Those of us who love dogs find the prospect of bringing home a new canine family member both intoxicating and exhilarating. Well planned in advance or not, new dog adoption is likely to trigger an oxytocin rush unparalleled by all but a few other high-end life experiences.
Although some spontaneous adoptions can and do lead to successful relationships, we strongly recommend that your next dog adoption is well thought out in advance and that you choose your new dog carefully so as to maximize the adoption’s chances of you becoming the happy dog that will join your family can offer a lifelong home.
THINK ABOUT IT
The process of adopting a dog can be daunting. We encourage you to do some preliminary planning before looking for the newest member to your family to increase the chances of finding an ideal lifetime companion.
If you are single and live alone, the only thing you can consider is your own needs and desires. The process becomes considerably more complex when you have family or roommates. In both cases, In front When you start your search in earnest, there is a need to think about your requirements and preferences, including:
• Buy-in for families / roommates. Does everyone in the household have a dog (or another dog) on board? If not, edit all reservations before proceeding. It will not do the dog any good to bring her to a house where there is simmering resentment or direct conflict over her presence.
• Race and Source. Have you already decided on a specific breed or type of breed? If so, is everyone in the family or household comfortable with your choice? Have you done a thorough research on the breed to understand their behavioral tendencies and general medical issues?
If you are looking for a specific breed or type, you can consider saying goodbye to a breed rescue group, getting pre-approved, and putting on a waiting list at your local animal shelters or shopping at a reputable breeder. Personal adoptions are also a sensible option – a friend or co-worker who needs to take in a canine companion, or even carefully consider a home adoption from a classified ad or Craigslist. Please no puppies from the pet shop. (For more about Where For information on finding your next dog, see Adopt or Shop ”, WDJ August 2020.)
• size. If you don’t have a breed in mind, does size matter? If so, what size dog are you considering – toys, small, medium, large, or huge?
Be aware that toy and giant breeds are at greater risk of significant medical problems. In general, the giant breeds tend to have short lifespans while the smaller breeds tend to live longer. A recent veterinary record analysis found that dogs under 20 pounds had an average lifespan of 11 years, with some smaller dogs living 14 years or longer, while dogs over 90 pounds typically only lived an average of eight years. Small dogs can be a greater risk of tripping – but they’re more portable! – while large and giant breeds may be more likely to knock you (or your older grandparents) over.
• Age. Puppies are adorable, no doubt. On the plus side, starting with a small dog means that you can have a huge impact on their development and know that their world has been powerless to begin with. However, this is not a guarantee that she will turn out to be the perfect bitch, especially if she wasn’t well socialized before your adoption. (Despite what you may have heard, an eight week old puppy is not a “blank slate”.) And they are a lot of work.
When we were recently considering adopting a 3 month old Australian cattle dog mix, my husband and I realized we did not want to adopt a puppy. You are a lot of work!
In contrast, adult dogs are more likely to be offered “What you see is what you get” – although they can also deliver behavioral surprises as they adjust to their new life with you. You have passed the “needle-sharp puppy teeth” stage and are less likely to tear your flesh (and possessions) apart with a puppy’s mouth. And while some adults still enjoy chewing, there’s a good chance they’re less destructive (apart from fear-related behaviors) and more likely to be already home-trained (or easily trained from-home).
On the other hand, it is also possible that they will come to you with some already well-established behavioral challenges …
• coat. Do you think short or long coat? Is it important to you For some people this is very important.
First, consider grooming. Will someone happily be responsible for brushing that long Afghan, Collie, or Pomeranian fur regularly – at least once a week and maybe more? Do you like to bear the costs of routine trips to the snow groomer for this poodle or doodle clip? Will your Roomba handle the rug of long white Great Pyrenees fur that covers your rug?
You won’t be off the hook with short-haired dogs either – those spiky Labrador Retriever hairs are great at penetrating the fabric of your furniture (or business suit) and can get one bear get out! Of course there is always the Mexican hairless dog … the Xoloitzcuintli (pronounced “Show-Low-Eats-QUEENT-Lee”).
