Home > Animal Rescue, Dog Behavior, Pet Adoption > Dog Adopters: Stop focusing on that picture and focus on the match

Dog Adopters: Stop focusing on that picture and focus on the match


Sad Looking Chocolate LabIn a Suzanne Clothier seminar I attended last year, she shared a video of the first meeting between a man and a dog he wanted to adopt. She asked us to watch the dog’s body language as the man interacted with him.

It was pretty clear throughout the video that the dog was uncomfortable with the man’s interactions with him. The dog wanted more space, the man wanted less. The dog was happy to sit at his feet, the man wanted him to sit right next to him. The dog wasn’t into hugs, the man wanted to snuggle and hug away.

It was evident that the needs of dog and man did not match. They were incompatible. But, as Suzanne shared later, the man was still set on getting the dog. He couldn’t see that they weren’t a match because he had already fallen in love with the dog’s picture. He had already envisioned his life with this dog. It never occurred to him that the dog in the picture might not be a match for him or his lifestyle.

Fortunately, Suzanne and staff were eventually able to convince him not to adopt the dog, but from what she said, not without some serious convincing.

I experienced something similar recently.

Like the situation I mentioned above, the potential adopter (a great candidate!) had fallen in love with the dog she had seen in a picture. In her mind, she had saw them going on walks and visiting friends. She wanted a dog that would cuddle and be silly and play with her.

What she wanted a normal, well-socialized dog.

Man and Dog Lying on FloorUnfortunately, she had fallen in love with a picture of a former puppy mill dog. This was a dog who had never been on a walk on a leash before, who still had to be caught or herded inside the house, a dog that was a huge flight risk and not likely to socialize with strangers very easily. Definitely a mis-match.

It took some convincing, but eventually the adopter was able to see that the life she had envisioned with this dog would not be the life she would get. Changing the image of what she had in her head with a more realistic one allowed her to see that it was not a match. Reluctantly, she made the decision not to adopt that particular dog. A good decision in my opinion. Shortly after this she did find the “right” dog, a dog who was a much better match and I hear that both are very happy together.

I share these stories because I think there is a lesson here for all of us. The lesson is not to stop taking adorable pictures of adoptable dogs. (I am all for taking better pictures of dogs to help get them adopted – the cuter, the better in my book.) It is a reminder that a picture is only the first step. It is a way to get you interested in a dog. It is not, however, a good indication of how the dog will fit into your family or your lifestyle. Understanding the dog’s personality and preferences are just as important as understanding your own.

Yes. Fall in love with that picture, but then spend the time getting to know theΒ dog and find out whether the dog’s personality and preferences really match your own. Is the dog too active for your lifestyle? Or are they not active enough? Does the dog prefer to cuddle with you or not? And, is that okay with you? Does a dog like other dogs or does he prefer to be an only? If adopters and rescuers spent more time asking themselves and their adopters these questions, I think the chances of a good match would increase. After all, isn’t the goal here to save a dog and help a human?

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  1. derrycats
    March 1, 2014 at 10:23 AM

    Such good advice! I hope folks listen.

    • Mel
      March 1, 2014 at 11:44 PM

      Thanks! Me too!

  2. March 1, 2014 at 10:53 AM

    Excellent post!

    • Mel
      March 1, 2014 at 11:44 PM

      Thanks. It’s been swirling around in my brain for some time.

  3. March 1, 2014 at 11:18 AM

    I agree — to a point. There are not that many people in shelters who know how to correctly assess body language, more’s the pity. And some of those same people are on power trips and don’t give dogs to what might turn out to be great homes. I’m thinking of course of Frankie. Any one with any sense wouldn’t have given a frightened dog to me, a completely newbie who didn’t know anything about dogs period, much less a fearful one. And look how that turned out. You’ve got to give people more credit too. Some of them adjust. I did.

    • Mel
      March 1, 2014 at 11:44 PM

      Oh yes, I agree with you Edie. Assessing is dependent on training and experience. Our shelter staff went through a training program called Meet Your Match and it included the dog trainers and vet techs as well as front desk people and volunteers. I also agree on the power trips thing. I remember one staff person judging a dog as unadoptable because she needed to be the only dog. I adored her and knew what a smart and sweet girl she was and knew she would make someone a great dog. She did too. She was the most loved and spoiled dog I ever knew. Her owner adored her and understood her need. It was a match.

      I give many people credit, especially those who are willing to commit and adapt to their dog’s needs, but not everyone is that way. I wonder, what would have happened if the man Suzanne met had adopted the dog after all? Could he have been bitten? Absolutely. The dog was extremely tolerant, but he might have lost that tolerance over time. The woman I met could have adopted the puppy mill dog, but she might have put her in jeopardy of getting lost because she did not understand what a huge flight risk she was, and will most likely, will always be.

      I give people a lot of credit. I just think we should always strive to do better when we can.

  4. March 1, 2014 at 1:09 PM

    Very good advice and I know it happens all the time. I hate to say it but I knew I could help Lacy the first time I saw her picture. But I also was realistic about what to expect with her. I don’t regret a day with her.
    How is Maggie doing?

    • Mel
      March 1, 2014 at 11:36 PM

      Carole I think you fit into what Pamela mentioned in her comment. You are someone who has a strong commitment to your dog and are willing to adapt to their needs. I bet that made a difference too.

      Maggie is doing fine. As you know, progress is in fits and starts. She is still a huge flight risk, but she is gaining confidence every day. Thanks for asking! πŸ™‚

  5. March 1, 2014 at 4:28 PM

    So true. I admit to overlooking Zaphod’s picture when we were on the dog search. He was a Shepherd and I had an idea in my head what a shepherd was. It wasn’t until I contacted the rescue (our first dog was from there) and asked them to recommend a dog to match our family, that they suggested him. It may not have been love at first site, but he is the perfect match and it is a love that will last!

