How to find your new best friend: Your complete guide to picking out the perfect rescue puppy

Photo courtesy of Senior Dog Rescue of Oregon

Nearly four years ago, I found myself sitting in the kennel of a gray-and-beige terrier  and a blonde Chihuahua. The one that ultimately won my heart was the terrier. We took him out to the yard to play, and I expected him to chase after the toy that we tossed. He didn’t show any interest in that ball; he never did. Instead, he rolled onto his back, putting his little paws on his chest. I got down from the chair I was sitting on and stroked his fur. I ultimately couldn’t leave him behind; he was my baby!

Chocolate had chosen his family that day: a semi-dysfunctional, louder than life, group of four that was secretly in desperation of a calming little dog. Today, he’s nearly 7 years old and a vital part of our family.

I feel like I scored an exceptional puppy that day in June, so I’m not here to vouch for every dog that has walked through SafeHaven, or any other animal shelter’s doors. But I did do a little volunteering for a year at Marion County Dog Shelter in Salem, where I gained experience with a full range of dog breeds and personalities.

Since I am only speaking from experience, I’ve asked my dear friend Kyle Morris, a longtime SafeHaven employee who was with me the day I rescued my baby, to verify this article. Here are the basics of picking out the perfect pup for you, and what your fur-baby will need in the days to come.

Know before you go

When selecting a dog, we were in search of one that was relatively calm and a “lap dog” in size. We headed to the small dog kennels at the old shelter, examining our options. We narrowed it down to the kennel of dogs we liked and obviously chose Chocolate.

Nobody can be the judge of what dog is appropriate for you, but there’s some obvious factors that will go into your choice. If you want to know how hyper or calm your dog is going to be, take a good look as to how he interacts with other dogs and his environment. A dog bouncing in his kennel, barking up a storm is obviously going to be hyper. A dog who just sits there and wags his tail is likely going to be more calm.

If you rent your home, make sure your landlord is okay with pets, and be aware of any size limits. A down payment or pet fee may also be required, no matter how well-behaved your dog t is.

When you’re preparing to go to the shelter, make sure the whole family goes on the trip. By family, I simply mean everyone that lives with you at the time. When I selected Chocolate, it was just my mom and I, and we think this is why he favors the women of the family. It’s not a necessity, but it can help to get your potential pet accustomed to everybody faster.

Do your research, and be patient

You’re going to have this pet for the rest of their life, so don’t feel bad if you go to a shelter and come out empty-handed. SafeHaven is always taking in new dogs from across America (Chocolate came from Los Angeles), and there’s no shame in going back a week or two later and finding a four-legged friend best fits you. The best way to get a good idea as to what you want is by searching online and reading a dog’s bio, or just visiting the shelter on a day that feels right.

Don’t forget to do your shopping before your adopting.

You know exactly what you want in a dog, but make sure you have everything you need; that way you’re more than ready for your pet when they come home. Basic needs will include food, dishes for food and water, a collar (which you can purchase at SafeHaven), a harness for walks (I prefer this instead of a collar to avoid choking your puppy), blankets, and a bed.

Welcome Home!

It was quite a ride home from the shelter that day in June, and not just because it was nearly a 45 minute ride home. I could see his little body perked up, scared but optimistic underneath those big worried eyes. When we got home, we let him sniff around and check out his new home.

Chocolate was quite timid, but didn’t mind us walking around and showing him our house. We designated an eating area for him, fed him, and let him explore.

What really helped in the days to come were his walks. Morris said that “walks, hikes, and training” are the best way to get any newcomer situated and feel welcomed, reassuring them that you’re here to have fun and take care of their exercise needs. Training can be tricky, yet it’s essential for a healthy human-canine relationship. You don’t want to be called out as “who’s walking who?”

The trick to training: firm commands, then lavishing your pup with praise and a treat if they obey. If you feel like your pup is simply out of control, head back to the shelter. SafeHaven offers an array of training classes.

You, too, can be a dog person. (Even if you’re more of a feline kind of person.)

Petting a dog is so simple, yet even I forget to do it.  Kids should be taught proper animal safety from day one, so animals don’t get abused or lash out at their human sibling(s). Young children will often pick on them endlessly, as though they are a toy, which innocently causes your pet to burst out and bite or bark at your child.

  • Ask for permission first. You just can never tell if some dogs’ personalities are friendly or a little aggressive.

  • Let them sniff your hands. Where humans shake hands and check out body language, dogs also check out body language but sniff hands. It can’t be stressed enough that dogs have this incredible ability to smell.

  • Pet them. But be gentle: firm backrubs and gentle pats are okay, but you don’t want to hurt a new dog by hugging them.

Lastly, the answer is always love.

And patience, and a devotion to your puppydog. For some depressing reason, they’re only in our lives for a solid 13 years, give or take. Time is too short for us, but maybe dogs only need thirteen years to be “good boys,” and then it’s their time. Just make sure every moment counts.

Column by Morgan Connelly