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Selecting a Dog

When evaluating dogs at a shelter for possible adoption there are a number of things that you should try to do. The first is to talk to the people there to find out what information they have either from the original owners or from their hands-on experience with the dog. Reputable shelters and rescue groups will be as open and honest as they can be since they want you to know what you are getting into so that the dog doesn't just come back again.

Note: with all of the following proceed slowly and cautiously and stop if the dog shows any signs of unease. How would you like it if a stranger came up and started poking and prodding you when you were scared and lost?

On approaching the dog allow it to sniff your outstretched hand first. Don't reach over the dog's head as that can be perceived as a threatening gesture, especially from a person that the dog is not familiar with. Watch for any signs of tensing in the body, growling, cringing or other clues to the dog's general demeanor.

Check the dog's eyes to see if they are clear and alert. Cloudy or "runny" eyes can indicate potential medical problems. A dog that will not make eye contact may be overly timid and submissive while a dog that holds eye contact and tenses the body may be very dominant and potentially aggresive.

Examine the ears to see of they are generally clean with no signs of redness or excessive wax or dirt buildup. Scratch behind and under the ears to check for any signs of sensitivity.

Look for any signs of diarrhea, worms or redness/swelling around the dog's rear. Mild diarrhea is fairly normal considering the stress and likely change in diet that the dog is undergoing but anything more may require a checkup.

Rub the dog's back, sides and belly and run your hands down each leg to check for any sensitivity anywhere. As always, be cautious as many dogs do not like having their paws handled, especially by strangers.

If possible, try to spend some time with the dog in an area without a lot of other people or animals around and in an area that is not too confined where the dog may feel trapped. A short walk will often give you a good idea of the dog's real personality.

If you have a dog already you should bring it to meet the potential housemate. Bringing a new dog into the house can make your current dog defensive about protecting his territory from an intruder. If they meet first on more neutral ground there is often a better chance of easier acceptance at home. You will also improve the chances of success by getting a female companion for a male dog and vice-versa. In the end, some dogs just don't like each other and knowing that at first will make the decision easier.

If most things look good but you have lingering doubts be sure to talk about them with the people at the shelter. Making a good match is a high priority for them and they will be more than happy to talk about your concerns. Depending on the particular shelter or rescue group you may be able to arrange to take the dog for an independent veterinary evaluation (usually at your expense but it may be well worth the cost) or even foster the dog on a probationary basis.

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