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The Adoption Experience
Adopting a new pet can be both an exciting and stressful time. Since it is such an emotional experience, be prepared by doing  all your homework before  falling in "love at first sight"!  The tips below are simply a guide to help you find the "right" dog for your lifestyle.
Many times the right dog may not be the one that stands out in the crowd so it's best to look closely at the details. One thing is for certain; adopting a new dog will change your life!  We have found it to be the most rewarding experience in the world and hope you will feel the same.

Step 1 - Ask questions - lots of questions!
Ask yourself why do you want a dog? 
Do you have the time, space, and finances to care for a new or additional dog?
you planning to move or start a family in the near future?
If you have children, are they comfortable and respectful around dogs? 
Who will care for your dog when you travel?
Are there any breed restrictions on your homeowners policy?
Do you have the time for the demands of raising a puppy or will an adult dog be better?

Do you want a small or large dog? Male or female?
Is anyone in your home allergic to pets?
Do you want a non-shedding breed? Are you aware of the costs associated with regular grooming?
Where will you exercise or walk your dog?

Step 2 - Research: Learn about different breeds
The American Kennel Club  has dog breeds organized into groups. Most of the breeds in each group will exhibit similar behaviors and temperament.  All breeds have positive and negative traits, so take the time to do the research and see what suites your lifestyle.
For example:
Terriers are notorious barkers. If you live in a condo or apartment your neighbors may protest. 
Sight hounds are geared to chase, so they may not be the best choice if you have cats. 
Herding breeds like to do just that - "herd things"  - even your kids if given the chance!

Step 3: Search: Where do I  find the right dog?
Humane Society or Animal Control.
  What is the difference?
Humane Societies are usually non-profit organizations,  lead by a board of directors that can set their own rules and regulations.  For this reason, adoption and euthanasia policies can vary.  A city or county animal control is part of a government agency and must follow the guidelines and funding limitations provided to them by their local government.  A humane society may take in more owner surrenders, while your animal control may have more unclaimed  stray dogs that are put up for adoption after the allotted holding period is up.  Either way you will be able to find loving, intelligent and adorable dogs in each type of facility.

Mixed Breed Rescues/ Purebred Rescues -  Rescues can be found with an internet search, or you can ask your veterinarian if they have a recommendation.  Many veterinary clinics provide medical care for dogs in rescue groups and will be familiar with the reputation of the rescue.  Some rescues deal specifically with small dogs or purebreds, while others care for all in need including mixed breeds, older pets or pets with medical issues.  
Rescues get dogs from various sources.  Many are pulled from shelters, while others may be neighborhood strays or owner surrenders.  Generally, a rescue group will  have a network of foster homes that care for the dogs until adopted.  Caretaking in a foster home allows a rescue group to learn about each dog's  personality, behavior tendencies, preferences and needs.  All of this information is beneficial to finding the best home for each dog. 
Adoption events are common throughout the year for rescues to feature their adoptable dogs, advertise their work, as well as raise funds for the care of the animals.  If attending an event doesn't work  for your schedule, they can set up an appointment that suits all parties.  Be prepared for an extensive interview process.  These days people involved in rescue take their responsibility of finding a good home for each dog seriously.  A home visit and reference checks prior to adoption is not uncommon. - This popular website has a detailed listing of thousands of adoptable dogs from shelters, rescues and foster networks nationwide. It features adoptable pets with photos, a brief ad with description and an occasional video clip.  You can search for a pet by a desired specification like age, breed, size, gender or even by your  zip code and the adoptable pets in your area will be displayed. Use caution when reading ads.

Step 4: Communicate
How to read ads and kennel cards:
If you really want to get an idea of  what kind of dog your looking at focus on the clues in the descriptions.
Ads for Adoption
As previously mentioned, use caution when reading ads for dogs in the newspaper or on the internet. Once you get past the adorable picture then you need to focus on the descriptions.  Adopting a dog with a serious behavior issue can be a lifelong project of management and training.

Look for key phrasing in such as:
"Prefers women"   (Translation: May be aggressive towards men)
"Would be best as only dog"   (Translation: May be aggressive towards other dogs)
"Needs room to run"  (Translation: High energy with significant exercise requirements)
"Needs experienced owner"  (Translation: Difficult to handle behaviorally and/or physically strong)
"Has probably been abused"  (Translation: May be fearful, skittish or reactive to people) 
Note: Most dogs that are thought to be abused are not. Genetics and/or lack of socialization during  the critical periods of development as a puppy are the usual causes of shy, fearful and skittish behavior in dogs.  

Kennel cards are used in shelters to identify each dog. The cards can usually be found on the front of the kennel door and will indicate the dog's name, breed, age, sex and other pertinent information.
Sometimes the card will note whether the dog is a stray, confiscation, owner surrender or possible return. If  the dog is a stray then there is not going to be much known  information,  however when an owner surrenders a dog  they must fill out a form asking for specifics about the dog being surrendered.  Ask the shelter staff for any information they have available and for help reviewing the kennel card.  Consider that some owners are not always up front and truthful about why they are surrendering,  so use your best judgment. 
Beware of a shelter or rescue not willing to be open with as much information as possible.  If the dog is a return, which means the dog was adopted out and then brought back, ask  for specifics.
*** Breed descriptions can get tricky. 
Be aware of the fact that many times the breed of dog is anyone's best guess. Shelters tend to use lab mix , shepherd mix, terrier mix or hound mix for most dogs.  The American Staffordshire Terrier is a Pit Bull.  According to the AKC,  it is believed the origin of the breed is a cross between a bulldog and a terrier, possibly the Fox Terrier.   
Sometimes a Pit Bull mix will be labeled as Boxer mix, Lab mix, Hound mix, Bulldog mix or Dalmation mix to name a few.  So you can see how being clever with breed descriptions can be misleading for adopters. 
There are lovely Pit Bull Terriers out there,  even Pit Bull rescues if that is what your're interested in adopting.  If the breed is a concern for you, then ask about their adoption policy.  Many shelters are no longer adopting certain breeds and breed mixes.  Knowing your breed behaviors and temperaments as well as physical characteristics will help in sorting through the mix.  Keep in mind the dogs behavior matters more than breed type.
What questions to ask : 

