Reason #18 to Adopt a Shelter Dog: They are one of a kind

We previously shared that the overwhelming majority of dogs in shelters are mixed breeds. Thanks to Animal Farm Foundation, we now know that:

  • Breed identification based on looks is no better than flipping a coin
  • You cannot correctly identify a dog’s genetic makeup based on looks
  • Purebreds dogs share a closed gene pool
  • Mixed breed dogs enjoy varied gene pools
  • Once a dog is less than 100% of a single breed, they have genetic variations that make them DISTINCT from that breed
  • Once a dog is a mixed breed, they are not a member of ANY breed
  • Each mixed breed dog, even ones from the same litter have a DIFFERENT genome

What does that mean? It means that while all dogs are individuals, your mixed breed shelter dog is truly one of a kind! You can bet that what their puppy momma and papa gave them is a unique map of genes unlike any other. You can run your DNA tests, but you’ll have a hard time finding another dog quite like this one.

In other words, each shelter dog is literally the one only of her kind. There has never been and never will be another like him or her. I don’t know about you, but I love that.

If you’re into one-of-kind pieces, adopt a shelter dog!

Reason #19 to Adopt a Shelter Dog: They have received good care

When you adopt a shelter dog, you can rest assured that your animal has received good care. The same can’t be said when you buy a dog off a website or from a pet store.

Momma dog getting a bath

Regardless of their past, shelter dogs receive good care in-shelter. Most shelters have strict protocols for disease prevention that includes but is not limited to vaccines. Shelter workers care about the animals they work with and don’t want to see them suffer. I’m willing to bet that most are like me, and always watching for signs of illness or injury. We want them to have the best care they can with us.

The same cannot be said for pups purchased from pet stores and the like. Animal welfare groups like the ASPCA and Best Friends advise folks to consider the poor practices that are all too common among puppy brokers. By skimping on necessary medical treatment, puppy dealers can increase their profits. That not only shifts the burden of the cost onto you, but can also result in worsened conditions. Minor medical problems can turn into life threatening ones.

My love for shelter dogs isn’t the only reason I’m biased. There are countless accounts and reports pointing towards the lack of care these businesses have for their animals. Shelter dogs, on the other hand, have a whole team of humans looking out for their well-being.

Beyond the medical care, more shelters are providing for the dogs’ mental and emotional needs, too. Enrichment is not just for shelter dogs, but it is probably the best part of a shelter dog’s day. From shelters with musician volunteers serenading dogs to those that bring in groups of children to read to their dogs. There is plenty of good care and love to go around.

My favorite form of good care for shelter dogs is play groups. I have been lucky enough to watch hundreds of hours of shelter dog play in several facilities. There is truly nothing more encouraging than watching them romp around and act like dogs!

No one shelter is able to provide kind of care that rivals that of unlimited resources. Shelters do not have unlimited budgets, time and creativity. Although imperfect, many shelters these days provide very good care for their animals. When you adopt a shelter dog you get the benefits of that good care.

Reason #20 to Adopt a Shelter Dog: They come in adult and senior sizes

Adult dogs are exactly who they are going to be when they grow up. With a puppy, there is a lot of effort that goes into socializing them well. It is a waiting game to see who my dog will be when they reach that 2-3 year mark. Adult dogs are there. No waiting, no guessing. This is who they are, take it or leave it.

Adult dogs are way easier to transition into a home than a puppy. For me, it’s the fact that the puppy is always growing and changing that is a challenge. With an adult, the transition is quicker and less messy. Need some examples?

Puppies have two modes: comatose and turbo-charged. They are either super on or super off. With my dog Hope, that was fun for a little while. But it stopped being fun after an exhausting day at work or during an all nighter of studying. Adult dogs stay within more normal limits. They tire after reasonable amounts of physical and mental exercise. Leaving my sanity in tact.

Adult dogs also won’t ravage your belongings in the same way a puppy will. Yes, all dogs chew and should be given ample opportunities to exercise their jaws. A puppy, however, can sometimes seem part-termite, part-razor-blade. Until you teach him otherwise, everything is fair game for chewing to a puppy. Whereas, when I brought an adult dog home, it was as simple as showing her the toy bin. “This is yours. Got it?”

