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The Dog Adoption Option - What You Should Know When Adopting a Dog

It is near Christmas and the retired couple decided to relocate to warmer climate. They are excited by the move as it has been planned for the past five years. They have found the ideal community and are all packed up and ready to go just as the holidays are over! Just one problem, but one which is easily taken care of.

They have been the owners of a now 10 year old collie named "Sheba" but the community in which they bought their condo does not allow dogs. The couple decides to post an ad on the Internet claiming that if they can't find a home for the dog by the end of the holidays they will have to take her to the local dog shelter. A dog of this age is unlikely to be adopted so the sad fact is that she will be put down.

Collie Rescue Center

But wait! The dog community steps up to the plate and manages to locate a woman two states away who is willing to provide a home for Sheba. Over the next few days transportation is arranged and Sheba arrives at her new "furever" home to spend the holidays with her new family.

This example is just one of the many stories heard every day throughout the dog adoption community. Sadly, not every dog's story has such a happy ending. When you adopt a dog you will be providing a second chance to a homeless pet (such as Sheba) and will be rewarded with years of love and devotion. Think about this as well: when you adopt one dog, you actually save two because the shelter or rescue can then take in another dog.

There are many considerations to keep in mind when adopting a dog and this article is meant to provide you with sufficient knowledge to move forward with confidence.

Before You Adopt a Dog - Things to Consider

Owning a dog is a large responsibility. Dogs need training, grooming, exercise, feeding, and companionship. Most dogs don't do well being kept outside but thrive on attention and being included in family activities. At first they may have accidents in the house, break things, make noise, shed, and track dirt into the house. Unfortunately they may also become injured and sick. It will take time and patience to acclimate the dog to his or her new home.

Before you adopt a dog, take some time to weigh up each of the factors noted below. Being realistic in terms of you and your family's readiness for a dog will ensure that you make the best decision - only you can make this important decision.

Financial Considerations

If you adopted a dog from a shelter or rescue there will be an adoption fee. The actual cost will likely depend on the age of the dog (puppies have a higher fee) as well as whether the dog is a pure breed. Adoption fees can range from $65.00 (at municipal shelters) to $500 or more from purebred rescue groups. The adoption fee helps the shelter or rescue center to defray some of the costs of veterinary care. Even if you find a dog for free through an owner surrender, you will still face many costs.

Some expenses are necessary such as routine veterinary care, dog license, food, grooming supplies, toys, dog collar, leash, and identification tags. Reputable dog shelters and rescues require that you spay or neuter your dog, although this may have been taken care of before adoption.

In your budgeting considerations, anticipate the unexpected. Accidents and illnesses can result in costly veterinary care. You may also find that the help of a trainer is necessary to alter some behavior which has proven resistant to change by your own efforts. If you travel a good amount of time, you may also need to board your dog.

Typical Yearly Costs Associated With Dog Adoption:

Adoption: $0-$500
Nutritious Food: $120-$500
Food/Water Bowls: $10-$40
Tasty Treats: $100-$200
Chew Toys: $50-$200
Routine Veterinary Exam: $150-$300
Emergency Vet Care: $0-$5000
Heartworm Preventative: $50-$150
Dog Collars: $15-$50
Leashes: $15-$50
Dog Training: $50-$1000
Grooming Equipment: $50-$200
Dog Shampoo: $50-$300
Dog Fencing: $0-$5000
Doggy Beds: $50-$100
Dog Crates: $50-$350
Dog Toys: $50-$300
Dog Boarding: $300-$1000

Do you and your family have the time for a dog?

Dogs are very social pets and thrive on attention. At the very least, they should be provided with food two or more times per day (more for puppies and dogs with health issues), be provided with fresh water, and taken out for a walk several times a day. If you adopt a very energetic dog, you will need to spend at least an hour or more on a daily basis exercising your dog.

If you adopt a long-haired dog you will need to spend at least fifteen minutes every day on grooming. If you dog needs some basic training, you and your family will need to spend between thirty minutes to an hour on obedience training.

Left alone for extending periods dogs tend to display some destructive behaviors, such as chewing on furniture, or barking to an excessive degree. Many of these so-called "problem behaviors" are simply your dog's way of expressing that their energy is not being channeled into the right areas.