If you decide to call in response to an ad or find a dog in the shelter you're interested in meeting be sure to ask questions regarding items in the description.  Do not assume anything about the dog.  Ask detailed questions such as:

What can you tell me about the dog's personality?
How did you get the dog your adopting?
How long has the dog been up for adoption?
Has he ever been adopted and returned?
Where is he living now? Is he kept indoors? Where does he sleep?
Is he housebroken? Crate trained?
Has the dog's behavior been evaluated by a professional ? What is the procedure for evaluating?
Has the dog been exposed to children, other dogs, cats or family pets?  If so, how does he respond?
Has the dog ever snapped or bitten anyone?
How much exercise does the dog seem to need to be satisfied?
How does he handle being left alone? How long is he usually left alone at a time?
Does he like car rides and leash walks?
Has he been checked out medically ? Any issues?
Is the dog up to date on vaccinations and heartworm preventative? Spayed or neutered? 

What does the price of the adoption include?
How does the adoption procedure work?
What is your return policy?
If you're satisfied with the information and feel all your concerns have been addressed then its time to set up an appointment to meet!

Step 5: Meet and Greet ! What to look for in behavior.
When considering a dog for adoption, you must observe the behavior of the dog  first and foremost.  If you are in a shelter, take your time and look  through all the dogs available.  Do not overlook the black dogs. They do not stand out visually in the kennels. Look for a dog that is delighted with you approaching the kennel, not overly excited or aroused.   No matter how adorable you find a dog , if they are more energy than you can deal with 24/7  it will be a challenging adoption for both you and the dog.  Avoid dogs that appear tense and glance at you with a hard stare.  Once you have selected a dog that you think suits your fancy, now its time to meet!  Check to see if a  kennel attendant or adoption counselor is available and ask specific questions. Most importantly, ask if the dog has had a behavior evaluation. Plan on spending some time with the dog indoors and out if the facility will allow.  Meet with more than one dog so you will have a comparative range of behavior to observe.    
What to look for:
The energy level of the dog. Does it fit your energy level?
Does the dog respect your body space?  Bouncing off of your chest is not friendly behavior.
Is the dog over stimulated to the touch?  A dog that gets overly active and rowdy from something as simple as petting is usually a lot to handle. Look for dogs that are calmed by the touch.
Is the dog timid and unsure? Fearful? Visibly stressed? Barking and whining excessively outside of the kennel?   A dog's ability to cope with life is critical.
If you have children with you - does the dog relax or tense up when the kids are near?  Does the dog approach your kids respectfully and solicit petting and interaction without mouthing and jumping ? You must have a dog that  is safe and adores your kids, not simply tolerates them.  
Is the dog aloof and passive in your presence? Even indoors? or does the dog explore the environment but still check back in with you?
Once you feel comfortable with your selection, take a moment to step aside and ask yourself if you have any reservations? Is there ANYTHING that doesn't feel right? Address any concerns with the shelter staff or rescue representative before you make your final decision.  Remember it is a lifetime commitment, so do not be impulsive.  Take the time to find the right dog  for your lifestyle and the joy it will bring you will be endless.

Step 6: Welcome Home!  What to expect now.

Your finally home with your new dog and after all the excitement settles you suddenly think to yourself, “Now what?”

Adjustment Period
It is just as overwhelming for the dog as it is for you and your family, so providing quiet time is important.   Expect an adjustment period for all involved, including the dog.  Your schedule may change and the new responsibility can be daunting.  As a result, it’s not uncommon for an adopter to step back and think, “What in the world have I done?”  That’s ok.  Be creative and find some activities that you enjoy where you can bring your dog along.  It can take weeks sometimes before you will see your new dog’s personality blossom.  Soon imagining your life without your new buddy will be nearly impossible.

Housebreaking Mistakes
Expect your dog to make housebreaking mistakes at first.  Being kenneled at a shelter is difficult, especially for a dog that is housebroken.  They may go days without an adequate walk to eliminate and are often forced to soil in their kennels.  Plan on giving your dog a refresher course in housebreaking. Provide a feeding and walking routine that is consistent.

Veterinary Check-up
Next you need to visit your veterinarian for an exam and possible fecal check. 

Shelters and rescues do generally deworm  dogs  in their care, but some dogs will need to be dewormed more than once.  If you adopted a puppy you may need to booster puppy vaccinations for full protection.  Ask the vet clinic for any emergency numbers or information you may need to have on hand regarding your dog’s medical care.

Find a training class
Training classes are great for socializing your dog and learning some helpful training tips.  In addition, it’s a fun way to bond with your dog. Look for a class in your area and call to see if you can observe a class. If you like what you see, then sign up and get started. 
  Be ready, dogs can leave paw prints on your heart!

            Recommended Reading

              "Paws To Consider"
Brian Kilcommons and Sarah Wilson

       "Successful Dog Adoption"
               Sue Sternberg


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