Adopt a shelter dog

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October is Adopt AShelter Dog Month, and there’s no better way to celebrate it than by adopting a dog. But how do you go about it?

The first thing to do is to think about your situation and circumstances.  Do you want a puppy?  Would an adult dog be a better fit for your family?  Do you have other pets that need to be considered? How much time do you have to exercise your new dog? Do you want to do any sort of activity with him: obedience, agility, freestyle, flyball, hunting, jogging, Frisbee, herding?

You get the idea.  Make a plan and get an idea of the breed or breeds that will fit your plans. While you may not adopt a purebred dog, if you know you want an active running buddy, you’ll know to bypass the toy dogs.

A common misconception about shelter dogs is that something is wrong with them.

It’s true that some dogs are given up due to health or behavioral issues. However, the sad fact is that many dogs end up homeless through no fault of their own.  The reasons people dispose of their dogs are varied, but many of these dogs will make wonderful companions if given the chance.

When you go to a shelter to find a dog, realize that the animal you see in the cage is not necessarily the one that will end up living with you.  The shelter environment in general – the noise, lack of attention, lack of exercise, lack of privacy and loneliness for his family – can impact a dog in many ways.  Some cower in a back corner, shaking; some lunge and jump at the bars, trying to reach anyone nearby; while others simply seem apathetic and uncaring. If a dog has the characteristics you were seeking, ask if you can spend some time with him.

It is not wise to choose a dog because he’s cute, because he’s “different” in appearance, or because he “chose” you by running to the front of his kennel. Often these spur of the moment decisions result in the adoption of a dog that is all wrong for your family.  Keep in mind the desirous characteristics of the dog you hope to adopt and use those as the guideline for the dogs you get to know better.

When you find a likely candidate, get to know him. If you are allowed to do so, remove the dog from the kennel and take him outside or into a visiting room.  Give him time to warm up to you.  Offer him attention, talk nicely to him and offer him treats if he’ll take them. This will give him the opportunity to settle down or perk up and will give you a better idea of his personality. If the dog was turned in by someone, ask what information was provided by the previous owners.

Sometimes it’s best to make several visits to a dog you’re thinking of adopting. This gives him a chance to get to know you and begin to respond to you in more natural ways. Try to bring the whole family to meet the dog.

If you have another dog at home, you need to bring him to meet the candidate as well. Talk to the shelter staff about arrangements for introducing the two.

Make sure you evaluate the dog’s health and body condition. Check for discharge from the dog’s eyes and nose, and notice whether the dog is coughing or sneezing.  Watch how he walks, see if he’s overweight or underweight and check the condition of the teeth. Also ask if the dog has been heartworm-tested. If you see any health issues, talk to your vet about them. Learn what you can do to resolve any health problems and think about whether you are willing to do so.

Finally, try not to rush your decision or make it solely on emotion, but consider whether or not the dog’s a good fit for your family. Don’t be so eager to support Adopt A Shelter Dog Month that you bring home a furry companion who is unsuitable. A dog should be a forever family member, and you need to make your choice carefully.

I have several dogs, and they’ve joined the family in different ways.  Some were born here, some were added in as adults, and two were shelter dogs.  However they came to live with us, they’re all loved members of our family.

Karlene Turkington, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, is a lifelong animal lover who has been training dogs for over 20 years. Readers are welcome to send their questions to: info@TrainMyK-9.com. Information provided here is a basic overview of issues. Specific health or behavioral concerns should be discussed with your veterinarian or qualified animal trainer or behaviorist.

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