Pet ownership is currently at a peak in the UK, with over six in ten households1 (62%) owning some kind of pet. And if you’re thinking of getting a dog, then you’re in good company.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, dogs are the most popular choice with 13m in the UK, that’s 34% of households that own a dog2. But before getting a dog, you need to ask yourself if you’re definitely ready for one? If the answer is a resounding yes, then the next question is whether you get a puppy, or a rescue dog from a charity shelter.

Getting a rescue dog can be a good choice, as many thousands of dogs need rehoming at any given time, and as we face the cost of living crisis, many pet owners are now having to give up their animals to rescue centres3.

But, whether you opt for a rescue dog or otherwise, it’s vital to do your homework, and know what you’re getting yourself into. If you approach the adoption process with open eyes – and an open heart and mind – then finding a best friend who’s perfect for you could be your reward.

Here are some pointers to help you choose a dog from a rescue centre:

Know what you’re looking for

Before you even contact the shelter, it’s good to have a clear idea of the type of dog you’re after. Think about its size, how much exercise it will need, and common health conditions. Ask yourself if you’ll be able to dedicate enough time to it if it needs training and settling in.

“It's really important that you do your research to make sure that a dog's individual personality matches yours,” says Sue Ketland, dog behaviour & training specialist at Woodgreen Pets Charity.

“There are over 200 breeds that have been recognised by the British Kennel Club. As such, it's important to do your homework before getting a dog. Make sure that you understand what that dog was originally bred for. This way, you can provide an outlet for its natural behaviour through different types of play and different types of exercise.

“A dog whose needs aren’t not being met can develop behavioural problems, as well as health issues,” Sue adds.

Give plenty of thought to which breeds best suit your lifestyle and go in with a wish list. Although each dog is an individual with its own personality, knowing a breed’s general traits will give you a rough idea of what will fit best with your home and family life.

Choose a good shelter

Not all rescue dogs come from a shelter. You may well know a private owner who’s unable to look after their dog anymore, for example.

But, depending on the charity, going to a shelter has several advantages, including:

  • The dogs will have been seen by a behaviourist, so various (although likely not all) traits will have been determined
  • Staff will be experienced in matching dogs to potential owners. Woodgreen Pets Charity, for instance, matches pets and owners based on compatibility – taking into consideration what the owners are looking for in a dog, and the type of home they’ll provide. With other local shelters, check out online reviews to make sure other owners have had a good experience.
  • Dogs should have also received a full health assessment and treatment for any conditions, as well as being neutered and microchipped
  • Charities may also provide free lifelong support, meaning you can contact them for help whenever you need it

Check with the individual shelter or charity to find out which of the services above they provide.

Try to understand dogs’ body language

It’s worth spending a bit of time learning about dogs’ body language. A dog can tell you a surprising amount about who they are and how they’re feeling through their bodies. But it’s often very subtle, and may be missed by the unfamiliar eye.

You could try watching some dog behaviour videos on YouTube, for example. It’s worth taking the time to do plenty of research, as you’re choosing a companion for hopefully many years.

Paw print in white

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Visiting the shelter

When it comes to meeting the dogs, don’t get carried away and instantly choose the one which melts your heart. It’s important to spend time with your potential new pet, ask the staff lots of questions, and perhaps visit a dog you’re considering rehoming a few times before you commit. It’s a good idea for a dog to meet everyone in the home – including children and other dogs – too.

Here are some things to consider:

Does the dog walk well on the leash?

Walk the dog through the shelter and see how it behaves on the leash. It’s likely to pull, which is fine. But look out for any signs of fear or aggression – such as barking, cowering, or growling at other dogs. Woodgreen says that dogs that are wary of dogs and other strangers may not be the right fit if you’re looking for a sociable dog, but for quiet homes they can be the perfect companion. Speak to the experts and get their opinion.

Does the dog get on well with everyone in the family?

If you have children, or regularly see nephews and nieces, for instance, you’ll want a dog that gets on well with kids. It works both ways and you may also need to teach children about how to interact appropriately with dogs.
You may already have a pet at home, so you’ll need to consider how they will co-exist and compatibility.

Can the dog be left alone for periods of time?

Some dogs may be able to spend hours alone, whereas others may not. Obviously, it’s better if you’re able to spend more time with a dog which gets separation anxiety, but the staff at the shelter should be able to offer advice and assistance to help make things easier.

Be sure to get as full a picture as you can of the dog’s history, and its likes and dislikes. The shelter should also be able to provide you with as full a veterinary history as they’re able to. But it’s worth considering taking out pet insurance as soon as you agree to adopt the dog, in case of any unforeseen vet’s costs.

Finally, when you do choose your dog, good luck! There may be some tricky moments ahead, but mostly we hope you’ll find an enduring love with your new best pal.

For more pointers and advice regarding your furry friends, go to Solved.

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