Adult dogs are also less inclined to use your favorite rug – or worse, your bed – as a toilet. That is not to say they won’t have accidents! But any adult dog I’ve brought home was quick to pick up on the schedule of bathroom breaks. They politely held it in between breaks or stood by the door to ask for one. Puppies, especially young ones, have yet to develop their substrate preference. And given the opportunity – or should I say, lack of instruction – will poop on your Persian and not think twice about it. Nobody wants that.

If you are like me, you prefer things in their place and for things go as planned. Some call it rigid. I call it ordered and predictable. The definition of peaceful. When you run a similarly tight ship, a puppy can seem like an inconvenience. Or leave you wondering if they are part Tyrannosaurus Rex.

While you need to be willing to flex if you are going to adopt any dog, adult dogs will not turn your world upside down. It has been my experience that they cause less oh sh*t! moments than terrorists – I mean, puppies do.

Don’t get me wrong, I love puppies! I just know that not everyone has the time or patience for one. Adult dogs simply transition more easily into your home life than puppies do. Adopting an adult dog also comes with the added bonus of knowing you adopted one that was most in need.

What are some of your angelic adult or puppy terror moments? Share in the comments below.

Reason #21 to Adopt a Shelter Dog: They know they were saved

Do adopted dogs know they were saved? A google search turns up an amusing array of arguments about this very question. Dog lovers on either side of the debate are equally convinced they are right.

I am a firm believer that adopted dogs do indeed know they were saved. I have met too many “saved” dogs to believe otherwise.

Folks of the same conviction point to the saved dog’s elation at walking out of the shelter alive and adopted. Others focus on the saved dog’s relief at a kind touch. For me, my answer is found the hundreds of miles I have driven to bring dogs to safety.

While on their “freedom rides,” these saved dogs seemed to go through a whole host of emotions. From uncertainty and trepidation. To curiosity and eagerness. To downright euphoria. And always, a generous display of gratitude. At some point on the drive, each and every one of these dogs realized they were free, safe or better off.


Although I love my dog more than anything, I tend to be extremely wary of anthropomorphizing animal behavior. When we anthropomorphize we tend to put our dogs in unfair and difficult positions. At least, that has been my experience.

Here is one example of the dangers of anthropomorphizing. Two days after I brought home my dog Hope, she chewed up a brand new pair of expensive sneakers. Was she choosing the most expensive accessory out of spite or to show me who is boss? Or, was she simply unaware that shoes were off limits? If the answer is not obvious (it is a resounding yes to the latter question!), then we have an anthropomorphizing problem.

This is one situation, however, wherein I throw caution to the wind. Volunteer to drive a shelter dog (or two or three!) on their freedom ride, and tell me what you think. Until then, I will be one of those dog lovers affirming that yes, adopted dogs know they were saved.

Norma Jean Freedom Ride
Norma Jean’s Freedom Ride

Reason #22 to Adopt a Shelter Dog: Adoption is the thriftier choice

These days, adoption from a shelter is almost always free. Waiving adoption fees is not always popular among critics. Research, however, shows that adoption fees have no correlation with the quality of care an adopter will provide.*

$ Milo & a Puppucino $

I am not here to debate the pros and cons of waiving adoption fees. I am here, however, to explain why adoption is the thriftier choice.

Animal shelters are in the business of removing barriers to adoption. Barriers do not prevent animals from falling into the wrong hands. Barriers only result in more animals stuck in a system that isn’t equipped to support them. Removing barriers is how we save more animals. Hence, why these days, it is often free to adopt.

$$ Hope’s $1,200 Allergist Visit $$

This is important to point out for the folks who still believe the myth that shelter dogs are somehow substandard. Shelters don’t waive adoption fees because our dogs are inferior to dogs you pay for. Shelters are able to waive adoption fees due to government funding, grants and donations. Your adoption fee, while waived, comes out of someone else’s pocket.

Preparing for a new dog costs a pretty penny. I know when I adopted my dog Hope, I already had a bunch old supplies from my previous dog. Somehow, I still managed to drop a thousand dollars at PetSmart. Whatever your budget, you can expect to shell out some cash when you first bring your dog home.

Caring for a dog long-term also requires a financial investment. There is dog food, toys, and equipment. There are annual vet visits, and the unexpected ones. You may want to hire a trainer or take your dog to obedience classes. All of these things cost money.

$ Force-free Obedience Class $

Shelters are required to provide age-appropriate vaccinations. Many take care of spay/neuter before your dog even goes home with you. This means that a good chunk of your initial medical costs are free (or substantially reduced). Dogs purchased elsewhere do not come with these benefits.

