Adopting a dog is a wonderful way to help a dog find a new home. All kinds of dogs are surrendered to shelters, sanctuaries, and rescue groups for many reasons. For example, many places have laws in place to help protect pets in rental situations or to help renters find a place that welcomes dogs, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out. Also, if an owner has not made arrangements for their dog, either in a will or through discussion with family and friends, then a death can leave a great family dog with nowhere to live. Senior dogs can be a great new addition to a family as they are through the puppy stage, have often been trained, and are generally calmer.
There are of course exceptions, but there are frequently a large number of issue-free dogs up for adoption at any shelter. Another advantage to adopting a rescue dog is that they often have staff and foster parents that get to know them well and can help you find a good match with your family.
Do Your Research
Before visiting an adoption site, or a specific dog, do your research. You want to find a dog that fits into your lifestyle so both you and the dog will be happy.
Determine the Needs of Your Family
Family characteristics such as energy level, small children, other pets, and allergies are important. Matching the activity level of your new dog to the activity level of your family is particularly important. If your family enjoys a lot of TV time and prefers hanging out at home, as opposed to frequent walks and high energy activity, then a dog that doesn’t need a lot of activity will fit better than a dog that always wants to run and be outside. If you won’t be home most of the day, a wise choice may be a dog that is both comfortable being alone and who doesn’t need a lot of exercise, instead of a dog that needs constant companionship.
Many websites exist that can help you discover the main characteristics of different breeds and the type of dog that will adapt well to kids and other pets. For example, the Animal Planet website includes a breed selector questionnaire that can help you to decide on the important traits a dog should possess to suit your family.
Find a Shelter, Sanctuary, or Rescue Group
Search for reputable shelters, sanctuaries, or rescue groups. Visit websites, read reviews, look for news articles, and talk to other people who have adopted dogs. Talk to the staff and volunteers at several different places about both your family lifestyle and the kind of dog you would like. The staff and volunteers usually have spent time with all of the dogs in their care, know how the dogs act at different times of the day and when hungry or tired, and if the dog has any type of training or particular issues. Often, by discussing your needs, the shelter staff may know of several dogs that could work with your family.
When you find an organization that you feel confident working with, fill out an adoption application and submit all paperwork. Good organizations may ask for a veterinarian reference, several personal references, and perform a home visit. Remember the organization is not only trying to establish that you can provide a good home for a dog but also getting to know your family to ensure a good match when the time comes.
Observe and Get to Know the Dog
When deciding on a specific dog, take the time to observe and get to know the dog a little. Everyone in the family should meet the dog. Watch how the dog acts while away from other animals, walking on a leash, and interacting with different members of your family. When you meet your possible new dog, teach it how you want it to act from the beginning. Do not accept bad behavior. If you are not going to allow jumping up, correct the behavior the first time it happens. Remember to praise the good behavior that you want to encourage for the future. Keep in mind your list of needs and wants in a dog. It may be fun to cuddle with a low-energy dog for a while; but, if you want to run and hike with your dog, make sure the dog is capable of that kind of activity as well.
Taking Your New Dog Home
After you choose your new dog and have gone through the adoption process, it is time to take your new friend home. Remember that the dog may act differently when moved from the shelter and it may take some time for its true personality to emerge. The dog may have been moved around frequently and it may be confused and overwhelmed at first. It is best to introduce your dog to its new home in a controlled and calm manner to give it time to learn that it is safe and can relax. The following general tips can help with a smooth transition:
- Take your dog for a long walk through his new neighborhood before you enter the house. A long walk gives the dog a chance to go to the bathroom (to avoid accidents later) and to get rid of any nervous energy and anxiety. If your dog is a little tired and calm when he enters his new space, his behavior will be much easier to correct.
- Show the dog how to get to his bathroom area and let him out often until he learns where to go. Occasionally, even reliably house-trained dogs have accidents in a new environment. Accidents are a result of the stress of new people, smells, and sounds and are usually temporary.
- During the first few days, set the structure and expectations for his behavior. The dog may be confused and not know what behaviors are acceptable, so be consistent and show him how you want him to act.
- Set up a dog-friendly area where your dog will be comfortable, can explore his new environment, and make sure to give him a place to be alone and relax.
- Find out what the dog was fed at the shelter and what the feeding and exercising schedule was like. Try to keep the same schedule and brand of food for at least a few days. If you want to change his food and schedule to something that better fits your lifestyle, begin making small changes by adding some new food to the old food and adjusting the feeding times to your routine. Gradually add more and more new food until the dog has adjusted. A slow transition is key – gastric distress is no fun for anyone.
- Try to keep the excitement level down for a while to give the dog time to adjust. Let him get used to your family and the routine. Try to keep visitors to a minimum until the dog has a chance to settle in. By keeping to a schedule and being consistent, your dog will know what to expect and it will allow him to become more comfortable.
- Keep a close eye on your dog. Watch his body language around other dogs, pets, and people. Spend lots of time together as your dog will also be observing you. Use this time to discover the quirks and individual behaviors that make your dog special.
- You may be surprised to learn that your dog knows commands and different manners taught by a previous owner. You can accept and enjoy these things or decide to change the behaviors. Your dog will learn, it just takes repetition, consistency, and patience.
- If you encounter behaviors in your dog that you don’t like, you can talk to your veterinarian and look into professional training. Call the shelter where you got the dog and see if any of these things have happened before and how the staff handled it. Any type of behavior can be changed and you can settle into a happy relationship with your new friend.
Allowing your dog the chance to get to know its new environment and family in a calm manner will help to make a smooth transition. Taking the time to get to know the habits of your new dog, establish rules from the beginning, and using patience and compassion should help your new family member settle in quickly.