So, you have decided to add a dog to your family. Adopting from a local shelter can be a great option for many soon-to-be dog owners. However, there are some things you should do before arriving at the shelter and when you get there to make sure everything goes well for you and your dog.
Do Your Research
Make sure you know what kind of dog you need. It is possible to find a purebred dog in a shelter (or go to a breed rescue), but many shelter dogs are mixed. Know what size of dog you want (if you live in an apartment, there may be an upper size limit), what energy levels, etc. It's easy to fall in love with an unsuitable dog when you get to the shelter, so you need to stand firm on your needs.
Consider whether you want to adopt a puppy or an adult dog. Puppies need a lot of training and can be destructive, but adult dogs can have "baggage" that may make them more or less suitable for you. Make sure you know what kind of behavioral issues you are, and are not, willing to deal with. If you are older and want a quiet life, especially if you might be downsizing in a few years, consider a mature or even senior dog. You won't have as many years with them, but senior dogs are often hard to place and they can be mellow and even well trained.
Write down your needs and be ready to share them with shelter volunteers. This will help them know which dogs to show you.
Prepare Your Property
Some shelters have rules, such as requiring a fenced yard. Make sure that your property meets those rules. If you do have a fence, make sure it's high enough to hold a dog. If you can't raise it higher, you may need to choose a smaller dog or one which is less inclined to jump. If you are considering a terrier, dachshund, or other dog that is inclined to dig, then you may need to put in a buried fence.
If getting a puppy, puppy proof your home, or at least those parts the puppy will have access to.
Get Supplies and Equipment
Get as much equipment as you can ahead of time. This might include water and food bowls, a variety of toys, a crate, etc. If you aren't sure exactly how big the dog will be, then make sure that you get the needed equipment before you bring the dog home.
Don't get food, however. You will want to feed your dog what they are being fed at the shelter and if you do want to change their food, do so gradually. Suddenly changing food, especially on top of the other changes your dog is going through, can result in doggy tummy troubles.
Line up a Vet
Many shelters will ask you who your vet is going to be. If you don't have one, it's worth calling them and asking for recommendations. You should have the contact details of a vet before you adopt a dog and the vet should have a clear enough schedule that you can bring your dog in for an exam right away. It's always a good idea to have your vet look at the dog after you bring them home. Get their vet and vaccination records from the shelter.
If you are planning on adopting a poodle or similar, also think about whether you will learn to trim them yourself and if not, line up a groomer as well.
Once you get to the shelter, here are some things to consider:
Choose the Right Dog
They're all cute. Face it. You are probably going to fall in love with more than one dog. (And it's not exactly uncommon to come home with a pair). You need to stick by your guns and your needs. Make sure you choose a dog that is of the right size and energy levels.
If you are looking at a litter of puppies, the one that comes right over is not "choosing" you. It's the most dominant of the litter and likely to be a handful.
Ask what issues the dog has, especially if you are a first time dog owner. You might not want to deal with, for example, severe separation anxiety or a canine phobia.
Ask if the Dog Has Been Fixed
Most shelters require that you spay or neuter the dog. Ask if this has already been done. If not, bear in mind that it is an extra expense. Also make sure the dog is up to date on vaccinations.
When Taking Your Dog Home
You probably won't get to take the dog home on your first visit. Shelters may want to get references, etc. Before you bring your dog home, buy any supplies you didn't get already. Decide where to put your dog's "safe place," typically a crate or a corner in which their bed and toys are located. All dogs get anxious about change.
- Bring an ID tag with your dog's name and your address and phone number. Put this on their collar before you leave the shelter.
- Purchase food of the same type the shelter feeds. Feed this to start with, then if you decide to change, mix in an increasing amount of the new food.
- If you have more than one person, agree on the commands to train the dog so they don't become confused.
- Give the dog time to settle in before expecting anything from him.
- Have treats ready to give the dog when they get home to occupy them and help them relax.
Adopting a dog is a great way to add a new companion to your family, but make sure to choose the right dog, have a vet lined up, and get all of your supplies, including treats, ready before they come home.