Read an Excerpt
Successful Dog Adoption
By Sue Sternberg
John Wiley & Sons
Copyright © 2003
All right reserved.
So You Want to Adopt a Dog
This book is designed to guide you through the process of adopting a dog, and
to help you to find that "right" dog. The right dog in your life is a sacred and
unparalleled friend. The relationship between you and your dog will be more
powerful than you can imagine, and more intensely rewarding than you will
know until you actually do it. Adopting the right dog is likely to be the most
gratifying thing you will ever do, and I would like you to find this exceptional
dog at a shelter.
While I would like the animal shelter to be the premier place to obtain a
dog, at the same time I recognize the truth that it can also be the worst. Animal
shelters in the United States are filled with some of the very best and some of
the very worst dogs. While thousands of absolutely wonderful, sweet family pet
dogs are euthanized in shelters that do not have a lot of resources (or a lot of
good adopters), the awful flip side is that thousands of aggressive and downright
dangerous dogs are available for adoption to unsuspecting people, or are
spinning interminably in their cages. Many shelters are run by well-meaning
animal lovers who know little about dog behavior ortemperament and can
offer you little help in selecting the right dog.
I have dedicated my life to trying to make the shelter the best place for
people to go to get a dog. That means replacing some of the pity and raw emotions
shelter people use to make decisions on adoptions or euthanasia with a
solid foundation of dog behavior and training knowledge. While I continue to
work toward that goal within the shelter industry, I hope this book will help
the general public successfully adopt safe, appropriate and wonderful dogs. I
hope this book can serve as a guide so that if you do decide to go to the shelter,
you're more likely to bring home a great companion and not a behaviorally
My goal is to make life and death better and less random for dogs in shelters,
and to make shelters safer and better for people visiting them. We need to
educate people about the shelter world, and educate the shelter world about
people. And educate everybody a little more about dogs.
With a boost of dog behavior knowledge and some tips on assessing temperament,
this book will, hopefully, make your adoption experience a lifelong
success. Living with a great dog is something no one should miss.
WHAT'S INVOLVED IN ADOPTING A DOG?
For first-time dog owners, your journey into life with a dog is about to begin.
Your life is about to change forever. The people in your life will be different.
Your schedule will change. Your activity level will go up. Your exercise routine
will either begin or change for the better. It will become much harder to be
depressed. There will now always be someone overjoyed to see you whenever
you return home from work, and just as overjoyed to see you return to the room
from a trip to the bathroom. There will, at last, be something substantial to
vacuum up from your floors, as tumbleweeds of dog hair will form under your
For experienced dog owners, this may or may not be your first adoption
experience. Either way, I want your next dog to be the best ever.
DO YOU THINK YOU'RE READY, OR DO YOU KNOW
There are two basic kinds of people: There are people who readily admit to,
want to and are ready to commit to joining the ranks of dog owners everywhere,
and are choosing the shelter as their primary resource. For the others,
becoming a new dog owner is the kind of thing that, the more they think about
it, the more arduous or impossible it seems. The confines of their schedule and
the demands and restrictions the dog will make on their life seem to exclude
them from dog ownership. Or so they tell themselves. This group tells itself
that the time is just not right. And, on the outside, they may act like they're
not ready. They are the browsers, the many people who come to the shelter
"just looking." But on the inside, they really are ready-if the right dog were to
The truth is, it is never really the right time. It is never really convenient
to bring a dog into your life. There will probably never be a time in your life
when your schedule is free and open, you have plenty of time and feel completely
prepared. The truth is, there really is nothing convenient, ever, about
having a dog. But it is worth every inconvenience. I'm not trying to convince
someone who really doesn't want a dog to go out and get one. But chances are
if you are reading this book, you are at least secretly ready-ready somewhere
deep down inside-and you would take the plunge if you visited your local animal
shelter and met the right dog.
