Before you Adopt a Dog!


So you are considering getting a dog from a shelter? That is very commendable.


What do you need to know before you go to the shelter(s) to look at dogs. Everyone has an idea of what the perfect family pet dog would be like. It would be obedient, play safely with the children, cuddle up with you on the couch and be your best friend.

This ideal is hard to obtain, especially if you select the first dog you see and don’t have a plan going in.


Before you go to the shelter to “interview” dogs have a family meeting. Develop some criteria and attributes that the dog should have that you all agree upon. Think about your family’s lifestyle and activity level. Look at your budget to make sure you have the funds available for the additional mouth (food), training and medical expenses. Discuss who will be the primary responsible caregiver of the dog? Who will be responsible for potty and cleanup?


Remember that this dog will more than likely will have no training. Are there classes available locally, either private or group, that you can attend with the dog. Some shelters offer courses for new dog owners. Also, some Community Colleges offer dog training courses very inexpensively through their community education programs.


Have a game plan in place, but be flexible. As a parent, you need to realize that your 10 year old son or daughter cannot be ultimately responsible for the dog.


When you are ready to start looking you can do some research online to narrow down which dogs you want to interview. This process may take several weeks or even months to find the correct dog for your family. Check locally to see if there is a dog trainer or behaviorist who would be willing to help you make the correct selection.


Not everyone needs to come to the first interview of the dog, but everyone needs to attend subsequent interviews. This needs to be done in a controlled manner so the dog does not become overwhelmed.


Go through your established questions to make sure the dog fits the bill. Ask the dog if he wants the job. Remember, this is a lifelong commitment to your new family member. Depending on the age of the dog, you may have 10 to 20 years.


Below is a list of questions to get you thinking and working on your list before you even think about going to the shelter:

  • How active is your family? Are you at home in the evening or continuously running to the children’s activities?
  • Is there anyone home during the day? If not, then where will the dog stay? In the house? Fenced yard? Doggy Day Care?
  • How much room do you have? If you live in a one room apartment, a Great Dane may not be an appropriate dog. Do you a fenced yard? Dog run? Remember puppies do grow up, so think about how large the dog will be as an adult.
  • Who will be responsible for the dog? Feeding? Pottying? Walking?
  • How much time do you have to devote to the dog? Training? Interacting? Engaging the dog’s brain?
  • Do you have time daily to do the required grooming of the dog or do you have the financial means to take the dog to the groomer every 6 to 8 weeks?
  • What other questions pertain to your family that should be addressed?


By going through this exercise before you look at shelter dogs you will be better prepared for your new family member and assured you picked the correct dog for your family.


The financial aspect of bringing a dog into your home can run between $1,650 and $6,500 the first year. This depends on the adoption fee, if the dog comes to you with any underlying health conditions such as heartworm (because dogs are not tested prior to shipping them from state to state which is how heartworm is spreading rapidly around the country), how many goodies you buy your dog, any special dietary needs, training your dog to be a good dog citizen and any rehabilitation that may need to occur because of previous life experiences he or she may have had, daycare, etc. It all adds up very quickly if you don’t budget for it before hand and prepare such as putting up a fence for the dog is you don’t already have a fenced yard, buying a kennel when they are on sale, water and food bowls, toys, chews, treats and more.


There also is the consideration of pet insurance or no pet insurance? I strongly suggest that if you are not going to have pet insurance that you at least set up a saving account for the dog and set aside an amount each month so when the annual veterinary visit comes there is money set aside for it or emergency vet visits, monthly medications, and the like. You can start this savings account before you get your dog so that there is money accumulating in the account while you are hunting for the perfect dog for your family.

One of the most important things to consider when adopting any animal. The animal should pick the family or pick you (if an individual adopting). The dog also needs to not be afraid of anyone in the household and everyone in the household needs to be comfortable around the dog. If someone is afraid of the dog, then the living arrangements won’t work well. Someone will always be on edge, be it human or dog.


You can always contact a professional dog trainer or behaviorist and arrange for them to attend the meetings of the new dogs with you so that they can help evaluate the dog’s body language for the subtle clues that you may miss. It will be well worth the additional money and time that it will take to set this up.


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Written by Suzanne Brean, M.S., CPDT-KSA, FF-C