Expert Tips for Adopting a Dog

Expert tips for how to pick the perfect puppy for your family

Finding the right dog for your family

Adopting a dog is an exciting time for any family, but it’s easy to get overwhelmed and make an emotional decision if you don’t know what you’re looking for. BCLiving met up with Mélanie Ellis, an animal shelter attendant at the Delta Community Animal Shelter, to provide a rundown of things to consider when choosing your new best friend.

Wag the Dog

You’re choosing a puppy and you see one wagging his tail so much his bum is shaking. Sure, a wagging tail can be a universal sign for dog friendliness, and while that’s often the case, it can also mean many other things.

“Wagging just means the dog is alert and knows something is going on,” explains Delta Animal Shelter attendant Mélanie Ellis. “It can be a sign of friendliness, but if the tail is held high, it is an indication of confidence. It is very important to look at the whole body when assessing a dog’s friendliness, and not just look at their tail.”

So what should you look for? The dog should be relaxed with soft eyes and hold its ears slightly back and try to solicit your affection.

The Approach

As excited as you are to meet your puppy, the dog might be apprehensive to meet you. Dogs are sensitive to energy, so your squeals of delight could give off the wrong impression.

“It’s best to approach the dog calmly, turn to the side so you are not facing the dog straight on and remain neutral which will give the dog the space he needs to check you out.”

If you know the dog’s name ahead of time, greet them with it. “Names usually have a positive association. Using the dog’s name will help put the dog at ease.”

Coy versus Rambunctious

You may notice the dog sitting quietly in the corner of his kennel or sitting at the door, anxiously waiting to say hello.

“The dog should want to meet you and be curious, not growling or barking, or jumping up. A shy dog is not a bad dog; it just means they aren’t open to meeting strangers and may have not been properly socialized from a young age or have had negative experiences with them.”

Is Barking Bad?

A dog that barks is likely trying to get your attention, or simply telling you he is aware of your presence, but barks, whimpers and whines could mean many things.

“Vocalizing can be a sign of sociability, but it can also be a sign of stress. Stress is not always a bad thing though. Sometimes it’s from feeling excitement or anxiety from the situation.”

Be Open to Different Breeds

Certain breeds of dogs get a bad rap, but it’s not fair to rule out a dog based on their breed alone. Instead, read up on the characteristics of the breed and learn about the dog’s personality and its needs. This will ensure both you and your dog are happy together for years to come.

Family Dynamics

Before you get your heart set on a dog, consider your lifestyle and the size of your family. A dog that is independent and shy is better suited to a smaller family or a couple with a quiet lifestyle. If you have kids or have friends and family over often, you want a dog that’s good around lots of different people and doesn’t mind the chaos.


Do you enjoy hiking and long camping trips or are you a home body? Consider how active your family is and what activities you’d like the dog to join in on (High energy: camping, running, hikes, etc.; Low energy: relaxing at home on the couch, short walks, occasional camping, etc.). A restless dog with too little exercise can create havoc. Away from home often? Staff should ensure you’re not paired up with a pooch who suffers from separation anxiety. 


Your dog will see you as a member of his or her pack, and you should also consider him a member of your family. To be sure you don’t get yourself into something you’re not able to handle, Melanie suggests you ask yourself: “Are you willing to put in time and effort with a dog that needs behaviour modification or basic training? Or are you looking for a dog that is already housebroken and ‘ready to go’?”


Still unsure? Try fostering a dog first. Being a foster is a great way to see if you’re truly ready to welcome a dog into your life.

To start your search visit the Dhana Metta Rescue Society and the Delta Community Animal Shelter.