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How to Choose a Dog

Handling a Stray Dog

Sometimes you don't choose a dog -- he chooses you. Stray dogs seem to have a sixth sense about which homes will offer them a welcome.

When a dog shows up on your doorstep, it may seem like fate, but take a deep breath and evaluate the situation just as you would if you were purchasing from a breeder or adopting from a shelter. Is your family ready for a dog? Is the dog right for you and your household? Do you have the time and resources to care for the dog? Is the dog healthy?

Approach a stray dog cautiously until you can be sure he's friendly and healthy. If he's wearing a collar and tags, you might be able to give his story a quick and happy ending by returning him to his family. (If you find he'll let you handle him safely, you can also check for registration tattoos, usually found inside the ear, on the inner thigh, or on the belly.) Unfortunately, most strays have no identification.

You can put up signs and place ads, but you're going to have the dog in your home in the meantime, and many strays are never claimed. If you decide you are interested in giving the stray dog a home, your first step should be to take him to your veterinarian for a complete checkup and vaccinations. Only then should you bring the dog into your home, especially if you have other dogs who could catch any diseases or parasites the stray might have.

If you live out in the country, you're probably aware of the many dogs who are dumped off there by their owners in the hope they will find a place to stay. Unfortunately, dogs are not capable of fending for themselves. If you can't keep a stray who comes to your door, the kindest thing to do is to take him to your local animal shelter, where he'll be fed and cared for until he can find a new home.

We've covered all the major questions you need to answer before bringing home a dog. If you follow our advice closely, you'll greatly increase the likelihood of a wonderful match between pooch and family.