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How to choose the right dog

This week marks Ace’s fifth “adoptaversary” and also his approximate sixth birthday.

Ace was the first dog I adopted on my own, and I did it right.

I was very disciplined and took the time to find the right dog for my lifestyle. I had strict criteria and turned away several dogs.

Although I was emotionally attached to the idea of a light-colored, long-haired dog (my family had recently lost our golden retriever), I did not choose a dog based on looks. If I had, I would not have chosen a “boring” black lab mix (my exact words at the time).

I knew what my criteria was, and I would not bend.

The dog had to be housebroken and kennel trained. I worked 10-hour shifts and would be gone for 11 hours per day. I knew I did not have the time or energy for housebreaking or kennel training or dealing with any amount of a dog’s separation anxiety.

The dog had to be good with other pets. My cat’s safety would come first.

The dog had to be one I could take running. At the time I was training for a marathon without a dog and was desperate for a running buddy.

I looked at many, many dogs. Ace was the first to meet my criteria.

These days I am more emotionally involved in dog rescue and will have a harder time waiting for the “perfect” dog. And these days, I have to also consider the needs of my future husband as well as our two cats and of course Ace.

That being said … I will be adopting my second dog this fall 🙂

We will be a two-dog family!

How to choose a dog

We all know there is no such thing as a perfect dog or a perfect match or perfect timing. Still, I hope you will find these suggestions helpful when you decide to add another dog to your family.

Give yourself a designated amount of time to look for a dog.

Pick an appropriate time in the future and tell yourself that no matter what, you will not adopt a second dog until this specific date or after. I suggest giving yourself at least a month.

This erases the urgency, and it gives you the time to find the right dog.

As soon as people know you are looking for a dog, suddenly everyone will have a dog for you to consider – your neighbor will know someone with border collie pups, your best friend will say her foster dog is perfect for you, your aunt will know of a lab who needs to be re-homed. And if you are anything like me, you will be searching through hundreds of dog profiles on Petfinder.

There are dogs needing homes everywhere, but guess what? When you are ready to get another dog there will still be tons of dogs in need of homes. There will always be more dogs.

This spring or summer is not the best time for us to get another dog. We have a lot going on in our personal lives – a wedding, several trips, business opportunities. There is never a perfect time, but late fall is definitely better.

Think about where you will or will not get a dog.

I will not tell anyone else where to get a dog. This is a personal decision.

Personally, I do have some standards on how I will obtain a dog:

1. I strongly believe in helping homeless dogs or preventing dogs from entering shelters and pounds in the first place. Therefore, I want to get a dog from a rescue group, shelter, pound or an individual who believes he or she must re-home the dog. There is nothing wrong with going to a breeder to get a dog. It’s just not for me, at least not this time around.

2. I will not pay a rescue group or shelter more than a $150 adoption fee. I might choose to donate more on my own, but if the required fee is more than $150, forget it. I can get a neutered, fully vaccinated dog from an individual for free. This is how I got Ace, and I will consider this option again. Certain rescue groups think they can charge more than $400 for a dog, and that is beyond ridiculous.

3. I will not jump through hoops to get a rescue dog. A standard adoption application is fine, along with references. I will even tolerate an informal home visit. But some groups go way over the top, and I won’t go there. I would rather use that energy to find the perfect dog elsewhere.

4. I will not buy a dog from a breeder or from someone whose dog had an “accidental” litter. I am willing to pay a re-homing fee to someone giving up his dog, although I didn’t always feel this way.

Don’t expect the dog to be another family member’s responsibility.

I have this fantasy that our second dog will be Josh’s dog, and I think a lot of people make a similar mistake.

Dog people love dogs, and they think everyone else wants a dog. But I have come to a realization – Josh just isn’t a dog person.

If we get a second dog, it will basically be my dog. I will be doing all the work – training, exercising, cleaning up.

Although Josh loves Ace and helps out to a minimum with dog care if I ask, he is just not going to be up at 6 a.m. to take the dogs on a long walk. He is not going to invest the time to take the dogs to training classes. He’s not going to work on leash manners or pick up poop. He is not going to wipe drool off the walls or stop by the store on his way home to pick up dog food or cat litter.

