Between 6 million and 8 million dogs and cats enter the US’s more than 3,500 animal rescue shelters every year, according to the Humane Society. Sadly, most of them will not find forever homes. If you’ve decided to adopt a rescue dog, our hats are off to you, and we hope we can help you learn how to choose a rescue dog. 

The first step, of course, is finding a good, reputable dog shelter near you. 

How to Find a Rescue Dog

Chances are, you know someone who has adopted a dog from a rescue or animal shelter. You can use your social network to reach out and ask for recommendations for pet shelters. Many big-box pet stores like Pet Supplies Plus, Petco, and Petsmart regularly hold pet adoptions. Also, check with your veterinarian for animal shelter recommendations.

You’ll also find several websites that match adoptable pets with individuals and families across the country, including Petfinder.com, Adopt-a-Pet, and the ASPCA.

We recommend finding a shelter that will allow you to visit several times, so you can get to know their dogs and find one that is right for you. Some experts recommend visiting several shelters to compare their dogs and their care. Don’t expect to take your dog home on the first visit; many shelters perform background checks to ensure their animals go to safe homes. The dog adoption process can take anywhere from one to two weeks, sometimes less.

If you find a shelter you like, ask if you may move forward with your background check even if you haven’t found a dog yet. That way, when your dog finds you, you’re ready to roll! 

Temperament Tests for Shelter Dogs

Temperament testing shelter dogs is a good way to gauge how a dog will react to your home life. The shelter might recommend first allowing the dog to sniff you before you try temperament testing. A dog’s nose is incredibly powerful, so it’s important to allow him or her to assess you while you assess him or her.

Once the dog has checked you out or seems somewhat OK with you, try these temperament tests on mature dogs (not puppies):

  • Note the dog’s body language as you approach. Is it wagging its tail and trying to get close to you? Or is it shying away, pacing back and forth? Are the barks happy and playful or alarming and loud?
  • Try to get the dog’s attention by calling his name while looking at him and offering a treat or a toy. When you move away, does the dog follow? 
  • Drop a set of keys or coins in a can behind you — out of the dog’s sight. Note the dog’s reaction. Does the dog seem skittish or curious?
  • Gently pet the dog and, if possible, lift it into your lap and note the dog’s body language and vocal response. Does the dog growl and/or bare its teeth?
  • Invite the dog to play with a ball or pull toy. How rough or gentle is the dog during play?

What to Do After You Rescue Your Dog

Get your dog in to see the vet as soon as possible. The shelter should provide you with a copy of the dog’s health records while they were under their care; it’s highly unlikely they will have records prior to that. 

Go shopping for your new dog or puppy. Some of the must-haves include a bed, bowls for food and water, a leash and collar, and, of course, tasty treats and toys. You’ll find many of these items in our shop.  If you are new to dog parenthood, learn about weird things dogs do and how to “speak dog.” There are many reasons that dogs bark — it is how they communicate — so understand what the barks mean before you train them to stop barking. Speaking of training, we recommend reward-based positive reinforcement dog training methods; learn more about the train, treat, repeat approach to training dogs of all sizes, breeds, and temperaments.

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