Join Our Community of Dog Lovers!

Subscribe now so that you get email alerts about all new content and/or updates from Champion of My Heart!  +

FREE e-book "8 Things to Know About Veterinary Care"

August 6, 2014

Have you given modern dog adoption processes much thought lately? I wonder what has changed since we adopted Lilly in October 2004. I am truly curious about one thing in particular.

Full disclosure, I’ve worked in and written about so-called animal welfare for quite some time. For years long ago, I volunteered in what would now be called a “kill shelter” or old-fashioned “dog pound.” I was there when dogs came in from animal control or from people who no longer could care for them. I was there when they were selected to die, when they died, and when their bodies were loaded into the crematory.

As a volunteer I didn’t have the authority to approve of decline adopters, but I helped people do meet and greets between dogs and families and dogs with other dogs.

Back then (like many places today), the adoption application asked about:

  • Past and current pets
  • Home ownership or landlord permission
  • Fenced yard

From the sidelines (later), I watched and even wrote about the use of pet-matching systems, which explored adopters’ wants and expectations in their pets, including things like:

  • Breed
  • Age
  • Size
  • Coat length
  • Exercise needs
  • Personality

These tools seemingly better probed a family’s lifestyle, and they tried to best characterize a dog’s personality and needs … with the goal of making a better match.

I say it all the time, “Dog Girl, Know Thyself.” All these years, I’ve believed that it’s important to know who you really are in life and what you want from your relationship with dog.

While we’re nowhere near ready to adopt, just 7 months since Lilly’s death, I am researching adoption policies and adoption applications. In some ways, things have changed a lot, with questions about:

  • What you think of dog crates
  • How many hours a day you are gone and/or your travel schedule
  • If you plan to move / retire / change jobs in the next 5-10 years
  • What you feed, including direct questions about feeding raw
  • How you plan to train your dogs, including direct questions about punishment-based methods and tools
  • Your use of vaccinations
  • Your use of heartworm and other parasite preventives

You know all of those questions are fraught with a strong bias, right? Like talking religion or politics. Or as if a trap door opens based on your answer.

The Big Question

But the one thing I’m genuinely curious about is this:

Is it now considered rude / improper / selfish to head into an adoptable dog search with clear ideas about what you’re looking for in a dog (or puppy)?

I ask because a year or more ago someone I know (online only) who runs a successful dog rescue … that transports dogs and puppies from high-kill areas into a community with high adoption demands … posted a full-blown rant about people who call or arrive with “criteria.”

I also ask because I’ve seen plenty of rescue sites — particular breed-specific ones — where the dog adoption criteria and dog adoption applications all but say, “Look, we know what our dogs need, and we’re probably going to turn you down.”

My sense of parity says it’s fair for adoption criteria to swing both ways.

Last Adoption Experience

dog blog champion of my heart, border collie and lab mix dogs with life is good beach ball

When we adopted Lilly in October 2004 from the Humane Society of Boulder Valley, I’d been watching the online dog profiles for quite some time. We’d met and not been a good match for several dogs. (Ginko was kind of a stinker to them.) Our current dogs ALWAYS have veto power over an adoptions. Their needs come first.

At the time, our criteria was pretty simple. We wanted a dog who was:

  • Big enough to play with Ginko without getting hurt
  • Small enough NOT to ruin Ginko’s new $6,000 knees
  • Medium / athletic build
  • Short (or at least NOT long) coat

Next Time

My list is much longer now. Having lived with a border collie, it is hard to imagine choosing another breed. So that’s one thing, but I also have thoughts on temperament and energy level and other traits.

I’ve shared my ideas with our herding instructor (who breeds border collies and has like 10+ of them at her farm / ranch), and she agreed with my assessment of what kind of dog would be my best match. (More on that later.)

Still … I return to my main question. Is it considered bad form to approach dog adoption with specific ideas in mind?

Thoughts? Especially from those of you who work / volunteer in modern shelter or rescue organizations.

About the Author Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related.

I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

  1. Depends on the criteria.

    Shelters will cringe when you come in wanting a non-allergenic, non-shedding, good with cats, good with kids, good with smaller dogs, good watchdog, good guard dog criteria… oh, and she has to have blue eyes and a double dapple curly coat!

