Pet Adoption Process: Finding the Right Shelter Dog for Your Family
Congratulations! You've made the big decision to adopt a dog from your local animal shelter. Your new four-legged friend can bring years of love and joy to your family if - and it's a big if - you choose the right dog from those that are available. Read on for some tips to help ensure that the shelter dog you select will be right for you and your family.
Bring the kids -- but not right away. Although kids should help select the new dog, parents should make an initial visit to the animal shelter on their own. That way, parents can look at the available dogs and talk with shelter personnel without being subjected to the entreaties of their children. "It will be very hard for you to ignore your child's pleas for a very cute dog that would not be a good match for the family's needs," says dog trainer Colleen Pelar, author of Living With Kids and Dogs ... Without Losing Your Mind (C&R Publishing). "Together with the shelter staff, parents should narrow their choices down to three dogs before bringing the kids."
Ask questions. During the initial visit, take the time to talk with personnel about any shelter dogs that interest you. "The shelter staff should be able to give you information about a dog's activity level, sociability, tolerance for physical handling, ability to bounce back from stress, and other traits," says Pelar, who lives in Springfield, Virginia. "These assessments cannot guarantee a dog's future behavior, but they do provide some detailed information that can help you choose a dog that will fit in well with your family."
Look for an extrovert. Great family dogs generally love being with people, especially children. "One of the best ways to tell if a dog likes kids is to have the parents on one side of the room being quiet and the kids acting like kids on the other side of the room," says Pelar. "The dog that gravitates happily over to the kids and stays with them is a wonderful choice for a family."
Bypass the shy guy. The timid little darling who shrinks from your hand may draw your sympathy, but he shouldn't be your choice. "If a shelter dog hangs back in the corner of a kennel, choose another dog," says Pelar. "Look for a dog that really enjoys interacting with all the family members and one that recovers quickly when something startling occurs, such as a noisy argument over whose turn it is to empty the dishwasher. You want a dog that can adapt quickly."
Nix the possessive type. You should expect your kids to share their stuff, and you should expect the same from your dog. "Dogs that growl, snarl or snap when they have something of value, such as a bone, are difficult to manage around children," warns Pelar. "Ask the shelter staff if the dog has been tested for 'resource guarding' and do not adopt one that shows aggression if you try to take something away."
Don't rush. Finding the right shelter dog is an enterprise endeavor to be approached with care. Making the right decision can mean years of treasured memories for your family, while making the wrong choice can quickly lead to heartbreak. Make sure your kids understand that finding the right dog might take some time, including more than one visit to the shelter. Better yet, rein in their expectations: "Tell the kids that we're just going to look to lessen their disappointment if the family leaves without adopting a dog," suggests Pelar.
Award-winning writer Susan McCullough's books include Housetraining For Dummies, Senior Dogs For Dummies and Beagles For Dummies (all, Wiley). She lives with her husband, daughter and Golden Retriever in Vienna, Virginia. Visit her website at www.susanmc.com.