PhotoIf you’re looking to grow your family by four paws, an animal shelter is the perfect place to start. But as with all important decisions, choosing wisely is key. While many great love stories have started in the halls of an animal shelter, just as many have landed pets back where they started all because they weren’t a right fit.

A common mistake when adopting a pet, says Gail Buchwald, senior vice president of the ASPCA’s Adoption Center, is choosing an animal simply because they’re cute, as opposed to selecting one that matches your household and lifestyle.

“We wouldn’t choose a person that we would want to live with solely on the basis of their looks," she says, adding that adopting a pet the right way requires planning — not just randomly selecting an animal that you may be immediately taken with.

Energy levels

Your lifestyle will dictate how much time and effort you’re able to pour into your new addition. All dogs are different, and many require more training and exercise in order to be a happy, balanced member of the family.

If you’re primarily looking for a couch potato who won’t require much more than two short walks a day, it might be in your best interest to avoid puppies. If you’re a runner, maybe a more active dog would make the perfect jogging partner. Imagine yourself coming home after a long day of work — how much time are you willing to devote to a dog then? Being honest with yourself about your lifestyle and how a dog fits into it can help ensure you adopt a match rather than a clash.

Taking into account the amount of physical space you can give a dog is important, too. If you live alone in a small, walk-up apartment, your best canine match might be on the smaller, more docile side. On the other hand, if you’ve got a backyard and lots of kids for a dog to play with, a large, active dog might be a great fit.

“Remember,” says the Humane Society, “You're not just getting a dog; your new dog is getting a family!”

Keep an open mind

While you’re at the shelter, keep in mind that the animals will be stressed out, causing them to keep their true colors under wraps. “Even if you walk past a kennel with a dog who isn’t vying for attention, don’t count him out,” says the Humane Society. “He may just be a little scared or lonely.”

An adoption counselor can help you find a dog that will match your lifestyle. And as you spend time with each animal, consider the following questions:

  • How old is the dog? Puppies are cute, no doubt about it, but they require much more training and supervision. If you’re not interested in coming home to chewed shoes and toilet paper strewn across the house, you might want to adopt an adult dog. Adopting a puppy means you’ll need an abundance of time and patience during the housetraining process.

  • How shy or assertive is the dog? You might be drawn to the active dog who is bending over backwards to catch your eye, but if you just want a couch cuddler, a quieter dog might be a better match for you.

  • Is the animal good with kids? Not all shelter dogs will have a known history, but in general, a friendly dog who likes to be touched and is not sensitive to handling and noise is a dog who will probably thrive in a house full of kids, says the Humane Society. If you get a puppy for your kids, remember that baby animals can be fragile, so you’ll need to supervise puppy-child interactions.

The Shelter Pet Project can also be a helpful tool in the search for your ideal canine companion. 

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