Top 4 Tests When Choos­ing A Shel­ter Dog

Res­cue dog match­mak­ing: 4 im­por­tant tests your fu­ture fam­ily mem­ber should pass


Res­cue dog match­mak­ing: 4 im­por­tant tests your fu­ture fam­ily mem­ber should pass.

You’ve de­cided there’s room in your house and your heart for a res­cue dog, which is won­der­ful! Shel­ters and res­cue or­ga­ni­za­tions are brim­ming with dogs wait­ing for good homes. Lit­er­ally. A ter­ri­ble statis­tic: an es­ti­mated two mil­lion an­i­mals die in U.S. shel­ters each year. By adopt­ing, you get an awe­some new friend AND you’ll be sav­ing a life! But be­fore you make the leap, please be sure you’re mak­ing a good match. When you see all those dogs, it’s easy to let your emotions over­ride your brain. Of course you need to fall in love, but mak­ing a hasty de­ci­sion can lead to bro­ken hearts (and some­times worse for the re­turned dog who faces slim­mer faces of re-adop­tion). Ask any­one who’s brought home what they thought was a laid­back lap dog and ended up with a whirling dervish—by us­ing both your heart and your head, you’re more likely to make a great match. Here are five tests to help you de­ter­mine which lucky dog should come home with you.


This is one of the most im­por­tant tests. A dog that is so­cial with peo­ple is friendly, out­go­ing, and wants your at­ten­tion. Be­fore you say yes or no to any favourite, try this ex­er­cise: Ask to take the dog to a quiet vis­it­ing area. Shel­ters are very stress­ful for dogs and you want to de­ter­mine how much of the dog’s be­hav­iour is a prod­uct of en­vi­ron­ment. Have a seat and just hang out. What does the dog do?

A. He en­gages with you and wants you to pet him. He may be in­ter­ested in his en­vi­ron­ment, but his main pri­or­ity is get­ting your at­ten­tion. When you pet him, he en­joys it.

B. He barely of­fers you a pass­ing glance. He is very in­ter­ested in smelling the room. If you pet him he’ll wag his tail and maybe briefly look at you, but mostly he just ex­plores. C. He cow­ers from you and does not seek phys­i­cal af­fec­tion. He does not make eye con­tact. You want the A dog. This dog is so­cial. He en­joys the com­pany of peo­ple and wants to in­ter­act with you. This is go­ing to be a dog that is in­vested in you and wants to be a com­pan­ion. The B dog is not as so­cial, and will likely be harder to work with—he’s not as in­ter­ested in mak­ing friends with you. The C dog is go­ing to be a project. If the dog con­tin­ues to act ter­ri­fied af­ter some quiet time with you, you may want to think twice un­less you are a very ex­pe­ri­enced dog per­son. Fear can lead to ag­gres­sion and a ter­ri­fied dog that feels trapped can

Ask to take the dog to a quiet vis­it­ing area. Shel­ters are very stress­ful for dogs and you want to de­ter­mine how much of the dog’s be­hav­iour is a prod­uct of en­vi­ron­ment.

bite. A trau­ma­tized dog needs a lot of help to re­cover, which takes time, fi­nances, and com­mit­ment. With ef­fort, the C dog can still be a great pet, just know you have a lot of work ahead of you. If a dog growls or snaps at you, avoids your pet­ting, or tries to es­cape your touch, keep look­ing un­less you have the time and re­sources to de­vote. Ideally, you want a dog that makes warm eye con­tact with you. He should seek your pet­ting, lean into your touch, and ap­proach you with a curved pos­ture. Wig­gly butts are great!


Do you have an ex­ist­ing dog at home or will your new dog need to be around other dogs? Most dogs need to be ok en­coun­ter­ing other dogs at least in the neigh­bour­hood. How is your can­di­date? Ask the shel­ter, res­cue or­ga­ni­za­tion or foster fam­ily for spe­cific de­tails. Some dogs, for ex­am­ple, get along with dogs of their own breed, but not oth­ers. Some are ok with cer­tain sized dogs but not oth­ers. You may not need a so­cial but­ter­fly, but un­less you’re ex­pe­ri­enced/okay with an only-dog, you want to be sure you’re not bring­ing home a dog that has ag­gres­sion is­sues with other dogs. You may think it’s a good idea to take your dog to the shel­ter to meet his po­ten­tial new friends, but this de­pends on your dog. Will your dog be scared in this en­vi­ron­ment? If he’s ter­ri­fied, he doesn’t want to make new friends! It may be bet­ter to ar­range your dog to meet any can­di­dates else­where, such as a lo­cal park. Here’s an ex­er­cise to de­ter­mine if your dog and the po­ten­tial adoptee will get along (note this as­sumes your dog al­ready loves other dogs and has no re­ac­tiv­ity is­sues):