• Details on dog ownership. Which family members are responsible for which dog-related tasks: feeding, tidying up, walks, grooming, trips to the vet, training? Where will the dog sleep? Can she enter the furniture? Who will your vet, groomer, pet sitter, dog walker be? There are an endless number of little things involved in sharing your life with a dog. The more details you work out in advance, the better!
CHOOSE YOUR DOG
Okay: You have taken into account all of the previous requirements and settings. You have the “adopt or Shop ”in the August issue of WDJ to let you know Where You will be looking for your next dog. It’s time to meet some prospects!
When my husband and I both worked in animal shelters, choosing our next dog was easy. We never looked for one; While we met dozens of dogs every week, sooner or later a dog entered the shelter with which one or the other of us was connected almost instantly. Our “love at first sight” moments would then be enhanced by the opportunity to get to know the dog better over the next few days as it went through the admission process.
Since we left the shelter, we’ve learned how difficult it can be for most people to find the perfect dog! You go to the shelter or rescue a hangout, see a dog talk to you, spend a few minutes with him and the next thing you know to fill out adoption papers. You wouldn’t get married like this!
It is common these days for people to receive very little information about the dog they are adopting. When we worked in animal shelters, we received extensive information from owners who dropped off their dogs. We generally had less information about stray dogs our officers picked up, but at least we conducted behavioral assessments (as flawed as they may be) and made notes of the dog’s behavior during their stay with us. Everything we learned about the dogs was passed on to the adopters.
In contrast, today few organizations seem to have much information about their dogs other than “she came from a North Carolina animal shelter”. Sometimes they don’t even seem to know if the dog was owned or stray! When it is time to adopt, you may have to rely entirely on your own observations and instincts about the dogs you encounter – and buying from a breeder can be challenging too.
Here are some suggestions to help you complete your adoption quest successfully:
* Get help. If your adoption organization doesn’t offer qualified adoption counseling and you’re not sure whether you can make a good choice, consider bringing a dog-loving friend with you or even paying a qualified, nonviolent professional to help you with your search. The same applies if you buy from a breeder. Unless you are 100% convinced that the breeder is ethical, knowledgeable, and well qualified, take someone away and help you choose your pup.
* Insist on meeting the dog in person. I am a professional dog trainer / behavioral consultant and I wouldn’t even do it Consider assume an invisible dog sight. I don’t care what information or assurances the organization has given you, or how many videos of the dog you’ve seen – you won’t know who the dog is until you meet him.
I am appalled at the proliferation of internet adoptions these days taking place with no actual dog-human encounter until the paperwork is signed and sealed and the dog is delivered halfway across the country. While it is quite common for breeders to ship puppies across the country (or across oceans!) To buyers, the sight is invisible. I wouldn’t do it no matter how good the breeder’s reputation is.
* Know what you are looking for (as detailed above) – and also know which properties might be negotiable. Maybe you are looking for a female border collie and go to the shelter. The most perfect male Australian Shepherd is there in the kennel asking you to adopt him. Near enough? Maybe like this!
It doesn’t have to be that close. A married couple of mine, my clients, recently wanted to adopt a small dog. They went to the shelter to meet a 20 pound terrier mix that they saw on the website, but by the time they got there the dog was already adopted. They came home with a purebred Akita who is one of the most beautiful dogs I have met in a long time. They are pretty excited about their new family member.
* Resist the shame party puppy. It’s easy to feel sorry for the poor, scared dog who huddled in the far corner of their kennel run. However, if you adopt this dog, there is a very good chance that you are involved in a significant behavior change project. It is possible that this dog will have anxiety problems for the rest of his life. Note: I am a dog behavior professional and would not adopt such a dog!
To be honest, most people want a dog with healthy behavior that they can take to the beach, office, their child’s soccer game, hikes, family reunions, dog training – and shy, scared dogs may never be in able to do these things. Only adopt if you enjoy the challenge of a behavior change project and understand the potential long-term effects of adopting a fearful dog.
