How to Choose a Pet
At a breeder: “When you are introduced to the litter, sit down in a chair, not on the floor, and observe the puppies,” says Kellyann Conway, director of animal training and behavior for PetFinder.com, an online database of adoptable animals. While the first puppy that comes bounding over may seem full of spunk, he may prove to be a difficult pet. “You want a little hesitation, especially if you are looking for a family pet,” says Conway. “The puppy that immediately runs over might be too assertive and test boundaries when he grows up.” On the other hand, a puppy that hides in shyness or cowers in the corner won’t be a good match, either, especially for a social family. “You want a dog confident enough to come over and say hello,” says Conway.
Note, too, how the puppies interact with one another. You don’t want the puppy that pushes his siblings around, or the runt. Often, when a runt is taken out of the environment where he is bullied, he can become overly extroverted.
Next, get on the floor. Look for puppies that interact with you. Some will be more assertive, pulling on your hair and tugging at your clothes. If the puppy’s behavior makes you uncomfortable, “go with that feeling,” says Conway. When you think you have narrowed down the selection, get some alone time with that puppy.
At a shelter: Here you may not see a whole litter, just one or two puppies. (Puppies generally get adopted quickly, so if you’re looking for one, call your local shelter and put your name on the waiting list.) Conway is in favor of adopting an older dog (four months and up) so you can look for attributes that wouldn’t be obvious in infancy: approximately how large the dog will be, how much exercise he requires, what his general level of energy is. Once you’ve made your selection, spend time alone with him, at least 10 to 15 minutes, to see if he can relax with you.
At a breeder: Whether you are buying from a breeder or adopting from a shelter, it”s crucial to ask is if the kitten was with her mother and litter until she was at least seven weeks old (and preferably 12 weeks). A kitten needs feline companionship in those early weeks to learn, well, how to be a cat. Take a pass on any kitten that didn’t have that social-developmental time, because she is less likely to grow into a confident cat that can integrate into a household with other cats.
Observe the litter and see how the kittens react with one another and with you. “A kitten from a breeder won’t necessarily be any more or less introverted or extroverted than a kitten from a shelter,” says Mieshelle Nagelschneider, a feline behaviorist and a consultant at
Thecatbehaviorclinic.com. Choose one that is not on an end of the behavior spectrum―neither extremely timid nor extremely playful.
At the shelter: “Remember, a cat at a shelter isn‘t in her natural environment. Cats are housed in a way that’s contrary to feline behavior, with the food, litter box, and sleeping area placed next to one another,” says Nagelschneider. As a result, it can be difficult to assess a cat’s real temperament.
If possible, take a cat out of her cage and place her in a room that approximates the size of one in your home. Spend at least 15 minutes with her. Kneel down five or six feet away and call her several times, but don’t make eye contact for more than a few seconds at a time, which may threaten a cat. “Positive behaviors to look for include some eye contact, a slow approach, and the cat sniffing your hand,” says Nagelschneider. Questionable behavior: avoiding eye contact, watching you without approaching, and defensive posturing and hissing.
While kneeling, extend a hand to the cat as you call her. Ideally, she’ll start sniffing and rubbing her body against your hand. You don’t want her to strike at you with her paw or hiss and growl. If she seems responsive to your touch, pet her along her head and neck and talk to her.