As you may have guessed from previous posts, my first recommendation when looking for a new dog is to research and find a responsible breeder whom you like and to get in touch with them. But there are countless reasons why this might not be possible for you or why you may not want to get a puppy. Some of these reasons can include:
- You don’t have time for serious training
- You don’t believe you have the experience level for a puppy
- You have a young child and don’t have the time for a puppy
- Your family travels a lot and an older dog would be simpler
- There are no breeders near you or within decent driving distance, but there are shelters
- You like the idea of saving a life
If your reason for getting a shelter dog is anything but the final reason, please take a serious look at your life, your current responsibilities, and your finances. Do not get a dog out of convenience or simply because you believe having one would be nice. Getting a dog is not something every family should do, it is not a privilege given to you as a human adult. Getting a dog is a responsibility and should not be taken lightly.
If you look at everything and still believe that getting a dog is something you should do and your family is ready, then by all means DO go to a shelter! Even though the numbers show that the families seeking dog ownership outweigh the number of homeless dogs, the reality isn’t quite so cut and dry. If it were, then we would soon have no need for shelters and no shelter would be “at-capacity”.
If you know that you want to get a rescue dog but have interest in certain specific breeds, there are countless breed specific rescues which you can look to. From the ever popular Golden to the more rare Basenji, there is a rescue organization with both young and old dogs alike. The benefit of these groups aren’t only that you can get a purebred or high percentage purebred dog, but that they have some wonderful processes that will pair you and your family with a dog whose energy level and temperament should match your own, so long as you are honest on their questionnaire. In these situations please, do not overestimate what you will do. If you are normally a couch potato netflix watcher, don’t say that you are very active. This will not give you a dog who will encourage you to get out and moving. More likely this will give you a dog who will not be content with what you give them and who may become destructive. For more information on the importance of not only Physical but Mental exercise, please see some of my previous posts.
If you are not set into any breed or type in particular, you’re more likely to find a dog whom you will love at any shelter. I would recommend going to one which has a no-kill policy and whose personnel are helpful and politely answer any questions you have. When you go, have a general idea in mind of what you are looking for. If you want an older dog because you want to help them and understand that older dogs are more likely to stay in a shelter for longer, don’t spend time looking at any puppies or young dogs the shelter may have. If you want a shepherd or spaniel type dog who’ll be a good jogging partner, spend less time with the small toy breeds. There is nothing against these dogs but once you spend any time with a dog you are likely to want to “save” them, and if you get a dog who doesn’t fit with your personality or lifestyle you may become frustrated with them and have “buyers-remorse” for a living being.
Once you have settled on a dog that you like, ask about them. If you are at a breed specific rescue then the people in charge will most likely know more about a dogs previous situation, but both breed specific rescues and every-day shelters should do temperament testing for their dogs and should know if there are any apparent “problems” they may have.
Has the dog interacted with children? Other Dogs? Cats?
How does he walk on a leash? Do they recommend a Harness?
Does she know any commands?
Are they house trained? Crate Trained?
Do they have any known health problems?
Was he at a healthy weight when he came in?
How does she do with food? Is she protective and defensive during meals?
Do they know if he’s ever been accused of biting someone?
What methods of training were used previously?
Any questions that you ask is a good question. Anything that pertains to your life and what the dog will be around if you were to take them is important.
If you have found your dog, congratulations! Before taking him or her home be sure you have everything they’ll need when you get home. Many shelters have a list of veterinarians in the nearby area who they work with and who will give discounted first visits. Look and see if one is in your area or if you already know one. If you already have a vet and they are not on the list but you know you’ll never go to the vet on the list after the first visit, go to your normal vet. Regardless, set up a first appointment for within the first week of owning the dog. This will make sure that they are healthy and is usually a contractual obligation of getting the dog.
Next up is to give your dog some time to settle in. It might sound nice to go out and introduce everyone you know to your new dog, but recognize that this is a very new, scary, and stressful situation for your new friend. Take your time and introduce them slowly. Depending on your dog’s level you might want to try a training or socialization class as a “refresher” course of sorts. This will also help you bond with your new dog and help show them that you are their friend and the person whom they can trust to guide them.
Most of all, have fun and enjoy your dog!