Pet Adoption Guide: 7 Tips to find the best dog for your lifestyle
By Caroline Fontein, Pet Lifestyle Contributor
Congratulations! Looks like you want to add a new member to your pack.
But if you’re reading this, it means you might also be asking yourself:
“What dog is best for me?”
Growing your tribe by four paws is a big decision. After all, you’re about to find your new best friend.
Whether you’re adopting a dog on your own or for your family (including the other four-legged members), it’s important to acknowledge that every dog has different characteristics and some may be a better fit for your lifestyle than others.
Plus, with so many cute furry faces staring at you every time you visit your local shelter (it happened to me), it can be overwhelming trying to decide which one of those wagging tails and slobbery smiles you want to make your own.
Is the 5-year-old male, extra-chipper Chihuahua mix your new canine counterpart? Or did the 12-year-old female, but still spry Staffordshire Terrier mix already steal your heart? What about bringing home a puppy?
How I found my canine counterpart
When I adopted my first dog (ok, I ended up taking home two), I was looking for a high-energy and hearty companion who would share my zest for the great outdoors and hiking.
First, I looked online to see what kind of dogs were up for adoption at my local animal shelters. Most of them were mixed breed pitbulls of some sort (meaning you really have no idea what breed or breeds they are), including a small and very adorable, 2-month-old male, brown brindle puppy.
Yes, pitbulls have a stigma. So I did my research and learned that they have a lot of positive traits including being energetic, wholesome and affectionate - just what I was looking for. I also spent a lot of time researching dog training techniques and even read Ceasar Milan’s book “How to Be a Pack Leader.”
Armed with my newfound knowledge, I adopted the brindle puppy along with another male, 6-month-old, black and white brindle American bulldog mix. Saying they were rambunctious is an understatement. Both dogs needed a lot of exercise, but that was a perfect fit for my daily routine. Now, that puppy (Milo) is about to turn 11. He’s an incredibly sweet and mild-mannered dog. I couldn’t ask for a better companion.
So, here are some tips to help you find the best dog for your lifestyle.
Tip #1: Ask yourself, how much time do I really have?
What’s your work schedule like? What’s your social calendar like? Are there kids in your household? Will they help share some of the responsibilities for caring for your dog?
When it comes to adopting a dog, time is of the essence. And we don’t mean you need to rush into anything.
Instead, we’re referring to your spare time. It’s about to become your share time (with your pup). So, you want to make sure there’s enough of it to go around.
For instance, if you work long days and don’t think being able to stop home on a lunch break is feasible, then bringing home a puppy might not be the best fit.
Puppies require a lot of time and attention when it comes to training and housetraining. If you have limited hours in the day, adopting an older dog that doesn’t need as much training, might be a better option.
Think about what you realistically can work into your schedule.
If you’re set on a puppy (and short on time), you might want to also consider dogs that are the easiest to train.
Below are some recommendations from the American Kennel Club.
- Border Collie
- German Shepherd
- Golden Retrievers
- Doberman Pinscher
- Shetland Sheepdog
- Labrador Retriever
- Australian Cattle Dog
- Pembroke Welsh Corgi
- Miniature Schnauzer
- English Springer
Mixing it up
It’s important to note that most shelter dogs are mixed breeds. Typically, the shelter will assign every dog a breed mix based on their most dominant characteristics. So, any of the above mixes will give you some indication of how easy that dog may be to train.
However, in some instances the dog’s size may be the only indicator of their mix. If you’re really curious, you can always do a dog DNA test to help you determine the “mix” in your mixed-breed. This can then help you make more informed choices when it comes to training and healthcare.
Tip #2: Be honest about your energy levels
Are you someone who loves to exercise? Does your weekend typically include hiking, biking, running or other activity?
If your answer is no, then a high-energy dog probably won’t be the best fit.
All dogs will need some form of daily activity, but certain breeds or breed mixes may need more than others. Dogs are often more timid and subdued in a shelter setting. So, be prepared for them to show their true personality and energy levels once settle into your home.
What happens when dogs don't get enough exercise?
Dogs that don’t get enough exercise can end up expelling that pent-up energy in undesirable ways like:
- Chewing up your couch or worse, shoes
- Getting in the trash
- Barking excessively
- Playing too rough
- Pulling on their leash during walks
- Being really annoying with constant pestering
If you’re thinking about a small, low-maintenance dog, don’t be fooled by their tiny statue. A small dog doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re low-energy, calm or that they won’t need to be regularly exercised.
