Adopting a Shelter Dog

By Tristan Clark, DVM

Adopting a new member of the family from the shelter can be a challenging but rewarding process. Many people are determined to adopt a puppy. Know that the older and bigger a dog is, the less likely someone else will adopt it. Puppies in shelter situations are under incredible physical, emotional and mental stress and many run the risk of growing into an adult with severe temperament issues.

A puppy is a basket of unknowns. You can tell if it’ll be a small or large adult, but you may not be able to predict whether it will weigh 40 pounds or 80. Grooming requirements may vary over time and genetic problems may not be exhibited until adulthood. Adopting an adult dog lets you skip some of these issues, plus most are already housebroken.

Before going to the shelter, research the breeds you’ll consider. Know that many wonderful dogs may be mixed exhibit behaviors of both breeds. If possible, take someone with you who is knowledgeable.

Read the dog’s reaction to you when you make eye contact. A dog that looks away is showing submissive behavior, which can be great for a family dog. If it responds with affection that’s a good sign too. Be alert to aggression as this dog will need careful work.

No matter what type or age of dog you adopt, know that there will be some difficulty and surprises ahead. Many dogs may have a short-term problem, such as an ear/skin/respiratory infection and may already be under treatment at the shelter. It is quite likely you will have to provide some level of training. If you already own other pets, make sure the shelter dog doesn’t have a history of aggression with cats or dogs. If you have young children, choose a dog that has a more laid back personality, one that can handle sudden yells/screams and hair pulling. Consider if this dog will fit in with every member of your household.

Above all, keep in mind the chemistry between you and the dog. Adopting a new animal is an emotional experience but can result in love that lasts a lifetime. And remember, Copper Hill Animal Clinic offers a free first exam for all shelter adopted pets.