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Adopting A Dog From An Animal Shelter

by Karen Meldrum

Right now, in animal shelters across the country, thousands of wonderful dogs are waiting to be adopted - - dogs of every size and shape, old dogs and tiny puppies, lively dogs and laid back hounds. And all of them have one thing in common: they just want a chance to "go home".
There are many reasons that there are so many dogs awaiting adoption. Many times, people bring a cute little puppy into their home, then turn him in to a shelter when he gets too big to manage. Sometimes people find themselves in circumstances where they just can't keep their dogs, such as when they become ill and must spend long periods of time in a hospital. And, sadly, many people who are looking for the "perfect dog" just don't think of an animal shelter as the place to find one.
Well, think again! You can find your perfect dog at an animal shelter. But before you go, here are some things you should know.
Know Your Animal Shelter
Many people are not aware that there are different types of animal shelters. Animal Control, or "the Pound" is a tax supported shelter. In many cities, Animal Control is operated by the Police Department. A Humane Society (or SPCA) is usually an independent organization whose funding comes from charitable contributions. Each Humane Society is independent of the others. They usually follow the guidelines of the national organization, but are not owned or supported by it. In a few cases, an animal shelter serves as both Animal Control and Humane Society. Funding would then come partially from taxes and the rest from contributions.

In most cases, the Humane Society is the best place to find your dog. Although there are many wonderful animals at the Animal Control shelters, you will not find the kind of support and services there that you'll find at the Humane Society. The most significant of these, when adopting a dog, are veterinary medical care and behavioral screening. A dog adopted from a Humane Society shelter has most likely been given a thorough medical examination. In addition, before being placed in the Adoption area, the dog has been screened for various behavioral traits, the objective of which is to adopt out only dogs who will be successful in their new homes. This is very often not the case in the Animal Control shelters. Be sure to ask about these services wherever you adopt your dog. Also, many Humane Societies offer free or low cost follow-up medical care and training classes for adopted dogs.
Choose the Dog Who's Right for YOU
Even if you adopt your dog from a Humane Society that screens doggy behavior, you need to do your own evaluation to have the best chance of finding a dog whose behavior and needs will fit as smoothly as possible into your lifestyle. A highly energetic dog may not be the best choice for a sedentary senior citizen; a dominant, assertive dog is most likely not a good choice for the shy and retiring type; and a very quiet dog who enjoys nothing more that sunning himself is probably not the best choice for a family with young children. The employees and volunteers at the shelter will do their best to ensure a successful adoption; however, their experience and time are often limited. You are ultimately responsible for choosing the right dog for YOU.
A word of caution:
Shelter workers and volunteers have varied backgrounds and expertise in behavioral screening. Just because a dog has been placed out for adoption doesn't mean that he is a good potential family member. Highly aggressive, biting dogs are usually identified and not offered for adoption. But beware the shy, fearful dog whom the shelter worker assures you will be just fine with a little TLC. These dogs may be or may become fear-biters, a behavior trait that is almost impossible to correct.  Look for a dog who is friendly to strangers and other dogs. That's a sign of a well socialized animal, a dog who has a good chance of blending into your family and community.
Be Prepared
Be sure you are ready for your dog before you go to the shelter to "look around".  There are so many wonderful dogs in every shelter, and the chances are pretty good that you'll find one you really want the first time you go. So be ready.
Here are some of the things you'll need:
-- A spot somewhere in your house that will be the "dog's space", somewhere he can go to have peace and quiet, a place where he can be confined and not be able to destroy anything. It might be the laundry room, or an area in the family room.  Some people like to use a dog crate.
-- A dog bed. This might be a "beanbag" type, or even a small rug.
-- Food and water bowls. Stainless steel are most durable and easy to keep clean.
-- Chew bones. Nylabones are good and can be washed in the dishwasher or boiled to sterilize after use.
-- An area outdoors where your dog will eliminate.
-- Cleaning solution for mistakes. (The enzymatic ones work best.) With almost any dog, expect a few "misfires" at first.
Set the Right Expectations
Talk with your family members and make a plan for how your new dog will fit into the family. When you first bring your new dog home, he will be uncertain about how to behave. This is your window of opportunity: start right from the first day to establish the behavior patterns you desire. Don't make the mistake that so many people make, of letting the dog do whatever he wants for the first couple of weeks until he feels more secure in his new home. A dog feels most secure when he knows exactly what you expect of him at all times. Let him know what you want, and he'll try to do it. Dogs "aim to please", they just need to know what you want.
Consider a Mixed Breed Dog
Pedigreed dogs are somewhat of a status symbol, a designer dog who looks "just right". And many of the dogs in shelters are purebreds. But another type of status might be having a dog who looks like no one else, a dog who is "one of a kind". This can only be achieved with a mixed breed dog. In addition, there are genetic benefits with mixed breeds. Pure bred dogs often have genetic abnormalities due to the high degree of inbreeding. This can be somewhat avoided by dealing with a reputable breeder. But you can find the same genetic advantages by adopting one of the many wonderful mixed breed dogs, ready and waiting for you at your local animal shelter. They may not have "papers", but they have all of the other qualifications a dog needs to work its way into your heart.
Don't Rule Out an Older Dog
Puppies are cute and cuddly and easy to love. They're so tiny and fuzzy. But they often grow up to be much larger and look different from what you expected. An adult dog is a known quantity. He already looks like he's going to look, and he won't get much larger after about one year of age. An adult dog's temperament is also already established. It's easier to spot an easy-going adult dog than a puppy that has the potential to become one.
Many people are afraid that they won't bond with an adult dog the same way they would with a puppy. But just ask anyone who has adopted an older dog; they'll tell you "it just ain't so". By the time your new dog has been in your family for a few weeks, you'll wonder how you ever got along without him.
Refer to Other Articles on DigitalDog
The DigitalDog website has many informative articles about dog behavior and other dog-related topics. Read them all before you start looking for your dog. Learn as much as you can so that you'll be truly prepared. Make this a match made in heaven that was prepared for on earth!

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