We see this group of people in the shelter as often as we see the group that
is absolutely ready, know they are ready, are hot on the trail of the right dog
and want that dog now. Today. For this weekend. These people choose the animal
shelter because shelters are filled with ready-made dogs. You don't have to
research a breed, locate a good and reputable breeder, wait for the bitch to be
bred, wait for the puppies to be born, and then wait yet another eight to 12
weeks until they are ready to be sold. At the shelter the dogs are there in front
of you, available for adoption in the here and now.
You can either aim for the "right time" in your life to get a dog or aim for
the "right dog" in your life. My advice is to go for the right dog. That may mean
you don't find the dog of your dreams on your first visit to the shelter. Also,
depending on where you live, there may not be a lot of dogs to choose from.
The pet overpopulation problem is, thankfully, not what it used to be in many
parts of the country, and many shelters, especially the ones that do not make
available for adoption aggressive or dangerous dogs, may have more empty
kennels than occupied ones.
YOUR PRE-ADOPTION CHECKLIST
Listed below are some suggested mental and physical preparations you can
make before you come home with a dog. Mostly, they are things to think about,
so that you don't bring a dog home and have all these thoughts come rushing
at you at once. There is enough to do and to think about and feel overwhelmed
with in first few days you have a new dog, so it can be helpful to try to mull
over these things at least once before the dog comes home with you.
Decide now on some household rules. These can be arbitrary at first if you have
no particular rules in mind, or you may already know exactly what you will
allow from your new dog. Either way, it is far better for your dog to enter a
home where he senses many clear rules and regulations than to enter a chaotic
situation where you try to implement the rules later on.
Even if you aren't by nature a rule-maker or rule-implementer, doing this
with your new dog is a favor to him. Dogs love consistency, and they can relax
when they understand the things you want and don't want right from the get-go.
Dogs won't judge your rules; they will just start adhering to them as you
insist. Your new dog is likely to be anxious and agitated in the first few days,
and having you insist on some consistent rules will help him feel like he's making
fewer mistakes and will give him a clear understanding of what is a mistake
and what isn't.
When you're visiting an unfamiliar relative in a strange town, wouldn't
you rather have your kin tell you up front please not to put your feet on the
coffee table, please turn the heat down to 62° before going to bed, please feel
free to eat anything in the refrigerator on all but the top shelf (which is food
reserved for your diabetic uncle), etc., than to endure being yelled at and reprimanded
for inadvertently doing all these things wrong? It is the difference
between having the opportunity to get things right and feel good, and being
left to get things wrong and get yelled at, feeling bad and confused without
knowing what was right or wrong to start with.
It is much fairer to your dog to teach him what is acceptable and what is
not. Some people don't have the personality type to have any preconceived
rules in mind, and other people know automatically what they will tolerate and
what they won't. Either type needs to set up a number of household rules and
encourage, aid and reward the dog for getting them right, rather than starting
off the relationship by yelling at him for getting it wrong, or worse, letting your
new dog believe that in the absence of anyone with good leadership skills, he
will make his own rules. You cannot really "build up" to getting your dog to listen
to you, respect you and behave. The more a dog does what he wants and
gets away with it, and the more you figure you'll let him settle in before dealing
with that "pesky" behavior, the less likely your dog is to ever listen to you,
do what you want or behave the way you want him to.
Teaching your dog how to sit, stay, lie down, come, stop barking and stop
jumping up are easy enough. This sort of teaching should be accomplished
using mostly reward-based training and positive reinforcement. These techniques
are fast, fun and effective. But the relationship with your dog requires one
of you to follow the lead of the other. Making sure, at the outset, that your new
dog follows your lead is best accomplished the minute he walks across the
threshold. And it is accomplished by setting rules, guidelines and limits, and
being willing to firmly and immediately tell your new dog "no" if and when he
Your new dog needs no adjustment period for this. Quite the contrary.