Bottom line, when you adopt a shelter dog with reduced or waived fees, you get to spend more of your money on your new dog.

$ Hope’s destuffed toys $


*This research is based on cat adoptions. I would like to see studies on dog adoptions as well.

Reason #23 to Adopt a Shelter Dog: They are satisfied with the little things in life

Shelter dogs, more than any other dogs I work with, are satisfied with the simplest things. I have often watched a shelter dog overflow with delight at the most mundane experiences. The touch of grass. The sound of a squeaky toy. A good spot to sunbathe in. One very stinky smell.

I suppose there is a lot I am lucky enough to take for granted every day. If I put myself in their shoes, the shelter dog’s fascination with the smallest thing makes sense. Let’s say I’m forced into a shelter, placed in a locked concrete box, and given one poop break a day (if I’m lucky!). I can hear other humans shouting but I can’t socialize with them. Sometimes it’s hot, sometimes it’s cold. I miss my dog and my memory foam bed.

It wouldn’t take long for me to desperately seek out any little thing that makes me feel normal again. Brushing my teeth. A familiar face. Sitting in a chair. Driving a car. I’m betting these everyday experiences would gain new meaning and joy.

Another way of looking at it is that shelter dogs are way better at living in the moment than we are. Take a shelter dog out of his/her kennel for five minutes and you’ll get a quick lesson in how to make the most of things. Shelter dogs bring back the novelty in what we consider the same ol’ same old. They are satisfied with the little things in life.

Here’s our proof…

Colton and a tennis ball

Colton and two tennis balls

Shelter Dog #9820 and a big ball

Shain and a jolly ball

Seth and a soft surface

True and grass

Helen and a hose

Duce and a lake

Hope and a light snow

Charles and a pile of old toys

Hope & Joey sharing a stuffy

Smalls and touching you

Ru and watching you while you work

Gunner and an old couch

Baby Dobby and not being alone

Bonnie and a familiar face

Chester and a familiar lap

Chico and a tummy scratch

Lolita and an unfamiliar lap

Sasha and pretend doggo friends

Maggie & Maggie and real friends

Niki and a booger

Reason #24 to Adopt a Shelter Dog: It is good for your health

There is a growing body of research on the health benefits of being a dog parent. Humans gain plenty by acquiring a furry, four-legged family member. No wonder we call the dog, man’s best friend.

According to the CDC, some of the health benefits of pawrenthood include decreased blood pressure and increased opportunities for exercise. A dog’s presence can lower the stress levels of adults and children. Which explains the increasing popularity of therapy dog for public venues. Dog parents are also more likely to stay active. According to one study, dog parents take 2.7K more steps a day than non-dog parents.

Any way you look at it, having a dog is good for your health. Huffington Post breaks it down for you in the Top 10 Health Benefits of Dogs:

1. Improves heart health

2. Keeps you fit and active

3. Helps you lose weight

4. Improves your social life

5. Reduces stress

6. Adds meaning and purpose to life

7. Keeps depression at bay

8. Prevents allergies in kiddos

9. Reduces doctors visits (because you’re healthier, duh!)

10. Battles disease and injury

Adopt a shelter dog and you get a double dose of benefits 4 and 6. I’m certain a future study will back me up on that.

What are some of the ways your former shelter dog has improved your health?

Reason #25 to Adopt a Shelter Dog: You save at least TWO lives by adopting one dog

It might surprise you to know that good animal shelters require a lot of planning and strategizing. It’s not a world where “all you need is love.” Caring for hundreds of scared animals in an unnatural environment is a big production.

One of the strategies that can keep a shelter out of crisis is a good understanding of capacity and length of stay. Length of stay (LOS) refers to the number of days an individual animal spends inside the shelter. It starts the date the animal enters the building and ends the day s/he leaves.

Shelters that are able to reduce their average LOS are able to increase their capacity. As animals spend less days occupying individual cages, then those newly open cages get filled with more animals. It is a simple but important concept. One that is fueling the innovation of programs that reduce LOS and increase the number of animals saved.

What does this mean for adopters? It means that when you adopt one dog, you are essentially saving two. You save the dog you adopt AND the dog that now gets to fill your dog’s spot in the shelter. Then when that second dog gets adopted, another dog fills its spot, and so on. Your one adoption has a ripple effect you will never fully be able to grasp.

