There’s a hole in your life that only a dog can fill. You want a special dog, perhaps just a full-grown adult. Maybe your code of ethics calls for saving a dog’s life – not buying an expensive purebred.
I’m not a veterinarian or a dog trainer, but I’ve enjoyed two successful adoptions. Here are some tips I’ve picked up along the way.
1. Clarify your requirements ahead of time.
Once you’re standing in front of a cage, it’s easy to say, “Well, he’s a lot bigger than I expected, and I really wanted a female, but oh he’s SO cute!” No amount of love or training will help if your dog needs more exercise than you can provide.
2. Know the difference between shelter and rescue groups.
Most cities have humane societies where you can view dogs and make a choice. Rescue groups typically hold animals in foster care – which is good, because you can ask the foster mom all sorts of questions. For example, they can say, “This dog lived with two cats so you know you can trust her.”
3. Be prepared to pay.
Shelter animals are not free, but you do get value for money. Expect to pay a fee that may include spay/neuter costs, licensing, and/or veterinarian visits.
4. Consider an older dog.
By the time a dog has turned three or four, she’s as big as she’s going to get. No surprises! You’ll also have clues regarding his temperament.
5. Plan to confine the dog during a period of transition.
Your new dog doesn’t get it. She was in a loving home (or left alone in a yard all day or even abused). Then she spent a few weeks in a cage, feeling lonely and isolated. Maybe she’s been passed around to multiple homes.
Bottom line, she’s stressed. She may chew, dig, bark, or even lose her house training at first.
Crating the dog prevents destructive behavior. My dogs both looked visibly relieved as they retreated to their crates every day. “Time to relax,” they seemed to say.
6. Invest in training.
Most dogs are turned over to the shelter because of behavior problems. If you’re new to the world of dog behavior, take a class or hire a professional. Most behavior can be corrected, even among older dogs. But if you’re not sure, ask a professional. Some behaviors can’t be “fixed.”
7. Incorporate large doses of exercise and walks into your day.
Walking together builds your bond and a tired dog is a good dog. Begin the exercise program immediately so you can gain a sense of how much exercise the dog needs – an important factor in the dog’s adjustment – and start training for the basics on the way home from the shelter.