Things to consider when deciding whether or not to adopt a dog

How to say hello to your potential pet dog.

Words & Images: Diana Clark

This is Mia, a Border Collie/Huntaway cross, and a recent arrival at our lifestyle block.

We aren’t a family that watches a lot of TV. But we can’t resist those popular programmes highlighting the care one must take when choosing the family pet. There is a catalogue of people from London to Lumsden regularly on the telly offering advice, some with PhDs, to the ever-knowledgeable dog whisperer.

We seem to always end up watching the ones that feature dogs, and these shows give you all the advice on a range of topics:

• Is this the right breed for you?
• Do you know the dog’s history?
• What is their behaviour like, eg are they good with toddlers and teens?
• Does your home and way of life suit the temperament of a fully-grown dog?
• Can you pay the costs involved in keeping your precious pooch, including vets bills?

But we broke all the rules when we went looking for a new puppy and that’s how Mia came into our lives. She was one of a huge litter of 12 puppies, and the last to be born: first in, last out as they say. Her mum was overwhelmed, so they fostered some of the puppies and four went to a lovely family living on a lifestyle block in Carterton.

When the puppies were old enough, they advertised them on Trade Me. It was a hard decision for them to let Mia go, but they already had two dogs of their own and could not take on another one. There wasn’t a lot of interest. Then one Sunday afternoon, my husband Frank and I just happened to be driving past. Just to have a look. Because we always take shortcuts down dead-end roads, 5km off the main highway.

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There was only a couple of minutes for Mia to make a good impression, but when you’re a smart Border Collie, you learn a lot about people in a short time. Mia needed to be noticed and quickly, before one of her cute siblings beat her to it.

Things didn’t get off to a great start. Mia peed on the floor in a fit of over-excitement as we arrived.  Frank removed his shoes. He was wearing these thick cow-cocky socks and they must have smelt great because Mia sat on his foot. That got his attention. Then to reinforce how delightful she was, she played with the end of his sock, carefully ensuring she didn’t chew his toes.

She switched on her cutest grin and looked him straight in the eye. Eye dogs can stare down the best of them and Frank was child’s play. She had a paw in the door. Her history was discussed. We laughed at her earlier mishap – it wasn’t going to put us off. Babies will make mistakes.  Mia now has a home for life. Choosing the appropriate family is not a fluke. It’s all in the planning.


There are rescue groups around NZ with dogs that need homes, from puppies to pensioners. Pounds also have dogs up for adoption. The noise, smell and general chaos of a pound or the SPCA affects dogs. Some remain bouncy and happy, but others will be shy and won’t put their best paw forward.

If you want to see more of a dog’s personality, and make it feel more relaxed, the US ASPCA has some tips:

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• If your inclination is to go straight over and offer a pet or cuddle, stop. The better option is to play hard to get.
• Squat down near the dog with your body sideways to it.
• Look down or away, and keep your body language quiet and calm.
• Scatter treats on the floor around you so that the dog can self-reward without any social pressure from you.
• Do not pet the dog until she is begging for attention – when you do, move slowly and pet down on the chest, not on top of its head.
• Sometimes just sitting quietly in a corner reading a book will allow a dog to approach at her own speed.


• A dog turning its head to the side is telling you it’s not a threat.
• A dog raising its front paw is showing appeasement, that it’s a little unsure and that it comes in peace – it’s most often seen during a greeting with a person or other dog, or if you have a resource it would like to share (eg, food).


• Turn your body sideways as you move closer to the dog.
• Keep your expression neutral.
• Crinkle your eyes and squint as you would if you were smiling.
• Keep your mouth closed as teeth can be seen as a threat, but stretch your lips into a smiling position.
• Check the response – a dog that ‘smiles’ back at you, it is feeling relaxed. If it doesn’t, keep trying some of the tips for a shy dog, and eventually you should get a response as it relaxes.

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NZ Lifestyle Block This article first appeared in NZ Lifestyle Block Magazine.
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