Choosing Your Next Dog from a Shelter Part 1

Choosing your next dog from a shelter

[This article first appeared in Dog’s Life magazine Nov/Dec 2003 and is reproduced here by kind permission of the author]

There are many reasons why one might consider getting a dog from an animal shelter or rescue organisation. You may simply prefer the unique looks and personality of a mixed breed or appreciate that ‘hybrid vigour’ reduces the risk of genetic health problems. Perhaps you are looking for an adolescent or older dog rather than a puppy ? For value for money there can be no better place to get a dog, the price generally including a health and heartworm check, de-sexing and life time identification. Probably the most common reason for choosing a dog from a shelter however is the desire to recycle a little love by giving a stray a home.
The problem of course lies in choosing the right dog for you and your family, from the sea of appealing faces that will confront you at a shelter. No matter how cute a dog is, do not let your heart rule your head! It is vitally important to look beyond appearances to the dog’s temperament and personality. While there are many dogs at the shelter that will make wonderful family pets there are also dogs with behaviour or personality problems that may make your life a misery. The following information should help you to minimize that risk and ensure you and your adopted rescue have a long and happy life together.
1. Matching a ‘doggy profile’ to your family lifestyle.

What sort of dog do you want? I don’t mean what is it going to LOOK like, I mean what sort of personality will fit in with you and your family?
Things to consider are:
How active are you? Do you want a dog to go jogging with or a dog that will be happy to cuddle on the couch after a hard day at work? Sometimes an older big dog, will be satisfied with much less exercise then a terrier type small dog.
Do you want the dog to live inside the home or out? A dog that is left outside will need to have a more independent nature and an all weather coat.
Do you want the dog to accompany you as much as possible in the car and on family outings? A small dog that can jump in and out by itself and is easy for all family members to walk might suit you best.
How much training do you want to do? Did you know that the most trainable breeds also tend to be the most high energy and destructive if not provided with a job to do? Working dogs NEED to be trained, so if a lifelong commitment to training isn’t your scene you might be better with a less ‘trainable’ type – who’d rather join you for a nap in the sun then a day at the obedience club.
Do you have young children? Be extra careful to choose a dog with a resilient personality that won’t object to being prodded, pulled or fallen on and that will happily accept little visitors to the home.
Who is going to be the main carer of the dog? Children are not able to be fully responsible for the welfare and training of a dog no matter what promises they made when begging you for one! Ultimately the responsibility will lie with the adults in the home – so make sure you get a dog that YOU like and will enjoy spending time with.
2. Choose a reputable animal shelter or rescue organization.

It will be easier for you to make an informed decision about your prospective dog if you go to a reputable animal welfare agency or rescue organization. Welfare agencies by definition have a vested interest in improving the welfare of dogs by securing successful adoptions. To this end, the best agencies will have :
• a health check and de-sexing program for all dogs.
• a behavioural trainer to assess and screen temperament
• Detailed history taking whenever possible on surrendered dogs.
• A policy of retaining dogs based on suitability for adoption rather than a fixed time frame. (This means you don’t have to worry that the dog you leave behind is on ‘death row’).
• follow up behaviour and training advice.
• Guidelines for suitability of prospective homes e.g. fences, place to sleep etc.
Some rescue organizations foster dogs out to temporary homes rather then run permanent kennels. This is generally far less stressful for the dog and gives the foster parent and prospective ‘adoptee’ a good chance to observe the dog in a domestic environment surrounded by people and other dogs.

Article courtesy of Karin Larsen Bridge, partner of Get S.M.A.R.T. Dog Training, Sydney.

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