Some small dog breeds, like the Miniature Pinscher (weighting 8 - 10 pounds) are also some of the most energetic.
The key is, to find a dog whose energy level can be managed with your daily routine. Whatever their energy level might be, there are lots of fun things to do with your dog.
Below are some breeds to consider.
We noted earlier that most shelter dogs are mixed breeds. If they have dominant features that identify with one or more of the breeds below. This can help give you an indication of their energy level.
High-energy Dog Breeds
- Australian Shepherd
- Labrador Retriever
- Golden Retriever
- Border Collie
- Siberian Husky
- Australian Cattle Dog
- German Shepherd
- Bully Breeds (American Bulldog, American Pit Bull, American Staffordshire Terrier)
- Boxer Terriers (Jack Russel Terrier, Parson Russel Terrier, Russel Terrier)
Low-energy (and/or low-maintenance) Dog Breeds
- English Bulldog
- Basset Hound
- Chow Chow
- Great Dane
- French Bulldog
- Shih Tzu
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Tip #3: Know your personal space
Whether you live in an apartment or a house with a yard, take stock of your space before adopting a dog.
Your dog is going to want to be next to you at all times. However, it’s important that they also have their own safe space in the rooms where you’re going to be spending most of your time, like your living room during the day and bedroom at night.
This means you’ll need room for their bed, crate and maybe both, in those living spaces. And a big dog means a bigger bed and even larger crate.
By defining a spot just for your dog, you’ll have a place to tell them to go instead of letting them circle around the table while you’re trying to eat dinner, charge the door when guests come over, takeover the couch (they might do this anyway), you get the idea.
So make sure there’s space for everyone (four legs or two) to be comfortable.
Tip #4: Don’t forget about your other family members
If you have kids (both humans and/or other fur babies), you’ll want to make sure the dog you’re adopting will be a good fit with the rest of the pack.
Tips when your other family members are human:
- There are breeds out there with a reputation for being the best family dogs, but this can be a touchy topic. Some breeds with a bad and often unwarranted reputation (i.e. pitbulls) can actually make great family dogs, especially when you adopt them as a puppy and raise them with your kids.
- Remember that toddlers and young children won’t understand that they need to act a certain way around a dog, which might not be as big of an issue with a little puppy. If you’re thinking about adopting an adult dog (especially a large breed), it might be a good idea to wait until the kids are old enough to understand rules and how to act around their new pet.
- If your kids are older, it’s important to establish rules and boundaries for the dog as a family and very soon after bringing them home. This way everyone can agree on enforcing the same behavior standards for your new pup.
For example, if the dog is not going to be allowed on the couch, it’s important that everyone abides by that rule. This will prevent your dog from getting mixed messages which can cause confusion and unwanted behavior.
Tips when your other little ones are dogs:
First impressions are everything, even for dogs. If you already have a dog (or two) at home, you’ll want to take some extra steps to ensure the meeting is a happy one.
Here are some tips for how to introduce your new dog to your other dog(s):
- Find a friend to take your resident dog out, and have both dogs meet on a leash outside on neutral territory.
- After the initial meeting, take the dogs on a walk where they can be parallel to one another. The Animal Humane Society recommends keeping the dogs about 10 feet apart so that they can first get used to each other’s presence without getting too confrontational.
- Let the dogs get to know each other slowly, and watch for positive body language including wagging tails and interest in one another without hard stares or tensing up. If both dogs seem relaxed and happy, gradually decrease the distance between them.
- If you feel comfortable, drop their leads and let the dogs interact by sniffing one another, but don’t force the interaction. Instead, look for signs that both dogs want to play and interact.
- Next stop, home. Before bringing the new dog inside, make sure there are no toys, food, treats or other items around that could cause tension. Have someone take your resident dog out for a walk. Then, give the new dog a chance to sniff around their new home.
- Afterwards, go to an open space in the house, and bring your other dog back inside so that the two can meet.
- From there, make sure to keep an eye on the dogs and watch out for any growling or aggressive behavior. To start, it’s best to keep the dogs separate when you’re not home.
- Dogs can get territorial and possessive. To minimize any potential conflicts, we recommend getting a separate bed for each one, even if the one bed is big enough for both dogs.
- If the introduction isn’t going well or the dogs are expressing behaviors that you don’t understand, we recommend talking to a trainer who can help ensure a positive experience for all pack members.
Tip #5: Channel your inner pack leader
Dogs need a pack leader, and this means YOU!
