Finding the Perfect Family Pet

by Elizabeth Girard

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Pet Adoption

Want the bargain of a lifetime? For just a few dollars, you can save a life and get a devoted, loyal companion who would like nothing more than to follow you around and bask in your glory! I'm speaking, of course, about dogs.

Most dogs rescued at the Humane Society will cost under $100. This fee almost always includes the dog's shots, license, and neutering/spaying. Of course, the object of getting a dog is not to find one as cheaply as possible. However, there are thousands of wonderful dogs available who need a good home. The Humane Society, or any other local shelter, is a wonderful resource for finding a perfect family pet at a great price.

As a dog trainer for the past four years, I have trained many rescue dogs and have learned some tips for finding a good dog at the shelter. Here are a few general rules that will help you to find a good dog for you and your family. Please note that these are general rules, and that many dogs that end up being wonderful family pets exhibit signs of behavioral issues that turn out to be nothing.


If possible, try to find out why the dog is at the shelter. Did the owner surrender the dog? If so, why? A dog that was given up because of a new baby or allergies will probably be easier to train than one that was given up because of excessive barking or aggressive behavior.


Puppies are cute and fun, but they do grow up very quickly and they always require lots of training in the beginning! A nice, middle-aged dog between two and five years old is almost always a good bet. They're old enough that they've gotten past the silly puppy stage, but young enough that they'll be around for a while. Senior dogs usually make wonderful pets, but their downside is a shortened lifespan and potentially higher medical bills.


Make sure the dog looks healthy! A healthy dog has bright eyes, a shiny coat, and no discernable injuries. That being said, sometimes wonderful dogs are passed over because of slight medical problems, such as worms or even colds. These dogs will usually be placed in isolation areas and can only be seen by the public by request. If you are adopting a dog from the Humane Society, it will be up-to-date on its shots and spayed or neutered.


Watch the dog's attitude when you come in. The ideal dog will come up to you when you approach with its tail wagging and generally look happy to meet you. It should not bark excessively, nor should it jump non-stop all over you. If the dog cowers in a corner and looks extremely nervous, it may have issues that are more than the average dog owner can handle. Avoid any dog that growls or snaps at you when you approach. Chewing on paws can be a sign of anxiety, as can pacing.

Activity Level

Try to find a dog whose attitude is similar to your own. If you tend to be more laid-back, a calm, quiet dog will mesh best with your life. If you're constantly on the go, an active dog will be better suited to your needs. Do you need a dog that's good with kids? You'll want to look for an active dog that likes attention and doesn't mind somewhat rough handling.

If a dog seems extremely quiet and calm, make sure that it has not had any medical treatment recently! One of my clients adopted a "perfect" dog that seemed incredibly calm without realizing that the dog had been recently spayed. After she recovered from the surgery, it was a completely different (and not-so-perfect) dog!

All adopted dogs and their new owners will benefit from a basic obedience training class. Most cities and some major pet stores offer group classes at a very reasonable price. I recommend starting a class as soon as possible after acquiring your dog so that neither of you learn any bad habits.

Finally, check the shelters often! If you don't see a dog that immediately catches your eye, chances are that next week there will be a whole new group of dogs available. Many rescue groups run websites that showcase dogs available at local shelters. The largest nation-wide website is

Owning a dog is an amazing experience that can be made even more satisfying by the knowledge that you saved an animal's life. Good luck with finding your perfect pet!

Take the Next Step

  • Stop overpaying for your pet's medications. See how much 1-800-PetMeds can help you save.

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