An Expert’s Guide to Adopting Dogs: What To Know Before You Go

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About three million dogs enter animal shelters each year. While over 700,000 of these canines are strays that get returned to their families, the remaining 2.3 million dogs may be adopted by new owners, live out their lives in shelters, or in the worst-case scenario, be euthanized.

Although the number of euthanized dogs has declined since 2011, close to 400,000 dogs are still euthanized each year in the United States. The decline in dog euthanasia is due in part to an increase in the number of stray animals successfully returned to their owners as well as an increase in pet adoption, fed in part by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Thinking of rescuing a dog? American Humane declared October Adopt a Dog Month in 1981 and has been celebrating the practice of canine adoption ever since. They share resources and information with community members looking to add a rescue dog to their homes.

In honor of Adopt a Dog Month this October, we spoke with Megan Brezovar, Community Engagement and Humane Education Manager at Greenhill Humane Society in Eugene, Oregon. In the following interview, Brezovar offered her expert advice on what to consider before adopting a dog into your home.

Interview with Megan Brezovar, Community Engagement & Humane Education Manager at Greenhill Humane Society

Megan Brezovar

Prior to joining the staff at Greenhill Humane Society, Megan Brezovar owned a professional dog walking business in San Francisco for 16 years. She now uses the knowledge and experience she gained during that time in her role as Community Engagement and Humane Education Manager at Greenhill.

The only animal shelter in the Eugene-Springfield area, Greenhill offers a variety of services including animal adoption; crisis care boarding; foster care; spay/neuter for stray cats; reuniting lost animals and families; and humane education.

The shelter also offers behavioral training. “Here at Greenhill, we have a great program of volunteers that are actually helping train the dogs to become more adoptable on-site,” Brezovar explained. “And then once these dogs are adopted, we have a trainer that is willing to take phone calls and have conversations after the fact to help put out any small fires or help set the animal up for success.”

Among the many aspects of her work she enjoys, Brezovar is dedicated to teaching the public about compassion for animals and celebrating the bond between pets and humans. She and her husband share their home with Tuula, a 15-year-old corgi mix, and Sevi, a two-year-old pit/boxer mix.

Lifestyle: Creating the Right Fit Between Pet and Owner

When asked about what pet owners should consider when adopting a dog, Brezovar emphasized first and foremost that there needs to be a lifestyle fit between the individual or family and the potential new addition: “Getting a dog is not just a new addition to your home but a new addition to your entire family and a new addition to your lifestyle,” she said. This lifestyle fit includes time for the vital role of exercise and time outside.

I can’t stress enough exercise for dogs. Dogs get anxious just sitting around, and some people forget that a tired dog is a happy dog. When they’re out on those walks, it’s not just the exercise they’re getting. They’re getting socialization, smells, and lots of sensory enrichment that is important for dogs to have on a daily basis.

 
This isn’t to say that a busy person or family should not consider dog adoption. As the former owner of a dog walking business, Brezovar knows that this is not the case. The important thing is to arrange ways for your dog to get the exercise and time outdoors it needs to thrive every day. Brezovar couldn’t emphasize this enough:

You need to make sure that you have that time to really get them out because locking an animal indoors, that’s like locking children in a classroom without recess. No one would win from that…I personally used to own a dog walking service for 16 years, and I would say 90 percent of the behavior issues that I interacted with my clients were usually lack of exercise and a lack of stimulation for the animals.

Timing and Patience With New Pets

Brezovar cautions prospective dog owners to make sure that they can be flexible as needed as their adopted dog adapts to their new lifestyle: “Give the animals patience and a choice,” she said. “Don’t force an animal to do anything. That’s like forcing our children to do something they don’t want to do.”

But just as human beings need time to adjust to their new surroundings after a move, an adopted dog will need time to adapt to its new home. This is something that does not occur to all dog owners. Not only does a newly adopted dog need time to acclimate to the home, but it also needs time to learn about the new environment, which will inevitably include some bumps in the road. Brezovar shared,

I cannot explain how important it is to give your animals time to decompress in their new home. We’ve had dogs returned a day later because they peed in the house. They’ve never been in that house before. We don’t know a lot of these animals’ history. I suggest anyone adopting an animal from a shelter, treat it like it’s a puppy. Start from basic training ground zero and create boundaries from day one, and set them up for success. There are wonderful books out there to help people acclimate their animals, but I just really urge patience and boundaries from day one, and you’ll watch your dog settle in and flourish and really let go and become a happy animal.

