Dog Adoption

Adopted Dog

Once you and your family have decided that you want a dog you have a very important decision to make – do you buy a puppy or adopt a shelter dog? Both options have their advantages and disadvantages, so it really depends what you and your family are looking for. Below you will find a list of pros and cons for adopting a shelter dog as well as some questions and considerations to keep in mind if you do.

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Pros for Adopting a Dog

For many people the main advantage of adopting a shelter dog is that you get to skip the hassle of the puppy phase. Raising a puppy is quite a commitment in terms of both time and money – not only do you need to housetrain the puppy but you also have to make sure he gets all of his necessary vaccinations. A shelter dog is likely to already be housetrained and up to date on vaccinations, thus saving you the hassle of having to take care of these things yourself. Some additional pros of adopting a shelter dog are listed below:

  • Adopting a shelter dog could mean saving a life – while many shelters are “no-kill”, some shelters are forced to put down dogs if they are not adopted within a certain time frame simply because they do not have the space to accommodate all of the dogs they take in.
  • A shelter dog will always be grateful – living in a shelter can be an extremely stressful, frightening, and even traumatizing experience for a dog. If you adopt a shelter dog and rescue him from that experience he will be forever grateful.
  • Adult dogs may already be trained – if you adopt an adult dog from the shelter he may not only be housetrained already but he could also already know some basic commands.
  • It is much cheaper to adopt a dog than to buy a puppy – adoption fees at animal shelters vary greatly but, to adopt a dog, you are likely to pay only a fraction of what you would pay to buy a puppy from a breeder. In many cases, the older the dog is, the lower the adoption fee.
  • Shelter dogs are most likely already spayed/neutered – to do their part in controlling the unwanted pet population, most shelters have a policy of spaying/neutering every pet that comes through their doors. In adopting a shelter dog you will save the cost of having to pay for this service yourself.

In addition to these practical benefits of adopting a shelter dog you will also receive the peace of mind in knowing that you did something good. Shelters all over the country are constantly overloaded with unwanted pets and adopting a single dog can help to lessen that load and to make room for new pets in search of a forever home.

Cons for Adopting a Dog

Though there are many benefits associated with adopting a shelter dog, there are some challenges and disadvantages as well. Living in the shelter is very stressful and frightening for pets so it could take some time for your new dog to adapt to life at home after adoption. There is also the possibility that the dog is facing some kind of medical, emotional, or behavioral challenges resulting from his situation prior to being taken to the shelter. Some additional cons of adopting a shelter dog are listed below:

  • You may not know the dog’s history – shelter dogs come from a variety of different situations and many of them are bad. While some dogs are surrendered to the shelter because their pet parents are moving or simply lost interest, others come from abusive or neglectful situations which could impact their behavior both in the shelter and when they leave.
  • Behavior may change after leaving the shelter – living in the shelter is very stressful and frightening for dogs, so many shelter dogs act shy around the people who come to visit them. In adopting a shelter dog you may find that this shy or fearful attitude remains for a short period of time even after taking your dog home. Once the dog gets comfortable, however, he may seem to change – behavioral problems may come to light once the dog begins to settle in to his new environment.
  • You may not have as many choices – if you have a specific breed in mind that you want to adopt, you may not be able to find that breed at a shelter automatically. Shelters are overrun with pit bull and terrier mixes but other breeds to pop up. If you know what breed you want you can give your name and information to the shelter to request a call if a dog of that breed comes in.
  • You have to go through the application process – animal shelters go through a great deal of effort to make sure that their animals are matched with the right families. This not only ensures a happy life for the animal but also reduces the chances of the animal being returned to the shelter days or weeks after adoption. You will have to fill out an application, provide proof that your landlord allows pets (if applicable) and sign an agreement that, if for any reason you can no longer keep the animal, you will return it to the shelter.

These disadvantages are fairly insignificant if you think about them in comparison to the pros of adopting a shelter dog. Still, it is important that you consider both the pros and cons carefully before making a decision so you know what to expect from your shelter dog.

