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How To Pick A Shelter Dog

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 By Lana Berkowitz for Houston Chronicle

You want to see a wagging tail when you go shopping at a shelter for your first dog, according to Victoria Stilwell, who stars in Animal Planet’s It’s Me or the Dog.

People are often drawn to the shy or scared animals, but it is best to leave the withdrawn pups to experienced dog owners, Stilwell said.

“You’ve got to be careful of the dogs that stay at the back of the kennel,” she said. “

The dog stays in the back because it doesn’t want to socialize with you. It can be simply tired, and it just needs its space to rest.

“A lot of times, too, it can mean a dog isn’t that social,” said Stilwell, who works with rescue shelters in Atlanta.

The dogs with behavior issues are the ones that will require extra training and patience. The barkers, chewers and unfriendly dogs often end up back in a shelter when inexperienced dog owners become overwhelmed.

“And it becomes a yo-yo dog — in and out and in and out,” Stilwell said. “And, my gosh, you get to the point where the dog is stressed out and seems unadoptable because of what it has been through.”

Stilwell suggests

• Do your research on breed characteristics. Try to pick a dog that is going to be best for your family. “If it’s a border collie, for example, and you are laid-back and don’t get a lot of exercise, then don’t get a dog that has border collie in it.”

•Choose a dog that comes to the front of the kennel and is excited to see you. Look for soft body language and avoid a dog that is very still and alert.

•If you see a dog that you like, take it out of the kennel to an open space such as a grassy area so you can see if the dog wants to relate to you. Shelter environments are stressful, and taking the dog outdoors may help it relax.

• When you bring the dog home, don’t lavish it with loads of affection. “Your dog gets used to the attention. Then you go back to work, and there’s nobody. And that’s a classic cause for separation anxiety,” she said. Allow the dog to investigate and get used to the feeling of the place. Don’t crowd the animal, but when it comes to you for attention, give it. “You need to back off a little bit and realize that your dog is making a massive life change, and give him space to do that,” Stilwell said.

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