    • Mel
      March 1, 2014 at 11:33 PM

      That is so beautiful! How wonderful that it ended up that way. I cannot imagine a Hailey without a Zaphod, can you? πŸ™‚

  6. March 1, 2014 at 5:21 PM

    When people adopt children, the process is much like looking for a pet. It starts with a picture.

    But each picture is accompanied by a description of the child, their likes, dislikes, and backstory.

    The best shelters and rescues include great descriptions that also help a potential adopter know if that adorable dog is a cuddle bug or more independent.

    I also like Edie’s reply. Some of us do step up to become better pet people after the dog we love for their looks has issues that need us to adapt.

    Maybe the key for shelters is personality tests for the adopters that let them know which people have the strongest pairing of commitment and adaptability.

    • Mel
      March 1, 2014 at 11:32 PM

      I like that Pamela. Commitment and adaptability should be a part of the process. Our shelter used to use a program called Meet Your Match. It definitely helped with making better matches based on lifestyle and needs.

  7. March 1, 2014 at 5:43 PM

    I love it. I am adopting my Great Dane tomorrow, and I’ve not met him in person yet but I’ve asked lots of questions and this has reminded me of more to ask πŸ™‚

    • Mel
      March 3, 2014 at 10:54 PM

      Congrats Mack! I hope you are enjoying your new Great Dane tonight! My friend has had 3 now and her latest one, Vinnie, is a sweetheart. Great dogs. πŸ™‚

  8. March 1, 2014 at 6:04 PM

    Brilliant advice! and a great post. We suggest falling in love with lots of pictures of pups, then one is bound to be a good fit! If only it were that simple!
    Hugs, Carrie (Myfie, Ellie and Millie) x

    • Mel
      March 1, 2014 at 11:31 PM

      If only! I know! Thanks for your kind comment. πŸ™‚

  9. March 1, 2014 at 8:17 PM

    I got “stuck” with my dog because the Ex thought he was gorgeous. He wouldn’t give up on him no matter how close to biting me the dog came. In the end I kept the dog and ditched the husband. πŸ™‚

    • Mel
      March 1, 2014 at 11:30 PM

      LOL! Well, maybe it was a match anyways Lori. πŸ™‚

  10. March 1, 2014 at 10:01 PM

    I totally agree…but also disagree. (I am full of inconsistencies.) There is no chance that I was the best match for Felix. I loved him on sight and there is NO WAY I would have been convinced that we were anything but PERFECT for each other. We weren’t. He was too fearful, I was to exuberant. I misread all his stress signals and excited happy behaviour. But I knew he had issues and I acknowledged that I needed help learning to speak his language and eventually, we were perfect for each other. I think it’s definitely 100% imperative that adopters be talked through the potential issues and even be required to follow up on the issues, but I also think in some cases, that love at first sight moment does mean you would do anything to make that relationship work. I know I did.

    • Mel
      March 1, 2014 at 11:29 PM

      Valid point Jodi. I can’t imagine Felix with anyone but you. I think it is entirely possible for a mismatch to turn into a match. I also think that this is more likely in a home that is experienced with and knowledgeable about dogs. I definitely don’t want to downplay that point.
      I just think that the chances of a dog “sticking” is higher when a match is made.

      • March 3, 2014 at 7:57 AM

        Then there are people who downplay the issues because they want the dogs adopted out… The owner of my dog said she was “shy at first.” Let’s see, two meds, hundreds of $ on trainer and behaviorist, 18 months, and my husband still can’t put a leash on her. … Yes I wanted her to go with me everywhere, but she is what she is, we adore each other, and if anyone else had adopted her, I wonder if she would still be alive.

  11. March 3, 2014 at 9:44 AM

    Thank you for this article! I have shared this on a FB page I manage, Foothills Humane Society in Okotoks, Alberta, Canada.

    • Mel
      March 3, 2014 at 10:53 PM

      Thank you Sheila! You made my day! I probably should change the title to be a little less judgmental, but I was hoping it would make people think . πŸ™‚

      • March 9, 2014 at 2:50 PM

        I am so glad πŸ™‚ it was very well received and I agree wholeheartedly!

  12. March 5, 2014 at 4:49 PM

    Photos open the door, but a match in personality and realistic expectations is what every dog and their humans deserve!

    • Mel
      March 6, 2014 at 6:37 AM

      Agree Beth!

  13. March 9, 2014 at 11:54 AM

    This poem is for those who had to put down a dog because of overwhelming health problems they couldn’t afford or maintain or because the beloved dog hunted / killed other pets.

    Ours did both, but she was the wonder dog of our life, it was like putting down Lassie.

    Tears of sadness
    Tears of regret
    Tears of missing you
    Tears of never seeing you again

    Tears of this fallen world
    Tears of what might have been
    Tears of of how it happened
    Tears of never seeing you again

    Tears of relief, of no more fear
    Tears of joy that I had you here
    Tears of loving you so much
    Tears of never seeing you again

    Tears for the sweetness you gave
    Tears for the laughs you made
    Tears for how it had to end
    Tears of never seeing you again

    Tears of you nestling in my lap
    Tears of our little friend with whom you napped
    Tears for my heart that will never mend
    Tears of never seeing you again

    Tears that may never end.

  14. embarksrilanka
    March 13, 2014 at 2:16 AM

    So many people buy dogs as status symbols purely based on how they look, in the end dog and the owner suffer.

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