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Hoorah! You’ve decided to bring a new dog into your family! Whether this is your first pet or your 5th, it’s essential that you find a pup that will fit well into your lifestyle. That’s why we’ve created this guide to help you find the right dog for you.

This is especially important if you’re hoping to travel the world with your dog. You need to find a companion who will be up for the adventure that travel brings.

In this guide, we’ll cover everything from where to look for your new best friend to how to tell if your connection is true love, or if you’ve just been blinded by fluffiness!

Why You Should Adopt Not Shop

Here at Have Pups, Will Travel we’re big advocates of dog rescue. It breaks our hearts to see so many lovable pets in need of families, and we want to help as many of them find forever homes as possible.

In the US, over 3.5 million animals arrive in animal shelters each year, and about 1.5 million of them are euthanized because there just aren’t enough homes for all of them.

These numbers are devastating. And while there are many individuals and organizations working to move to a no-kill shelter model, we’re just not there yet. With these numbers in mind, we urge you to consider adopting a dog in need, rather than obtaining one through a breeder.

That said, we will never shame you for choosing to purchase a dog from a breeder. The most important thing is that you find the right pup for you and that you give her a safe and loving home.

Define Your Ideal Pup

Now that you’ve decided a dog is the right addition to your family, take some time to think about exactly what you expect to find in a canine pal. This step is especially important if you’re a first-time dog owner. Having the right expectations will help both you and your pet adjust to your new life together much more swiftly.

That said, we understand that nothing beats the connection you feel when you meet the right dog. We’ve heard many a story of someone arriving at the shelter with one pet in mind and coming home with one that couldn’t be more opposite! So, while we do recommend thinking through the following characteristics, ultimately, you need to listen to your heart.

Outline your ideal combo of the following characteristics:


1. What age of dog are you looking for?

There’s just about nothing cuter than a puppy, but remember that babies require more work and attention than adult dogs. Do you have the patience for potty training, chewed shoes, and sharp puppy nips? Of course, adult dogs will likely require training as well, but you can usually rely on them to have bladder control, which is ideal if you’ll be leaving them at home all day while you’re at work. Senior dogs are notoriously difficult for shelters to find homes for, so if you’re feeling charitable, consider giving a forever home to a senior in need. But also keep in mind that senior dogs may have existing health problems that require special care or medication. Your time with them may be shorter than you hope, but they will surely make loving companions.

2. What is the right energy level?

Are you looking for a high energy running partner or more of a couch potato? High energy pups can become anxious, destructive, or just downright annoying to coexist with if they don’t get enough exercise. Meanwhile, it might be a bummer if your new BFF doesn’t have the stamina to accompany you on your morning run!

3. What size of pup is ideal for you?

There are lovable dogs out there in every shape and size, but it’s good to take this characteristic into account. If you live in an apartment a smaller pup might work best, whereas, if you live somewhere rural a larger dog might feel like the right choice! You should also consider which size of dog you can physically manage. If you’re not confident that you can restrain an 80-pound dog in an emergency, a large dog may not be a wise option for you.

4. Do you have any breed preferences?

Even when you’re not searching for a purebred dog, breed preferences can come into play. Perhaps you’re a fan of working breeds like the Collie or Australian Shepherd, or maybe you’ve always been drawn to sighthounds like the Greyhound or the Saluki. Likewise, keep in mind any breeds that you’re not a big fan of. Having these preferences in mind may help guide your decision when it comes to adopting a dog.

5. What personality traits would be a deal breaker?

If you’re anything like Héctor and I, it’s easy for you to fall in love with ANY dog… but that doesn’t mean that EVERY dog is right for you. Before you have the chance to get too attached to any pups, it’s important to outline what traits would be an absolute deal breaker in a dog.

In our case, we knew we couldn’t adopt a dog that was aggressive toward other animals. There are plenty of people who are equipped to manage a pet like that, but we already had a cat at home and we didn’t want to put her in danger. With this in mind, we narrowed our dog search to only those who were friendly toward other pets. In the end, we picked Maia because she was gentle, and, since she’s still young (and motivated) training her not to chase the cat has come quite easily.

