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Pet Lover's Guide to Adopting a Dog

According to the ASPCA1, nearly four million dogs enter animal shelters and rescues each year. Since only 29 percent of people getting a dog adopt from shelters, many of these pets will never get homes.

There are a lot of misconceptions about shelter pets, the main one being that they are "damaged" or "bad" pets. In fact, the main reasons pets end up in shelters have to do with the people of the family, not the pet. The majority of people relinquishing pets cite reasons involving moving, divorce and home policies that don't allow pets. Only ten percent of pets are ever given up due to behavioral problems, and even these can often be managed with training.

Another misconception involves the types of pets looking for homes. Purebred pets can become homeless just as easily as mixed breed dogs, and one quarter of dogs in shelters are purebred. There are also many breed-specific rescue groups that house homeless dogs. Since the majority of pets in shelters and rescues arrive un-spayed/neutered, puppies frequently end up in rescue as well. The next time you're looking for a pet to add to your family, why not visit a local shelter or rescue and adopt? Regardless of what you're looking for, there's sure to be a shelter, humane society or rescue group with just the dog for your family.

Before you adopt

Before you head to your local shelter or log onto your favorite rescue's website, think about what you want in your next dog.

How active do you want him/her to be? Do you want a running partner, a couch potato or a combination of the two?

Do you have other pets or kids the dog will have to get along with? If so, you'll want to make sure the dog is pet or kid-friendly and arrange a meet-and-greet before bringing the dog home.

Also consider what size dog you're looking for. While you may not think this is an important quality, many apartments and rented homes have size or weight limits for pets, and you'll need to keep this in mind when adopting. Some areas or homes will also have restrictions based on breed, so we recommend researching any area laws and checking your rental or home agreements before visiting with dogs. Finally, consider that some dogs will need frequent grooming or extensive training. Are you prepared to spend the time and money on regular grooming or training appointments? If not, you may want to consider adopting a dog without these requirements.

On the topic of training, think about the general age of your new dog as well. A puppy will require extensive training, and puppies are frequently compared to human toddlers for many reasons. Do you have the time and patience to train, housebreak and exercise a puppy? If not, you might want to consider adopting an adult dog or even a senior. These dogs are often housebroken, have some training and are calmer than puppies. Adult dogs make great pets and are often overlooked, so consider adopting an older dog!

Meeting the dog(s)

You did your research, found a rescue group/shelter and now you're going to meet your new dog! Be prepared to fill out an application in advance or schedule an appointment if the dog is in a foster home. If the dog is in a shelter, go with a good idea of what you're looking for in your future pet. Sit down with a shelter representative, and have him/her recommend pets based on what you're looking for. This way, you're only looking at pets that meet your requirements, and you don't fall in love with a dog that won't fit into your family.

Spend plenty of time with the dog before deciding to adopt, and make sure every member of the family gets to interact with him/her. If you have other pets, you'll also want to introduce them and see how they get along. If all goes well, move on to adopting!

Bringing your dog home

Congratulations, you're getting a dog! Bring a collar and leash with you when you go to pick up your pet, as many groups will require this. You should also consider how you are transporting your dog. It's not safe to leave a dog loose in the car, so you may want to bring a pet car seat, harness or crate with you. You'll also need a variety of supplies ready once the dog gets to your home. We have an in-depth dog supplies checklist you can reference. Items to have on hand include bowls, good quality dog food, toys, a crate, a bed and flea/tick prevention.

The rescue group or shelter should send you home with a small supply of food or tell you what the dog has been eating. If you want to switch foods, do it gradually over a period of several days by mixing a larger proportion of the new food into the old each day.

Congratulations on your new family member!