    But if you come in saying you want a sport dog -or- a therapy dog -or- a family dog – with a size and hair length preference, I think they should be good. When you have reasonable requirements that they can assess and meet, you are helping them find the right dog for you.

  2. I read a lot of interesting content here. Probably you spend a lot of time writing, i know how
    to save you a lot of time, there is an online tool that creates readable, SEO friendly articles in seconds, just search in google –
    laranitas free content source

  3. I think it’s absolutely ok to have criteria. I mean, why *wouldn’t you? You know your family and home setting and how best a dog fits into your life, so it just seems natural that you’d have specific criteria before beginning the adoption process.

    One thing I don’t really understand is the crating of dogs these days. Crates were non-existent when I was a kid – though I did grow up on a farm with lots of animals – but it just seems weird to put a dog in a crate inside the house.

    1. Thanks, Jane. Crates really do help manage dogs in certain situations. For me, it’s a safety issue … so that dogs are OK in crates in the car, are OK being caged at the veterinary hospital, and are safe during long recoveries. I don’t know how we would have survived Ginko’s THREE knee surgeries without having a crate to use sometimes. My dogs have always slept in crates, going back to 1990, but yes … before that, my childhood dogs never used crates.

  4. I think it is best for a potential dog guardian to have carefully thought out what they want in their next dog (if I worked at a rescue, I’d see that as a big plus in a potential adopter). However, my past experiences have led me to believe that many rescues are far too rigid in their “rules” about potential homes. E.g., we have been denied repeatedly because we don’t have a fenced yard. I believe that a fenced yard is *dangerous* where we live. It essentially pens in a dog but big wildlife (e.g., mountain lions) can get into the pen and kill the dog. So, my approach is to diligently give my dogs lots of supervised exercise (at least two long outings per day). Even when I try to explain my philosophy to rescues and offer references (dog trainer, vet) – we are still denied (they don’t call my references). So, I gave up. I do consider my most recent dog to be a “rescue” but a private one rather than from an organized rescue.

    1. Thanks so much, KB. YES!!!! I always think of you when I think about staunch adoption rules (like fences). Your dogs have SUCH an amazing life. I cannot imagine anyone turning you down, but I know they have … several times. So frustrating to see good people and good homes getting turned away. And, I agree that your new girl is a rescued dog.

  5. I don’t think it’s wrong at all to be specific about what you’re looking for. I haven’t worked in rescue before so maybe it’s someone like me that makes their lives even more difficult. I’m just assuming since many of the dogs in rescue organizations are fosters they’d be able to provide you with enough information when you give them a list to see if any of their current dogs seem like a good match. A dog is a lifetime commitment, I hope they wouldn’t be offended or think you’re coming off as to specific. I think finding the right match is what helps keep a dog with a family for it’s lifetime, something that sadly doesn’t happen often enough.

  6. I think it is reasonable to know what you want. Two dogs ago, I told a rescue friend that I didn’t care about breed (I actually prefer mixed-breed dogs), age up to five years (I was planning to compete in agility with this dog), sex or size (from small to medium). But I wanted a dog that was good with all dogs, good with all people and cat-safe. The dog I got is all that and more (unbelievable temperament). However, I forgot to say CALM. : ) She found me a BC mix. He’s a good boy but a bit too hyper for my liking. It turns out that trialing in agility is too stressful for him, so we just go to classes and I trial with my other dog. This was the first time I had ever actively gone out looking for a specific type of dog. So knowing what you want and getting what you want are not necessarily the same thing. : )

    1. Thanks, Sharon, for your examples. I take your point. Truly. Having been in the agility world too (non-competing because Lilly also got stressed at trials), I know exactly what you mean. There are some really great dogs, but they are wild-wild monkeys. I appreciate your words of caution between wants / gets.

  7. As a volunteer at a high-kill shelter, and a foster mom for a local rescue group (that pulls from the shelter), I wish more people knew what they wanted from their dog rather than, they “love they way it looks”.
    If someone enjoys spending their free time watching movies, then maybe the young lab isn’t the best dog for them.
    It’s so sad when the person insists on a dog that’s not a good match, and the dog comes back in much worse condition, due to stress, abuse or isolation.
    It’s one thing if the person is flexible and is willing to work with the dog they end up with, but most people expect the dog to fit their image of what they want.

