How to Choose a Rescue Dog

How to adopt a friendly shelter dog who’s right for you.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA,
October 21, 2014
Episode #118

Page 2 of 3Prepare yourself with information and expert help to choose the right dog for you.

Tip #2 – Visit the Shelter and Look for Friendly Dogs

A friendly dog wiggles when he sees you coming. He may press himself against the front of the kennel to get as much of himself close to you as he can. His eyes are squinty and his mouth is probably open in a doggy grin. His tail is wagging, but not high and tight over his back; it’s held fairly low, and his wags are soft and loose. If he barks, the bark is excited and happy, not a deep bark that comes from the chest.

A friendly dog won’t charge the front of the kennel. He won’t stand rigid and facing you head-on, barking deeply. He won’t sit or crouch stiffly, watching you out of the corners of his eyes. He won’t advance and retreat, barking and growling, nor will he cower at the back of the kennel. And – unless maybe he’s sound asleep, unlikely in a noisy shelter – he won’t ignore you. Shelter dogs are usually lonely for human company.

Tip #3 – Have a Trainer Help You Make Your Choice

Behavior evaluations are imperfect, but in a world of limited resources, they beat making life-and-death decisions on the basis of how cute a dog is or whether an especially persuasive staff member has gotten attached to her.  Shelter staff should receive formal training in how to conduct these evaluations, and that’s an advantage you won’t have.

So enlist a trainer to help. The Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers is a good place to start your search; many certificants have backgrounds in shelter work, or have had formal training in behavior evaluation, or both. Ask. You should also interview candidates about their education and experience generally, as I explained in my earlier article about how to find a good trainer

It may seem strange to hire a trainer when you don’t yet have a dog, but the money you spend now can save you considerable heartache in future. It’s one thing to take on a dog with serious behavior problems when you know that’s what you’re in for and you have the requisite experience and education. It’s quite another if the dog you fell in love with rips open your dinner guest’s hand when he reaches for the chicken wing he dropped on the floor.