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When looking for a puppy at a shelter you will find that much of the information about the dog will be missing. Most of the time all you will get is the age which is usually estimated and not exact. You will probably also be able to get the breed or breed mix, which is also usually estimated and not exact. However, the one thing that is usually exact is how the animal is doing at the shelter. This usually comes in the form of brief notes without too much detail. After all, the staff at a shelter are often overworked and don't have the time to make precise notes.

Choosing a shelter puppy is easy if you know how to do it. Click To Tweet

Shelter Puppy | Pet Quest
Shelter Puppy | Pet Quest

Then How Do You Choose A Shelter Puppy?

When it comes to looking for a shelter puppy there are some basic considerations that you must consider. So whether you have complete background information, or partial information, certain characteristics will help you out.

Size matters a lot. It's always good to have at least some idea of a puppy's background. If you know that the puppy is a Labrador Retriever mix then you can expect that the dog will be big. But if you don't know the heritage of the shelter puppy you can always look at the feet. If the paws are large this usually means that the dog will be large when it is an adult. Small paws means that the dog will be small.

Ask yourself what kind of an adult dog do you want. Are you looking for a dog that you can go jogging with or do you want a dog that you can just take on a walk or hike in the forest. Do you need a dog that is good with kids or do you want a kind of therapy dog? If you start looking for a shelter puppy when you have a good idea of what you want you will find it that much easier to select the right puppy.

Be aware that you probably won't get good answers to the questions you will ask the shelter staff. Most shelters are understaffed and extremely busy. Because of this they usually don't keep complete records and notes of the dogs in their care. This doesn't mean, however, that you should not ask the staff questions about the dog. Ask as many questions as you can. You might be surprised at the answers. But either way when you ask questions you will get a general idea about the history of the dog.

Shelter Puppy | Pet Quest
Shelter Puppy | Pet Quest

What Questions Should I Ask?

Every question is worth asking. There are, however, some types of questions that you must ask. They are summarized here:

  • Does the puppy have any known medical issues? Parasites such as worms are completely normal and treatable in puppies, so don’t worry about those. Look for anything that could mean big vet bills in your future, such as hip or other joint problems.
  • What’s been the puppy’s behavior while at the shelter –comfortable, confident, sad, aggressive, scared, depressed, accepting? Keep in mind that it’s normal for puppies to be nervous their first few days at a shelter.
  • How has she interacted with shelter personnel? What’s the pup’s best quality? What’s the pups’s worst quality? Questions that get at specifics may get a more useful response than, “Is this a nice puppy?”
  • Is her mother here? Spending some time with a pup’s mother can give you insights into the type of dog she’ll become.
Choosing A Shelter Puppy | Pet Quest
Choosing A Shelter Puppy | Pet Quest

Assess the Behavior Of the Puppy

For this part you need to spend time with the puppy. Almost every shelter will allow you to do this. Some shelters have a special get acquainted room or a place where you can take the puppy for a walk This type of interaction is often called temperament testing and its purpose is to see how the puppy interacts with you.

The thing that you must keep in mind about temperament testing is that it is not an exact science. You might get one result today and another, completely different, result next week or even tomorrow. For this reason it is recommended that you come back and rerun the temperament testing. I recommend that you run these test on three separate visits about three days apart of each other. And besides, coming back three times will show the staff at the shelter that you are really interested in the puppy and that you care. A way to improve your chances of getting the puppy.

Choosing A Shelter Puppy | Pet Quest
Choosing A Shelter Puppy | Pet Quest

How Do You Go About Evaluating the Shelter puppy's Behavior?

There are many areas that must be tested. The six most important, in my opinion, are listed here.