Adopting one dog may feel like it only changes the world for that one dog. But that could not be further from the truth. Adopting one dog saves the dog who would otherwise have nowhere to go if it weren’t for your dog’s empty kennel. When given the choice to save one or two dogs, we would always choose to save more! Rest assured that this is exactly what you are doing when you adopt a shelter dog.

Reason #26 to Adopt a Shelter Dog: You help end pet homelessness

Yes, pet homelessness is a real issue. Across the globe there are countless companion animals without pawrents. Many end up finding good homes, while many do not.

Although the plight of shelter animals has greatly improved in recent years, there are still too many animals for whom the shelter is the final stop. There are no U.S. communities wherein ZERO animals are killed in shelters. Despite our best efforts, we still have a ways to go to end pet homelessness.

In an effort to keep this series on Reasons to Adopt a Shelter Dog lighthearted, we will keep this post brief. We could talk about the numbers of dogs dying in shelters every day, but we won’t.

I am someone who knows these dogs by name. Numbers alone don’t cut it for me. Behind each number is a living, breathing dog with a personality that would light up your world. But every day we are still losing too many dogs that we love.

Pet homelessness is a problem that is painful to talk about. It is a problem that is 100% man-made. We know what happens when a dog is not saved. We wish we could save them all. But that will not happen unless more folks opt to adopt.

So, let’s just leave it at that. One very good reason to adopt: because every shelter dog should have a home.

Reason #27 to Adopt a Shelter Dog: Many already know basic obedience

One of the first things adopters want to know about a dog is if they have been trained. As a professional dog trainer and a longtime shelter worker, I have many thoughts and emotions about this.

I wish more folks realized that a trained, well-behaved and emotionally healthy dog requires an investment of time, attention and patience. Our priorities should go beyond installing a few cued behaviors in our dogs. It is about a safe, dedicated, mutually beneficial relationship!

Not to worry, I’m not here to shout from my soapbox today. Instead, I have some positive news to share! The reality is that A LOT of shelter dogs enter the system already knowing some basic obedience. It is not uncommon for me to meet a shelter dog and find that s/he knows sit, down, paw or more.

So-called strays and dogs given up by their owner know more than folks give them credit for. It is also becoming industry standard to teach shelter dogs how to behave in ways that adopters like. This means that while in the care of shelters, those that do not know basic manners often end up acquiring some.

Most dogs in shelters were previously parented by a human. Yes, feral dog populations do exist, but they are scarce and extremely uncommon in the U.S. The overwhelming majority of shelter dogs know a thing or two about how to be a very good companion.

But what about about the elephant in the room? Surveys of pet parents relinquishing animals to shelters cite behavior problems as being one of the top contributing factors to their decision. While that may be true, many of the most common behavior problems are the result of a lack of basic care. Common behavior problems like chewing, barking, and a lack of house training can be easily solved. It is amazing what a difference simple improvements can make. Things like consistent schedules and adequate opportunities to expend daily mental/physical energy reserves.

More animal shelters are incorporating training programs into their regular operations. Probably the most popular today is the CGC Ready Program created by Austin Pets Alive!. It targets the most at-risk dogs in shelters and takes them through a six to eight week basic obedience course. By the end, many are ready to pass the Canine Good Citizen test. It is a statement of the dog’s good manners and overall reliability.

Bottom line is that by the time of adoption, many shelter dogs already know basic obedience. The same can’t be said for pet store puppies or designer dogs purchased with the click of a button. Shelter dogs, on the other hand, have already been exposed to human lifestyles.

If I think about it, I can relate to the average adopter who wants to know first and foremost about a shelter dog’s training. When I first met my dog, Hope, she was just a baby. And yet, one of the things that immediately captivated me was her obvious choice to offer a sit for attention.

At the end of the day, we all appreciate a well-behaved dog.

For years, I have been in the business of teaching shelter dogs how to behave well. Though my knowledge and methods have evolved over time, the end goal has always been the same. Create dogs who know how to get their basic needs met in ways that are appealing to humans.

Even though shelters cannot substitute for stable, loving homes, I’d like to think we do all right with what we have. Check out some of the current and former shelter dogs I have had the pleasure of teaching and let me know what you think.

Donner: Auto-sit

Cha Cha: Sit for attention

Bree: Cued Sit

Smalls: Loose Leash Walking (available for adoption)

Puma: Greeting strangers politely

Crunch: Sit for Fetch

Momma dog: learning Wait

Canelo: Wait at the door