You've been thinking about getting a dog for a while, and you know you want to do the right thing and rescue a dog from a shelter, but that may be as far as you've thought things through. You've never adopted a dog before, and you're not sure what steps to take. It's OK; PawNation is here to help. Follow our 10 steps for adopting a shelter dog, and you'll end up with the perfect new best friend.
1. Set guidelines.
Have at least a vague idea of what kind of dog you want to adopt. Do you prefer a puppy or an adult dog? Large or small? A certain breed or a mixed-breed? Research different breeds and types of dog. Make an honest assessment of your lifestyle, and use it to form a general picture of the kinds of dogs that would make a good match for you.
2. Keep an open mind.
It’s important to plan ahead, but you also should keep an open mind and heart. Don’t stick too slavishly to preconceived notions about what kind of dog you want. It may lead you to pass up on a perfect match that you really connect with just because it’s not the “right” breed or doesn’t match the picture you had in your head. Meeting and making a connection with a dog at a shelter is more important than a hypothetical daydream of an ideal dog.
3. Look online.
Your first step, before you even set foot in a shelter, is to do some research online. Sites like Petfinder show what dogs are available for adoption at animal shelters all over America. The profiles of these pets will give you a lot of specific information like the names and personalities of various adoptable pets, as well as photos of them. If you use your insight, though, you can also learn information about the shelters themselves. Some pets’ profiles will be slapdash, with not a lot of specific about the dogs, or clear descriptions of their personalities. If many dogs at one shelter have similarly vague and nonspecific descriptions, it may be a hint that the people at that shelter don’t really take the time to get to know their animals very well. A good profile will have a wealth of information about a dog’s health, personality, and as much of its prior history as possible, information only shelter staff who care enough to learn it would know.
4. Don’t limit yourself to one shelter.
You may be tempted to visit whichever animal shelter is closest to you and pick a new dog from that facility, but there’s no need to be so restrictive. Be willing to travel. Some people drive to shelters that are states away from home — sometimes several days’ drive. We’re not saying you need to make that large of a commitment, but finding the pet that’s right for you is a major decision. You may have to look farther and wider than you think to find a good match, so don’t limit yourself just to what’s close if it means settling for a dog that doesn’t feel right to you.
5. When you visit a shelter, pay close attention to the staff.
The conduct of a shelter’s staff is a better indicator of how the animals there are treated than the quality of the facility itself. A well-funded shelter could have a flashy building and state-of-the-art equipment, yet be staffed by people who don’t know what they’re doing or don’t care. Another shelter may struggle financially and have a shabby-looking building, but have employees who truly love the pets, who know each one and take good care of them. Which shelter would you think has the happier, better adjusted animals?
6. Pick a few dogs that stand out to you at first glance.
There are a lot of dogs to choose from, even at one shelter. You can spend hours with every single one of them. Look around the facility and make a note of a few, maybe 5-10, that stand out to you the most at first glance. Once you have a few favorites, “interview” them individually. Spend a few minutes with each one and get a feel for their personalities. Talk to them. Pet them. Play with them. See how they respond to you, if they like you or make any connection with you.
7. Avoid shy dogs if you have children.
We have nothing against shy dogs. Shy dogs are cute and lovable in their own way. But shy dogs may need more patient, gentle and understanding owners, and those are three qualities that children, especially very young children, tend to lack. Even with good intentions, kids may be grabby and rough with pets. Some dogs like rough play, but shy dogs probably don’t.
8. Spend time with dogs outside the shelter.
We don’t mean you need to take the dogs home and foster them, but once you’ve narrowed down your initial choices to two or three, ask the staff if you can take them for a walk to see how you get along outside the confines of the shelter. Time outside of the shelter, away from the walls, the staff and the other animals, could change the dog’s temperament (for better or worse). Asking to take a shelter dog for a walk is a valuable, normal and reasonable request. Beware of shelter staff who refuse you. If they do, you should strongly consider adopting from a different facility.
9. Ask a lot of questions.
Ask all the questions that are important to you. Then ask every question you can think of. Then ask more questions. Put the staff through their paces. Again, there are two sides to this. The first is that you want as much information as possible about the dog you’re considering for adoption. But it’s also a way to gauge how on the ball the staff is, how much they know, how familiar with the animals they are. The should be as eager to find a good home for their animals as you are to find the right dog, so your questions should not be annoying to them. If they are annoyed by your questions, unwilling to answer them or otherwise unhelpful, go elsewhere.
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10. Visit more than once.
Choosing a shelter dog is not a decision to be taken lightly. You shouldn’t be expected to make a final decision after meeting a dog once. In fact, you should be discouraged from doing so. Visit the dogs you like several times. Watch if and how they warm up to you as you return and they get to know you. Think of it like dating. You want to go on a few dates to see how you really click before you settle into a long-term relationship. The better you get to know a shelter dog before you adopt it, the more comfortable you’ll both be when you bring the dog home.
How to Choose a Shelter Dogpaws for a cause
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