With the overpopulation in shelters around the country and the high numbers of euthanization--4.5 million pets a year according to the Human Society--adopting a dog is one of the best things you can do to help this problem.
But, before you go out and adopt a dog, there are some important steps you need to take and questions to ask yourself to make sure you are ready. From knowing how to choose the right dog to being armed with the information you need to develop a harmonious relationship with your new dog, these tips will help prepare you to step up as the pack leader from day one!
• Take your family and children feelings about adopting a dog into consideration. Kids recently returned to school. Do you have a routine in place? Do you have structure in your life? The environment we bring a dog into is very important. Who is going to be doing the dog walking, feeding him, taking him to the vet? Is everyone on board with bringing a dog into the home? If not, trust me, your new dog will know and sense the resentment.
• Are you honestly ready for the responsibility of a dog? Open your mind and determine where your state of mind is. Do you know what if feels like to be calm and assertive? Why do you want to adopt a dog? Be honest! Your own behavior will be a direct reflection in the dog’s behavior, so look at clues in your life that tell you where your head is. For example, take a look at your closet. Is it neat and organized? Does that have any clues as to how you live your life? Your actions tell a story. No matter how many people I’ve consulted over the years, the state of the closet has always been a true test of their ability to provide a dog with a structured life that has rules, boundaries, and limitations.
• Figure out how well you can schedule your dog into your life. What is your work life like? How punctual are you? If you can’t be honest with yourself, ask your friends and ask them to be honest. If you are not reliable or a good manager of time or if you make excuses for being late, you might be one of those people who makes excuses for why they didn’t go on a dog walk that day or didn’t make time to go to the park. It might seem like a small minor detail, but when it comes to fulfilling your new dog and keeping him balanced, these oversights matter!
• Check out how dog-friendly your neighborhood is. How are the dogs that live near you? Is there a park or hiking trails nearby? Where’s the closest vet and 24-hour emergency? Do you have relationships with your neighbors? How socialized your neighbors’ dogs are is an indication of how your own may be – of course, this is up to you as the pack leader, and if your neighborhood doesn’t provide socialization opportunities, you will need to find other ways to properly socialize your new dog.
• Choose a dog with an energy level equal to or lower than your own. Never adopt a dog with higher energy. Consider their age and your own. Make sure you evaluate the dog when he’s been out of the cage for some time and has had a walk. Take him out and see how he behaves. A dog in a cage is not going to give you the reality of their natural energy.
• Don’t generalize based on a dog's breed, but do consider the characteristics of that breed. Just because you loved German Shepherds as a child doesn’t mean you are at a stage or place in your life to properly care for, stimulate, and exercise such a smart and powerful dog.
• Consider Fostering a Dog First. If you’re unsure of whether the new dog you’ve chosen is right for your family and lifestyle, consider fostering before making a commitment. Fostering is incredibly important part of rescuing dog. It’s also a responsible way to know whether you’re ready to take on a new dog in your life and properly care for it. Plus, fostering takes them out of the shelter and if you are armed with the proper information, you can help transition the dog from shelter life to home life. Even if you decide that this particular dog isn’t a match for you, he may be the perfect dog for someone else who better matches his energy level or lack thereof. If you have a cat, fostering is a great way to test the waters to see if the cat is ready or able to live happily with a dog in the home. Tread lightly and take baby steps in the beginning!
• Don’t overlook the senior dogs. Senior dogs need homes just as badly as the cute puppies. They may not be suited to a home with very young children, as they’re not as accustomed to being around kids’ high energy. But they are wonderful companions for homes that are not as active. They may need less exercise and more health care, but the love they give in return is the reward.
• Don’t make an emotional decision when choosing a dog. When you decide the time is right, leave your emotions at the door. Going into a shelter is devastating and sad. But if you let your weaker emotions control your brain and feel sorry for the dog, you may end up adopting a dog that isn’t right for you, your family, or your environment. Save yourself the heartache and struggles later by being methodical and aware now.
• Know what it means to be your dog's pack leader. From day one, establish the relationship and bond with your new dog. Knowledge is power, so do your homework!
• Enjoy the Process of Adopting a Dog. Dogs have brought me more gifts and taught me more than I could have ever dreamed of. Balanced dogs bring us calm, peace, joy, and love, as much as we bring them. So get started on the right foot and you can look forward to a lifetime of happiness and fulfillment with them.