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Checklist for Getting a Good Match at Dog Shelters


By Kim Rain

Published: 09/30/2015, edited: 06/29/2022

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Getting a Good Match at Dog Shelters

Use this checklist to help you find the perfect rescue dog or shelter dog. This checklist is to be used as a guideline only. Your instincts may lead you to a dog that goes against some of these rules, but turns out to be the dog that you and your family have been looking for.

At Home: 

  1. From the Internet and the telephone book, compile a list of dog shelters and dog rescue organizations within about a three-hour radius.
  2. Ask local animal trainers, vets, and people who've adopted from each shelter about their experiences.
  3. Remove from the list any shelters that evoked negative responses.
  4. Contact each remaining shelter or visit their web site for details about the shelter's adoption procedure and return policy. Cross off shelters that don’t allow you to spend time with the dog outside of the shelter prior to finalizing the adoption, or don’t have a reasonable return policy.
  5. Get details on the shelter's euthanization policy. Eliminate shelters that refuse to euthanize dogs that are vicious, unsocial, or sickly; which are inappropriate choices for adoption.

At the Dog Shelter: 

  1. Expect to fill out questionnaires or answer interview questions about your home, family and other pets.
  2. Purebred shelters may have more stringent requirements, but leave if the questioning becomes too invasive or the guidelines too extreme.
  3. Observe the shelter staff. Employees that are not responsive to either the pets or to you may hinder your selection for a good match.
  4. Walk purposefully through the shelter and take note of any dog that favorably attracts your attention. Avoid dogs that growl, snarl, or avoid you.
  5. Use the "hand test" to determine the animal's friendliness or aggression. Eliminate dogs that ignore you, lunge at you, or retreat from you.
  6. Ask to interact one-on-one with each remaining candidate.
  7. Sit quietly without paying attention to the dog. A good candidate will try to get your attention with gentle nudging.
  8. Pet the dog. He should move towards you.
  9. Ask to feed the animal, and carefully pet the dog to gauge his response. Positive responses include cessation of eating in preference to your attention or continued eating with tail wagging.
  10. Give the dog a treat. Slowly reach your hand towards it (carefully) to gauge the dog’s resource-guarding response.
  11. Pet the dog all over. Turn down a dog that responds with mouthiness, because it is a precursor to biting.
  12. Take out a toy and engage the dog in play. He should play without aggression and calm down within a few minutes of stopping.
  13. Take the dog for a walk. Be wary of dogs that are aggressive towards other people or animals.
  14. Upon returning the dog to its kennel, observe it from a distance. Note how it reacts to other visitors, particularly those with children if you have them.
  15. Bring the family in to meet the dog you selected to see how they interact.
  16. Bring home your new best friend!

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