you bring your new dog home, and you do have another or more dogs, keep the new dog behind a gate for at least 1 week. When feeding your dogs, let them see each other during meals through that gate!

Walk your new dog with your resident dogs (1 at a time if more than 1) preferably with a second handler. One dog walks behind the other and then switch that up. Each dog will become familiar with the other dog’s scent and will get more and more comfortable with him. Place a towel or sheet that has your resident dog’s scent on it and place it in your new dog’s crate (do the same with your own dog). When you feel it’s safe to allow the new dog to interact with your resident dog(s), keep a short leash tab attached to each of their collars in case you have to quickly re-direct one of them. If everything seems okay, supervise them when they’re together for a week or two. Don’t rush any of this!

Be sure to ask questions about the dog you’re thinking of adopting.  Here are a few suggested questions you might ask:

  1. What history do you have on this dog’s past?
  2. Was he or she an owner surrender? If so, what were the reasons the owner brought him to the shelter? More often than not, former owners avoid stating the reason or they lie.
  3. Was the dog a stray? If so, he may be an escape artist, so you’ll need a secure fence (not invisible).
  4. How long has the dog been at the shelter? Dogs that spend several months to a year in a shelter can deteriorate over time (especially Pitties). They haven’t been in a normal home environment for a long time, and have experienced a lot of stress. Your prospective dog may need extra time to adjust to your home and you’ll need a lot of patience and understanding during that adjustment period.
  5. Has he ever been adopted out and then returned? Hopefully, the shelter staff will know why he was re-surrendered. If the dog was returned because he bit someone or because he couldn’t get along with someone in the family, you’ll need to seriously consider those reasons before making your final adoption. Please remember, it is a heartbreaking experience to return a dog!
  6. Did anyone at the shelter do a temperament test on a dog you want to adopt? Unfortunately, I’m learning that several shelters are no longer doing temperament tests.
  7. The most significant part of temperament testing is to find out if the dog guards his food, bones, toys or people (known as resource guarding). Dogs can guard anything. Ask someone to test the dog before taking him home. Resource guarding requires some behavior modification, so you’ll need help with this and it isn’t something to punish!!!
  8. If you have a cat, some shelters state they cat-test the dog and he was fine. I caution you against adopting a hunting dog or herding dog if you already have a cat! 

Once you make a decision to adopt a dog, seriously consider taking your new dog to a group training class early on if he’s comfortable around other dogs. My recommendation would be to attend classes at Wonderdogs in West Berlin, NJ (www.wonderdogs.com). If you find that your new dog has any serious issues (biting, resource guarding, separation anxiety, leash reactivity, etc.), consider hiring a positive reinforcement Certified Behavior Consultant who is very experienced in doing behavior modification. Positive training is critically important. Your trainer can help you resolve serious issues early on.

My last blog was titled, “Advice to Adopters of Shelter or Rescue Dogs.” It’s a little bit further down my Facebook page and also on my blog page. I strongly recommend you read this also!

Good luck 🙂

Copyright: Renee Premaza, 2018

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