Before you dive head-long into dog guardianship, know this statistic: The number one reason people return an adopted dog is behavior problems. So use these tests to pick the pick of the litter, the first time. This comes from dog training expert Brian Kilcommons, author of "Good Owners, Great Dogs" and Rodale publications:

  • First, figure out if he's people friendly. Squat down on one side of the pen and cheerfully call the dog to you. Don't go to the dog. Even if he doesn't scamper into your lap, a sociable dog will saunter over and check you out with some sniffing - most likely in inappropriate areas. Let him. If the dog ignores you, pick another pooch.
  • Another test: Bring a tennis ball with you - show it to the dog, then roll it away and see if he fetches. If, at the very least, the dog slobbers all over the ball and shows interest, even if he doesn't bring it back to you, that's good. Many dogs will respond instinctually to a thrown toy. Dogs that don't respond to the ball may not be a good match for an active family, and might also be more sedentary and prone to weight gain. So match the dog to your lifestyle - if you're older and don't do much Frisbee tossing, a more sedentary dog may be right for you. Just make sure he still gets regular walks.
  • Clap your hands loudly or drop your keys. Does the dog cower in the corner, or bark? Both may be signs of an insecure or skittish dog. That means they may bark at every noise and drive your neighbors crazy - or may eventually bite out of fear.
  • One last test when picking out a new pup: Play with him like a child would. Grab his tail, get a little hyper. Dog breeds differ in sensitivity to both playful touching and pain. A dog that automatically twists his head to nip at your hand may not tolerate a child's temperament.

Ready to adopt a furry family member? Head over to PetFinder.com.