Do not choose a dog based on appearance.

Sure, you can be attracted to a certain breed, but every dog is an individual. Not all pitbulls are the same. Not all collies are the same. Not all golden retrievers are the same.

For me, it’s a challenge to set aside what the dog looks like, but it’s also exciting to consider just about any breed or mixed breed.

I am going to choose my second dog strictly by his or her temperament, personality and energy level. I don’t care if the dog is 1 year old or 10 years old. I don’t care if the dog is 25 pounds and fluffy. I don’t care if the dog is 90 pounds and drools more than Ace. All I want is a dog that fits my lifestyle – laid back and friendly with all animals and people. Willing to go for runs and hikes but perfectly content if we miss a day or two.

My expectations are high. I can’t wait to see what the universe sends my way.

Do not get a dog based on an emotional decision.

Getting a dog based on an emotional decision is a set-up for failure.

Once you’ve acknowledged you are looking for a second dog, it will be that much harder to walk away from the “free” puppies advertised on grocery store fliers or the litter of rescued pound pups at an adoption event or even the puppies at the pet store.

Likewise, it will be extremely hard to look away from the dogs scheduled to be euthanized in the pounds and shelters.

If you decide to rescue a dog from death row, you are doing a beautiful thing, but remember the risks involved. You likely won’t know anything about the dog. What if he has severe separation anxiety? What if he is aggressive to strangers?

If you are able to rescue a dog from the pound, I suggest you do so by volunteering with an established shelter or rescue group and offering to be a foster home. That way, if it doesn’t work out, the dog will be safe from death and the rescue will find a more appropriate foster home.

You deserve to find the dog that is truly a good fit for your family and lifestyle. Finding that dog does not happen by chance.

Don’t take a dog home right after meeting him.

Most rescue organizations require adopters to wait at least 24 hours before taking a dog. This gives the adopter time to make the right decision. I recommend you discipline yourself to do so even if this is not a requirement.

I drove about an hour out of my way to a little town in Minnesota to meet Ace. Even though I was pretty sure I wanted him, I decided to think it over. I waited until the next day to make my final decision. Even then, I still had to wait a whole week before I could pick him up. I told myself if it was meant to be, he would still be available. He was 🙂

Ask yourself what sacrifices you are willing to make.

Personally, I have made the difficult decision to temporarily put a hold on dog fostering. This will be a challenge for me, but it will give us a nice break while we prepare for adding a second dog. Notice, I specifically said dog fostering 🙂

Josh and I are learning to accept things about one another. He accepts I will always want more animals. I accept that constant fostering is stressful for him and my current pets. There will be a time in the future when I will foster dogs again, when we have more space and freedom.

And of course, the main sacrifice will be my time. Spending time with each of my pets is very important to me. Even if I have multiple dogs, I want to spend individual time with each one. Time for training every day. Time for a long walk every day. Time for dog and kitty cuddles every day.

All in all, I have a lot to look forward to, and I can’t wait to add a second dog to our home. It’s amazing I have gone this long without adding a second dog! This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and I am excited about taking the time to do so in the way that is right for me.

What advice do you have for choosing a second dog?

Ace the cute black lab mix standing in a field wearing camo


Nancy's Point

Tuesday 6th of March 2012

Oh, I remember the day we picked Ace up so well! Congrats to you both!!

This is a great post full of valuable info. I have not followed your advice when picking out a dog. Once we drove for a day to "just look" and of course, came home with a pup even though we had reservations. Big mistake! We didn't learn and repeated this mistake again when it came time to pick out a new pup. The first time we made the mistake, the pup did not work out for many reasons. The second time, things turned out OK.

Another time we were "talked into" by the breeder to take a pup at six weeks - way too young!! Never again. Great dog, but she always had issues that I attribute to her leaving her mother at too young an age.

My advice is think it through. This means doing all the proper research before hand. Go look. Ask a lot of question no matter where you are getting your dog. Sleep on it. Think about it some more. Then go get your pup or dog!

Lindsay Stordahl

Wednesday 7th of March 2012

He has been a good boy!

