If you’re thinking of adopting a dog, there are quite a few things you need to consider, and some of them will no doubt surprise you—at least a little. To guide you through the process, we’ve assembled a panel of experts—William Berloni, director of dog training at The Humane Society of New York; Sirius XM radio’s It’s a Dog’s Life host Greg Kleva; Barbara Lathrop, who’s on the board of directors of Associated Humane Societies in Newark, NJ, and of course, Cesar himself.
Here’s their 26-point tip list....
Assess adopting a dog realistically
“Know what type of dog you and your family can handle before you go in,” advises the Humane Society’s Berloni. Cesar also suggests, “Bring along a dog trainer or other professional who can advise you about a dog’s energy.”
Black dogs are the new black
They’re routinely overlooked for the ones with lighter, flashier coats. Please don’t ignore the dark dogs—one just might steal your heart. And they go with almost any outfit!
Consult the real experts of dog adoption
Make a point of meeting with animal shelter workers and asking them which dogs are their favorites. Shelter staffers are an adopter’s secret weapon: they handle the dogs day in and day out, so they really know which ones are super active and which ones are more mellow—and they’re happy to tell you everything they know.
Disaster victims need your help
"Disaster areas experience higher-than-average rates of dog abandonment, and you can arrange for a professional transport service to ship your dog to his new home,” says Berloni.
Eye contact with the dogs
“When looking through the kennels, don’t make sustained eye contact with the dogs,” Berloni advises. Cesar agrees: “Save the eye contact for when you really know each other better.”
Factor in family in adopting a dog
Everyone at home should be on board with the idea of getting a new dog. Take the family along when you go to the shelter—and that includes your current dog. Cesar, however, cautions: “Observe the new guy with other dogs before you bring him home. If he doesn’t get along with the dogs at the shelter, he may not get along with your dogs, either.”
Go for a walk with a few dogs
Narrow your choice of dogs down to two or three, advises Cesar. Then ask if you can take each one for a short leash walk. You can learn a great deal about a dog’s energy and personality during a 10-minute walk.
Hands-free handling with new dogs
When you meet a shelter dog for the first time, remember Cesar’s no-touch, no-talk, no-eye-contact rule. “Ignore the dog,” he says, “but stand or sit close to him, so he can get used to your presence [and scent].”
Insider tip for animal shelters
Try to avoid rush hour at the shelter. Weekends and afternoons are likely to be crowded, which can excite or agitate the animals. Instead, go in the middle of the week when it’s a bit slower and you can spend as much time as you need to make sure the dog you’re considering is a good fit for you.
Just do it…When you're ready!
“If you have the opportunity,” advises Cesar, “return to see the dog on a second day, at a different time of day, to determine if there is a variation in behavior…. Taking your time in choosing a dog is serious business.” But once you’ve done all your prep work, says Greg Kleva, “go to the shelter and ‘Just Do It!’ Don’t risk walking away from the dog who could become your new best friend.”
Dogs at kill shelters are at a much higher risk of being destroyed, sometimes within a matter of days or hours. The reasons vary—from local policy to overcrowding—but it’s crucial to remember there’s nothing wrong with those dogs. Don’t hesitate to visit high kill shelters first when you’re looking for your next pet; you could save a dog’s life.
Look at dog energy levels and your own
This is the single most important thing to consider when adopting a dog, notes Cesar. “Your goal as a successful dog owner is to find a dog with a lower energy level, or the same energy level, that you and your family [including any current dogs or pets] might possess. Compatible energy is more important than breed.”
Mixed-breed dogs often make the best pets because they carry the great traits of both (or all!) of the breeds in their make-up. It is also widely believed that mixed breeds will be healthier than purebreds, due to their decreased risk of passing along recessive genes. And, there’s also a theory (mostly espoused by mutt owners) that mixed-breed dogs are smarter than purebreds.
Do not buy from that pet store in the mall. The puppies may be adorable, but they're most likely the products of puppy mills, born to overbred and abused mothers who are often discarded when they can no longer produce litters. Remember: You don't know where they came from, and you don't know what genetic weaknesses they have. And by supporting those stores, you're helping perpetuate a legacy of animal abuse.
