By Catherine Gaugh
So you are heading to the Pasadena Humane Society shelter to find a new friend and companion.
The experience can be so nerve-racking and sad: so many dogs, so many sad eyes, so much barking. Most of the time, you don’t know where they came from nor why they wound up in the shelter.
What if you make a mistake and pick the wrong dog?
Take a few tips from Cesar Millan, the dog trainer extraordinaire and star of the National Geographic Channel’s “Dog Whisperer,” who suggests five ways to make sure you choose the right shelter pet for you.
Do your best to leave your emotions at the shelter door.
Adoption centers can be heartbreaking places if your thoughts are focused on the fate of every single dog present. It’s crucial for you to choose the right dog, and not just one that you feel sorry for. Feeling pity for a homeless dog won’t benefit him or you in the long run. For the dog’s sake and yours, try not to let the environment of the shelter and the weight of the decision influence you. You will have plenty of time to bond with your dog once you’ve brought him home and incorporated him into your family.
Think ahead: Make sure your lifestyle will match with the dog’s needs.
Ask yourself: Do you wake up early every morning, pound a power bar and a health shake, and go for a run in the mountains? Or do you take life at a more leisurely pace? If you are a two-career couple with a small apartment, chances are you shouldn’t adopt a large dog that requires a lot of attention, exercise and space.
Keep in mind that a dog in a cage at a shelter will be difficult to appraise in terms of its level of energy.
Dogs in cages for any significant length of time can be frustrated and edgy. Don’t be afraid to ask the rescue staff about the dog. They aren’t concerned with getting dogs out the door at any cost — most are dedicated to finding good homes for the dogs in their care — so you can be pretty confident they’ll give you the straight story. Find out what the dog is really like and how he gets along with the staff and the other dogs. How does he act at mealtimes? What is he like when people come by to view the other dogs? The answers to questions like these will give you a better idea of what he will be like with you and your family at home.
Energy level is the No. 1 consideration.
The energy level of the dog is a very accurate gauge of whether you and your dog will be compatible mates for life. That’s why self-reflection is important before you go to the shelter. When energy levels conflict, resulting frustrations on the part of human and dog can create tensions and issues with dramatic repercussions. I recommend people choose a dog with the same energy level or a lower energy level than their own. If they have other dogs in their home, it’s even more important not to choose a dog with an energy level higher than the other dogs or humans already in the family pack. One way to measure the shelter dog’s energy level is to take him for a walk. The walk is an excellent litmus test for a new dog. Find out from the shelter if you can “test drive” the dog you’re interested in. Take him out for a spin around the block and see how the two of you get along. Not only will you get an early idea of how you work together in a pack-oriented activity, but you’ll get a better understanding of his underlying temperament once you’ve drained away the frustration and pent-up energy he has from being in his cage.
When thinking about what might be the right breed for you, you must do your homework ahead of time.
That’s especially true when considering size and special needs lifestyle choices, environmental compatibility and factors such as food and exercise requirements. Read up on every breed you are interested in, paying special attention to the original job it was bred to do. Then ask yourself, can I provide the right environment, the proper amount of time and the appropriate stimulation to fulfill those inborn breed-related needs? Remember, a dog’s breed doesn’t necessarily dictate its personality, but some breeds are known for having a certain energy or disposition. And above all, don’t choose a dog based on “cuteness.”