Shelter Dogs

Shelter Dogs

People tend to have great misconceptions about shelter dogs. The truth is, many shelter dogs are not bad dogs. They are victims of well-meaning owners who didn't have the time, knowledge or patience for the needs of a dog. And while the number one reason people give up pets to shelters is because of behavioral problems—separation anxiety, barking—it all stems from a pet not getting enough attention.

There is also the notion that shelter dogs are all genetically and behaviorally inferior. This is simply not true. It is not uncommon for shelters to get $500 dogs that have either outlived their usefulness or their novelty with impulsive buyers who considered the dog a possession rather than a friend or family member.

The real truth is that dogs from shelters can be great dogs and you are apt to get an idea of their personality soon after adopting them. Shelter dogs usually bond quickly with new owners and have fewer needs than a young puppy. And dogs who have had a rough life are so appreciative of ownership. You can find perfectly good adult pets that have matured to the point where they aren't rambunctious or demanding for activity. They are just happy to be in a loving home.

Below, you will find additional links where you can learn more about shelters and the process by which shelter dogs are evaluated.

The advantages of shelter dogs
There are a number of advantages to adopting a shelter dog:

  • Shelter dogs are already house-trained and often only need some reminders and a few days of adjustment time after their stay at a shelter kennel.
  • Many shelter dogs have already lived with children. There are many adult dogs in the shelter that are recommended for households with children. Rescuing a shelter dog also teaches children about the moral benefits of saving the life of a homeless pet.
  • Many shelter dogs already know some basic commands taught in their first home or by shelter volunteers.
  • Shelter dogs make for easier and fewer trips to the veterinarian. Puppies need a series of shots, spaying or neutering and maybe an emergency trip or two because they chewed something dangerous. When you adopt an older dog from a shelter, the dog is current with all shots, already fixed and heartworm negative at the very least. Some shelters include microchip identification with every animal.
  • You get a good match. Shelters do extensive evaluating of both their dogs and their applicants to be sure that both dog and family will be happy with each other.
  • And finally, there's nothing that compares to the shelter dog bond. Dogs with a rough start in life are more likely to bond very completely and deeply with their new people. Those who have lost their families to death, divorce or lifestyle change go through a period of mourning. But once attached to a new loving family, they seem eager to please to make sure they are never homeless again. Most dogs adopted from shelters make exceptionally affectionate and attentive pets and extremely loyal companions.

While you're at the shelter
This is the time to evaluate which dog will be the best fit for your family and lifestyle. You might want to plan on making at least a couple trips to the shelter. On your initial trip, observe the pets before picking one to take home. Look for a dog with a good temperament who is friendly. Once you have narrowed your choices of dogs down to a small group, you'll want to bring your children with you to the shelter to observe how each dog reacts to them. Look for the dog who is gentle around children and who responds immediately to signal words, like "Easy" or "Gentle," or commands that force the dog to calm down, like "Sit."

Once you have decided on a particular dog and tested how he reacts to your family, find out why the dog is up for adoption. Older dogs might have habits that are undesirable and will throw off the harmony in your household. Ask the shelter specific questions like:

  • Is the dog healthy now?
  • Any known or suspected health problems?
  • Has he been checked for worms?
  • What parasite treatment/prevention program is the dog on?
  • Has he been exposed to diseases?
  • Any limping or other indications of bone or joint problems?

Never settle on a dog that you do not feel 100% sure of or that is not a right match for your family and lifestyle. There are hundreds of dogs at your local shelter who need homes. Sometimes, you just have to be patient for the right dog to enter the shelter, and eventually your life.

For more information and instructions on assessing a shelter dog, visit

For information on and ways to evaluate temperament in a shelter dog, visit

Once you bring a shelter dog home

Many shelter dogs have behavior problems because they were not properly obedience trained or socialized. Get a good collar and leash with identification tags and get him involved with friends' or neighbors' dogs. Socialize him with different types of people and make sure he will accept being around children.

Some shelter dogs may be malnourished from their days before they came to the shelter. Good nutrition and vitamin and mineral supplements can reverse many health problems he may have. Your veterinarian can recommend appropriate food and supplements for your shelter dog.

Although shelter dogs have been under the care of a veterinarian, you'll want to make an appointment with your regular veterinarian as soon as possible after bringing your new pet home. Your veterinarian can thoroughly examine your shelter dog for any underlying medical conditions and prescribe a parasite prevention product to keep him healthy.

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