  1. Pick the puppy up and cradle it in your arms with its belly up. Just like you would hold a human infant. Keep the puppy in this position for at least 30 seconds.
    • Does the puppy relax in your arms?
      • This is a good indicator that the puppy is easygoing and that it is used to being handled in this fashion. Both of these are good things in a puppy.
    • Does the puppy fight you and struggle to get down?
      • This is not a bad thing. What it could mean is that the puppy is a strong-willed dog. These types of dogs often do best with an experienced owner who can handle this kind of behavior. Or this could mean that the puppy has never been handles before.
    • Does the puppy look away from you, shake uncontrollably, or pee?
      • When a puppy looks away from you it means that it is timid. Peeing means that it is either very timid or has been in an environment of abuse.
  2. With the puppy on the ground walk away from it and call it to follow you making encouraging gestures with your hands.
    • Does the puppy follow you with its tail up or wagging?
      • This is a good indication that the puppy like human company and interacting with them. This is usually a good sign that the puppy will be easy train. Another possibility is that the puppy really needs to be around people and most likely won't do very well if left alone in the house for long periods of time.
    • Does the puppy take its time going to you? Does it explore everything on its way towards you?
      • This type of behavior is a good sign of confidence and independence. Dogs of this nature usually require an owner who can be the leader of the pack without being harsh or abusive.
    • Does the puppy cringe, freeze, cower, or try to stay away from you?
      • This is usually an indication of mistrust towards humans. Probably the puppy came from an abusive situation. Whatever the reason this puppy will require lots of attention and good training so that it can become comfortable around humans and feel safe.
    • Does the puppy follow you and nip at your feet?
      • That's the typical behavior of a herding dog. These dogs will need to be trained not to herd humans unless you want a dog that will control your kids (sometimes that's not a bad thing if your kids keep getting into mischief.)
  3. Put the puppy on the ground, walk a few feet away, and clap your hands fairly loudly.
    • Does the puppy quickly come to you?
      • You are looking at a normal puppy that was probably surrender to the shelter.
    • Does the puppy come to you and try to bite your hands or clothing?
      • That indicates that the puppy is forward and assertive. These types of puppies absolutely require good training and consistent house rules. As long as the mouthing is not extreme you will be ok with this pup as this type of behavior is normal puppy behavior.
    • Does the puppy walk away from you or stay where you placed it?
      • This pup probably has an independent spirit. These puppies do well in homes where everybody works and it is left alone for several hours at a time. However, independent dogs can be hard to train and require an experienced owner to train them.
    • Does the puppy hesitate before coming to you? Or does it stay away from you completely?
      • Slightly shy dogs will hesitate before coming to you. Very shy dogs will completely keep their distance from you.
  4. Take your fingers and squeeze between the toes of a front paw gently while gradually increasing the pressure. Stop squeezing when the puppy starts to show signs of discomfort.
    • Does the puppy quickly show signs of discomfort?
      • That is a good indication that the dog is sensitive which means that it will probably be easy to train. However, these dogs are usually not a good dog to have if you have children.
  5. Wait until the puppy isn't looking at you. Now make a loud noise like clapping very loudly or dropping a metal bowl on the floor.
    • Does the puppy quickly come over to investigate the noise or come over to you?
      • This is the normal behavior of a resilient puppy. Perfect for all types of situations.
    • Does the puppy begin to bark and require a lot of soothing to calm down?
      • This might be an indication that the dog will become aggressive when it is startled. These dogs require constant vigilance and are usually not good for families or owners who have never had a dog before.
    • Does the puppy pee or cower in a corner?
      • This is a dog that has fear issues and will require an owner who is very understanding and patient.
  6. As a last test sit the puppy in front of you. Now stroke it all over while keeping your head low enough and close enough for the puppy to lick you.
    • Does the puppy allow you to pet it and try to lick your face?
      • This is a normal puppy that is well-balanced and social.
    • Does the puppy struggle and try to get away or growl at you?
      • This puppy is independent and assertive. It could also mean that the puppy is fearful. These puppies require good training and an owner who is experienced with dogs. On the brighter side it could just mean that the puppy isn't used to being handled. Nothing that a bit of patience and constant interaction won't fix.

If the puppy shows any extreme responses to any of the temperament tests it could just be an indication that the puppy isn't used to people. Or, perhaps it's the first time that the puppy has encountered any of these situations before and just doesn't know how to react. When you come and visit the puppy in a couple of day and repeat the temperament tests check to see how the puppy reacts differently. An improvement in how it reacts is a good indication that the puppy is becoming accustomed to you.

Choosing A Shelter Puppy | Pet Quest
Choosing A Shelter Puppy | Pet Quest

Are There Any Red Flags To Watch Out For?

If the shelter puppy has an extreme reaction, either positively or negatively, to any of the temperament tests should put you on your toes as either is not normal behavior. Also, puppies who are either very assertive or very timid could indicate that there will be problems in handling and controlling the dog when they get older.

Red flags, however, does not mean that the shelter puppy is doomed. It just means that the puppy will require an owner that has experience with dogs. It also means that more patience and training time will be required to turn the dog into a well-rounded dog.

For the average person, choosing a puppy that is middle-of-the-road is the best choice. Click To Tweet

Choosing A Shelter Puppy | Pet Quest
Choosing A Shelter Puppy | Pet Quest
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