Phase 2: Visit a Shelter

Excerpt  from Dog Training: A Lifelong Guide Training Your Dog

A shelter’s geographical location can often provide helpful clues in your search for a dog. It would be nice if all shelters conducted detailed temperament evaluations on all dogs prior to placing them in adoption kennels, but that is not reality. Shelters located near, or in, large urban areas tend to house a higher proportion of dogs who are dominant, aroused, and dangerous. In an urban area, it is a good idea to seek out either a shelter that has a behavioral counselor on staff or a shelter that thoroughly evaluates each dog’s temperament. Many rural shelters see a higher percentage of social, submissive, and sweet family dogs.

Keep in mind that there are traditional shelters and no-kill shelters. Traditional shelters euthanize behaviorally unadoptable dogs deemed dangerous before they euthanize the more adoptable ones. No-kill shelters often pride themselves on keeping dogs until they can be placed in homes.

Unfortunately, dogs who live in shelters for extended periods of time become more withdrawn or aggressive as time goes on, making them far less adoptable. Look for warning signs that indicate the quality of a dog’s life has diminished: Dogs who spin, pace, rebound off kennel walls, lick excessively, develop pressure sores or calluses, or cover themselves in their own excrement.

The majority of dogs at shelters are typically six to eighteen months old—better known as the "teenage years.” These are dogs who have outgrown their puppy cuteness. Many are surrendered because they jump up on their owner, yank on the leash, escape the yard, and simply test their owner’s limits. Fortunately, a growing number of shelters recognize this and are working with adolescent dogs to improve their adoptability by teaching them basic commands such as sit, come, stay, and down. Graduates of these in-house shelter programs have a greater chance of being adopted because they display their new good manners.

If you have children, leave them at home when you schedule time to make your first shelter visit. You need to make sure a dog passes the temperament test before introducing him to your children. You don’t want to let your child’s, Let’s get this dog, Daddy, pleadings influence you emotionally so that you make the wrong selection. Once you’ve narrowed down your choice to two or three dogs, then bring your children to meet the finalists. As a general rule, do not adopt a dog who is over two years of age if you have a family unless that dog was raised as an indoor pet with children and behaved well around them. Children are the number one group of people bitten by dogs, so your selection is very important. If you are unsure about selecting a dog, consider having a knowledgeable shelter worker, experienced trainer, or animal behaviorist accompany you to the shelter.


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