If you adopt a dog with a medical condition, you will need to ensure that you arrange for needed care on a consistent basis while you are at work. If you adopt a puppy or young dog, plan to spend at least an hour every day on socializing, playing and exercising with the pup.

All in the Family

The decision to adopt a dog should be one in which the entire family agrees. This is not to say that everyone needs the same commitment to routine care since, in most cases, it will be one family member who serves as primary caretaker.

A Pup for Your Lifestyle

Here are a few factors to consider before you adopt a dog:

  1. Is my current residence suitable for a dog?
    What size dog would do best here? Potty breaks are very different for a family living in a city apartment than one living in a suburban home with a fenced in back yard. Some toy breeds (Maltese, Yorkshire Terriers, etc.) can be trained to use a litter box (and there is now litter on the market tailored toward dogs) but it isn't really feasible to do this with lager breed dogs.

    The size of your home or apartment will also dictate how much exercise your pup can get indoors. Some larger breed dogs, such as Mastiffs, along with sight hounds, such as Greyhounds, are often quite sedate as adults and do fine in smaller apartments. More active dogs would do well with long leash walks or time in the off-leash dog run.

  2. Do I travel frequently?
    If you travel much of the time, and can't take your dog with you, consider the arrangements that will need to be made for the dog in your absence. Consider the recurring expense of boarding or dog sitting.
  3. How will my work obligations affect care for the dog?
    If you are absent for ten or more hours per day, your dog will lead a very lonely and boring existence. Consider enrolling the pup in a daycare or having a pet sitter come in once or twice per day for potty breaks and socialization. Also try to make the most of your time together during days off.

  4. What is my tolerance level for dirt, and other doggie mess?
    Even the cleanest dogs can make a mess, especially when they first arrive at your home. You new pup will be understandably nervous and insecure during the first few weeks with you and your family so accidents are to be expected.

Dog Harmony - Describing Your Ideal Dog to Adopt

The chances for a successful adoption are much enhanced when you are able to be honest with the dog shelter or rescue about the type of dog best suited to your family and lifestyle. The most important questions to ask yourself include:

  1. What is your primary reason for adopting a dog?

  2. Do you want a jogging partner or couch-potato buddy?

  3. Do you want a highly friendly pup or one who can serve as guard dog?

  4. Do you want a dog who follows your every move or would you prefer a more independent spirit?

  5. Do you want a dog who is good with children?

  6. How much grooming are you willing to do?

  7. Are you dog savvy and able to train a dominant dog? Or would you prefer a more submissive, pup who won't challenge your authority?

  8. Can I handle a larger size dog? Remember you will have to groom, trim toenails, bath and, if injured, lift her up into a car.

  9. Do I want a dog who is small enough that I can bring along when traveling?

  10. Do I have other pets in the home that will affect the size of dog I adopt? While large and small dogs can certainly live together, vigilance will be necessary since it can happen that the larger dog accidently hurts the smaller in play.

Purebred vs. Mixed Breeds

Do you prefer a purebred or mixed breed? Either a purebred or mixed breed can be wonderful companions. If you want to participate with your dog in a specific activity, such as hunting you many want to select a dog from the hunting groups, such as Labrador Retrievers.

Many people think that mixed breed dogs are healthier than purebred. However, all dogs inherit the genetic makeup of both parents so that if one of those parents carries the gene for a hereditary disease, one or more of the puppies stand a good chance of contracting that disease as well.

With regard to temperament, even dogs within one breed group will display different personality traits - all dogs are individuals. Be sure to speak with shelter workers about the observed behavioral traits of any dog you are interested in adopting. We will also discuss some basic temperament testing in a later part of this article.

Is it a boy or a girl?

Does a boy or girl dog make a better pet? The answer is "yes"! Either gender will make a wonderful companion. Males (dogs) in many breeds tend to be larger than females (bitches) which may be one consideration. But, overall, neither sex can claim the title of "Best Pet"!

Where to Adopt Your Dog

When you and your family decide that you are ready for a dog, you will be presented with many choices on where to adopt from. The choices include animal shelters, rescue groups, classified advertisements placed by owners, members of your community, and even stray dogs that follow you home (or so your children may claim!)

Dog Shelters

Your local animal shelter can be a great place to adopt your dream dog. For the most part shelters are operated by municipal governments or nonprofit organizations, such as the Human Society or ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.)

