As I walked out of the animal shelter with my dream dog — a white German Shepherd Dog mix — at the end of a makeshift leash, I smugly shrugged off the volunteer’s parting words:
“If he doesn’t work out, you can return him for another dog within two weeks.”
But within hours of getting Owen home, I not only remembered the volunteer’s words, I nearly took her up on them. Owen, 6 months, was not housetrained very well. He hated his crate and loved eating my clothes. He acted like a savage wolf whenever our older dog Annie, a 5-year-old German Shepherd Dog mix, got within 10 feet of his food bowl. Owen howled in terror every time he encountered a hat-wearing man. I panicked — what did I get myself into?
I shouldn’t have been surprised at this turn of events, and neither should you if you plan to adopt. All dogs need structure, and many require time to adapt to a new home and family, plus training and love — and that takes time and effort.
It’s a familiar story to the experts who deal with adoption issues every day.
“There is no such thing as a push-button perfect dog,” says Maria Dales, executive director of the German Shepherd Rescue of Orange County, Calif.
By assessing your readiness to adopt and taking steps at the start of your adoption journey, you can pave the path to a fabulous, forever partnership and an adoption for life. No returns necessary.
Why are you getting a dog? Why do you want one?
Geller, who has coached owners from Oprah Winfrey to Ellen DeGeneres, says prospective adopters should not just think about what the dog will do for them or how he will make them look.
Do your homework
“If you don’t like to exercise, then please don’t get a dog whose job was herding livestock for hours on end,” she says. “Both you and the dog will be completely frustrated.”
This research helps you identify which breeds or mixes are best for your situation, and enables you to ask the right questions of shelter staff when you begin your search. That’s what Anne Peebles of Houston did before she met Joelle, a “black puffball.” Peebles realized she needed a dog good with young children, cats, and all the comings and goings of a busy house. Joelle, a 5-year-old Golden Retriever-Chow Chow mix, fit the bill.
Be honest and know your limitations//bold//
Taking a personal inventory helps you find the best canine match and avoid mistakes … like sharing your studio apartment and couch-potato life with a flamboyant Border Collie.
Don’t fall for a face
“People fall in love with a cute face all the time,” says Melissa Hannon, director of Peace and Paws Dog Rescue in Hillsborough, N.H. “Researching the breed of dog you are interested in and comparing that to your lifestyle is imperative.”
- Play with him outside the kennel.
- Speak to shelter volunteers about his personality.
- Offer to foster him. This is an opportunity to take a dog home and see how he does in your family setting.
“Strange as this may sound, it’s that ‘look of love’ that I seek when I introduce adopters to their potential new family members,” says Valerie Macys, president and founder of the Cocker Spaniel Adoption Center Inc. in Westminster, Md.
Despite screening by rescue groups, adoptions can be impulse decisions.
Once you adopt, you are saying that yes, you are committed to a relationship that may last five, 10, or 15 years. Will you still be able and willing to care for this dog then?
“If you do not teach a dog to behave as you see fit, then how is he or she supposed to know what is acceptable?” Wormser asks.
“Most dogs are returned due to obedience issues that are owner-created,” Hannon says. “Training makes all the difference in the majority of cases. … People need to start taking responsibility for the behaviors they are ultimately responsible for creating.”
And it is not just the dog that needs training. If there are children in your house, they must learn the rules of interaction before they can be safe and trusted together. Letting a new dog play unsupervised with children is dangerous and sets the dog up to fail. You can avert conflicts between children and canines by always being present to teach them both the right ways of play from the start.
“When a dog gets to a new home environment, he needs a little time to adjust,” says Steven Latham, creator and co-founder of ShelterMe.com and producer/director of the Shelter Me series on PBS. “There may be some whining or barking, separation anxiety, or pacing. This is very normal and will subside as the dog gets more comfortable.”
“It may take time and work for everyone to get to know what is needed and expected,’’ Wormser says.
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