I think if you know you are getting a puppy, then it's harder "just to look." With puppies, you can't always tell much about their personalities and if you know what breed you want already, you will already know their approximate size and you will have a guess on their temperament and energy level.

I don't think I'm ready for a puppy yet, although maybe I should think about it. I am more interested in an adult dog that is passed the puppy stage.

Rich Brown

Tuesday 6th of March 2012

Congrats on the wedding and the family expansion!

This was a really interesting post - though I have to say I haven't followed any of your guidelines when adopting! I'm a three dog household, all of them are rescue dogs. I think I'm a bit of an impulse adopter - I just can't stand to see dogs shut in cages in rescue centres for months and months, if I could I'd give them all a home. At the end of the day, my one rule is, as long as they get on with my other animals in my home, then it's all good - a rule that's worked for all of my adoptions (though I have been very lucky).

Good luck on finding your perfect new dog!

Lindsay Stordahl

Tuesday 6th of March 2012

You are a good person to offer your home to all those lucky dogs. I'm glad you have lucked out, and so have they!


Monday 5th of March 2012

I was nodding with this until I got to "Certain rescue groups think they can charge more than $400 for a dog, and that is beyond ridiculous" and then I wanted to smack you upside the head.

Do me a favour and add up the costs of vaccinations & spay/neuter.

Then explain to me how you expect rescues to exist if they charge only $150.00. Also note that I said rescues, not SPCAs/Humane Societies. I do not consider those rescues.

Better yet, explain how the special needs dogs, the dogs who need dentals, and any other dog who requires more than the basics will be able to obtain any of this if a rescue charges $150 for a dog.

This post left a bad taste in my mouth. :\ I know that doesn't matter to you, but it's so disappointing to read this. You write like you know very little about what rescue entails, and here you are.. a foster parent.

Lindsay Stordahl

Tuesday 6th of March 2012

I have volunteered with rescue groups for five years. I have fostered several animals. Rescues depend on donations, fundraisers, grants, volunteers and yes, adoption donation fees. Adoption donation fees are only a small part of the whole. The four most prominent rescue groups in Fargo save hundreds of dogs and cats per year, and their adoption donation fees range from $80 to $150 per animal. Sometimes the groups spend more than $2,000 on a dog over the time that it is with the rescue. Other animals are adopted within a few days and the rescue might not have to spend more than $50. They know they have to keep the adoption donation fee around $150 in order to remain competitive in the market.

If rescues want to get as many animals adopted as possible so they can save more animals from the pounds, then they cannot be charging outrageous fees. People will obtain their dogs for free or for a quarter of the price elsewhere like I did with my dog Ace.

May Affre

Monday 5th of March 2012

Hi, like Christina and Shanen, I have a Jack Russell Terrier. I considered for the past year adopting another dog as I am a dog lover. However, through fostering, I've noticed that my dog while seeming to enjoy playing with another dog, was more tolerant of the dog. I would just remind you that sometime, while we may want other dogs, our first dog, as well as other roommates (cats, spouse) may not really want another companion. As of now, I still hope to adopt another dog, same as you I do not care about the breed or look, instead focus on his personality, temperament to fit our lifestyle, as well as essentially how will he or she respond not just to me but to my dog and spouse. I think you know what you are doing. Like you, I believe when you'll find each other, you'll know. I confess, while I searched for a long time for a dog (gave myself time while also on a deadline- we ensure the time of adoption would match our "time off" so we could spend the proper time to train and bond with our dog), it really happened as you said. We gave ourselves time to think it over. A jack russell terrier requires "work" (training, patience and willingness to exercise), while we wanted an active dog, we also took responsibility. I personally think most important factor in taking in another dog, beside he or she getting along with everyone else is knowing your responsibility. Like you said, you'll be the one taking the time to train it, wake up early to exercise it... in return though you'll get unconditional love. Best of luck. You seem to know what you are doing. P.S.: Congratulation on the wedding.

