Two and a half years ago, I wrote my very first AnimalSense blog about choosing a puppy. This time, I wanted to share some lessons I learned during our most recent dog search. Rather than going the puppy route, for a variety of reasons, my family decided that we would adopt an adult dog. We thought about our ideal dog and started the search. We visited a least six shelters (several more than once) and scoured PetFinder and rescue group websites.
During the extensive and often exhausting process of looking for the right rescue dog, I learned several things:
- Be realistic. Before you start looking to adopt a dog, be realistic about what you can take on. Although I have the skills to handle a dog that needs some training, I know that my lifestyle (lots of kids and activity in my house) and schedule aren’t conducive to adopting a dog that needed intensive behavior modification. Do you have the time, lifestyle, and financial resources to take on a dog with behavioral or medical special needs? Do you have the space and activity level to take on a high energy breed? Think about these things before you try to make that decision with adorable, pleading eyes staring back at you.
- Be flexible. Know that even though you have a list of criteria and a realistic idea of what you can handle, you are unlikely to find the “perfect” dog that matches each of your criteria precisely. Think about which of your criteria are preferences and which are hard and fast. You may be looking for a female dog, but if you meet a great male dog, why not? If it’s because you already own a dog that doesn’t get along well with male dogs, that’s a really good reason to continue the search, but if it’s just because you’ve always had females, consider being flexible.
- Sleep on it. When you meet a dog at a shelter, it’s easy to fall in love and want to rescue him or her immediately. There were a couple of times when my desire to not disappoint my children and finally end the search had me starting to bend my criteria. Going home and taking a break from a situation allowed me the chance to think more clearly and decide if the compromise that I was considering was actually a good idea.
- Take a trusted friend. Ask a friend to be an objective set of eyes to help to be sure that emotion or impulsiveness isn’t coloring the decision (too much!). Thanks to Alison Spanner for coming with me and giving her opinion after my family had met a dog, came home and slept on it and still wanted to pursue the adoption.
- Be prepared to be surprised. Know that no matter how much due diligence you do, you might be surprised when you get home. Many dogs in shelter environments act in ways that aren’t the way they will act once settled into a home for a few weeks. Some dogs in shelters are very hyper and will be much calmer once some of the stress is removed. Others react to the shelter environment by shutting down and will be much more active and rambunctious at home. In addition, some dogs at shelters are sick, so their behavior is dampened by not feeling well.
So after an extensive search, we adopted Hobo. He’s a five-pound, four-year-old terrier mix. Is he perfect? Not even close, but he’s pretty perfect for us. We thought through our criteria and stuck close to the important ones (must love children!) and flexed on the ones that weren’t so serious (not housetrained? Okay, I can manage that).
What did you learn during your search for a dog? What did you do right and what do you wish you had done differently?