Considerations Before Adopting A Dog

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray
article image

 Dogs and philosophers do the greatest good and get the fewest rewards.  Diogenes

        I don’t know many philosophers but I know a lot of dogs and Diogenes certainly had it right when it comes to dogs.  Being a volunteer for the Central Colorado  German Shepherd Rescue I have encountered varied experiences with interviewing applicants who want to adopt a rescue dog.  Those people who are willing to adopt are usually good people  but it is clear during  interviews that not all who apply have the right motives for a rescue dog. Sometimes the environment is not  suitable,  the ability to train and nurture a rescue dog, or the persons individual lifestyle.  Some just want to adopt a dog for wrong reasons.  I would therefore like to offer a non professional check list for anyone who is planning to adopt a dog.  Some things to think through BEFORE you rush down to adopt a dog. I am not saying that those spontaneous wants and desires to adopt do not work out. For the greatest chance of happiness for you and your prospective pet I would submit the following common sense points for consideration. They are in no way complete but provide a good starting point.  

1. Think about why you want to adopt a dog.  Is is because you grew up with a dog in the household and want your children to have the same experience?  Is the entire family on board with this decision?  Are they aware of the long term responsibility?  Are your children already responsible or do you hope a dog will make them responsible?  A little self examination here is the most important step.  Are your motives selfish or are you adopting to provide a previous unwanted dog a future good home.

2. Do you have a good environment for a rescued dog?  A bed or place for the dog to sleep, a fenced yard, so predators (human and animal) could not harm a dog.  Do you have a safe place to walk the dog?  Do your neighbors have dogs?  Do dogs roam your neighborhood?  Is your vehicle safe transport for a dog.  Dogs should never be placed in the bed of a pickup truck.

3.  Are you willing to alter your lifestyle?  That new addition will require play time, exercise, attention, and training.  Are you willing to attend classes with your dog so you can learn how to properly handle and care for a dog?  When asked how much time a day will be devoted to training a dog people will respond with a specific number of  hours, when in fact a dog doesn’t have that long of an attention span.  Training is ongoing and continuous and requires patience. If patience is not one of your attributes then maybe a difficult dog is not for you.

4. Are you willing to assume the financial responsibility for a dog.  Beyond leash, toys, a bed, veterinary  costs,  treats, quality food, dogs often need diet supplements and medication,  Grooming tools or grooming costs? Some dogs need  specialized medical care so you need to decide if you are prepared to handle those expenses.  

5. What about the physical demands of a dog.  Some dogs require more exercise than others, some are large and need to be handled differently and some require a lot of play time.  Are you physically able to handle that yourself?  Family members?  

6.  Where will the dog stay?  Indoors?  Many breeds do not like to be separated from the human so putting them in the basement, garage, or outside is punishment for them.  Some breeds will be okay with less attention but a dog that requires being with you and is deprived of that contact can develop  behavioral problems.

7. What if your dog does develop or come with behavioral problems?  Are you prepared to work through those with the dog so it can lead a more complete and healthy life?  

8. Dogs can live several years and while a new dog is fun and enjoyable are you willing to be committed for the long haul?  Is your partner or future partner willing to have the dog for a life time?   As days wear into weeks and weeks into years that can be a long time.  Are you ready for that contingency?  Is the dog only a possession or is it an important part of your family?  Dogs are improperly given as Christmas gifts and a few weeks later end up in a shelter.  When you adopt it should be for a life time.  

9. Do you understand the breed of dog you are prepared to adopt?  If you do not know the breed and their characteristics,  learning as you go, can be detrimental to providing a dog a good healthy environment.  Do your research before you adopt the dog, not after, and then have to start training over again to get it right. Internet and libraries are good sources for detailed information.   

10. I’m sure you consider yourself a good pet owner with a loving home.  Many of the dogs which end up in shelters come from those who believe they have the perfect home for a dog.  People see something they like and then want it right now and don’t consider the long term ownership commitment.  

11. Last after you have thought out the above issues and resolved them, it you still feel you are the right home for a rescue dog when you go to meet the dog ask the shelter  or rescue people – in their opinion is the dog you selected a good match for you?   If they tell you it isn’t then don’t get angry with them, they are simply being honest with you for the welfare of the dog.  Ask them to help you find a dog that would better suit you and your  environment  and lifestyle.  Most will be more than willing to help you rather than get the dog back.  It is better to take every precaution before adoption and lessen the stress on the dog by taking it back.

12. Before you go to meet a dog learn how to properly approach a dog.  If you have children  teach them also.  Yelling or excited children running up to a dog can stress it out. Using a high voice and excited tone can be detrimental.   Improper approach can be stressful to a dog and get you both started off on the wrong foot.  It would be to your advantage to understand as much about dog behavior as possible, pre adoption,  and not assume that you already know.  

These are just a few considerations to work out before you jump right into the adoption process.  Bringing a pet into your home is the first step on a long journey and one in which you will ultimately derive more love, affection and companionship than you could possibly imagine.  But in order to have that well behaved dog that everyone admires so much you must first make sure the match is right; if it is then you must be prepared to expend the time to train the dog properly, and lastly you must be doing it for the benefit of the dog without rigid  return expectations.  Taking a dog back to the rescue or shelter can be traumatic on the dog and therefore a good match is essential from the very beginning.  Some shelters when taking a dog back put them on the short list to be euthanized.  Dogs are not disposable property therefore go into the adoption process with an open mind, and most of all an open heart and adopt for the right reasons.  

 When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me’.
Erma Bombeck

If you approach dog adoption correctly, do it for the right reasons, and adopt the dog that is right for you, then when you think back on that loving canine partner one day you will realize your dog used every bit of talent it had to make your life more wonderful and fulfilled.  Then maybe one day you too can say I gave it all I had and nothing was left behind for me either.

For more on the lifestyle of Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their canine family go to: