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Things to consider before adopting a dog

I’ve seen too many rescue dogs adopted and then returned a month or two later. People are eager to adopt a “rescue” dog but then realize they have taken on more than they can handle.

Perhaps part of the problem starts with the rescue organizations themselves for adopting out the “problem” dogs too eagerly. When a dog has been in a shelter or foster home for a year, it’s easy to adopt her out to the first person who shows interest.

The truth is, most people can’t handle a large, high-energy dog, even if they have good intentions.

I can’t blame families for returning a dog that turns out to be more than they can handle. I’ve done this myself by returning foster dogs after a few days. Sometimes the dog just doesn’t work out.

To those of us who work with rescues or who are educated dog owners, it seems like common sense to really think things over before adopting a dog. But clearly it’s not common sense.

That’s why so many large-breed dogs end up in shelters in the first place. It’s also why so many dogs have been abandoned not once, but two or three times.

Dog adoption Fargo

Sasha the tan German shepherd mix up for adoption

Take Sasha the shepherd mix as an example. Sasha has been adopted at least three times.

First Sasha ended up in the pound for unknown reasons, probably due to her high energy and lack of training. A rescue group was able to save Sasha’s life. She was adopted a few months later by a couple that ended up returning her due to her energy and poor leash manners (I walk her very easily on a prong collar).

Months later, Sasha was adopted by a man who also ended up returning her because he didn’t have time for her. I’m sure she was too much energy for him, too.

If you take one look at Sasha, it is very clear that she needs a long walk every day and some focused, consistent training. That is what every dog needs. Sasha is not a bad dog. She is a very good dog, full of love with a strong need for learning and structure and patience.

But Sasha is just one example. There are thousands of dogs just like her, waiting for a forever home. The longer they wait, the more pent-up energy they gain.

I assume if you read my blog you are a responsible and educated dog owner. But we all know at least one person who is either thinking about getting a dog or has recently adopted a dog.

Or maybe you are involved in rescue or shelter work of some kind. Whatever the case, there is a way to make a difference for a dog.

Things to consider before adopting a dog

1. Are you willing to walk that dog every single day for an hour?

Dogs need a lot of exercise in order to be fulfilled. The amount of exercise each dog needs is different, but all dogs need and deserve a half-hour walk every day.

High-energy dogs like Sasha require at least an hour of exercise daily. When dogs come with any kind of “issues” like aggression or anxiety, two or three hours of exercise is more realistic. You may end up taking the dog biking or Rollerblading. A hands free bike leash helps for biking with a dog.

When I adopted my mutt Ace, he and I went for 60-minute runs every morning, no exceptions. Most rescue dogs have been locked away in a kennel or shelter for weeks, months or years and literally will not be able to function in a home environment without some intense exercise from day one. Providing “love” is not enough. I love my dog, and that means I walk him daily.

If you can’t provide this kind of exercise for the dog you are interested in, then get a cat or a different dog. Another great option is to hire a dog runner or to take the dog to the right dog daycare. You know who to contact if you need someone to run your dog in Fargo (me).

german shepherd mix up for adoption in Fargo ND

2. Will you train the dog?

Plan on spending a good half-hour per day training your new dog in addition to an hour of exercise. Training a dog is a big commitment, but it is overlooked just as much as exercise.

Shelter and rescue dogs usually have had little or no training. They are going to pull on the leash. They might have aggression problems with other dogs or even with people. They might have anxiety in new places or when left home alone. They might have a barking habit. They might not be housebroken. They might have a hard time sitting still.

After I adopted Ace, I gave him 15-minute training sessions daily where we worked on basic obedience. I also worked with him on manners and expectations whenever he and I were together.

To improve his socialization with other dogs, I took him to obedience classes. Because of all the time I spent working with Ace, I now have a well-trained and well-mannered dog.

3. Are you financially stable?

A dog will cost roughly $1,000 per year. The adoption fee is nothing compared to the money you will spend on vet bills, training, food, grooming, pet sitting and supplies. For a better idea on costs, check out my post on how much does a dog cost?

What happens if you lose your job or get a divorce? What happens if you suddenly have a high amount of medical bills for yourself or another family member? What happens if your dog gets really sick? If you can barely afford your bills and you don’t have an emergency fund in place, then getting a dog is not a good idea.

Dakota the tan and black pit bull

4. What happens if you move?

“I’m moving and can’t take my dog,” is a weak excuse used on Craigslist every day.

A dog will be around for a good 10 years. Plan ahead.

5. Is it OK if your house gets a little dirty or damaged?

Count on the dog having some accidents. The dog will also shed all year and throw up on your carpet. There will be muddy paws, upset stomachs, drool, garbage incidents and chewed-up personal items. Most dogs also have at least somewhat of an odor.

6. Will you work with the dog’s anxiety?

For all dogs, there will be an adjustment period. Most dogs will cry for a few minutes when left alone in a new area.

Many dogs get very anxious and will cry, bark or paw at their kennels for a good half-hour or more when left alone. Neighbors could hear your dog, the dog could cause a lot of damage and the dog could have accidents in the house.

Helping a dog become comfortable in her new environment could take a few days or it could take months. With Ace, it took about two weeks for him to feel comfortable being left alone.

7. Will you work with the dog on aggression issues?

Aggression is not always obvious right away. It is possible that the rescue or shelter workers are unaware of a dog’s aggression.

Perhaps the dog is food aggressive or possessive of her toys. The dog might be very territorial. Maybe she has a strong guarding instinct or a strong prey drive.

The dog might not be good around cats or smaller dogs or larger dogs or loud people or tall people or bikes or children or men in hats. Anything could potentially bring out aggression in a dog.

There is a high chance the dog you are adopting will have at least a slight aggression issue. Helping a dog overcome aggression of any kind will take a lot of time and patience. Exercise and training will take up even more of your time if your dog is aggressive.

8. Your time and work is well worth it in the end.

There is no such thing as a perfect dog. Every dog, whether it is from a breeder, a pet store, a rescue, a shelter or another owner is going to have an “issue” of some kind.

The relationship you have with that pet is totally up to you. You get what you put into it. I would not trade my time with Ace for anything in the world. He has challenged me in many ways, but now I have a friend who looks up to me, trusts me and loves me no matter what.

What else should people consider before adopting a dog?

Mr. Puggle®

Saturday 5th of September 2009

You have a really nice blog!

Lindsay Stordahl

Monday 10th of August 2009

When people criticize breeders or buying from a breeder, I always think of you and Biggie and how you chose him in the most responsible and reasonable way possible. I would like to get a Swiss mountain dog someday, and to do that I will likely go through a breeder.


Monday 10th of August 2009

I agree re: dogs and yards! you don't have to have a big one if you find other ways to exercise them. And even if you have a yard, it's no substitute for socialization!!!

We have a 100lb dog and live in an apartment in the city. But we take him to the dog park every day unless he's spending the day at day care, and we have spent countless hours training him and working with him - and still he has issues.

We wanted a large dog - and given our limitations (apartment living, work schedules) - we didn't feel like we could take a chance with a "mutt" if it turned out its temperament wasn't going to be well-suited to our lifestyle. So - a purebred, after lots of research and lots of checking out breeders and puppy testing. And still he has issues.

Agreeing to take on a dog is a major commitment and your post really highlights all the things a responsible dog owner should think about before s/he adopts a dog. Nice post!

Lindsay Stordahl

Monday 10th of August 2009

Yeah, it is really sad when a dog never gets out of the backyard. That happens all the time.


Monday 10th of August 2009

I see way too many people get a dog and never take them for a walk. I see so many dogs in my area that are never let out of the back yard. It's sad. I wish people would educate themselves before they get a dog.