There are many local organizations which use the name SPCA but are not affiliated with the ASPCA. In addition to paid staff, many shelters also have volunteers who assist in such areas as dog socialization, screening adoption applications, and introducing dogs to potential adopters. Some better funded shelters also employ a full or part time trainer to evaluate a dog and make recommendations as to suitable homes.

Rescue Groups

Rescue groups are also an avenue to explore in your search for a dog. Many of these groups take dogs from high-kill shelters and place them with foster families until they are adopted. While shelters rely on paid staff and volunteers to provide housing for dogs within a single structure, rescue groups rely on a network of volunteers to house dogs in their home or apartment until adopted.

Some rescue groups are devoted to one breed of dog exclusively; there are rescue groups for Beagles, groups for Golden Retrievers, etc. Other rescue organizations work with both pure and mixed breeds.

A rescue group's adoption procedures are similar to that of a shelter. While the foster home prepares the dog for adoption, other volunteers will screen adoption applications, conduct an initial telephone interview, and contact references. Many also conduct home visits to evaluate where the dog will be living.

The advantage of adopting from a rescue group as opposed to a shelter is that foster homes usually have a more intimate relationship with the dogs in their care than do the staff and volunteers at sometimes overcrowded shelters. As a result, foster parents are more readily able to point out any behavioral issues or idiosyncrasies and advise potential adopters whether a dog will be a good match for their family and lifestyle.

The adoption fees of many rescue groups may be higher than those of a shelter to help defray veterinary costs. Before ruling out rescue groups based on their adoption fees, keep in mind that rescue groups rely solely on donations and adoption fees while shelters may supplement their budget with government funding.

dog adoption

Initial Steps Involved in Adopting a Dog from a Shelter

You can find a list of shelters by logging onto Search for those organizations closest to your home by typing in your zip code. Alternatively, you can type in the breed of dog you seek, along with your zip code to obtain a more focused listing. Once you find some dogs of interest, log onto the shelter's web-site to review their adoption procedures, visiting hours, and contact information.

Key Questions for Shelter Staff

How old is the dog?
Many times this information will be available on the card in front of the dog's pen but, if not, shelter staff should be able to provide an informed estimate.

What are the dominant breeds?
With purebred rescue groups this questions answers itself, although many purebred groups do accept mixed breeds as well.

What is the Dog's History?
For dogs who are owner surrenders, there will usually be much information on the go such as age, temperament, food preference, etc. For strays the dog's history is more of a question mark and staff will only be able to provide limited information, based on their observations during the time the dog has been in their care.

Has the dog's behavior been evaluated by trained staff?
Many shelters and rescue groups are having new dogs formally assessed by professional canine behaviorists to determine their suitability for adoption.

How does the dog get along with children?
This question is critical if you now have children or plan to have children, or if children visit your home frequently.

Does the dog have any health issues?
If the answer is "yes" it doesn't necessarily mean that you should automatically rule out the dog. Many of these health issues are of a minor nature and can be easily corrected. For example the dog may have intestinal parasites which can be corrected through deworming medication.

Perform your own Temperament Testing at the Shelter

The following guidelines are taken from Sue Sternberg's Adopting a Shelter Dog. Although written with shelter dogs in mind. These steps can also be followed with dogs at adoption events or foster homes, albeit with some modifications. Try to keep an open mind, and remember that the dog may show just a tiny portion of his wonderful personality while residing in a shelter.

1. Do a First Walk-Through
Simply walk up and down the kennel aisle(s) not talking to any of the dogs. Stand in front of each kennel of those dogs who interest you and face the dog. Dogs that back up, raise their hair or growl may present some behavioral issues and are likely not a good match for new dog owners or those with children. Dogs who don't return direct eye contact and who wag their tail and approach the front of the kennel door are generally the best match for families with children or inexperienced dog owners.

2. Walk Through a Second Time
Proceed as in Step One but now also offer your fist, knuckles facing the dog, and bring it up to the kennel door at the height of his or her nose. Move your fist slowly back and forth. The most sociable dogs are those who go right up to your fist, follow its movements, and try to lick it through the door. Dogs who growl, back up or lunge at your fist are cause for some concern.

