Adopting a Shelter Dog: Is it Right for You?

If you are planning to add a dog to your family, consider adopting a shelter dog. Mixed dog breeds make wonderful pets. They are the great melting pot of the canine world; each one is unique. Because of the ever-increasing overpopulation problem caused by impulse puppy buying and irresponsible pet ownership, there are far more dogs than available homes.

Before adopting, however, it is crucial that you understand that pet ownership requires responsibility. Otherwise, you would be perpetuating the adoption/rejection cycle that lands dogs in shelters to begin with. You must make a commitment to maintain vaccinations, the dog's health, his grooming, daily exercise, dog food and water. Never take a dog home on impulse and never give a dog as a gift without being aware of the responsibility it poses.

If you decide that a shelter dog is for you, the decision remains to be made whether to adopt a puppy or an adult. The advantage to a puppy is that you are starting with a blank slate: No bad habits to break. The disadvantages are that you are not able to predict how big they will become nor how much dog grooming and maintenance they will require. Puppies are also more work, needing constant care, supervision and training. If you choose to adopt a puppy, be sure that you are willing to commit to puppy-raising responsibilities. Most dogs are adopted when they are between 10 and 18 months of age because they no longer fit conveniently into their owner's lifestyle.

Adopting an adult dog can be an ideal solution for busy people who do not have sufficient time or the desire to raise a puppy. Adult dogs are usually calmer, have some household manners and training. Often, adult dogs seem to have more gratitude for the simple things you do for them. Dogs that are up for adoption in the 5- to 12-year range usually are available because their primary caregivers have died, and relatives do not want the dog.

Either way, your new dog will need patience and love to acclimate to its new home. It is best to bring your new pet home over a long weekend or during a vacation. It is a good idea to avoid bringing a dog home during a major holiday, and do not leave a newly-adopted dog alone on a day with unusual activity, such as Halloween or the 4th of July. Take time to set ground rules and be consistent. Seek help from trainers or veterinarians if you run into problems. An obedience course is a great way to bond with your new dog and assert yourself as the "dominant pack member." Keep in mind that the initial adjustment period for the average dog is 90 days.

You new dog can be registered, regardless of his pedigree, and can even compete for obedience championships once he's adjusted. The Mixed Breed Dog Club of America (1937 Seven Pines Drive, Saint Louis, MO 63146) and the American Mixed Breed Obedience Registry (205 1st SW, New Prague, MN 56071) can provide you with information regarding registration and competitive events for mixed breed dogs.

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