Don't think somehow your "poor" shelter dog has had a traumatic past and
needs to be shown only love and kindness. Your new dog needs you to forget
his past and start with his crisp new future-right now. He needs love, kindness
and leadership. At best, when dogs are allowed to make all their own rules,
they become anxious, agitated and have a difficult time settling down. These
dogs tend to bark at any noise and end up becoming nuisance barkers woofing
at every little bump in the night. Or they pace and pant in the house, never
seeming to relax into a nap or even to lie down and relax. At worst, the dog
who makes his own rules in the absence of any from you can behave more
aggressively. Then your new dog may be experiencing a traumatic present,
never mind his past.
More Things to Prepare
Your new dog will not (initially, at least) be allowed up on your furniture
or on your bed. This is a great example of a rule that is easy to
implement at the start and then ease up on as things play out, but an
extremely stubborn habit to break if you start out allowing it and
decide later on to nix it.
Your new dog will eat a high-quality dog food, twice a day, after the
humans have dined, and will neither be fed from the table nor be
allowed table scraps or snacks as you eat your own meals or snacks.
(Leftovers and delicious human food, when you feel you must share it,
should be set aside in a plastic zipper bag in the refrigerator and used
for training purposes, during training sessions.) At first, every calorie
should count for something; every morsel should be used as a reward
for good behavior, or as a lure or reward when the dog is learning
something new and desirable.
Your new dog will be taught how to sit (see Chapter 7) or requested to
sit (because chances are, your new dog already knows how to sit) at
least 25 times a day, partly to practice having you give some commands
and having your dog comply, but mostly so that at least 25 times a day
you both can share the understanding and definition of at least one
word in the human language. Soon, you will teach your dog many new
words and behaviors, but sometimes at the beginning you will have just
one word in common. Think of it as arriving in a foreign country,
where you know just one word. No matter what the word, wouldn't it
be a relief to hear someone use it with you in its proper context?
You will have to decide on a good potty elimination area for your new
dog before he comes home. If you live in the suburbs or the country,
the area will likely be somewhere in your yard. If you dream of having
a pristine lawn and want excrement only in the woods to the back of
your property, spend the first few weeks reinforcing this with your new
dog. This is the kind of thing that, if decided on beforehand, is easy
and quick to teach your new dog, but is extremely time-consuming to
try to implement after your dog has formed a habit of eliminating in a
different area. If you live in the city, the best rule is to teach your dog
to eliminate in the gutter directly outside your building (not on plants
or on the sidewalk). Do NOT get into the habit of walking your dog
all the way to the park to eliminate. Then you will be obliged to walk
your dog all the way to the park in rain, snow or flu season.
Take a tour around your own house, starting in any room. Get down to
about the three-foot-high level and look over the entire room, scrutinizing
every detail-electrical cords, outlets, carpet fringes, rare books on
the bottom shelves, eyeglasses and eyeglass cases on coffee tables, pens,
pencils on coffee tables, framed (metal, glass or plastic frames) photos,
photo albums, anything made of wicker, any irreplaceable or expensive
carpeting or rug that can be pulled up and stored away, any worn out or
frayed corners of upholstery (too tempting for your dog to nibble),
linoleum that is pulling up at its corners and molding that is bent or
curled outward. All this must be repaired, moved or removed. Remove
any and all pillows and throws from the furniture, and move into storage
anything of sentimental or financial value that you would be devastated
if it were gnawed on or worse, ruined with some unidentifiable fluid that
came from your dog. Even after all this, Dr. Suzanne Hetts, a certified
applied animal behaviorist in Denver, Colorado (who is also a dog
trainer and adopter), likes to warn people that they need to expect to
lose something of value when they bring a dog into their household.
And she is right. Her own adopted Dalmatian chewed up and destroyed
the only photograph she had left of her grandmother. Adopting a dog
who is at least two years old greatly reduces your chances of having him
destroy anything, because mature dogs seldom chew for reasons other
than severe separation problems, which are relatively rare. The beauty
in adopting an adult or older dog is that once you have lived with him
for a few weeks and determine that he is not a chewer, you can quickly
return your home and its contents back to normal.
Excerpted from Successful Dog Adoption
by Sue Sternberg
Copyright © 2003 by Sue Sternberg.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.