3. Get Better Acquainted with Some of the Dogs
Once you have narrowed down your choice to a few dogs, you are ready to take things a bit further and attempt to determine just how social they are. Ask the staff or volunteer if you and your family can spend some time with the dog in a quiet room. When first entering the room, ignore the dog (hard to do!). Friendly dogs should make the first overture and come to you and nuzzle his or her nose, lick you, or jump up in an attempt to get petted. Be wary of dogs that ignore you!

4. Begin Petting the Dog
If the dog is social, pet him or her slowly and gently down the back, starting at the neck and going right down the middle to the tail. The most social dogs will move even closer to you and lean in as you are petting. A dog who moves away from you may show that he or she doesn't want to be near people.

5. Evaluate Resource Guarding Behavior
You now need to determine the dog's tendency to guard those resources he or she considers valuable, such as food, treats, or toys. It is not safe to do this on your own so ask professional staff to assist with this part of the evaluation. The test is not about teasing the dog by taking away a treat or toy but to gauge his or her reaction when this is done. Families with small children should not adopt a dog with serious resource guarding issues.

6. Offer a Highly Valued Treat
Have the shelter volunteer offer a treat, such as pig's ear or rawhide to the dog and watch how the dog reacts. What you would hope to see is that the dog gently takes the treat from the volunteer's hand and settles down to chew it, occasionally looking up at the volunteer with ears back and tail wagging. If the dog snatches the treat from the volunteer's hand, has some trouble settling down, and begins to chew the treat roughly, this may be a sign of resource guarding issues.

7. Get the Dog Excited
You want to establish that the dog can play with you (and your children) safely. Take out a toy and see if he or she will play fetch or tug-of-war. Continue playing for two to three minutes, enough time for the dog to get excited and then stop and place the toy out of the dog's reach. The best dog will settle down quickly, usually within sixty seconds. A dog who remains excited longer than that, starts barking, or leaping up and down to get at the toy, may be a dog who can't cope with minimal frustration. This behavior can translate into destructiveness when left alone or behaving in an inappropriate manner when around stimulating objects such as other pets, lawn motors, bicycles, etc.

8. Walk the Dog
With the shelter staff's permission, take the dog for a quick walk. Don't be overly concerned with leash pulling or if the dog is distracted. After all, he or she is confined to a small kennel most of the day and any opportunity for exercise is bound to excite the dog! Some red flags to watch out for during the walk include not being able to get the dog's attention at all, if the dog doesn't look back at you at least one time, pulls you to such a degree that you lose balance, or if he or she lunges at other people or dogs. A friendly pet will hold his or her tail lower than the back, be wagging his tail while walking and walk in a relaxed manner (after the initial bout of excitement!)

Check out what leading dog behaviorist Dr. Ian Dunbar
has to say about adopting an adult dog

Adopt Your Dog Through Classified Ads

Aside from shelters and rescue groups who post ads to announce upcoming adoption events, many private individuals also place ads to find new homes for their pups. These ads are placed in newspapers, posted to community boards in many pet supply stores, or in veterinarian offices.

Many private owners will advertise that their pet is "free to good home". However, what you avoid in adoption fees you may very well make up for in Vet bills!

To avoid an adoption disaster, be sure to follow these suggested steps:

Good owners will ask lots of questions. Any owners who truly have their dog's welfare in mind, will be sure to ask many questions of you and your family. Should the family or individual not ask many questions, they may be trying to "dump" the dog as quickly as possible, and may withhold information regarding possible medical issues.

Ask the owner lots of questions. Just as conscientious owners want to be assured that their dog will be well cared for, you also want to know that the dog has been well cared for in his or her current home. Ask for the name of the owner's veterinarian, and ask about any training the dog may have had. Also be sure to ask why the owner is surrendering their pup.

Don't be swayed by emotion. With the owner's help, perform all the behavioral assessments noted above. Don't be swayed by emotion but make sure that this dog will fit into your lifestyle and has the temperament suited to you and/or your family's needs...

Adopting a dog is a great adventure to be enjoyed by all family members. While you won't change the world by adopting a dog, keep in mind, for that one dog, the world will certainly be changed.

Remember that when done properly and with educated decisions, dog adoption is a wonderful thing for all involved. All the best with your decision.

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Please consult the services of a Professional Dog Trainer, Behaviorist or Veterinarian before implementing any of the advice contained on this site.