A common tip given when adopting or bringing a new dog into your family is to make sure the dog you choose fits your lifestyle. In some cases, choosing a dog that fits your day to day life just means choosing a dog of a certain size or build. A small dog for an apartment, an athletic dog to run with, etc. However, what about when you’re trying to choose a dog with a particular temperament?
This was something Bryan and I stumbled into when we adopted Topher. We knew we wanted a dog of a specific type—a Boxer or bully type breed—but other than that, we didn’t really know what else to look for to gauge what kind of personality our dog would have. And when you’re in a shelter environment, sometimes it can be hard to tell just what a dog’s true temperament will be once they’ve settled into a less stressful situation.
This is the situation many people who adopt adult dogs from shelters find themselves in. Adopting an adult dog has many advantages, but its primary disadvantage is that an adult dog will come with baggage. Finding a new home is traumatic, and so their personality may not shine through immediately. So in a shelter environment, how do you decide if the dog you’re looking at is the right one for you? Here are a few ways to briefly evaluate a dog you’re considering bringing into your home.
1. Watch the dog from a distance. Do they appear aloof to those passing by, or friendly?
2. Approach the dog in a neutral way—don’t speak or smile, and try to approach from the side. See if the dog approaches you and the reaction they give.
3. Approach the dog with a big smile and a happy greeting, and see what reaction this kind of greeting elicits.
4. Watch a shelter worker or volunteer walk the dog on a leash, and see how much attention the dog pays to their current handler. This will give you a little bit of an idea of how they walk on a lead.
5. Find an area where you can sit quietly with the dog, preferably off a leash. See how often the dog comes back to visit you. A dog who is slightly more independent when off leash is not necessarily a bad thing, it all depends on your expectations for the level of attention seeking behavior and affection in your dog.
6. If you feel safe, run your hands all over the dog. If the dog seems okay with that, see if he will let you check his ears, his mouth, or handle his paws. Stop if the dog seems uncomfortable or moves to get away at any point. This is just to see how receptive the dog is to being handled.
7. Try handing the dog a small treat. Do they grab at it, or take it gently? If the dog grabs at the treat forcefully, ask them to be gentle and hold the next treat almost enclosed in your hand—refuse to give it to them until they are using their mouth more gently to take it. A dog who cannot understand the notion of gentle may be more difficult to manage later, especially around children or cats.
8. Make sure the dog is introduced to everyone in your family before adoption, especially if you have children. When bringing an adult dog into a family with children, the dog should greet them happily and with enthusiasm. An adult dog who is good with children is usually one who’s grown up with them, and that bond may be harder to teach to an adult dog who hasn’t had much interaction with kids.
9. If you have another dog or cat, try and see how the dog interacts with dogs and cats, or make sure to ask those at the shelter if they’ve evaluated their temperament towards other animals.
These evaluations will give you more of an idea of a shelter dog’s temperament, though no test is fool-proof; adopting an adult dog is as much work as, and sometimes more than, adopting a puppy. You need to be committed to working with your dog to help them grow into their new role in your home.
When you adopt an adult dog, there’s usually a honeymoon period—anywhere from a few days to a month where your dog is still adjusting to their surroundings, and their typical behavior may be somewhat inhibited. You should use this period to help your dog understand what is expected of them. Over time, you’ll begin to see their true personality begin to shine, as they grow into the role of companion and friend.