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How to Choose Your Rescue Dog

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail. - Ben Franklin

So you’ve decided to add a pet to the family. You’ve determined that adopting is the best way to go. Now what? Shelter? APL? What do you do? First come up with your list of wants vs. needs. Ever walk into a car dealership to buy a car, but have no idea what you want? Manual, stick? SUV or sedan? Nope? Didn’t think so. And bear this in mind: most people put more thought into precisely what they want in a car than what they want in a dog, yet they will swap cars every 5-6 years, whereas a dog will last upwards of 13 years!

So how do you make sure you have your forever dog? Let's break it down.

Decide if you want to go through a shelter or a city/county kennel.

Shelters are sometimes able to foster their dogs, meaning you would be able to see the dogs in a normal home environment, or at the very least, not terrified and acting contrary to their nature in a kennel. (Let’s face it, those places can be very scary.) Remember, those aren’t other dogs or pack member in those kennels…those are other predators. They don’t know those other dogs, and haven’t bonded with them. Think about how you’d be acting on your first day if you were sent to prison. Yeah.

Understand that dogs currently residing in shelters are only exhibiting a fraction of their true personalities. Just like humans, some dogs adjust to these situations a little easier than others.

Things to look for:

  • Dogs who come to the front of the cage may be less fearful in general, but again this is a unique situation. If someone were to judge my disposition based solely on watching me drive across the Valley View Bridge, well….let’s just say it wouldn’t be accurate.

  • Dogs who calmly come up to you in a slightly submissive fashion (ears slightly down, body in a slight letter “S” rather than an ultra-submissive or ultra-hyper fashion. Dogs with wiggle-butts are great (looking at you pitties!).

  • Dogs who have been there for a amount of time I consider the “sweet spot”. A dog who just comes into the shelter is going to be traumatized (What is this place? What’s all this noise? Who are these people?!). Let them have an adjustment period of a day or two. After a bit, they’ll know that, while the kennel is scary, it’s not mind-blowingly terrifying anymore. You’re more apt to get a read on their real personality.

  • But remember what being in a cage for a while can do to a dog. Dogs who have been there a while can get cabin fever. This is not a natural state for the dogs, but remember, they’ve been isolated and scared for a while now. It takes a toll on the psyche. Yes, these dogs can indeed still make great pets, but be realistic: this will be a forever dog, not the dog you adopt because he’s been there so looooong! Stick to your “shopping list”.

  • Ask the employees, but don’t be persuaded into taking a dog. A good kennel worker/volunteer tend to get attached to their animals. They can give you great information on which dogs may be best for your situation. Unfortunately, that attachment may cause them to inadvertently try to talk you into a dog. If you’re not “feeling” that dog, move on.

"Here’s cage No. 666. This guy is my favorite. Don’t let him fool you, he’ll be fine once you get him home."

Remember, you brought your list of wants and needs. Share it with the workers and let them know you are indeed sticking to the list.

Unfortunately, there is no magical formula for adopting a dog from a kennel. If there were, odds are kennel wouldn’t be needed anymore because every dog would fit into their new home perfectly. Go with your gut, but make a rational decision, not an impulsive one. And then take the necessary steps to make the transition from kennel to home as smooth as possible.

And always remember, keep calm, and Pilot on.

Kerry Stack

Darwin Dogs

Dog training in Cleveland, Ohio

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