    1. Thanks, Shar, for your insights from the shelter and foster scenarios. The looks thing is interesting to me because I do admire those organizations who work really hard to get great photos & videos of dogs. For one thing, I think it helps show each dog’s unique personality, but I also think it levels the playing field for dogs on the looks front. Sort of like … if every dog looks great, then we can really get down to business on the temperament front.

  8. Having just adopted a dog of the size, age, and general breed I wanted, I can say with some authority that I think it’s pretty much a crap shoot. A dog’s personality in a shelter is not going to be the personality of the dog in the home after a few days or longer. Everyone at the Humane Society said what a sweet dog my adoptee is — and she can be. But she is also a heel nipper, struggler out of her car harness, all around gremlin, etc. etc. Do I have moments of remorse? I do. Would I consider giving her up. No way. If only it were possible to evaluate a human for tenacity and determination to keep a dog rather than the existence of a yard. I would love to see some statistics on the harm of over-evaluation — and shunning of people who might be wonderful adopters — vs the harm of sending dogs into homes that turn out to be unsuitable.

    1. Thanks, Edie. Yes, I value your insights from your VERY recent new adoption. You make a good point about dogs in shelters vs homes. That’s one way that rescue groups that use foster homes may have an advantage because they often do keep dogs in a home setting for quite some time (in many cases). That’s so different from your adoption of Maddie (and mine of Lilly) from a larger shelter, where dogs get adopted almost instantly, so it’s a real whirlwind for people and dogs. I know you & Maddie can work through the adjustment period. Sending you my best wishes (and non-nipping mojo).

  9. We just adopted our third greyhound. Not much, in the grey world, has changed since our first adoption in 1996. The whole priority then and now was about matching the right dog to the right family – and vice versa. The great part about all our adoptions of the greys was that there were always people who provided support and guidance post adoption, since all dogs are adapting to new environs.

    1. Congratulations, Merr. I’ve seen your pix. She is darling. Congrats on the new adoption. See … you are what I would consider someone who is “breed loyal,” meaning you had one good experience and it led to several consecutive adoptions of a specific breed. I’m glad the groups in your breed / area are such a good resource.

  10. I don’t work in rescue and I have never rescued, so my opinions are outside and entirely my own.

    I think it benefits both the dogs AND the organizations to have specific criteria in mind. That way, theoretically, adopters are going home with the dog they want and (again, theoretically) that dog will never end up in rescue or a shelter again. It seems to me that “settling” on a dog that’s “close enough” as opposed to “just right” might have less of a chance of working. Or, it might end up working out, considering there’s also the saying “You don’t get the dog you want, you get the dog you need.” So perhaps specificity matters most in people who will be the least dedicated to working through unseen issues? I don’t know. An interesting topic, to be sure!

    1. Thanks, Jen. It is interesting. I know people who just wing it, and I know people who set out with specific ideas. I know more cases where it has worked out than hasn’t, so most of the time it must be OK, no matter what, but I may also have an unusual circle of friends … that don’t represent what typically happens.

  11. I don’t think it’s wrong. I know what kind of dog I am comfortable with and what traits are important to me in a dog. I think it would be wrong to adopt a dog that didn’t fit into my life and match my personality.

    1. Thanks, Brette. I’ve always thought it was best too. That’s why I was surprised to see this one rescue founder really RANT about criteria adopters had.

  12. It’s not wrong in my book to head to a shelter or wherever with specific needs or traits about a dog but I am sure there are a lot of stories out there people would have about this same “need” or “want” and come home with something else that set their heart on fire.. I have…..

    1. Definitely, Anita. I’ve heard many stories of people going to see one dog and coming home with another because it just felt right. Part of me does like the idea of kismet or just knowing when you see the right dog.