Where To Find An Adoptable Dog

In this article, we’re going to focus on where to find dogs for adoption, rather than how to find a dog from a breeder (don’t worry, we’ll dig into that in a future article).

Look Online First

Visiting rescue organizations can be a really overwhelming experience. In fact, it’s hard not to fall for every single pup in there. If you really have no idea what you’re looking for in a dog, or you just want to meet a few and see which one you connect with, by all means, go straight to the source!

However, if you have specific requirements that you’re looking for in a pet, looking online is a good way to narrow your search before visiting any pups in person. Sites like PetFinder and Adopt A Pet enable you to enter preferences such as size, age, and even breed into a search function that will crawl a database of animal shelters and rescue organizations near and far. These are great tools, especially if you aren’t familiar with any of the animal rescue organizations in your area.

If you do have a rescue or shelter in mind, you can also browse their websites to see if any of their adoptable pets seem like your ideal future furry friend!

Always take a pet’s online profile with a grain of salt. Remember that these organizations are often busy and understaffed, and often function largely thanks to the efforts of volunteers. This means that they may not have high-quality photos of their adoptable dogs, and detailed descriptions of their temperaments and characteristics aren’t always available.

Once you’ve narrowed your search to a few potential pups you’ll know exactly where to go to meet them!

Animal Shelters vs. Animal Rescues

When you’re looking for a rescue dog, the two most popular places to find them are animal shelters and animal rescue organizations. There are pros and cons to each, but remember, the most important thing is that you find the perfect dog, regardless of where you have to look.

Animal shelters (sometimes referred to as “the pound”) are usually government-run organizations who work to keep animals off of the streets, and out of dangerous situations. While they do work to find homes for the pets in their care, unfortunately, not all animal shelters are “no-kill” organizations, and they may euthanize animals who stay in their care for an extended period of time.

When you adopt from a shelter you’re making space for them to rescue additional pets, and you’re potentially saving a pet from euthanasia. However, because shelters are often crowded, employees and volunteers don’t always have the time to get to know each dog very well. Additionally, many shelter pets are stressed due to the environment, and may not exhibit the best versions of themselves. With this in mind, always take your time when meeting a shelter pet.

Rescue organizations are typically privately run and tend to be species or breed specific. These organizations vary in size and often the animals in their charge are housed in foster homes, rather than on a single property.

If you’re looking to adopt a dog of a particular breed, a breed specific rescue organization is likely the best way to do so. Not only do they have the breed you’re looking for, but the owners or volunteers of the organization are typically experts in the breed and will be able to help you decide if the breed you’re interested in is a good fit for you.

Additionally, because many rescue organizations house their dogs in foster homes, the foster parents are an invaluable resource to prospective adopters. They will be able to give you true insight into the personality of the dogs, to help ensure that you make an informed selection.

Read more on the pros and cons of animal shelters versus rescue organizations in this article!

Now that you’ve chosen a few prospective pups to adopt, or selected an organization to browse, it’s time to visit them at the shelter!

Find the Right Dog, In Person

While meeting your future furry friend in person is likely a really exciting event for you, keep in mind that it’s probably very stressful for the dog. This is especially true if you’re meeting the dog in a shelter setting, rather than, say, a 1 on 1 meeting with his foster family.

Shelters are often chaotic and loud, and seeing and hearing all kinds of strange people and animals passing by all the time isn’t likely to bring out the best in any pup.

Surely there are a rare few dogs who are totally at ease in any environment, but it’s more likely that the dog you’re meeting is going to be a little on edge.

With that in mind, here are our best tips for choosing a rescue dog:

Meet Multiple Dogs

Just because a dog meets all of your ideal characteristics that we outlined earlier, doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll connect with him. We think it’s worth meeting a variety of prospective pups just to see if you feel a connection.

Once you spot a dog you’d like to get to know better ask the staff to let you spend time with him outside of his kennel. At shelters and rescues, there is usually a play yard or a private room where you can interact with the dog to see if you click.

Remember, the most important thing is to find the right dog, not to choose one right away. It’s possible that you will have to visit a prospective dog multiple times over the course of a few days or weeks before you make your final decision.