Before You Go to the Shelter

Now that you’ve thought about the pros and cons of adopting a shelter dog you can start to think about the practical aspects of adopting. Adopting a dog is not something that you should do on a whim because, in adopting a dog, you will become responsible for that dog’s life and it will be your job to provide for him for the rest of his life. Before you go to the animal shelter to pick out a dog, ask yourself the following questions to help determine what kind of dog you are looking for:

  • Do you and your family members have the time to devote to a dog? Not only will you need to feed and play with the dog, but you need to walk him daily and make sure someone is available to let him outside during the day.
  • Do you have children in the home? Some dogs simply do not get along with children so, if you have kids at home or children who visit often, make sure you find a dog that is compatible.
  • Do you have other pets at home? In some cases, the shelter will not know a dog’s history and will be unable to tell you whether the dog has experience with other pets. In other cases, the dog’s previous owner will have filled out a profile for the dog which includes a question regarding other household pets.
  • What kind of energy level are you looking for in a dog? Many shelter dogs appear calm or nervous in the shelter environment but once they get home their true selves come out. Know whether you want a dog that will be content to lie on the couch all day or if you want a dog that will go running with you.
  • How old do you want your adopted dog to be? Puppies disappear quickly from animal shelters so, if you know you want a puppy, you may need to put your name on a waiting list. If you are willing to adopt an adult or senior dog, however, you will have more options.
  • What size dog do you want/can you accommodate? If you live in a small apartment, it would not be a good idea to adopt a Rottweiler. Make sure to think realistically about the space you have available for a dog (inside and outside) before you choose.

After asking yourself and answering these basic questions you should have a pretty good idea what kind of dog you are looking for. When you get to the shelter, feel free to speak to one of the shelter staff about your requirements because they will have knowledge of the dogs in the shelter and will be able to match you up with a dog that meets your needs.

During Your Visit to the Shelter

Once you’ve considered the pros and cons of adopting a shelter dog and you’ve taken the time to think about what kind of dog you want, it is time to visit the shelter. During your shelter visit there are a few things you should and shouldn’t do:

  1. Start by walking through the entire kennel area once or twice to look at the dogs – keep an eye out for dogs that appeal to you and gauge the dogs’ reactions to you as well.
  2. Pick out a few dogs you like and, one at a time, see how they react to you – stand in front of their kennel and greet the dog then see how it reacts to you.
  3. Look for a dog that exhibits the classic signs of friendliness and good socialization – a wagging tail, pawing at the kennel door, wiggling eagerly at your approach.
  4. Think carefully about the dogs that hang back in their kennels or appear frightful at your approach – these dogs are no less worthy of being adopted but they may take a little bit more time and effort to bring them out of their shell.
  5. Do not try to pet or handle a dog that growls, raises his hackles, or stares at you stiffly – these are signs of aggression and it usually means that the dog needs some more time before it will be ready for adoption.
  6. If there is a particular dog you like, talk to the shelter staff and they will either let you take the dog out of the shelter for a walk or bring the dog into a visitation room where you can interact with him more freely.
  7. See how your dog reacts to you and your other family members and try to play with him a little if he will. Observe the dog’s temperament to get a feel for what he would be like as a member of your family.
  8. If you’ve decided that you like the dog, put him on hold for 24 hours (if the shelter will let you) and come back the next day. It is helpful to have multiple visits to get a good feel for the dog and this will also enable you to bring your spouse or children with you to the second visit if they were not already with you.

Once you’ve chosen a dog you will have to go through the adoption process with the shelter staff. In most cases this is fairly simple – you provide your contact information, sign an agreement, and pay the fee. After taking care of the logistics you will be able to take your new pet home with you.

Bringing Home a Shelter Dog

The most important thing to keep in mind when bringing home a shelter dog is that the experience will be just as stressful and challenging for you as it will be for your dog. Depending how long your dog was in the shelter prior to adoption, he may quickly adjust to his new life or it may take him some time to get used to things. It is not uncommon for shelter dogs to be very wary or nervous during the first few days in their new home – they may not eat or drink and they might be reluctant to play. During this period of transition it is important that you give the dog some space to settle in – do not force him to meet your entirely family all at once or start trying to train him right away.

Be very patient with your dog during the transition period and keep an eye on him to monitor for problem behaviors or medical problems. These things will not always be evident in a shelter situation. Over time, your dog will become more comfortable in his new environment and with you, so just take things one step at a time, one day at a time.

Carlotta Cooper

Carlotta is a long-time contributing editor for the weekly dog show magazine Dog News. She's also the author of The Dog Adoption Bible, the Dog Writers Association of America Adoptashelter.com Award winner for 2013. In addition, she's written Canine Cuisine: 101 Natural Dog Food & Treat Recipes to Make Your Dog Healthy and Happy.

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