shanendoah@life by pets

Tuesday 6th of March 2012

In this case, we brought the JRT type dog (he looks mostly like a Smooth Fox Terrier, only bigger) in as our second dog. He and our Beagle do really well together, though sometimes she just wants to settle down for a good nap when he wants to play. We did have the dogs meet first. While we are a two dog household (C and I both prefer having two dogs), we do not just go find the first "second" dog we can when we lose a dog. Our first priority in this case was finding a dog that would be good with our Beagle. Larry (the terrier) and June (the Beagle) are actually quite bonded, and bonded very quickly. Our roommate lives with us specifically so that he can live with dogs without having the full responsibility. (He works 60+ hour weeks on a regular basis, so knows that on his own, he is not a good dog owner.) We love being a multi-dog household. It is what is right for us, and we make sure it is right for our dogs. But I agree that it is not right (or at least not ideal) for every household or every dog. (Our foster dog would certainly love to be an only dog, but living with our two isn't doing any of them any harm.)

Lindsay Stordahl

Monday 5th of March 2012


Thank you so much! Good suggestions in your comment! My dog does not necessarily appreciate having another dog around. He mostly tolerates other dogs. But I think I can find a mellow dog he will appreciate.


Monday 5th of March 2012

(Not that it's important, but I don't actually have a JRT. My dog is a small terrier mix, though, and at the time I was looking, I was avoiding all small terrier mixes because I associated them all with bouncy bundles of energy! Now I know that not all terriers, and not even all JRTs are necessarily like that... :)

shanendoah@life by pets

Monday 5th of March 2012

Congrtualtions on the wedding and the second dog. We originally became a 2-dog household because Moree (our Aussie) was going to go from living in a house with 5 people all on different schedules and a roommate's dog to living in a house with just us, and we would be gone for 10+ hours a day. We knew we needed to get him a friend. Going on 9 years later, we are a pretty confirmed 2-dog household and currently have 3, with foster dog Howie. Best advice I can give is to let yourself be open to surprises. Having guidelines for yourself if good, but with the exception of June (and she's been our biggest challenge), we've never followed them. When we first looked, we wanted a dog older than Moree, smaller than Moree, and female. Smokey was none of those things. We met him based on emotion- he'd been at the shelter longer than any of the other dogs and had "pit bull" in his breed mix. So, we met him, and brought him home a week later (after a meet and greet with Moree). He was my perfect dog. With Larry, our newest, I had always sworn I wouldn't have a JRT type dog because I am not the firm leader these dogs often need. But after realizing the first two dogs we met were not right for us or June, we decided to meet Larry. I now have the dog I swore I'd never have, and he's wonderful.

Know that a second dog will not only change your household, but change your other dog as well. Moree and Smokey were a wonderful pair. They did not play together often, they did not sleep together when we were home, but go to the dog park to let them run, and they were inseperable. And when Moree died, Smokey was despondent. He hated being an only dog. When we brought Junebug home, suddenly Smokey had to play (we brought him home a 6 month old Beagle, not exactly what he was looking for, but she was his none the less). I got to see this new sweet and wonderful side to my boy. Then we lost Smokey. June did pretty well as an only dog, but she missed having someone to play with. After a bit, Larry came home. He and June are rough and tumble together in a way that she never was with Smokey because of his personality. We sometimes have to intervene. They set each other off. At the dog park, they will go their separate ways in the open areas, but when it comes time to explore, they go off together, and even when one comes back and the other doesn't, they always know where the other is.

We can plan for the changes a new dog will bring in to our lives- what we needed to do having a pit bull type dog, or a 6 month puppy, or a high energy terrier. We can make those conscious decisions. What we can't know is how our second dog decision will change the life of our first dog. Sometimes they will rough and tumble from the beginning (Moree and the roommate's dog, June and Larry), sometimes they will mostly ignore each other (Moree and Smokey), and sometimes one will harass the other (Smokey and June). They form their relationships much like people do. Sometimes it's an instant connection and sometimes it takes time to grow. As long as they aren't actually fighting when they meet, just be sure to give the dogs time and space.

And know that your entire household will be changed by the experience.

Lindsay Stordahl

Monday 5th of March 2012

Very good points! Thank you! Good for me to hear. The dynamics of our household will change and we will have to accept that. I'm thinking I should adopt a senior dog!