While loving your dog and showering them with belly rubs will come naturally, knowing how to train them and set boundaries probably won’t. To avoid behavior issues and frustration down the road, spend time researching training techniques before your bring your dog home. You’ll want to start defining boundaries soon after they arrive.
Or better yet, find obedience classes nearby and get your dog started in them soon after you bring them home. By working with people who are dog training experts you can more easily identify and address any behavioral issues early on and prevent your little one from forming new ones.
Tip #6: Find a vet
Most animal shelters won’t let you adopt a pet and bring them home without first getting them vaccinated and either spayed or neutered at their facility. This is great because it means you’re starting things off on the right foot (or paw).
Many shelters also offer the option to microchip your dog, which is sort of like find my phone, but for your pet.
A microchip is a radio frequency identification transponder that gets injected into your dog. It sounds scary, but it’s really no more invasive than a vaccination. Afterwards, you just need to register it with a pet recovery database. Once registered, you’ll always be able to keep track of your precious pup.
That aside, you’ll want to develop a relationship with a vet soon after bringing your new furry family member home.
By doing this, you’ll already have someone lined up in the event your dog gets sick, injured or needs another round of vaccines. If your shelter doesn’t offer the option to microchip your dog, this is also something your vet can do.
Tip #7: Stock up on supplies
To help smooth the transition process of getting your dog used to their new home, make sure you have everything you need before they arrive.
Here’s our checklist of what you need for your new dog:
Bowls or dispenser for food and water. There are countless styles out there. Find one that matches your vibe and is user-friendly for your dog.
Crate. We also recommend getting a bed, blanket or pad for them to rest on in the crate. To note, if you’re adopting a dog that’s already house broken, you might not need a crate.
However, for puppies and younger dogs, crate training is often recommended for housebreaking them. Crates provide a den-like atmosphere and safe resting space for dogs, and they won’t go to the bathroom in it. This will help put you in control of where and when your dog relieves him or herself.
While they’re still learning the rules and adjusting, using a crate is also a great way to prevent your dog from chewing on things and causing any damage when you’re not home.
Once your dog begins to learn not to go to the bathroom in the house, you can start leaving him or her out of the crate when you’re not home. This is a great way to test them and determine when it might be a good time to get rid of the crate altogether.
Bed(s) and/or blankets. If you’re adopting a dog that’s already housebroken, then you may not need to get a crate. Instead, you can go straight to purchasing a bed.
Define where in your house you want your dog’s safe space to be, and put their bed there.
If you want them to have more than one spot, like the living room and your bedroom, considering purchasing more than one bed. This way they can always have their own little space to relax that doesn’t include taking up your entire bed.
If you want to give them a spot on the couch or your bed, defining it with a blanket can help. By doing this, you can train them to only go on that one spot and to not get on the couch or bed if the blanket is missing (like when it’s in the wash). This is especially helpful if you have guests over.
Toys. Dogs get bored and need some way to entertain themselves at home that won’t involve attacking your socks, shoes or a pillow, among other items. Start with a just a few so you can see what your new pup likes. Make sure to check the suggested age, as there are toys designed just for puppies, adults and senior dogs.
Food, health supplements and treats. Your animal shelter can let you know what kind of food your dog is already eating. From there, we recommend talking to your vet about what kind of food, treats and supplements will be the best fit for your dog.
You might also want to consider a multifunctional health supplement, like SmartyPaws that's supports good health for you pup from nose to tail.
It’s made with a blend of premium ingredients carefully-selected by vets to support your dog’s hip, joint, allergy, skin, urinary tract, gut and immune health - all in one easy serving.
Grooming supplies (especially if you’re adopting a long-hair and more high-maintenance breed). All dogs need some form of grooming. So don’t forget a brush, shampoo, etc.
Toothbrush and Paste. Yes, dental health is a thing for dogs too. You’ll find plenty of options at your local pet store. Your vet can also recommend what’s best for your breed.
Poop bags. Your dog is going to need to be walking, and no one wants to be that guy. Make sure you have some poop bags ready.
Leash. There are many styles out there. Some are even catered to specific activities like running. Look for what works best with your exercise routine.
Collar. Make sure to look for one that’s the right size for your dog. The general rule is that it should be snug but loose enough to comfortably fit two fingers between your dog’s neck and the collar.
- Printed Name Tag. Now that you found the perfect dog, you don’t want to risk losing them. Make sure their tag includes their name and your contact information, just in case.
Now, the only thing left to do is find your canine counterpart.
Just in case you need another reason to adopt a dog, it’s good for your health.
Do you have any of your own dog adoption tips? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.