by Indi Edelburg, Certified Dog Trainer
When it comes time to add a new furry member to the family, more people than ever are looking at shelters and rescues. Approximately 1.6 million dogs are adopted every year in the US. The image of shelter dogs as sickly, ill-behaved animals is fading away as more and more people realize that shelter animals are simply pets who are in need of a new home! And while shelter dogs can be just as healthy, friendly, and out going as those from breeders, it can be more difficult to assess what kind of temperament a dog has when they live in a shelter environment.
Several factors play a role in why dogs can behave differently in shelters than in a home setting, the biggest of which is simply the environment itself. Despite many improvements in housing conditions since the early days of “dog pounds”, shelters can still be stressful places to be when you’re a confused dog. Imagine being abandoned by your family, dropped off in the middle of a strange place, and put next to a neighbor that barks your ear off all night. No wonder some dogs tend to cower in the back of the kennel or jump up and down like a maniac to get your attention!
So how are you to tell what kind of personality a dog really has while in a shelter? The good news is, there are several things you can do to help determine which dog would be a good fit for your family.
How you meet a shelter dog is an important part of assessing their personality. Many dogs take a while to warm up (or sometimes calm down!) when meeting new people. Don’t write a dog off because he didn’t immediately jump onto your lap when he saw you. The room you meet the dog in is likely full of smells of other people and dogs, which can be very distracting! Allow the dog to get comfortable in the area first before trying to make physical contact. Don’t reach over the dog’s head or hug it around the neck, this can be intimidating even for the most well adjusted pet! Sometimes it’s better to meet outside where a dog feels less confined.
The more information you can learn about your new friend the better. Ask for the results of their temperament test and what staff has learned about their personality. Volunteers are also usually more than happy to share what they know about their furry friends. Some shelters even have owners of surrendered animals fill out a history form with information about the pet’s likes, dislikes, and personality. This is a great tool in determining how a pet might behave in a home setting as opposed to the shelter environment.
Meet and Greets
If you own a dog, ask to bring him or her to the shelter to do a meet and greet with the dog you want to adopt. (In fact, some shelters require this). While it may not be a perfect indicator of how they would react in a home, this will at least give you an idea if the two dogs would be safe in a home together. This goes for humans, too! Bring all members of the family including children to be sure everyone gets along safely.
If you own a dog, ask to bring him or her to the shelter to do a meet and greet with the dog you want to adopt.
Make sure to visit with a dog you are interested in multiple times, and at different times of day. Even in a shelter dogs usually have a loose schedule of when they get potty breaks, exercise, down time, etc. If the dog has an accident in the room when you visited, it might have been right before potty time. Did he seem extra hyper when you met for the first time? Try visiting again at a different time of day. The more time you spend together the better you’ll get to know his or her personality!
Not sure how to assess a dog’s temperament? Many dog trainers are happy to help you pick your new family member by going along and meeting potential pups with you. A trainer may be able to spot subtle personality traits that can help you determine if a dog would be a good match for your family and lifestyle.
By taking the time to really get to know a dog, asking the right questions, and evaluating if your lifestyle would match their personality, you’ll be much more likely to make the right decision when it comes time to find your new best friend. It will mean an easier transition, and, in the long run, a happier life for everyone!
Indi Edelburg is a Certified Dog Trainer who teaches basic obedience and behavior modification to dogs of all breeds and ages and their owners. Indi has worked with numerous dogs including volunteering in a local animal shelter for the past 6 years. She loves helping dogs and people learn to speak each other’s language and live in harmony!