how to prepare for your new dog: a guide for all life stages And what the other blogs won't tell you
If you're thinking about adopting a dog, whether a puppy, adolescent, adult, or elder dog, there are a number of resources you want to have at your disposal to ensure the process runs as smoothly, safely, and successfully as possible.
The first stage of this process is finding your new forever friend. This is a process that should be undertaken with great care and concern for not only your own welfare as a new dog parent, but also the welfare of your dog. Be sure to thoroughly research the breeder, rescue, or individual with the dog you want to adopt.
If you're obtaining your new dog from a breeder or individual, be sure the breeding lines are sound, and that the dog is in good health. You'll also want to be sure that the conditions in which the dog is being raised are up to par. Be very careful as regards the language to any adoption contract you plan to sign (read the fine print!), and make sure you're comfortable with all terms and conditions contained therein. One particular contractual obligation that is becoming more and more common with household breeders is the right to breed your dog after adoption for a specified period of time.
If you're adopting your dog from a rescue organization at any life stage, be certain that the organization in question is employing force-free, humane handling methods with their rescued dogs. It is becoming more and more evident (and the science backs it up) that aversive handling methods (aka Cesar Milan, with protocols like pinning, rick-rolling, earthquaking, hitting, kicking and shouting in order to get obedience from dogs who may be traumatized in some way) and the use of aversive handling tools (pinch or prong collars, choke chains, etc) result in a massive uptick in the likelihood of human-directed reactive (aggressive) behaviors. Make sure you know how your rescue organization of choice is handling the dogs in their care. It could mean the difference between a happy, healthy, well-adjusted homelife with your new dog, and a dog who is shut down or severely reactive to humans or other dogs.
Having a solid understanding of the history of the dog you're adopting; where he's from, what he's experienced, and the types of traumas (if any) he's endured, will allow you to set yourself up with the support systems you need well in advance of adoption. Does the dog suffer from anxious behaviors related to alone-time? Hyperactivity or a need for near-constant stimulation? Has the dog been well-socialized? Questions like these will determine what you need to ensure a successful relationship going forward (scoping out a great doggy daycare or walking service, finding a humane dog trainer, a force-free groomer, etc) long before the dog enters your home.
Equipped with the information I've outlined above, you can then take a look at budgetary considerations. Can you afford an extensive fear-free protocol for your traumatized rescue? Are you aware of the behavioral changes a dog in heat, male or female, undergoes, and how other dogs around them may or may not react? Are you prepared to meet the medical needs of your new dog with a solid insurance plan? Are you willing to invest in the equipment you require to ensure sound management of your canine companion?
If you can answer yes to these questions, you're more than ready to welcome a dog at any life stage into your home, and into your life. With good preparation, forethought, and planning, the experience is bound to be one of the most rewarding you will ever experience.
Camille Salter is the founder of All Dogs Toronto and a certified, knowledge-assessed dog trainer (CPDT-KA). She is the author of two books on dog behavior: Pandemic Puppy, Decoding the Dog Park, and the Big Book of Dog Training.