In Kids & Family

They're adorable, but are they the perfect pup for you? (PHOTO: @willowaydoodles)

Bone up on everything you need to know about adopting the right dog

Today is National Dog Rescue Day. Woofs.

Adopting a dog is a big hairy deal, as the addition of a tail-wagging family member will undoubtedly affect your time, finances, energy level and emotions.

But almost 100 percent of the time, humans declare their decision to adopt a pup as one of the best they've made. I'm one of those humans. I had not owned a pet in more than a decade and had no intention of getting one, but then lo-and-behold Frankie popped up in my Facebook feed. Although I always thought I was a "big dog person," I was instantly smitten with this 7-pound female chihuahua mix who had recently been rescued from Florida after a hurricane.

My decision to adopt this size dog came from the realization that A) they are adorable but more seriously, B) my time, space and finances are much better aligned with dogs that eat, poop and exercise less.

Dr. Shana Loomis, owner of Milwaukee Vet Clinic, succinctly breaks down how to determine the perfect pooch for you.

"The best way to determine the right dog is through a lot of planning. Most importantly, are you ready for the commitment a dog requires both financially and physically? Financially, dog care can be anywhere from $200-$500 per year just for preventative care," says Loomis. "Then, above the regular veterinary care, there are additional cost commitments. Are you going to take the dog to the groomer frequently or do you want to be DIY'er with bathtub baths?"

The age of a dog is also an integral part of the choosing process. Puppies are adorable, but they are a lot of work and can be more expensive. Also, they usually demand lots of activity and can intrude on your sleep time. Thus, humans have to ask themselves about their own physical activity desires and limitations before committing to a particular dog.

"Picture yourself with the dog. Are you having this dog as a running buddy? Is it going to be playing with kids a lot? Are you wanting to take this dog along while traveling?" asks Loomis. "A small breed might work well for a traveler, but not someone who wants a running buddy. If you want a couch potato, maybe an older dog would be a good fit versus a hunting line lab puppy."

It's also important to ask yourself how much or how little the breed / appearance of the dog matters to you. Maybe you grew up with Dalmatians and so white dogs with black spots are the only type of dog you can imagine yourself owning. Or maybe you've been attracted to the smushy face of a bulldog your entire life and want nothing more than to see a smushy face every day basking in the sun on your couch.

Or maybe it doesn't matter at all and you'll know the right good boy or good girl when you see 'em.

Sites like the American Kennel Club's Dog Breed Selector and the Wisconsin Humane Society's "Perfect Match" can help you delve deeper into the types of dogs available and which one will best fit with your lifestyle.

Another decision you have to make early on is whether you want to adopt your dog through a breeder or a rescue / humane society. This is a subject most dog owners feel very strongly about one way or another and requires honest soul searching. Be sure to get the dog you want, because you're the one who'll be shivering at the back door waiting for Princess to poop at 3 a.m.

"It is necessary for people to be honest with themselves about how willing they are to work with a rescue dog. Some dogs may currently have behavior issues that are brought to an adopters attention, where others may seem fine but have things surface as the dog matures, feels more comfortable and confident in their new environment or as they experience new life experiences," says Jessica Whitney, owner of Fairy Tales Dog Rescue in Brookfield.

Making sure you have the time, resources and positive frame of mind to train a dog is extremely important when adopting a dog, regardless of whether he or she comes from a rescue or a breeder.

"Socialization doesn't happen on its own. It takes training, consistency and commitment throughout the dog's life," says Whitney. "All dogs need training. The extent to which the training is necessary will depend on the dog parents experience with dogs and their dog's behavior. Many, many times training a dog has very little to do with teaching the dog. It is educating the owner on how to read their dogs behavior and how to understand why they act or react a certain way."

Assessing the size and safety of your home is also important to do, according to Dr. Loomis.

"You should also ask yourself what do I have to offer the dog? A big backyard or is this going to be an apartment dog? Do you work at home and will be with the dog constantly or will you be a weekend warrior going on hikes?" asks Loomis.

There are many other issues worth exploring like vaccinations, sterilization and pet insurance before adopting to make sure you understand the commitment and cost of being a canine caregiver.

Choosing the right gear for your dogs is another process all its own. Certainly you can glean recommendations from friends and online pet groups, but most likely you'll have to try on four harnesses before you find the perfect fit and so on. Be ready to return products and even get stuck with a few. (I have three different kinds of winter "boots" for my dog and she hates all of them.)

Your local pet stores can help with this and will allow you to bring your dog in (on a leash or in a carrier) to try out some of the products before you invest. For my family, Bark N Scratch Outpost in Bluemound Heights and Bentley's Pet Stuff in Bay View are personal favorites.

Chewy.com is a good resource and ideal if you'd prefer the convenience of online shopping. Plus, Chewy has an easy-peasy return policy and wonderful customer service. A friend canceled a Chewy order because her dog unexpectedly passed and the company not only canceled her order, but sent her a bouquet of sympathy flowers as well.

Basically, the more time and energy you put into a dog prior to adopting – and within the first few weeks or months or years post-adoption – the more likely you are to have a best friend for life who wants nothing more than your love and possibly a bite of your sandwich.

"Caring for a dog doesn't mean just providing food, love and a home. It is necessary that people consider all the resources needed to properly care for a dog," says Whitney.

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