Adopting a dog is an exciting process, and it can be easy to get swept up in the wonderful, if nerve-wracking experience. In all the excitement, we might forget to consider certain practicalities when it comes to choosing our new four-legged friend.
To help you prepare for your new arrival, we’ve compiled a list of some of the most important questions to ask before adopting a new dog. Whether you’re adopting from a shelter, purchasing from a breeder, or thinking about rehousing a friend’s pooch, these simple but important questions will stand you in good stead.
How Old is the Dog?
Although puppies are adorable, an increasing number of people are choosing to adopt adult dogs. These mature pooches tend to be house-trained, are less likely to chew, and may even know some tricks already. Being past their puppyhood, mature dogs tend to be calmer, too.
With this in mind, it’s important to ask just how old your new canine companion is before you decide to adopt them. Older dogs have different needs when it comes to nutrition, exercise, and medical care, so knowing their age will help you to provide them with the best possible care. If shelter staff are unsure about the dog’s age, you can make an educated guess by asking questions about their activity level and personality.
Have They Had a Behavior Assessment?
Most shelters in the US carry out a behavior assessment on each of their new dogs. These tests help to evaluate the dog’s temperament and personality, helping potential owners to work out whether they’re a good fit for their home.
One popular assessment is called C-BARQ, which stands for Canine Behavioral Assessment and Research Questionnaire. It was designed by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, and covers a wide range of behavioral factors including aggressions, separation anxiety, excitability, propensity to chase, and how the animal behaves around other dogs.
Just like us, dogs are individuals, with their own unique personalities. Nonetheless, tests such as C-BARQ can be a really helpful tool for understanding how a dog will react in some common situations, and what sort of home would be best for them.
How is the Dog With Children?
If you have children at home, it’s vital to choose a pet who is laid back and friendly. Try as we might, it’s impossible to keep our eyes on the kids at all times, so you’ll need to feel confident that they’re safe around the dog.
Some shelter dogs may not have interacted with children before, but that doesn’t mean you should automatically rule them out. Instead, try to gauge whether the dog is comfortable around people in general based on their history. It’s also a good idea to look out for dogs who like to be touched, and are not sensitive to loud noises. If possible, you may wish to bring your children along with you when selecting your dog – this will give you some indication of how the dog will behave with them at home. If possible, see if you can take the dog for a quick walk or outdoor play session with your kids in tow, supervising carefully.
How is the Dog With Other Animals?
Even if you don’t have other pets at home, you’re bound to encounter some as soon as you take your dog for a walk. For this reason, it’s important to check how they behave towards other animals, to make sure you’re prepared for these interactions.
Adopting from a shelter can be a good option in this regard, since staff will have had a chance to observe the dog around its peers. Some dogs are very playful with others, which they may enjoy or find irritating depending upon their own disposition, while others may be more passive. If you plan to house your dog with another species, such as a cat, it’s worth asking how they get along with these animals, too.
Bear in mind that some dogs may be nervous around others. This doesn’t mean they’re unfit for adoption, but they will require a more experienced owner, with a quiet home and plenty of patience.
How did They Come to the Shelter?
If you decide to adopt from a shelter, this is an important question to ask. According the Humane Society, most owners give up their pets because of housing issues – such as pet-adverse landlords, or moving to a smaller property. For this reason, many shelter dogs are ready for a new family straight away.
On the other hand, some shelter dogs were rescued from more trying circumstances. Abuse, neglectful owners, and puppy farms all take their toll, and can trigger lasting trauma in the animal. This doesn’t mean there’s no hope for the dog, however – with plenty of patience, training, and love, they can go on to have a happy and confident life. Dogs from abusive backgrounds are not usually suitable for families with young children, as they may become aggressive or flighty at certain triggers.
Does This Dog, or Its Breed, Have Any Medical Issues?
This is an important question to ask however you choose to adopt a dog. Different breeds are prone to different medical issues, while adult dogs may have already developed one complication or other. It’s important to know what kind of care they’ll need before you bring them home, so you can be confident you have the resources to provide adequate treatment. Knowing which issues a breed is prone to can also be very helpful when it comes to choosing a pet insurance policy.
Most shelter dogs are up-to-date with their vaccinations as a matter of course, but it’s a good idea to check up on this, too.
Allergies and intolerances should also be borne in mind, since they’re surprisingly prevalent in dogs. Some common triggers include:
Contrary to popular belief, meat allergies are a lot more common than grain allergies. Luckily, there are plenty of allergy-friendly dog foods to choose from, although they can be quite pricey, so it’s important to consider your budget carefully.
It’s also worth knowing that certain breeds are more prone to allergies than others:
- German Shepherds
- Lhasa Apsos
- West Highland terriers
- Miniature schnauzers
- Wheaten terriers
Are They Spayed or Neutered?
