By: Rachel Borovec
Adopting a shelter dog is a very rewarding experience, but choosing the one that is right for you can be tough. Most people already have an idea of which type of dog they are looking for; maybe they have seen a picture of one online with its big, sad puppy dog eyes staring right through to your heart, and it’s love at first sight. The right dog can bring you years of happiness and loyalty, however choosing the wrong one could result in heartache for everyone involved, especially the dog. While shelters are a great place to find a new member of the family, it can also be a little overwhelming. Looking at a dog through the kennel you may not get an actual representation of his personality, always ask to visit with a dog in a quiet area to get a better gauge of their personality. A quiet dog hiding in the back of the kennel may come alive with bursting energy once he is out, or vice versa where a dog who is barking non-stop and jumping all over may calm down and relax. If it is possible, try taking the dog for a quick walk around the block or yard, this will create a bonding experience and once again you will see even more of his personality. Visit with multiple dogs, not just one. You may go into the shelter and see one you like right away, but sometimes it just isn’t a good fit. By giving multiple dogs a chance to meet with you, not only are you helping to give them some much needed attention, but you may also find the dog of your dreams this way. There may be a dog you passed by but barely gave a glance to, he could be “the one” and you almost missed out! Consider the following tips when visiting Gulf Coast Humane Society to help find your new canine companion:
Looks are not everything!
Do not rely or use cuteness as a reason for choosing a dog. I know it can be tempting, especially when it comes to puppies! But realistically you should take into account size, temperament, energy levels and how well they will fit in with your lifestyle when figuring your decision on a new dog. Speaking of lifestyle…
What is your lifestyle like?
Are you a family who likes to get out every weekend and head for the great outdoors? Or do you prefer to stay in, maybe only get out occasionally? These are very important factors to consider when choosing a dog. If you are someone who likes to run in the morning and would like a running companion, then the cute little bulldog may not be a good fit. Or if you are more of a couch potato then a husky is not your canine! When choosing a dog you should research their breeds and how high their energy and activity levels are, compare this to your lifestyle and decide if it is a good match. A high energy dog who does not get enough exercise or stimulation can become bored very quickly, this translates into destructive behavior! Sometimes, as is the case with many shelter dogs, you may not know what breed the dog is, however taking the dog out of the kennel to visit and play with can give you some good indications on his energy. Wave a toy around, does he chase it, follow it intensely with his eyes ready to pounce any moment? This may be a higher energy dog. A more laid back dog may be excited when they are first brought out, but they tend to settle fairly quickly. If he is content to sit near you and is not jumping around or trying to chase anything that moves than this is a good dog for a more relaxed lifestyle.
What kind of home environment can you provide?
While understandingly a lot of shelters prefer you have a large fenced in yard, depending on the dogs energy level he may do okay if you do not have one. People assume that large breed dogs need the most area to roam, however this is often not the case. A mastiff, for example, is content to lay on the couch with you all day and does fine with a few walks each day and a trip to a dog park or off leash play area occasionally. On the other hand, it is also assumed that most small dogs do well in an apartment. Terrier type breeds are a perfect example of this myth, they are very active and can go go go all day long. This is the type that needs lots of exercise and room to run and play on a daily basis. This also applies to most medium size dogs, such as Labradors, golden retrievers and husky type breeds. These are the ones who benefit the most from a large yard and need a family who has energy to spare! Of course there are dogs that can do well in an apartment, however keep in mind that you do have very close neighbors, so avoid the dogs that you see barking incessantly. While they may calm down once out of the kennel, there is a good chance this dog has some anxiety issues and if left home alone he may bark all day long. Choose a calm, laid back dog that has a low energy, this one would do okay in apartment life.
Kids and dogs!
Let’s face it, children and dogs go together like peas in a pod. They can be the best of friends, and it teaches children responsibility. Too often though, families pick a dog based on cuteness, and this could lead to a pet that may not be suited for your needs. When visiting with the dog check to see that he is interested in the children, he engages them in play and is not startled or nervous by the sudden movements that kids tend to make. Test his tolerance level, gently give a slight tug on the tail and ears, careful not to actually hurt the dog though. How does he react? Did he glance at you and continue on his merry way, maybe he just walked away? These are signs that this dog may tolerate the sometimes rough antics of children and be a good family pet. If the dog instead gave a yelp, or maybe even growled, you should consider moving on as this one is sensitive and may not tolerate much. Other things to keep in mind is the size, small dogs may get underfoot and unintentionally hurt. Kids also love to pick up small critters, and a small dog is very tempting, and again this may result in accidental ouchies. Large dogs may mean well, but they can easily knock little ones over, resulting in the kids getting hurt. A small/medium or medium size dog tends to be a good match, they usually have the right energy level for kids and tend to be tolerant. Some breeds however have a history of not meshing well with youngsters. An example is a Chow-Chow, while they are super cute medium size dogs, they tend to prefer adults. If you know the breed(s) the dog is mixed with do some research to see how they tend to be with children. While some traits can be inherent in a breed, the actual dog itself will be your best indicator; his background plays a large part of his personality, so if the dog is a little older try to find out more about his past if possible and spend as much time visiting and playing with him to get a good sense of his temperament and how he acts around kids. Play-time should always be supervised though. Never leave children and dogs unattended, and make sure that your children learn to respect the dog treat him as a family member, not a big and furry toy!
Gulf Coast Humane Society Staff and Volunteers