  13. I think it’s absolutely essential that an adopter thinks about their “criteria” when searching for a dog but that they balance that with reasonable expectations. Some things you can be negotiable on like gender, color, etc, but some things you can’t. For instance, whether you have kids and how old they are can be a big factor in matching the temperament of the dog to the family environment. It’s kind of like hunting for a house… you start out with your ideal match and you adjust it as you see what’s available. I think there are a ton of diamonds in the rough out there that get overlooked, but I think it’s important to have some essential details in mind when looking so you have a better shot at a great match. I also think it’s important for the rescue to accurately assess the dog for those important traits that could make or break an adoption with a reasonable expectation of how important certain things are in the big picture. I guess the balance is that both sides try to have reasonable expectations in their matching efforts because rarely is anything ever a perfect fit.

    We’ve always adopted and have had both good and bad experiences. One rescue did the work to figure out their dogs and nailed our match with one of them simply from talking to us because we had a concrete idea of our needs/wants. We met the dog they suggested and our current dog “approved” it immediately despite having been picky about others before. He was a perfect fit. We had another rescue unintentionally mislead us on a dog’s behavioral problems because they simply hadn’t made the effort to learn what that dog was like. We adopted her and had to return her within a week because of problems that could have been avoided if they’d paid attention to her challenges and needs. It would have been obvious that the match was not going to work. Sadly, she was adopted at least two more times and returned two more times with increasing behavioral problems that likely escalated due to bad matches compounding the problems. My understanding is that she was finally placed with a more experienced person who had the time to work with her. She had a sweet disposition but needed a LOT of training to overcome very entrenched problems at that point. Rescue work is hard and I know there isn’t always time to analyze every facet of a dog’s personality, but having a solid idea of the important stuff (like if they dog is good with other dogs/animals, etc.) is just as important as having adopters who know their own criteria.

    1. Stacey – Thanks for your insights and examples. I’m sorry that one adoption didn’t work out. I too have 1 failed adoption in my past. We had been his last chance. He was euthanized. It’s tough, but I also have an adoption in my past where Cody had been adopted & returned TWICE before we adopted him. We had to work on his fence-jumping issues, but he turned out to be such a great dog.

  14. I suppose some rescue groups may not like this sort of specificity, because they may see it as limiting their potential to place dogs — “Why *not* this great dog?”

    But I think there is a difference between potential adopters who have a list of specifics without a foundation of dog knowledge or experience (“I want an all-black sheltie that doesn’t bark, doesn’t shed, is less than 25 pounds, but no more than 23 pounds, and will be willing to let my toddlers ride on it’s back” — or some other such impossible list of requests) and an experienced owner who knows what they want in terms of breed, personality, drive, etc.–and has a reasonable list.

    In the latter case, the adopter knows what is realistic and what they want, based on an understanding of their family needs and lifestyle, as well as an understanding of dogs (sounds like you are not going out there looking for a 15 lb, no-drive, hypo-allergenic border collie–haha). It’s OK to know what you want, and it’s OK to be selective about choosing a rescue that is willing to work with you in that regard, and is also likely to have that sort of dog coming in.

    That said, I recommend keeping an open mind and allowing some variation *where it realistically makes sense* — you may not find a dog that has 100% of your wish list, but take a good look at the candidates that are 70, 80, or 90% matches. One of those may be the dog that is right for you, you just need to be open to it.

    Shop around. Talk to rescues that seem a potential fit for you–let them get to know you as a potential adopter, and what you are looking for. (This will also help you rule out groups who may not be a fit for you, or may not be reputable. ) There are some great Border Collie rescues, and many of them network with each other. In my experience, and that of friends, you put yourself ahead of the game by developing a relationship with a few rescue groups in advance — get pre-approved, check in regularly, and let them know what you are looking for. That way you are a known entity, and you’ll be top of mind when a good potential match comes in — rather than trying to monitor a whole lot of groups and try to jump in quickly when a potential fit appears (and possibly end up losing out to someone who either just shows up first or may have already established a relationship with the group).

    1. Thank you, LJ. Great input from the rescue side of things. And, your idea about getting approved EARLY is exactly our plan. I’m going to look around at rescues within a certain driving distance from home and figure out which ones make sense to contact. THEN, I plan to fill out all the forms and go through all the “inspections” (for lack of a better word) at least 6 months BEFORE I really plan on looking / adopting. I think it’s best as you say so that I’m not trying to “compete” or race around on the spur of the moment (only to miss out), but also so that all the details are in place so that the actual adoption itself can be more collaborative and joyful … because when I’m ready, I’m going to be ready for a big dose of happy. I deserve it after all I’ve been through.

