Adopting a dog can be a confusing and arduous process, especially if you want a canine with a minimal amount of problems. My hope is to take a lot of the mystery out of adopting a dog from a rescue or shelter.
First, a few points. Your whole family or roommates must be on board with you when bringing in a new dog. Also, check with your landlord to make sure they will accept your new family member’s breed and size.
When seeking a dog and assessing a potential match, thoroughly interview the owner, shelter, rescue, or foster parent before meeting the dog, making sure it will be a good fit for your lifestyle and family before even visiting the dog.
Once you do set up a meeting with the dog, please check off the following list in order. If, at any point, you reach a scenario where you have checked off a deal-breaker, take this seriously, break it off, and look for a different dog unless you are looking for a project dog or are willing to take on a dog with issues. Also, do not adopt a dog sight unseen. Some things to bring to your assessment – treats and toys.
Now, let’s dive into the checklist.
1. Observe the dog without interacting with it from a distance and see what kind of temperament the dog has.
Best scenario: The dog is comfortable, calm, and relaxed in his kennel.
Deal-breaker: The dog is stressed, barking, pacing, charging at humans or dogs, or hangs back. These dogs will require extensive behavior modification.
2. Walk the dog on a leash.
Best scenario: The dog walks happily beside you.
Acceptable: If the dog pulls, this isn’t a deal-breaker, and the behavior can be modified with positive training.
Deal-breaker: The dog bucks and jumps or freezes and puts on the brakes. This will require serious behavior modification.
3. Take the dog off-leash in a secured area.
Best scenario: Happily greets all humans.
Acceptable: If the dog explores the yard and comes back to check in with you, it would indicate more independence and would be okay.
Deal-breaker: The dog is a velcro dog and doesn’t leave your side, indicating some separation anxiety, a costly and frustrating problem that is not always fixable. Other deal-breakers would be that the dog ignores you completely, is out of control, paces and whines, or wanders the yard with a lack of confidence. Also, reject any dog that hides in the corner and refuses to come out. All of these dogs will need intense and costly behavior modification and might never be “normal dogs.”
4. Body handling. Put the dog back on the leash and pet her and handle other parts of her body, paws, ears, etc. Please do this with caution.
Best scenario: The dog enjoys being touched all over and, in fact, gets pretty wiggly and happy about it.
Acceptable: Even a dog that simply tolerates body handling isn’t a deal-breaker.
Deal-Breaker: The dog moves away from you, growls, gives you a hard stare, freezes, or snaps. We have some serious behavioral issues here, so stay away from this one.
5. See if the dog has had any training or is receptive to training with treats.
Best scenario: You say sit, and she does it! Can you teach her a new trick pretty quickly? That is a win as well.
Acceptable: The dog knows no cues but is treat-motivated. That indicates the dog can be trained easily.
Deal-breaker: The dog has no idea what you are trying to do and isn’t interested in your treats.
6. Is the dog playful?
Best scenario: Plays with you happily.
Acceptable: Even a dog that gets a little over-exuberant with toys and gets mouthy occasionally is acceptable. A dog that declines to play with toys isn’t a deal-breaker, either; some dogs just aren’t into them.
Deal-breaker: The dog loves the toys but freezes or growls when you try to take the toy away. This suggests resource guarding, a potential long-term problem.
7. How does the dog react to your children? If you have children, bring them to the assessment if you feel safe to do so after you have fully assessed 1-6 and things have gone well. For dogs to live safely with your kids, the dog must absolutely love children – no exceptions on this.
Best scenario: The dog loves to be around your kids and is calm, not jumpy.
Acceptable: Even a dog that is a little over-exuberant around kids can be trained to have a little bit of self-control.
Deal-breaker: The dog is indifferent to your kids or worse. The dog freezes or is cautious or fearful. This is a terrible scenario, so don’t adopt a dog like this if you have kids. Another deal-breaker is a dog that just can’t seem to control itself jumping with wild, happy and reckless abandonment. Kids tend to get these dogs even more riled up, creating a dangerous situation even if the dog is playful.
8. How does the dog interact with your present dog if you add a dog to your family? Bring your current dog to the assessment and observe the two of them. Both dogs could be on opposite sides of a yard and possibly be dragging their leashes, so you can have restraints if something goes wrong.
Best scenario: Both dogs are interested in each other and approach each other happy and reasonably calm.
Acceptable: Even if both dogs are very excited or one appeases the other, that isn’t a deal-breaker.
Deal-breaker: Dogs avoid each other, or worse yet, they show signs of aggression, tension, or stiffness. These scenarios are behavioral challenges or nightmares.
9. Do you have cats? Ask if the dog has any history with cats. If you can find a place where the dog can meet your cats, have the dog on a leash, but this is not always possible.
Best scenario: The dog just watches the cats calmly or watches with happiness and excitement.
Deal-breaker: A dog that barks and lunges in excitement and can’t seem to control itself. Even worse, a dog that freezes, stalks or goes into prey mode.