* Consider sponsorship. Other animal shelters and rescue groups are now offering this as an option to give you the opportunity to rate the dog in a home setting and provide shelter and space for incoming dogs. Grooming can help you and the dog see if they fit well – and you can feel less guilty about giving the dog back if that doesn’t work. You haven’t made a full commitment and can now provide the adoption agency with information that will help them better match another user.
* Do your own behavioral assessment. It doesn’t have to be as extensive as the ones some organizations use, but there are some basic things you can do to see how the dog is responding and make adoption decisions accordingly.
A DO-IT-YOURSELF BEHAVIORAL EVALUATION
Studies over the past few years have shown that property ratings are unreliable and unpredictable. Behaviors that were seen in ratings are often not seen in the adoptive home after the dog has left the shelter, and behaviors that were not seen in ratings can occur after the dog is in a home. Even so, if you’re just adding to the amount of time you spend with the dog before making a commitment, going through a structured assessment is helpful.
I am not suggesting that you keep an extensive evaluation log. Just try a few reasonably non-aversive things to see how the dog reacts. If you’re looking to investigate a potential new family member, take this list with you and circle the appropriate letters for the behavior you see. Such a rubric can help you make a wise decision.
Before you begin, ask if the shelter or rescue group is happy with the assessment being carried out and let them know the protocol you plan to use.
1. Watch the dog. Observe them from a distance before interacting with the dog. Is she:
[A] Comfortable and relaxed in your kennel or other accommodation? (That would be ideal.)
[B] Speed, stress and barking?
[C] Attacks on dogs and people passing by?
[D] Crouched in the back?
Notice that B, C, and D are red flags. However, some dogs that are stressed or anxious in the kennel are reasonably normal in a less intimidating environment, so this doesn’t necessarily need to be ruled out.
2. Walk on a leash. Out of the kennel and on the leash, she does:
[A] Happy walking with your dog handler? (That’s ideal.)
[B] Pulling on the leash and / or sniffing? (This is your basic training project.)
[C] Threshing wildly or braking and refusing to move? (This presents a greater challenge to training and / or behavior.)
3. Take them off the leash. In a securely enclosed area, remove your leash. Does she:
[A] Happy greetings and staying close to people? (This is ideal associative behavior.)
[B] Desperate to hold on to people? (This can be fear or breakup-related behavior.)
[C] Are you safely exploring the room with occasional check-ins with people? (That’s nice, somewhat independent behavior.)
[D] Explore the room safely and ignore people? (This could indicate a very independent dog, which can be a challenge.)
[E] Get wild and crazy and race through the room for joy? (High energy dogs can be a challenge.)
[F] Walking up and down, maybe moaning, never calming down or calming down? (A stressed, anxious dog can pose a significant behavioral challenge – or settle outside of the shelter for once.)
[G] Explore the room carefully? (She may lack confidence and need to change her behavior.)
[H] Hide in a corner and refuse to move? (This is a very anxious dog that needs extensive behavior changes.)
4. How does she deal with it? Again, do a general manipulation with the leash: stroke her everywhere, touch her paws, look in her ears, look at her teeth. (Stop anytime if she appears uncomfortable or resilient to an uncertain extent.) Does she:
[A] Enjoy your touch, warm and wobbly and ask for more? (Best.)
[B] Do you tolerate your touch, but don’t you really enjoy it or do you invite more interaction? (This is acceptable if you’re not looking for a sensitive cuddly dog.)
[C] Walk away from you (If she’s clearly unfamiliar with how to use it, it may be a behavior change project.)
[D] Freeze, stare hard at you, growl and / or snap? (These indicate significant behavior problems. Only embrace these if you are a professional or very experienced dog owner looking for a project.)
5. Check for training. Ask the dog to sit, lie down, and shake – three behaviors that their owners most likely taught them. Then see if you can get them to do something by luring them with treats you brought with you. Does she:
[A] Do you seem to have exercised? (This is the best.)
[B] Do you easily perform new behaviors that you try to do with a treat? (That’s great too.)
[C] Are you interested in the reward but don’t understand what you’re trying to get her to do? (This is acceptable. It may just take more time and patience to understand better.)
[D] Show no interest in the reward? (She may be too stressed out to care about food – but her lack of interest in food can make exercise more of a challenge.)