This fairly basic question is quite important when adopting an adult dog. Dogs who have been spayed or neutered can have slightly different personalities for hormonal reasons – they’re generally calmer, less aggressive, and more consistent.
The ASPCA recommends that owners do spay or neuter their pets for a few reasons:
- Spaying a female dog helps prevent uterine infections and breast tumors
- Neutering a male dog prevents testicular cancer and many prostate problems
- Male dogs are less likely to roam away from home when neutered
- Neutering reduces the likelihood of territorial behavior such as urine spraying and excessive barking
- Spaying and neutering helps control the pet homelessness crisis
Dogs are traditionally neutered when they are six to nine months old. The procedure can also be carried out in adulthood, but the risk of post-operative complication becomes slightly higher. If you adopt an unneutered dog from a shelter, your vet will be able to advise you about whether the procedure is worth this small risk.
How Much Exercise do They Need?
If you work long hours and don’t have much time at home, you shouldn’t adopt a dog that requires three-hour walks every day! It’s important that your new companion fits in with your lifestyle, and exercise will be a major component to consider.
If time is limited, or you aren’t able to undertake long walks, this doesn’t mean you can’t adopt a dog – it does mean you’ll have to choose your canine more carefully. Look out for a less active breed, such as the King Charles spaniel, Shih Tzu, Akita, or Italian greyhound. Although these dogs love to run around outdoors, they’re more than happy to curl up beside you in the house.
Has This Dog Had any Obedience Training?
If you’re adopting an adult dog, they may have had some obedience training in the past. This is much more likely if they were given up by a loving family, rather than rescued. If a dog has already learned some simple commands such as “leave it”, “sit”, or “stay”, they’ll be easier to live with and more open to learning new skills.
If the dog hasn’t had any training, you might consider enrolling in an obedience class. Adult dogs can be more difficult to train, and this extra support could be a great help.
Are They a Very Vocal Dog?
Almost every dog barks now and then, but some are a lot more vocal than others. Canines who have been bred as guard dogs tend to be considerably louder, which might not be an issue in isolated areas, but could cause problems with neighbors in suburbia.
For this reason, it’s important to ask how much your potential pet tends to bark and howl. If they are excessively vocal, there are plenty of training techniques which can address the issue. However, this requires time and energy that not everyone has, and looking out for a quieter dog could be your best bet – especially in heavily populated areas, or with kids in the house.
Can I Take Them for a Walk?
Many shelters will allow prospective owners to spend some alone time with a dog they like. This may involve taking them for a short stroll around the block, or playing together in an open area.
If your shelter is happy to facilitate this, it’s a good idea to take them up on the offer. Having a little one-on-one time with your potential pet will help you gain an insight into their personality, and better see how they react to you and your loved ones.
What are Their Favorite Activities?
Some dogs love nothing more than a long game of fetch, while others prefer to curl up by their owner’s side. Knowing what a dog likes to do will help you work out whether they’d fit in well with your lifestyle.
If you’re the outdoorsy type, and love to hike and jog, look out for a confident, active pooch who likes to explore. If you prefer a day of movies and reading, a quieter companion may be a better fit.
How do They Act Around Strangers?
It’s also important to know how your newest family member will act towards unfamiliar people. This will help you work out whether any precautions need to be taken when guests come into your home.
If a dog is anxious, they may shy away from strangers, while boisterous pooches may bark and jump up at your guests. Both extremes can be mitigated with training, but it’s important to know what to expect so you can provide a comfortable experience for dog and guests alike.
How are They in the Car?
Most owners will need to put their dog in a car, bus, or train at some point, so it’s a good idea to ask how they’ll react. Whether you’re travelling to a new hiking spot, or taking that dreaded visit to the vets for vaccines, you should know how the animal will react.
Some dogs are extremely cautious of travel, and may require extra comfort, natural remedies, or even sedatives on longer journeys. Other pooches love the joy of motor travel – it’s all down to individual personality.
Can I See Where the Dogs are Kept?
Whether you’re selecting a puppy from a breeder, or adopting an adult dog from a shelter, it’s a good idea to see where the dogs spend most of their time.
Puppies who are socialized from birth are much more likely to respond well to new animals and people as an adult. Good breeders are also careful to handle their puppies from an early age, including the mouth, feet, and head. This ensures the dog is comfortable with examination as an adult, making vet visits and treatment a lot less stressful for both you and your dog.
At the shelter, socialization is important, too. If a dog plays well with others, they’ll be much easier to integrate into your home.
- Caring For Your New Dog – Wags And Walks
- 10 Things to Consider Before Bringing a New Pet Home – PetMD
- How to Interact with a Dog Before Adopting It – Wiki How