20 things to consider before adopting a shelter dog

Adopting a shelter dog will make the whole family happy if you follow these simple, yet essential safety tips.

Welcoming a Shelter Dog

Adopting a dog means adding a new member to the family. It’s a big responsibility. The whole family must agree and understand what’s involved in terms of time, money and care.

If you think your family may not be ready, you can already consider fostering an animal. “Becoming a temporary foster is a great way to learn more about day-to-day life with a pet, understand how you function with the newcomer in the house, and see if you’re ready to take in a dog permanently. It’s kind of like a driving test,” says Joan Harris, director of dog education and behavior at PAWS Chicago. “Some families enjoy the experience so much that they ultimately choose to continue fostering animals on a temporary basis, rather than adopt one permanently.”

The stigma of shelter dogs needs to be put aside

It’s true that some shelter dogs have been through traumatic situations or require additional medical or behavioral care. But they often come from a warm, safe place and are entrusted to a shelter for a variety of reasons.

He may be afraid

Your new puppy has been through an ordeal: he may have been abandoned by his former owner, taken in as a stray and/or separated from his mother and littermates for the first time. Shelters, while important and necessary, are not exactly quiet, peaceful places. Your new dog was probably in a hallway or crate, perhaps with one or two other dogs in the same hallway as him, surrounded by barking dogs in other cages.

Then a stranger (you) put him in a car and took him to a completely new place. This is an adjustment, so it’s important to give the dog time to get used to his new surroundings.

You’ll have to get to know him

Obviously, your new dog has done something to appeal to you, or he wouldn’t be here. But shelter dogs – especially older ones – can be unpredictable. Even if they pass the temperament test with flying colors, it’s best to be cautious.

Never leave your children alone with a new dog, even if it seems really sweet and gentle. It’s best to take the time to get to know the dog and be cautious until it’s comfortable in its new home. Not all shelter dogs have been abused, but they have still experienced trauma and can be unpredictable.

The home must be pet-proof

Just as a home should be safe for newborns and small children, your home should also be free of items that could harm your new pet: small objects or toys that are easy to swallow, loose electrical cords, medications and cleaning products, and houseplants that are toxic to animals. You should also keep your new pet away from those foods that can be toxic to dogs.

He will need obedience training

Even if your shelter dog had an owner before you, he may have picked up bad habits during the adoption period. Urinating, chewing on objects, jumping and pulling on the leash are very common behavioral problems in shelter dogs (especially in puppies who have never been obedience or housetrained). But these are behaviors that can be corrected: consistent training is important to establish new habits and teach your dog to respect the rules of his new “pack.

He doesn’t know he’s been “rescued

We like to imagine that animals have human thoughts and feelings. But your shelter dog – like all other dogs – is not able to feel the wide range of emotions you attribute to him. He knows he was in an unpleasant place and now he’s not. He doesn’t know that you saved him. He likes you, but he is not able to feel gratitude. And if he’s been abused before, he can’t know that it won’t happen again. He may not trust you at first: just because you’ve adopted him doesn’t mean he’ll automatically become your best friend.

He will need a period of adjustment

A dog may not immediately feel comfortable in his new home, but according to Liz Claflin, director of operations for Zoom Room Dog Training Centers, there are several stages that a dog will go through. It’s called the 3-3-3 adjustment period.

“It takes about three days for a new dog to just get over the shock of the move. Then it takes three weeks to get used to the new home and all the people in his life, his new routine, new rules to follow and new boundaries. Finally, it takes about three months for a dog to fully and truly settle into his new life,” Claflin says. “By that time, he will have fully integrated into the home, have a set schedule that he follows and be a full-fledged member of the family.”

He may chase the cat or fight with another dog

What if your new dog hates the other animals in the household? Or what if the other pets don’t accept the new dog? He may have never been in contact with a cat and may be aggressive. Or, if it’s a stray, he may have only known dogs that compete for resources and he sees them as a threat. Everyone will probably need time to adjust.

Let the animals go at their own pace and don’t just put your new dog in the same room as your old dog and assume that everything will be fine.

He doesn’t want to meet everyone at once

You’ll be tempted to invite your family and friends to meet your new dog as soon as he arrives home, but don’t give in to the temptation. You’ll only scare him away. “It’s important for your dog or puppy to spend a few quiet days getting to know you and the people in the house,” says Claflin. Also, make sure the children in the household respect the dog’s bubble and know how to approach him. This means not hugging him until he’s completely comfortable with his new family.

He will be completely different from other dogs

Even if he is the same breed and looks exactly the same, he will be completely different from the dogs you have had before. He may have bad habits or odd tendencies that your other dogs never had. He may not like having his belly rubbed or be afraid of loud noises. No two dogs are alike, regardless of breed, so it’s best to avoid comparisons.

He will not have a specific breed

Some shelter dogs are mixed: their family tree has many breeds. Knowing your dog’s breed can be helpful in knowing what type of behavior to expect (herding or guarding, for example) or how big he will be as an adult (even 70-pound dogs start out as small 5-pound puppies), as many mixed breeds are so mixed up that breed-specific tendencies have been diluted.

If you are looking for specific breeds, however, it is important to do some research. Some dog breeds are not suitable for families with young children, others with small pets or even other dogs.

It may have health problems

Dog shelter organizations do their best to have each animal received examined by a veterinarian, but these checks do not involve blood tests, only a routine physical examination. If a serious health problem is discovered, the organization may take the dog back, but if you keep the dog, treatment will be at your expense. Regardless of the health status of your new pet, a visit to the veterinarian is essential to ensure that he or she is up to date on vaccinations.

He may need to be spayed or neutered

Most animal shelters routinely spay or neuter all the dogs they receive. Others don’t have the resources, or if you adopt a puppy, he may be too young to have the operation. If this is the case, ask your veterinarian about low-cost spay/neuter programs in your area.

Registering your new dog

In Quebec, you are required to register your dog with your municipality and your dog must wear the tag you were given at the time of registration.

Consider microchipping

To prevent your new dog from getting lost and ending up in a shelter again, you can have him injected with a microchip under the skin. “It’s a tiny capsule, about the size of a grain of rice, that contains a computer chip with a unique identification number,” explains the Ordre des médecins vétérinaires du Québec website.

Because your pet’s health is paramount, make sure you find a reliable veterinarian for your pet.

The dog needs to feel at home…

Even though you know that your home will be much more comfortable than a shelter, for your puppy it is an unfamiliar environment. He may have trouble relaxing. To help him feel more comfortable, give him a space: it can be a crate or an entire room, close enough – but not too close – to the main room of the house.

…and on the move

It’s also important to familiarize him with your car, so he’s prepared for vet visits and long trips. Pet expert Dana Humphrey, aka The Pet Lady, suggests investing in a comfortable carrier that can also double as a bed. “Allowing your new dog to explore his crate at home before using it in the car is a great way to familiarize him with his resting and travel space,” she says.

Providing treats to encourage him

Of course, a puppy’s diet doesn’t have to consist solely of treats. But they can help him develop important social skills with other humans and dogs. “Good socialization is about creating “positive” associations with new people, places and things,” Harris says. “Bring treats when you plan to introduce your dog to new experiences or situations. Never force interactions. If your dog resists or is fearful, it’s always best to disengage.”

Treat him to one of these delicious dog treat recipes.

He’ll be adorable and loving

Once the transition period is over, when everyone has gotten used to each other and rules and boundaries are established, you’ll discover a most loyal and loving pet.