Dog in a shelter
Puppies are overrated. I say that after spending the last six months working on raising one who's still a work in progress. Faith is a darling, bright retriever who is as good a puppy as anyone could ever hope for. I love her! But after piddle puddles, chewed headphones and all the normal silliness and mess that go along with raising a puppy, I'm reminded why most of the dogs who've ended up as part of my family have come into my home as adults.

When people with a lot on their plates ask me about getting a puppy, I encourage them to consider a grown dog instead. Chosen carefully, an adult dog will be well past puppy foolishness and may have had some basic obedience training. Unlike puppies, who need constant monitoring, an adult dog should be able to be left alone while a family is at work or school after a much shorter period of training and re-adjustment.

For today's time-crunched households, there's no better deal than a good adult dog. But getting the right one is a little more difficult than going down to the shelter and picking out the cutest one.

While expecting to work on some minor behavior issues as your new dog gets used to you is reasonable, you want to avoid those animals who have too many problems, especially if one of them is aggression. Here are some questions that will help you:

  • What do you know of this dog's history? You may be dealing with a shelter, a rescue volunteer, the dog's original owner or breeder, or a nice person who found a stray. The more information you can get, the better. If you find out nothing about him because he was a stray, don't count him out. If he's healthy, friendly and otherwise fits your size, shedding and activity criteria, he's a contender.
  • Why is this dog available for adoption? Dogs become available for lots of reasons. "Losing our home," "divorce" and "death in the family" show no fault on the dog's part, but "bit our daughter" obviously is a problem.

Listen, too, for what isn't said: "He needs more exercise than we can give him" may mean "He needs more exercise than almost anyone could possibly ever give him, and he eats furniture when he doesn't get it." If you live a sedentary life, this isn't the dog for you.

  • What behavior problems does this dog have? Many things are fixable and worth considering if you honestly believe you'll take the time to work with the dog. "Pulls on the leash" is fixable. "He bites people, but only sometimes" may not be, at least not by the average pet owner's standard, and not to the extent that you should take a chance on him with so many other dogs available.

Remember, too, that some problems are the owner's fault, not the dog's. "Won't stay in the yard," for example, may be easily cured by a decent fence and neutering.

  • How is he with children? Other dogs? Cats? Even if you don't have children, you're going to run into some from time to time. The same is true with other dogs. You can probably avoid cats if you don't have them, but make certain your prospective pet at least tolerates them well if you have a cat in your home.

If you're getting an animal from a shelter, the organization should have asked the former owner to fill out a card on such things as problems with children or other animals. If you're adopting from a foster home, ask if the family has other animals and children. If there's no way to determine the dog's attitude toward children and other animals but he seems friendly, he may be OK. If you have doubts, however, hold out for an animal that you're sure fits well with your family.

Above all, take your time. This is a decision that should be for the dog's lifetime, and there are lots of pets to consider. Make the decision with your head as much as your heart. There's plenty of time after adoption to fall in love with your new canine companion.

Adoptions on the Internet

Petfinder has become the No. 1 online place to look for a pet to adopt, with thousands of listings searchable by species, breed type and geographic area. Shelters and rescue groups of all sizes use Petfinder to bring attention to the animals they're trying to place. Your local shelter will likely have listings of pets for adoption on its own Web site, as well.

While some rescue groups that work with a single breed use Petfinder, many do not. To find these organizations, visit the American Kennel Club's Web site ( and go to the club website of the breed you're interested in. The national rescue contact will be listed.