Eleven years ago last month, I took the leap into parenthood -– puppy parenthood, that is! But before I did, I didn’t even think of checking out pet stores, when I knew there were so many deserving dogs at the local shelter just waiting for a second chance at love. As a matter of fact, right now, millions of lovable pups are waiting at shelters across the country, and no doubt one of them is your perfect canine match.
Chase was my first adoption. He’s taught me thousands of important lessons through the years, and chief among them is that adopting a shelter dog is a win-win situation. You save a life, and that life will shower you with unconditional love for many years to come.
Chase has also taught me that puppy adoption is a big commitment. So make sure you gather as much information as possible before bringing home your new four-legged friend. Knowledge and preparation before you adopt are the best way to ensure a mutually rewarding long-term relationship!
Here are six steps to get you started:
Successful puppy adoption begins before you ever step foot in the shelter, and that means doing some serious soul searching. Creating a personal profile is standard protocol for online dating, right? Well, consider this step your pre-pup personal profile, and creating it is essential to finding your perfect match.
Are you looking for a canine athlete to accompany you on long jogs on the beach? Do you have an active family and need an energetic dog to keep up with your kids? Or are you the quiet, stay-at-home type seeking a strong, silent dog who prefers to snuggle and watch a good movie? Once you’ve created your profile, research the size, activity level, and temperament of various breeds and determine a few that best match your lifestyle.
Stroll around and observe the puppies as they interact with people and each other. Approach one that interests you, and take note of his response. Does he appear friendly and outgoing, or timid and nervous? Most people gravitate towards the more extroverted pups, but don’t discount one just because he appears nervous or shy. Just be aware that he’ll require a little more time and patience before he comes out of his shell.
While strolling around, be sure to tap into the shelter’s most valuable resource: its staff. After all, nobody knows the animals better than their caretakers. Shelter staff can provide insight into a puppy’s background, health history, and personality, which can prove important in guiding your adoption decision.
To help your puppy settle into his new home, establish stable routines right from the start. Regular feeding times, exercise regimens, and potty breaks will provide your new puppy with a sense of stability and security, helping to ease the transition into his new life.
Also, try to resist the temptation to shower your puppy with attention 24/7. While this might be impossible, remember that when you must resume your normal schedule, your pup will find it that much harder to cope without you.
Dogs are den animals by nature, so indulge your shelter pup’s nesting instincts by providing him with his own safe, secure place to call home. Have fun preparing a puppy-proofed confinement area and outfitting it with special items such as toys, things to chew, water, and a comfortable bed. Right from the start, have your puppy spend short periods of time alone in his den so that he understands that it is his special place.
And while many puppies like retreating to a crate as their den, be sure not to overuse it. Crates should be used as a safe den for the puppy, not a place of forced confinement while you’re away. Always leave the door open so your pup can come and go as he pleases.
It takes time for puppies to fully develop bladder control, so patience is a must when house training. While all puppies are different, the general rule is that a puppy can only hold his waste for the same number of hours as his age in months. This means that a four-month-old puppy should not be left alone for more than four consecutive hours without the opportunity to relieve himself.
The trick to successful house training is to establish a routine. If you follow a schedule, your new puppy will pick up on it quickly. And be sure to shower him with plenty of praise when he potties outside. Who doesn’t love a little positive reinforcement?
It’s never too early to start building polite puppy behaviors. Puppies are ready to learn new things as soon as you bring them home from the shelter, so feel free to jump right in with some positive, rewards-based training. Treats, toys, and attention are all fun incentives to teach your new companion basic commands such as sit, stay, and come. But be patient and remember that just as every person learns at their own pace, so does every puppy.
Consider enrolling in a puppy class –- sometimes called “puppy kindergarten” -– as soon as your new companion receives a clean bill of health from his veterinarian. Puppy class is a great way to bond with your new friend while helping develop his socialization skills around other dogs and people.
Dogs are social creatures by nature, and especially during the developmental stages, lots of positive human contact and opportunities for social interaction are vital to their emotional and physical health. Seek new ways to provide stimulating experiences for your curious pup. Exercising, playing ball, learning fun new commands or playing with other pups are all fantastic ways to keep your puppy active and engaged in the world around him.
Once you make a commitment and find your love connection, you’ll be well on your way to developing one of the most rewarding relationships of your life. It happened for Chase and me, and it can happen for you, too. Just remember that when searching for puppy love, there’s no better place to head than the shelter.
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