Expert Tips: Finding the Right Shelter Dog

Shelter dog
Be sure to talk to the shelter staff to get more information about the dog you're interested in adopting.

It’s time! You’re ready to open your heart and your home to a dog, and you’ve chosen to adopt — but how will you know which dog is The One? It can be difficult to decide which dog is right for you, especially if you’re choosing from hundreds of canines who all deserve a great family and lots of love. So how will you know which dog is your dog?

Fortunately, you don’t have to just cross your fingers and hope it will all work out. I’ve helped guide hundreds of rescue dogs to successful lives with adoptive families, and my experience has taught me that while there isn’t a foolproof formula for selecting a perfectly compatible canine, a thoughtful approach to adoption is an important first step in a successful match.

My advice is simple: The most successful adoptions are those where the humans are willing and able to adapt their lifestyle and environment to meet the needs of their new furry family member. But in order to do that, it is important to assess ahead of time what you can and cannot provide for a dog, and what you are looking for in your new canine best friend.

Preparing for Your Shelter Visit

I believe that almost every dog is fundamentally a good dog, and that those in a shelter or rescue are just waiting for homes where they can become great dogs. Before you head to the shelter or rescue to look for that potentially great dog, it’s important to assess your needs, lifestyle and physical abilities. These things are crucial to determining which dog will be the best fit for you.

A good place to start is with the qualities you are looking for in a dog and the type of interactions you are expecting to have with him. If your home is a busy place, for example, with people (and pets) coming and going — children, neighbors, friends — then you will want to look for a social dog who gets along well with people and is able to tolerate a certain amount of chaos. If you are searching for a canine companion who has eyes only for you, though, you may prefer a less social dog who will stick close to your side.

It is also important that you assess your ability to meet a dog’s physical and mental needs. Some breeds, for example, tend to require more daily exercise than others. Think about your schedule: How often will you be available for training, playtime and exercise with your dog? Do you have space — a fenced-in yard or nearby park — where your dog can get out and frolic? If you have a very small apartment, for example, a very big dog might not be the best choice for you — but if you work from home and can take frequent breaks for training and walks, you may be in a better position to raise a puppy. Knowing in advance what your options and limitations are can help you focus your search.


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