It’s good to have a helper. In the neu­tral ter­ri­tory (i.e. not

home turf), start walk­ing the two dogs par­al­lel to each other. Avoid nose-to-nose greet­ings, as this can cause ten­sion. If the dogs turn to­wards each other to sniff each other that’s ok; you just want to avoid them com­ing at each other straight on. Have treats with you and re­ward the dogs for good be­hav­iour. Note what hap­pens on this co-walk: A. The dogs get wig­gly and curvy. They may take turns bow­ing to each other. One may make him­self smaller and try to lick the other dog un­der the chin. Tails may be high. Over­all, it looks like they could be friends.

B. The dogs show some in­ter­est in each other but mostly en­joy the walk.

C. One or both dogs ac­tively try to avoid the other dog. One may lift his lip or growl. A or B is the way to go here. Even if the dogs seem friendly to­wards each other, know that it can still take some work to ac­cli­mate a new mem­ber into the fam­ily. Some folks have thought their dog was ok with a new­comer at the shel­ter, only to have a ter­ri­ble dog­fight in the car on the way home. What about other an­i­mals that may be in your life? Kitty isn’t go­ing to ap­pre­ci­ate you bring­ing home a dog that chases her or, heaven for­bid, wants to make her a snack! Make sure any dog you bring home can be a friend to all your pets.


Is the dog healthy? Does he have any spe­cial needs? If so, are you able to han­dle them? Be hon­est with your­self. It’s ok if you need to pass up a dog that has a lot of med­i­cal is­sues. Not every­one can han­dle that, emo­tion­ally or fi­nan­cially. On the other hand, if you’re up for adopt­ing a dog that needs reg­u­lar med­i­ca­tion or has a chal­leng­ing phys­i­cal con­di­tion, go for it. Spe­cial needs dogs can make amaz­ing pets. Just be sure you un­der­stand what you’re get­ting into first. Talk to your vet­eri­nar­ian about any spe­cific con­di­tions a res­cue dog may have to find out ex­actly what kind of care com­mit­ment he’ll need.


Are you an ac­tive per­son who wants to in­clude a ca­nine buddy on your ad­ven­tures? Or do you re­ally want a couch potato to snug­gle with you on the couch? This is another time to take an hon­est look in the mir­ror. Of­ten, poor matches ex­ist sim­ply be­cause peo­ple chose a dog with a dif­fer­ent en­ergy level than they want. If you’re a laid back per­son, a dog that runs cir­cles around your liv­ing room may drive you crazy. If you want a run­ning part­ner, choose a dog that is phys­i­cally sound and eager to cover some miles with you. Think about the dif­fer­ent ac­tiv­i­ties you want to share with your dog. What’s the best dog to fit that pic­ture? Try this ex­er­cise: Take the dog on a walk. Have some de­li­cious treats to re­ward him for good be­hav­iour. He may or may not be trained to walk nicely on leash, but put that aside for a minute. What is his ac­tiv­ity level? A. He’s all over the place! Ev­ery­thing is ex­cit­ing to him, from leaves to birds to traf­fic. He’s not scared, just eager to ex­plore. B. He walks calmly by your side, in­ter­ested in the en­vi­ron­ment but con­tent to keep pace with you. C. He walks for a bit, then lies down or sits and re­fuses to budge. A might be the run­ning part­ner you want. B sounds ideal for some­one who likes to walk, but doesn’t need an ath­letic part­ner. C could have a med­i­cal is­sue pre­vent­ing him from ex­ert­ing him­self, or he may ac­tu­ally be fright­ened of his en­vi­ron­ment. Pro­ceed with cau­tion with this one. There are plenty of sto­ries about peo­ple who walked into a shel­ter and suc­cess­fully adopted the first dog they saw. There are just as many sto­ries about matches that didn’t have a happy end­ing. This may be why your fu­ture furry friend ended up in res­cue in the first place. Is it work to find the right one? Sure it is. But it’s worth it! If your first at­tempts don’t turn up a per­fect match, don’t lose hope. He or she is out there. And when you find that per­fect dog for you, both your head and your heart will be in the right place.

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