So you’ve decided you’re ready to adopt a new puppy or dog… you’ve been searching Petfinder.com or getting ready to head over to your local humane society to find the cutest looking puppy you can find. Adopting a dog should never be an impulse decision. Walking into a pet store or human society on a whim is never a good idea. You’ll look into those puppy eyes and fall in love without considering that specific dog’s needs. Please do your research and make sure you are prepared to become a dog owner. There is so much more to adopting a dog than simply loving him.
For the most part, we have always owned Labrador Retrievers or mixes of. So when we decided it was time for my daughter to have her own dog, and she really wanted a German Shepherd, I had to explain to her that a GSD is not a beginner dog. Certain dog breeds require much more knowledge and commitment than other dog breeds. And even though we are experienced dog owners, I didn’t feel a German Shepherd was a good choice for us at this time. This is really what prompted us to start fostering dogs. Not only did I want to learn more about the different dog breeds, but I really needed my 9-year-old daughter to understand the differences in dog personalities.
Really think hard about this question, why do you want a dog? Do you just want a companion to hang out at home with you, or are you looking for someone to go hiking with or take long walks with? Are you looking for a companion for an existing dog? Are you looking for protection? Or do you plan on doing agility with your dog?
Think about how you would describe yourself. Do you consider yourself a strong leader or do you have a softer personality? Does your personality match the dog’s personality? You don’t want a strong personality dog if you have a soft personality yourself. Have you trained a dog before or are willing to learn how to train your dog?
It is so important to choose a dog that is compatible with you and your family. All dogs are not created equal. Dogs all have their own unique personalities, some breed specific, and will vary from dog to dog. There are some common groups of dogs, such as working dogs or toy dogs that can be generalized, but even two dogs of the same breed can be totally different.
And remember, all puppies grow up to be dogs. That cute puppy may only be 5 pounds today, but he could become 50-80 or even 100+ pounds when fully grown.
Size. Decide what size of dog fits your lifestyle. Do you have space for a large dog, or do you prefer a dog that you can pick up and carry around with you? A larger dog equals more food to buy and higher cost of preventative medications. Small (< 20 lbs); Medium (20-40 lbs); Large (50-90 lbs); Extra Large (90+ lbs)
Age. Do you want a puppy, adult dog or a senior dog? Each has their benefits and pitfalls. Consider what will fit in your lifestyle today, in 5 years, and in 10 years. A puppy is cute and it can be a great experience raising your own dog, but puppies come with a lot of work… potty training, chewing, and obedience training.
Coat. This may seem like simply a cosmetic preference, but you need to consider the maintenance your dog’s coat will require. Short hair dogs may simply need a bath once a month or so. But long hair dogs need to be brushed and trimmed regularly. Certain coats shed more than others, even though labs have shorter hair, they shed like crazy! Trust me, I know this one for a fact 🙂
Energy Level. Choose an energy level that matches your own. Low Level: Only needs occasional exercise; Medium Level: needs daily exercise; High Level: Needs daily exercise and a job to perform.
If you work 10 hours a day, then choosing a working dog such as a German Shepherd or a Malamute can be a recipe for disaster. It’s not to say that you can’t own a dog if you work long hours, but a high-energy level dog needs a lot of mental and physical stimulation. You need to be honest with yourself, and ask: after working all day, are you prepared to take your dog for a 1-2 mile walk? Or would you prefer a dog that is willing to plop down on the couch with you when you get home from work?
If you are considering a puppy, do you have time to work on potty training him? Do you have the patience to work with your dog through the puppy stage, which can last up to a year? Then are you ready for the adolescence stage (1-3 years old), when the dog is going to test and push the limits of his boundaries?
In our situation, even though my daughter is in love with German Shepherds, I knew that she was not ready to train that dog every day, walk him for 2 miles every day, and give him a job to fulfill his needs. We eventually adopted a German Shepherd mix that does not have the strong working drive that a pure breed dog has.
It is so important to consider the dog’s needs before adopting him, just because he is adorable… I mean really, ALL puppies are… doesn’t mean he is the right dog for you.
You need to consider the dog’s temperament, exercise needs, and working drive. What is the energy level of the dog you are wanting to adopt? Does it match your energy level? If you plan on coming home from working all day, sitting on the couch and watching TV, don’t adopt a high-energy dog like a German Shepherd or Labrador Retriever. Or maybe consider adopting an older dog, one that is past that high-energy part of his life.
If you have a soft energy, then find a dog that matches that energy, if you are assertive and not afraid to say no, then you can choose a stronger dog. Most working dogs need a strong leader, and if you aren’t okay with saying no to your dog, you should keep looking. Even many small dogs need a strong leader… just because their small doesn’t mean they can’t have a strong personality!
Consider the size of the dog that would be compatible with you, do you live in a house or apartment? Do you have a yard for the dog to run in? Do you have kids or other dogs or cats that the new dog will need to get along with? What do you expect from your dog? Hanging out on the couch, talking short walks around your neighborhood, or being adventurous and running and/or hiking?
Whether you are adopting from the humane society or a local rescue group, find out as much as possible about the dog you want to adopt. The amount of information that you can get will vary. A dog that is in a shelter situation may not be able to be fully assessed since it is not in a home environment. It can take several weeks for a dog to feel comfortable in its environment (read about the 3-3-3 rule), and really in a shelter, never really feel fully comfortable. What I love about being a foster home for dogs, is that we get the opportunity to really get to know the dog before he gets adopted, allowing us to inform the adopters of all of the dog’s personality traits. Don’t ever feel pressured into adopting a particular dog, you have the right to say no and find the perfect match. Remember, this dog will be part of your family for the next 10-15+ years.
Many times when looking at a human society or a local rescue group, they don’t really know what breed the dogs are. They usually make an educated guess on the look of the dog, assessing the body, ears, etc. and this is especially difficult if the dog is still a puppy. Puppies are very difficult to guess breeds unless they know the parents. I’ve heard stories of people adopting a puppy, thinking it would only get to be about 30 pounds, and that puppy needed up being 80 pounds! Are you prepared to accept that possibility? I’ve also noticed many rescues may classify a dog as a lab mix because that is what most people are searching for when in reality it is really not a lab at all. Don’t put on blinders, do your research and be realistic with yourself.
So remember to ask yourself these questions before you adopt your puppy or dog. Your dog will live 10-15 years or more, do NOT make this decision lightly…. you don’t go out an buy a car or house before researching, do you? Remember, adopting a dog should never be an impulse decision. Don’t ever adopt a dog because you feel sorry for him, if you aren’t the right fit, then he deserves to find some that are.
Every dog deserves the perfect family, but he doesn’t get to make that choice, so it’s up to you to make an informed decision to make sure he is happy with his new pack.
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Debi McKee is a life-long dog lover and owner, volunteers for Fetch WI, fostering rescue dogs, performing home visits and more. She also attends every dog training seminar available to her, and is continually looking for ways to build her knowledge of dog adoption, health and training. Her goal is to guide you through every step of your dog journey. Read her story and learn about the dogs behind Rescue Dogs 101. If you have a question, please feel free to send Debi a message here.