So, you know you want to adopt a dog, and you have an idea of where you'll get him from, but where do you start? What questions should you be asking? In terms of deciding on what type of dog you'd like to adopt I'll direct you to my previous blog post, Essential Factors to Consider When Adopting a Dog. Once you have an idea of the age, breed type, and temperament you're looking for, it's time to start visiting some contenders. Some people know after visiting just one dog that they have found "the one" (both Regis and Phoebe were my first and only choices after I had found them online). But if that's not you and you need to weigh your options, here are some questions you want to make sure to ask...
1) What is the dog's history? Has he been returned?
Honestly, this may matter, or it may not. There are plenty of dogs out there with traumatic pasts who recover and are normal, behaviorally well adjusted dogs (one of my favorite examples of this is Pibbling with Theodore, a dog who was bred specifically to be a fighting pit bull, was confiscated during a dog fighting ring bust, and is now a happy, well-adjusted dude who teaches other dogs how to play and socialize appropriately!). There are also dogs who never experienced trauma but were seriously under-socialized or genetically predisposed to having a fearful temperament; these dogs may always seem "spooky" or "reactive". It's also important to remember that many, MANY shelter and rescue dogs don't have any baggage at all and simply fell on hard times when their owners lost their homes, passed away, etc. But it can help to have this information for future reference particularly if there are any behavior issues that come up. The other thing to ask is if the dog has been returned; this could point to a less than ideal experience in previously adoptive homes.
2) How does the dog react around other dogs? Other animals? Children? Strangers?
There's a common saying that the most reliable predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Ask the shelter point blank how the dog behaves around other dogs? Ask them to give clear descriptors such as "very loose, wiggly body with a wagging tail" or "barks and lunges", rather than "he goes crazy" or "he seems friendly enough". Ask to see it in person if possible. Same thing for how the dog behaves around children and unfamiliar people. If you have young children in your family I would look specifically for a dog that has lived with young children and eagerly greets them. Lastly, it's important to know that the absence of behavior is in and of itself a behavior. If I have a dog that isn't growling or barking, but is choosing not to engage or to avoid something, I make note of that.