 
However, nothing is permanent. If a family takes home a dog and realizes that it isn’t the right time or fit, the compassionate thing is to return the animal to the shelter. Brezovar explained,

Our goal is to make sure that the animal has a forever home, but if it’s not a good fit, we really urge people: Don’t force it. That’s okay. Bring the animal back and maybe we can find you a better fit, or maybe it’s just not the right time to have a dog.

 
This can be easier said than done. Brezovar added, “We always appreciate when someone can come to terms with the fact that it’s not a good fit and make that decision, that selfless decision to return the animal. I know that’s a really hard decision to make, and we respect that.”

Advice From Shelter Staff and Training

When adopting from a shelter it’s also very important to take stock in the information provided about the animal. Brezovar explained that excitement over the adoption can lead prospective pet owners to gloss over important information provided about the pet and warning signs that the match might not be the right fit.

She explained that at Greenhill, every adoption gets a counseling session to be sure the match is the right fit: “We talk to people about their current lifestyles, and what they’re looking for in a dog, and really try to be matchmakers and not ever pressure anybody into making a decision. We want it to be a good fit for the animal.”

But even so, she shared that “a lot of people don’t listen to the behavior issues that we want to explain or any medical things because [they’re] just so excited to get this animal in [their] home.” Unfortunately, the result is often that these folks are dealing with some big issues right off the bat or down the road.

In light of this, Brezovar urges,

Listen to what the shelter [says about] any behavior and medical issues they explain to you. Again, behaviors can be specific only to shelters sometimes just because [the dog is] in a situation that is very different than a home setting. So we often will have dogs reactive here in the shelter, and then they go off into their forever homes, and they’re wonderful and social. It’s just that they were stressed.
 
So really listen to the warning signs, prepare for any behavior issues, and give it time. I cannot explain how important it is to give your animals time to decompress in their new home.

 
Preparing for behavioral issues also means being proactive and investing in basic training, even for older dogs. “It is actually a bonding experience between the family and the animal,” Brezovar explained. “And even if you think you already all know it, getting your whole family on the same page for basic commands will really set that dog up for success.”

If a dog is being adopted into a family, then it’s important that training be a family affair. Otherwise, one person may be giving one command and everyone else may be using a different command leading the dog to become confused and stressed.

Training is important to set expectations for the dog as well as to enhance its cognitive functioning, providing the mental enrichment that they need to keep their brains active. “We want to keep their brains going,” Brezovar added.

Financial Considerations of Pet Adoption

Owning a pet does not have to be cost-prohibitive. However, caring for an animal’s needs, such as food and basic veterinary care, does require a financial commitment.

There is also the possibility that extended medical care could be needed in the event of an accident or illness. This can be quite costly and put considerable strain on a family’s financial resources.

To prepare for such instances, some dog owners choose to buy pet insurance. Brezovar explained that she has mixed feelings when it comes to pet insurance based on a negative experience she had years ago when her dog was denied coverage for a disease the pet insurance company claimed they didn’t cover. Her advice?

I think finding a reputable insurance company that covers a plethora of options is a good idea. I do know that for pretty tragic accidents, pet insurance does save the day. But, I’m not still not convinced either way yet, personally. This is my personal experience. If you [can] afford the insurance, it wouldn’t hurt to have.

 
If you do opt for pet insurance, make sure to go with a company your vet accepts and that the policy covers the kinds of medical needs your pet may encounter.

What Kind of Dog Should You Adopt?

While many prospective dog owners have a clear idea regarding the breed of dog they’d like to adopt, Brezovar urges her clients to consider a mixed breed: “I’d love to challenge people…there are so many beautiful mutts out there, or mixed-breed dogs that have so much charm and personality,” she said. “Let’s say you like dachshunds,” she offered. “Think about getting a dachshund mix. Or if you’ve always wanted a corgi, get a corgi mix.” She continued,

These mutts also have less inbreeding and they’re potentially going to have healthier, longer lives…I like to challenge our thought process sometimes and say don’t be afraid to look outside the box. There are so many beautiful dogs out there of all shapes and sizes that will bring so many people joy and happiness for a lifetime.

 

Cevia Yellin (Writer)

Cevia Yellin is a freelance writer based in Eugene, Oregon. She studied English and French literature as an undergraduate. After serving two years as an AmeriCorps volunteer, she earned her master of arts in teaching English to speakers of other languages. Cevia's travels and experiences working with students of diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds have contributed to her interest in the forces that shape identity. She grew up on the edge of Philadelphia, where her mom still lives in her childhood home.