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Adopting a Pound Pup

Make sure the process is a smooth one with these helpful tips.
The Martha Stewart Show, July 2007

Finding a new pet at the animal shelter can be a joyous experience. But keep in mind these considerations and tips to make it a smooth one as well.

Before Your Visit to the Shelter

  • Make a list of your "wants" and "don't wants," which includes size, energy level, grooming requirements, training requirements, and breed.
  • Remember to replace feelings of pity and raw emotion with a solid knowledge of dog behavior.

1.  Look Into Cages

  • Look only at the dogs who meet the criteria on your wish list. 
  • Pass if you see manic behavior, circling, cowering, or lunging. This is not to say dogs who exhibit this behavior are "unadoptable," but if you're choosing for your family, you want a dog that will have minimal behavior issues.
  • Ask how long the dog has been at the shelter. If it has been a long time, that could affect its sociability.
  • Once you have an idea of the dogs that fit your profile, approach the crate and put your hand up to the bars.

2. Stare at the Dog for Five Seconds

  • If it backs away or growls, it doesn't mean it's a bad dog -- but if you're choosing a pet for your family, it's not a good choice.

3. Extend Your Hand

  • Bend down and extend your hand, palm down and fingers apart. Hand should be level with dog.
  • A sociable dog will stay in contact with your hand for two or more seconds. A failed response will be to back away from you, growl, or ignore your hand.

4. Remove the Dog from its Cage

  • If available, ask for a private room in which to spend time alone with the dog.

5. Test Sociability

  • Stand in the middle of the room and don't talk to the dog for 60 seconds. Now you'll observe its sociability and see its true friendliness.
  • If it's not trying to get your attention and initiate a relationship, then it isn't very sociable.

6. Conduct a Listening Test

  • Clap your hands or say, "Puppy, puppy, puppy," to see how the dog reacts. Does it soften its expression? Does it blow you off or barely look at you? Does it stiffen or growl? Those are failed responses.

7. Stroke the Dog's Back

  • Bend down to the dog's level and stroke the back of the dog starting at the neck and going to the base of the tail. Do this three times. After three, a sociable dog will want more.

8. Test Temperament

  • Open its mouth, touch its paws, and gently roll the dog onto its back. See how it reacts to your touch.
  • If it cowers, that's a sign it's been abused.
  • Look at the eyes. If it is rolling its eyes away from you, but still facing you -- if you see the whites of its eyes -- it's saying, "Don't approach me," or it's very bothered.
  • Look at the tail. If it's tucked or not freely moving, the dog might appear calm, but the tail lets you know it's nervous or afraid.

9. Physically Check the Dog

  • Check its eyes for clarity (Vision problems? Can a cataract be removed?)
  • Check for clean ears (Chronic ear problem or just dirty?)
  • Check its coat for shine and cleanliness (Fleas? Skin infection? Staph infection?)
  • Check alertness (Is a thyroid problem causing lethargy?)

10. What if you make the wrong choice?

  • Many shelters do offer a return policy. Check into that when you arrive at the shelter or before you make your final decision.