Note Body Language

When you’re meeting a new dog, pay attention to his body language. It will help you have a smoother interaction and can give you clues about his temperament and personality. For instance, a wiggly bouncy dog is excited and friendly, while a stiff, cowering dog is stressed or fearful.

Of course, the pup’s body language may change if he is brought into a different environment, but it’s important to watch how he reacts to his surroundings, and how he interacts with you.

This video offers some excellent tips on reading a shelter dog’s body language. FYI, he does use a few swear words, in case you’re bothered by that, but the tips are really helpful and easy to understand with footage of actual dogs!

This video has some great tips for how to pick a puppy, specifically:

Speak To The Staff

These are the people that spend significant time with the dogs and can offer good insight into their personalities. Ask them to share anything they know about the dog’s history. Was it an owner surrender? Are there any known health or behavioural issues? Does the dog get along with other dogs and pets?

Sometimes little is known about a dog’s past, and that’s okay, but for instance, if a dog was surrendered by an owner who lost their home, the transition into life with you might look a lot different than if it was a feral street dog.

Take Your Time

Don’t feel pressured. Even if you’re pretty sure you’ve found the right pet, it’s okay to take a few nights to sleep on the decision. You may even need to visit the pet multiple times before you commit to bringing him home. Choosing a dog isn’t a decision that should be rushed!

On that note, some organizations have foster-to-adopt programs that enable you to take the pup home with you and care for him with the intention of eventually adopting. This gives you the chance to really get to know the pet before you fully commit. However, we don’t recommend just taking any dog home with you. Make sure your intentions are pure and that it is a dog that you are truly interested in adopting, otherwise the situation will be more challenging for both you and the dog in question.

Keep An Open Mind

You may have a certain image of your ideal pup in mind and then spontaneously find yourself drawn to one that is the complete opposite of that. That’s totally okay! Some pups just have a certain undeniable charm! If you find yourself drawn in a direction you didn’t expect, just follow your heart. As long as you have the capacity to care for whichever dog you click with, you’re making the right choice!

We know at least one person who arrived at the shelter looking for a small terrier breed and went home with an Alaskan Malamute (true story). It just goes to show, you can’t choose who you love!

Take A Trainer

If you’re not very experienced with dogs, or you just want an extra hand, have a dog trainer aid you in your selection process. Talk to the trainer about what you’re looking for in a canine pal and have them help you make an educated decision.

While it’s most important to choose a dog you have a connection with, a trainer will be able to help you anticipate any behavioural problems (or quirks) exist and help you understand what your life will look like after you bring your pup home.

For instance, they’ll be able to tell you whether a dog has too much energy for your lifestyle. Alternatively, if you find yourself drawn to a fearful or anxious pup the trainer will be able to help you anticipate what type of training will be needed to ensure the dog will feel comfortable and confident in his new home with you.

Have you found a match?

Once you’ve narrowed your search to a few candidates do a little more digging. If they are pups or a certain breed, or a mix of breeds, you might want to familiarize yourself with the traits of those breeds. Herding dogs, for instance, are known for being intelligent and high energy- are you up for it? While terrier breeds are known to be feisty and prone to barking and may chase smaller pets (if you have one). Surely you can see why it’s good to know about these characteristics!

Of course, each dog has a distinct personality and they don’t always fall in line with the norms of the breed. However, we think it’s always good to gather as much data as possible before making a big decision.

After You Pick A New Bestie

Congrats! You’ve just met your new best friend. Now what?!

The next steps will vary depending on where you adopt your new furry pal. But generally speaking, unless you’re going through a local animal shelter, you probably won’t be bringing your new pup home the same day.

Rescue organizations often require an application and a home check before they’ll adopt out one of their animals. And some animal shelters do this as well!

This can be a bit frustrating, as you’re surely eager to start your new life as a pet parent, but just remember that these organizations are working hard to make sure these pups wind up in good hands. It’s just as important that the dog finds the perfect person as it is that you find the perfect dog!

Also, this waiting period can be a blessing in disguise. Now you have time to prepare your home in anticipation of your pup’s arrival.

Make sure you have all the essential supplies to care for him and prepare a safe, secure space in your home for him to arrive to!


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