How to Adopt the Right Dog

how to adopt the right dog

A chunk of his upper jaw is missing. So, when you look straight at his face, it seems as if he’s grinning.

That’s our pound pup, a blond Cocker spaniel we brought home from a no-kill shelter seven years ago.

He’s not perfect. But, then, neither are we.

The vet says his crooked mouth is due to some sort of “trauma.”

We think he probably had a run-in with another dog, probably much bigger than him, and that’s why he doesn’t like other dogs.

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. To a certain extent, that’s true. Because our dog, as a puppy, must have missed out on socializing with other animals, he doesn’t do well with them, cats and squirrels included. The technical name for this is “animal aggressive.”

This trait reveals itself at the vet’s office. Our dog has needed his own private waiting room.

We told the vet the paperwork on our dog, filled out by his previous owners, said he liked other dogs. She smiled and said, “They weren’t being honest.”

Where to Find the Right Dog for You

Bringing a shelter dog home wasn’t easy. At first, we wondered if we’d made a mistake. Eventually, he settled into family life. He tested our patience, much like an older adopted child would after the “honeymoon period” wears off. I believe it was my husband’s gentle patience that made all the difference. My daughter also took pride in her consistent training approach.

Finding a dog in the first place was difficult. We also found one adoptable dog, but decided not to take him, and to keep looking. Eventually we noticed Buddy, a Cocker Spaniel that hadn’t been adopted.

Buddy was a belated Christmas gift for our daughter. She had hounded us for a dog. Eventually we caved in and said “yes.”

We wanted to get a dog in need of a home. We didn’t need a pedigreed pup. All we wanted was a small to medium-sized pet good with kids.

We soon discovered this wasn’t going to be easy. There are several no-kill shelters within a half-hour drive. But they are fussy.

One allowed people to tour on Saturday mornings. This shelter had cages filled with adorable puppies and some cute older dogs too. A big sign read, “Just because you want a dog doesn’t mean you’re going to get one.”

This particular tour was fairly crowded, and it was clear there probably weren’t enough dogs to go around.

Slightly put off by the competition involved, we decided to look elsewhere.

Where to Find a Dog to Adopt

We called another shelter, and received a lengthy application. He had to answer a lot of personal questions. We mailed it in and waited.

Finally, a thin envelope arrived in our mailbox. It read something to the effect of, “We looked over your application and we’ve decided you are not suitable to adopt a dog.” Apparently, though, they had no such reservations about our money. They still send us regular requests for donations.

Why were we rejected?

A relative, a dog lover, thinks it’s because we’ve never owned a dog.

Picking the Right Dog Breed

The third shelter rolled out the welcome mat. They had lots of dogs. But every single one of them were big and mean. It was easy to see why things didn’t work out at their previous address.

The nice lady showing us around, explained the small and medium-sized ones generally find homes within a day or two. It’s the big guys that are hard to place.

She told us to check back.

On our second trip, we found an adorable little dog. We took him into a small room to play. Or at least we tried to. He growled and snapped at us.

This, we were warned, was a very bad sign. This dog, unfortunately, was a street dog found roaming in an urban area with his mother. He was one tough customer.

On our third trip to the shelter we found a Cocker Spaniel in a cage with a big plastic cone on his head. He’d been there for a month. He was recovering from surgery on one eye to remove an unsightly piece of pink tissue growing from his lower lid, a condition known as “cherry eye.” That’s why he wore a cone.

His other eye still had the tissue. But the shelter offered to surgically remove it free of charge. He was kind of cute. Also, at that point, we were tired of looking.

The only reason he hadn’t found a home yet was because of the cherry eye, according to the shelter.

Even though we weren’t fussy about a pedigree dog, we did want a breed (or a mix) that was right for your family. We needed a dog that wasn’t aggressive. My husband had owned Cocker Spaniels when he was growing up. This was a breed we could live with. Breed is still important when adopting a shelter dog. Since we had young children, we wouldn’t have chosen a breed known for potential aggressiveness.

Picking the Right Dog BreedPicking the Right Dog Breed

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How to Adopt a Dog from a Shelter

We brought him home. He was a menace.

He needed to wear the cone for a few more weeks so he wouldn’t scratch his eyes, still in the process of healing.

His behavior also needed a lot of work. The first few days he jumped on the kitchen table even when we were in the room. He jumped up on our bed. He growled when my husband tried to push him off.

If we opened the door to our house, he’d run out and we had to run after him, pick him up and carry him back inside. (Now, for the most part, he comes when he’s called.)

He gave his groomer a very difficult time on the first visit. (She charged us extra because of his behavior.)

If we ever left the house, and didn’t lock the trash in the bathroom, he’d knock it over and the contents would be scattered across the kitchen. (However, once we accidentally locked him in the bathroom with the trash can and he didn’t touch it.)

Our new dog also had no sense when it came to picking a fight. One time he ran after a ferocious German shepherd who would have won. Fortunately, both dog owners were able to avert a blood bath.

Perhaps his worst moment was when we invited company for dinner. We had butter on the table and he wanted some. So he jumped on the table to get it, while everyone was seated there.

How to Train a Dog From a Rescue

However, after a few months, he started to settle in and settle down. It seemed as if he was happy to be part of a family again.

He became fiercely protective of us. Just to see what would happen, I asked my husband to pretend he was going to hit me with a rolled-up newspaper. Our dog jumped onto my lap to deflect the blow.

He also started to follow, I believe to the best of his ability, the rules of the house. There was no more jumping on the table.

My daughter was able to train him, so that if she took him outside on a leash, he’d walk right at her side.

We bought a new kitchen trash can and he stopped knocking it over.

Shelter dogs do tend to come with baggage. Famous dog training Cesar Milan tells you how to live with your animal, in his book called Cesar’s Way: The Natural, Everyday Guide to Understanding & Correcting Common Dog Problems.

Book of Dog TrainingBook of Dog Training

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How to Adopt the Right Dog

I had prayed we’d find the right dog, and I believe this prayer was answered. He’s definitely the right dog for us.

Although he hates other dogs, he’s definitely a “people person” who is wonderful with small children.

Would I recommend getting a dog from a shelter? Absolutely.

How to Find the Right Dog for Your Family

1. Take Your Time. Dogs typically move in and out of shelters, so you may have to make multiple trips to find the right pet.

2. Visit Different Shelters. Each shelter has a different culture. The shelter we eventually found had a very nice, laid-back atmosphere and everyone seemed genuinely interested in facilitating a good match. They were honest too, steering us away from a cute little dog that wouldn’t have worked with our family, because we had young children.

3. Call the Shelters Often. They’ll see that you’re interested if you check in periodically, and they may also call you if they think they have what you’re looking for.

4. Find out What’s Covered. Many shelters offer free veterinary service for easily treatable, preexisting conditions. It doesn’t hurt to ask.

5. Do Pay Attention to Temperament. Don’t bring a pet home without spending some time with him or her, at the shelter. See if you can take the dog for a walk outside. Watch how the dog interacts with children, if you have any. We almost made a mistake by falling for a cute little mutt, who had a bad disposition. Although the dog we eventually adopted has some behavior issues, he’s basically a nice dog.

6. Realize that Pound Pups Come with Baggage. Our dog was and is a work in progress. Sometimes, he goes to great lengths to get a hold of “people food.” For instance, if we open the refrigerator, he’ll try to help himself. (We don’t let him.)

7. Be Patient with Your Pet. It took a couple of months before our pup started acting like a member of the family. Now we have his undying loyalty.