Recently, I’ve heard several potential dog owners express concerns about the behavioral health of dogs adopted from shelters. While it’s true that some shelter dogs have serious behavioral issues like separation anxiety or fear aggression, it’s not only possible but fairly easy to find a well-adjusted shelter dog, so long as you’re willing to ask a few questions and pass by the cute dog that steals your heart but is totally unsuited for your lifestyle. Here are some strategies for selecting a behaviorally healthy shelter dog.
Ask About the Previous Home
Especially with the current recession, many dogs in shelters received excellent care up until the day they were relinquished. Bad things like homelessness or death happen even to good dog owners. If possible, look for a dog that lived in a household similar to your own and was happy there. Some shelters won’t disclose why a dog was relinquished, but if the shelter staff won’t even tell you whether or not the dog was turned in due to being unsuited for the household, go to a different shelter or rescue. Any shelter that doesn’t want a high return rate should tell potential adopters about any behavioral problems reported by the past owner.
If you find a dog that you like that was relinquished due to foreclosure, the death of the owner, military deployment, or some similar reason unrelated to the dog’s behavior, that dog may well fit into your household easily.
Look for Fostered Dogs
If possible, visit dogs that are currently in a foster home similar to the composition of your own household. For example, if you’ve got small children, call your favorite rescue group and ask if they have any dogs that are doing well in a foster family with young children. Foster families love their foster dogs and want to see them in the perfect home, so they’ll help you decide whether or not the dog is suited for your family.
Bring an Expert
If the idea of walking into a shelter and choosing your companion for up to the next 20 years on the basis of a single visit intimidates you, consider asking a dog expert who you respect to come along as an advisor. If you already work with a dog trainer, ask them to help you choose. If not, perhaps a family friend who is highly knowledgeable would be happy to assist you.
If you know that you tend to fall in love with the wrong animal, you might even want to ask your expert friend to visit the shelter first and compose a short list of possible dogs based on a list of traits your new dog will need to have in order to fit into your family. Then look only at the dogs on the short list. If you don’t “click” with any of them, that’s fine–it’s worth waiting a few more days or weeks to get the right companion for the next decade or more. Don’t bring children along until you know which dog you’re getting or have narrowed the list down to a few dogs you’d be happy with, and never promise to have chosen a dog by a certain date. Giving yourself deadlines prevents you from taking the time you need to choose the right pet.