A dog is for a lifetime and so choosing the right one is a very important decision you make. This is of course after taking time to do research and some soul searching to decide that having a dog is a commitment you can make.
Many websites offer a multiple choice test to gauge your lifestyle and experience and suggest possible breeds. But these are all pure breeds! What about rescue dogs?
Choosing the right dog is important for every dog owner, but especially for the new dog owner. Even though these tests suggest only pure breeds, it’s a good idea to take one to see what kind of breeds come up to get an idea the size or activity level that is more suitable to you. Also these tests will tell you that having a dog is simply not a good idea (eg when you work 12 hours a day and live alone).
Having done that, you can research these breeds to learn more about why they are suitable and perhaps the common denominator. Some breeds tend to be better off with more experienced owners but of course every dog of every breed is different. In general, a Jack Russell is going to demand a different owner and environment than a Pug. It’s not only size that matters, though having a big dog in an apartment is not necessarily a strike right off the bat. The important thing is having regular walks and activity for the dog. If you live in a one room apartment, having a dog the size of a Great Dane is probably not a good idea, unless you are okay sitting and sleeping on the floor yourself.
Because every dog of every breed is different, there is no guarantee that the pure breed puppy you choose will be what you would be expecting (per Kennel guidelines). And if you buy from a pet shop, their only motivation is a sale, not matching the right dog to you. That’s the beauty of adoption, especially adult dogs whose personality and temperament are much more obvious.
I am definitely an advocate of taking your time to choose your new best friend. You don’t have to wine or dine them but paying a few visits, spending time, and asking the rescue staff/volunteers all sorts of questions would really help.
A lot of times the volunteer walkers will have a different take on the dogs and do bear in mind that while these people (tend to) love dogs, they have their biases and favourites. From the staff, especially any animal behaviourist, it’s good to get information like whether the dog is dog-friendly, people-friendly, child-friendly, cat-friendly, food aggressive, trained/untrained, food-motivated, toy-motivated…you get the idea. The more info you have about the dogs, it’ll be easier to hone in on the right one.
The staff may also have background history. Not all dogs are abandoned due to being labeled a “problem dog”. Sometimes their owners have to move and cannot take them (like into old folks home). Sometimes they are the collateral damage of a divorce. Sometimes, often actually, owners simply did not do due diligence on themselves and found having a dog too overwhelming. Sometimes, and a lot of times now, it’s financially-based. That’s perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions about rescue dogs – that they are bad! It’s simply not true.
It took us nearly one year to find Blackspot and sometimes it will take that long but where we lived only had one shelter. In many places, unfortunately the number of shelters and rescue groups (including pure breed ones) is simply staggering. Take whatever time it takes to find the right dog. Go for the dog, not the breed or the looks! And sometimes the right dog will simply find you.
Having narrowed down your choice to a manageable number (ie not wanting to take them all home!), take each one out for a little turn around the block to see how his is outside the shelter environment. For dogs who have been at a rescue a while, being outside may be a little nerve-wrecking. This is something that can definitely be overcome (with time, love, routine, and maybe some flower essences). And remember a dog may be at a rescue a while simply because he’s been overlooked. In most cases there are just too many dogs to choose from. Otherwise being outside, the dogs may relax and maybe even focus on you. Spend some time. See how the dog interacts with the environment and yourself. I would suggest not crossing a dog off the list simply because he seems unresponsive.
Ultimately the choice is yours (and maybe the dog who makes it clear you are his human). It boils down to what’s important to you. If you are an active person and want a jogger, you’ll want a more athletic dog and probably not a pug (unless you jog only in the winter). If you have kids, you’ll want a kid-friendly dog. If you have another dog, cats or other pets, you’ll want one that’s animal-friendly. It’s a family decision and this includes bringing your dog to meet the potential new member. Elicit the help of the rescue staff with proper meeting of the dogs. This first meeting can set the tenor of things to come for a while.
Another way of choosing a dog is to foster for rescue groups or simply choosing dogs that have been or are being fostered. The advantage here is that the foster family will know how the dog behaves in a home environment, including all his quirks, likes, and dislikes. Also the dog would have had time to come out of his shell and let his personality shine. Other bonuses – housebreaking, training, and road-tested for other dogs and animals since a lot of fosters often take in multiple dogs and already have dogs and other animals themselves. Animal lovers!
You’ll know when it’s the right dog. Your heart will twinge. You just won’t be able to put the dog out of your mind. You keep thinking of all the things you’re going to do with your dog and how much fun you’re going to have. You start designing Christmas cards with pictures of the dog. Now you just have to keep the commitment to this dog who’s going to open his heart once more and let you in.