    2. I agree completely with what LJ said. I volunteer for a Golden Retriever rescue group and we love it when people know what they are looking for and have realistic expectations of what kind of dog will fit with their lifestyle, etc. We have had families wait for 2 years for the right dog to come along and we appreciate it when they say a dog is NOT the right fit because that saves that family from being unhappy and reduces the possibility of the dog being returned.

      In my opinion, adopting a dog from a rescue group that uses foster homes also makes for a better match because that dog will have been living with a family and they will know so much more about the dog’s behavior, needs, quirks…everything…which will allow for a better match.

      Good luck to you on finding the right rescue group, and on finding the perfect dog for you when the time comes.

      1. Oh, gosh, Erika – I hope it doesn’t take 2 years once we are ready. I agree, though, that dogs who stay in foster homes tend to relax enough to show their true personalities and quirks, which helps a lot.

  15. I foster for a border collie rescue. We always want to know what people are looking for in a dog. We want to protect them from bouncing around. To a certain extent I expect you to read the dog’s profile and look at her pictures and do some self screening. Like you’ll know the age and hair length at the very least. I don’t mind if people have specific ideas, it all goes toward finding the right fit. I do mind when they are vague in their applications when they do have specific criteria. It wastes so much of my time.

    1. Thanks so much, Jennifer. I appreciate your perspective from the rescue side of of things (especially BC rescue). I worry about wasting everyone’s time too, including mine. In so many cases, no one will even talk to you (or reply to emails) until you fill out an application. As an experiment, I attempted to fully complete one group’s application, and the result was 7 single-spaced pages of answers. Add to that an adoption interview, a home check, calling references, etc BEFORE someone like me can even meet a dog … and that’s an awful lot of time time … with, what feels like, a high chance of rejection.

      That’s one reason I plan to figure out which groups (not just dogs) are probably a better match for me. We’ll see how it turns out.

      I’m sure it’ll be an adventure — one way or another.

  16. OMG. I wish we had more adopters who knew exactly what kind of dog would suit their lifestyle rather than saying things like “I like the color of her,” as though that’s the sole deciding factor. (Trust me. sometimes it’s the only factor.) Cassie and I are thrilled when somebody says, “Do you have any dogs that might offer this, this, this and this?” Knowing our dogs, it’s so easy to help somebody see where one might best fit… or not. I feel that, when somebody has truly thought about what they want, the dog that fits is going to stay put for a long and happy life. I think your approach is the perfect way to earn the confidence of the rescue and to find the best dog for your family… at least from my perspective.

    1. Oh, good, Kim! I’m so glad you commented because I watch (and admire) how you do things at your rescue. I hope you’re right. I have a looming fear of rejection or that a shelter or rescue’s strict adoption rules will take all the fun / joy out of the process … and goodness knows I deserve every bit of happy I can get.

  17. Not sure, since I never adopted a dog- always selected the specific breed I wanted. If I were to adopt, I still think I’d have some biases in my head, even though I realize all my needs cannot be met.

  18. I think if you’re going to adopt you ought to be looking for something or someone. I’ve gotten lucky with strays, Lucas and Sam were both pure strays, but at the same time, I’m more of a dog person than most. That’s where the pressure lies. When Lucas was diagnosed with cancer I took him to two different specialists in two different cities and I was going to save his life at all costs, which were considerable.

    If you love hard enough you’ll make any stray your dog and if you cannot open your heart no match will be perfect.

    But there isn’t anything wrong with liking some trait in a dog, some breed specific tendency, or even a certain gender of dog, I suppose.

    I got Lilith three months after losing Bert, who was the best dog ever. It wasn’t that I needed another dog but rather another dog needed me.

    Take Care,

    1. Thanks, Mike. You raise an interesting point about the convergence (or perhaps differences) between what we can do for dogs and what dogs can do for us … and how that shift in perspective may change what we do and how things turn out.

Comments are closed.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}


Stay Tuned for Something New!

big things in the works ... promise

Success message!
Warning message!
Error message!