Divorce or death can leave a middle-aged or senior dog without a home. “These,” says Associated Humane Societies’ Barbara Lathrop, “are the pets that melt my heart. Generally, they’re well housebroken. They don’t find joy in dragging towels and clothing around the house or ripping up a newspaper. They’ve trained at least one human; they tend to be more settled and calm, and are usually easy to take for walks or a ride in the car.”
Pit bulls are great dogs -- don't overlook them!
They take up as much as 90 percent of cage space at animal shelters across the country, so please be open to the Pit possibility. “The No. 1 trait in Pit Bulls is loyalty to their guardians,” says Berloni. “These great dogs deserve to have devoted, caring owners who are worthy of that intense loyalty.” No argument from Cesar. “Pit Bulls,” he says, “get a bad rap because of irresponsible owners.”
Overrated. Animal shelters are not quiet places; loud barking is common, and it spreads. If a dog barks as you pass his cage, realize he's not barking at you- He's just responding to the call of the other dogs, or answering a dog in a neighboring cage. "Don't judge a dog by his behavior in the kennel, "Berloni says. "When you take him out, you might find he's very quiet and calm."
Know exactly which breed you want, but can’t find it at your local shelter? Type the breed name and the word “rescue” into your Internet search engine; you’ll find a wealth of rescue groups around the country.
Some dogs will actually smile because they’re happy to see you. Among adoption experts, these friendly overtures are known as “submissive grins,” and considered a sure sign of a sweet dog. But sadly, those bared teeth are often misinterpreted as menacing—especially when they belong to, say, a grinning Pit Bull. Please give a smiling dog a chance!
If you just lost a beloved dog, and you’re thinking of replacing her immediately—think twice. As Cesar says: “When you bring an animal into a house full of sadness, you introduce her to an environment that is nothing but soft, weak energy. There are no strong leaders in a home in mourning; wait a little after a pet dies before you bring in a new one.”
Use your instincts
Here’s Greg Kleva’s advice: “You’ll know when you meet the dog who needs you; it’s in the spirit. Does the dog have the energy level it takes to join you hiking and biking for your active lifestyle? Does he seem like he’ll be your sidekick or co-pilot wherever you go? Is there that softness in the eyes of a dog who just wants to be your companion at home?”
In addition to the basics (distemper, rabies, canine adenovirus-2), the main thing you need to be concerned about when you’re adopting a puppy is the parvovirus. As Cesar says, it’s an extremely contagious organism “that finds a happy home in the intestinal lining of puppies…. Many vets recommend that puppies be kept away from public outdoor areas until their vaccination series is completed at sixteen weeks. They should be kept away from any dogs you don’t know.”
Recommended for your new puppy at three weeks, six weeks, nine weeks, and if needed, 12 weeks.
eXpectations for your new dog
(Forgive us; nothing interesting starts with X!) Don’t expect the dog you meet at the shelter to show his or her true colours immediately. The stress of shelter life can cause a dog to generate higher levels of plasma cortisol, which can manifest in fear or hyperactive or aggressive behaviour. Ask shelter staff about the dog and whether you can spend some time with her away from all of the commotion.
“One of the most important things to remember about puppyhood,” says Cesar, “is that it is the shortest state of a dog’s life. A dog is a puppy from birth to eight months, then an adolescent from eight months to three years.” Why is this important? “Both parents and children need to remember that in the blink of an eye, this puppy will physically resemble a grown-up dog…. I advise you not to give in to a whim and bring one home for the novelty of it.” Think long and hard about the kind of dog that will be best for you and your family, then start hitting the shelters.
Zero tolerance for dog bad behaviors
It’s never too early to start correcting bad behaviors, which can manifest themselves very quickly if dogs don’t get structure and leadership—from you—from the start. Practice obedience training, set rules, and enforce them calmly. Praise your puppy’s good behavior, and you’ll soon have a friend for life.