6. Is it playful? Try to offer the dog a variety of toys that you brought with you – a ball, a stuffed squeaky toy, a tug, a toy for handing out food. Start with gentle play; You can intimidate some dogs if you play with them too much or too hard. Does she:
[A] Play with you happily and appropriately? (This is the best.)
[B] Playing happily with you but getting too aroused and a little muzzled? (This is acceptable, but it needs management and training.)
[C] Do you love playing with the toy but get a little (or a lot) tense when you try to take the toy? (This suggests a tendency to protect her “stuff” better known as resource conservation. She needs management and training to improve this behavior.)
[D] Don’t you wanna play at all Avoids you or looks at you like you’ve lost your mind? (This is fine if you don’t mind a dog that isn’t playing, or if you want to try teaching him to play. See “Let the Games Begin,” Nov 2014.)
7. Considerations about children. If you have kids, you Got to Let your potential dog meet them before you finalize the adoption. Some dogs who are wonderful with all of this just can’t live with children. For a dog to be safe with children, it should worship Don’t just tolerate them. When the dog sees your child or children, she does:
[A] Appear to approach you with pleasure and Interact appropriately as if she were saying, “Yay! Children! ”? (This is the best.)
[B] Do you seem happy to approach and interact, but is a little too excited? (She will need management and training.)
[C] Do you seem to ignore or tolerate the presence of the child or children? (If you have children this is not acceptable; do not adopt this dog.)
[D] Is she cautious, afraid, reactive, or aggressive? (Don’t do. Adopt!)
8. Do you have any other dogs? Ideally, you have brought your home dogs with you so that they can be introduced in a neutral environment. If not, if you are still very interested in the dog at this point, ask to put the dog on hold so you can go home to bring your home dog (s) for an introduction. Of course, introduce them carefully and again seek help from a qualified dog trainer or dog-loving friend.
When the dogs see each other from the other side of the room or yard, do the following:
[A] Both seem reasonably calm and happy to approach and meet? (This is the best.)
[B] One seems more assertive, the other more calming? (That’s great too, as long as the more assertive dog isn’t too strong.)
[C] They both seem happy to approach each other, but are very excited? (This is acceptable, although you will need to manage their behavior with one another.)
[D] Do dogs ignore / avoid each other? (This is not a good choice. Avoidance often becomes a significant behavioral challenge.)
[E] One or both dogs are showing signs of tension: stiff body language, hard looks, growls, reactivity? (This is not a good choice.)
9. Do you have other animals in your family? If you have other pets, small or large (cats, pigs, birds, horses, etc.) ask if the dog has a history and if there are any available in the premises where you will meet the dog. Observe their behavior while the dog is on a leash some distance away. Does she:
[A] Watching quietly from a distance? (This is the best.)
[B] Watching from a distance with happy excitement? (That’s fine, although she needs management and training.)
[C] Getting very aroused and / or reactive, barking and falling? (With excellent management and modification, this may be acceptable if you have large animals. However, it is not acceptable for small animals.)
[D] Going into predator / stalking mode with a hard look or crouching? (With excellent management and modification, this may be acceptable if you have large animals. However, it is not acceptable for small animals.)
A challenging question
It’s been eight years since my husband and I became closely involved with an animal shelter. Two years ago, in the same year, we lost our last two adopted children to old age and cancer.
Our current dogs are Not Shelter alumni; We couldn’t find the dogs we wanted through any of our dogs local Shelters or rescue groups. After a long search, we adopted one from a rescue group in New York (we live in Maryland) and the other was privately adopted; He was picked up by Craigslist. Now we can better empathize with the dog lovers struggles to find good candidates for their own families.
Even so, scarcity is not a good reason to be less than scrupulous in your assessments. Remember, you commit to thousands of dollars in food and veterinary care, and countless hours of time with your dog for at least the next ten years or more. Take your time! Good luck with your search.
The author, Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, is WDJ’s training editor. She lives in Fairplay, Maryland, which is where her Peaceful Paw Training Center is located. See page 24 for information on their books and courses.