Alexandria, VA – On the spur of the moment, you pop into the shelter. You walk along that poignant, bark-filled corridor, and suddenly lock eyes with The One. It’s utterly clear to both you and the dog that this is a once-in-a-lifetime connection. You head home together and live happily ever after.
Sure, that happens. But should you plan on it?
There’s another, more predictable way to get to the same delightful ending: Think it through and take your time. That’s how you give fate a hand.
The first step is to get clear on your parameters. That needs to happen before you get addicted to Petfinder.com (which is where virtually all shelters and rescues now list their dogs). Unless you have hours to kill and a heart that doesn’t mind a wild ride, decide ahead of time which dogs are a no-go for you. Establish a target age, size, and energy level.
Think about age
Going about your life with a young, active dog at your side is an entirely different from having a sweet old guy waiting for you on the couch. Puppyhood? That’s an experience of its own. Each age has its charms and its challenges. The trick is figuring out what age fits you and your household best.
Think about size
Size does matter when it comes to behavior. When a tiny dog jumps on your great aunt, it might be cute. The same is not true for your 80-pound Labrador. Similarly, your animal-obsessed third-grader can have a wonderful time walking your little Yorkie around the block, but don’t even think about letting her do that with your big, young hound. While all dog/human teams can benefit enormously from training, it’s the big dogs that will make you realize you need it.
Think about your energy level
Based on the applications that come in, most potential dog adopters are hikers. Alas, for the dogs, “hiking” turns out to be mostly aspirational. The folks are just super tired after work, and there are so many good shows on Netflix. Ah, well. At least the dog has guests to jump up on and furniture to chew.
My point: Be realistic. If you think aspirationally when you ponder the right energy match for your household, you will pay the price in dog behavior. Remember, somewhere there’s an overlooked middle-aged dog just waiting for someone to realize what great company she is.
Think about breed—or don’t
Be aware that, while every rescue dog’s listing will include a breed, that is most likely a guess. It would be a shame to cross a dog off your list because of a guess, and a mistake to adopt a dog solely based on a guess. Look at the dog in front of you, listen to what the rescue folks say about the demonstrated temperament, and go from there.
NOW go on Petfinder.com
Now that you’ve done your homework and have a realistic idea about the type of dog that’s a good match you and your household, it’s time for the fun part. Head over to Petfinder.com! Plug in your ZIP code, the distance you’re willing to travel to meet a dog, and your ideal doggy parameters. Then sit back and watch your potential pack members pop up.
(Kathy Callahan, CPDT-KA, has a dog training and puppy socialization business, PupStart in Alexandria, and you can find her online at Puppy Picks. Her family has fostered more than 150 rescue dogs, working largely with Homeward Trails Animal Rescue. You can follow her puppy adventures on Instagram @puppy.picks or on Facebook.)