How to Decode an Adoption Profile

I believe it is always best to be forthright when writing an adoption profile, as we aren’t trying to trick anyone into adopting a dog they aren’t ready for. What is a deal-breaker behavior for some owners is a plus for others (i.e. in our home a high-energy, high-drive, extremely intelligent dog is a deal breaker. We just don’t have that type of lifestyle. For someone looking for a competition prospect, that is probably exactly what they are looking for).  We want them to be happy with the dog and the dog to be happy with them.


The first things that EVERYONE looks at in an adoption profile are the pictures. Photographs of the dog give a lot of good information. For me, there is nothing more powerful than a photo of a dog resting happily with a cat or sitting quietly at a chaotic adoption event. If all of the pictures are simply of the dog, that isn’t bad, but it doesn’t give you any more information other than what the dog looks like.

Viewing the dog’s body language interacting with other animals or in hectic situations is invaluable but should still be taken with a grain of salt because photos are just quick snapshots of a moment in time and don’t necessarily reflect reality (i.e. the dog could have been shrieking like a banshee the whole time at the adoption event and the photographer somehow caught him with his mouth closed looking relatively relaxed). In the photograph below, you would be correct in assuming that the dog (Jack) LOVES people. But you may think he’s a big cuddler when in-fact during that time in his life Jack was a completely wild tornado-potato and was just exhausted from playing at dog day care all day.


It can be difficult to understand exactly what a Petfinder profile means in terms of dog behavior. Whenever writing a profile for a foster dog, it is a difficult balance to walk between being honest and not terrifying potential adopters who immediately jump to the worst-case scenario. Here are some phrases (lifted from local Petfinder ads) that could potentially mean something else

  • “..would be best in a home with another dog to show her how good life is as a family member.” Often times request for another dog in the home have to do with potential separation anxiety. It could also just be that another dog will help the dog build confidence and show the ropes or that playing with other dog is really important to the adoptable dog.
  • “She has had to learn to be a companion dog.” That is difficult to decode–does it mean she might not be house-trained? Jumps on tables for the fun of it? Doesn’t interact with humans?
  • “I need slow introductions to other dogs” This one carries quite a bit of variation with it. It could mean the dog doesn’t like being tossed in with other dogs and just isn’t a dog-park candidate. It could mean they are leash-reactive and lose their minds when they see other dogs. It could mean they are dog aggressive or have seriously hurt a dog in the past. It’s definitely something to clarify when you meet them.
  • “I’m not great on my leash yet because squirrels just look like so much fun to chase.”  This dog most likely doesn’t just pull when squirrels are involved, also has a prey drive. A prey drive doesn’t mean they won’t be good with cats but it does make it less likely.
  • “… doesn’t love her kennel yet, so it’s something we’re working on. Once she’s in, she’s fine.” If it’s serious enough for the foster to mention in the bio, it’s likely a problem or the beginning of a problem. This language could mean the dog is predisposed to separation anxiety or really objects to the kennel.
  • “a forever home that will have the patience to show her that people are good” Is this dog scared of people? Have they bitten someone or displayed fear aggression? Does the dog seem aloof and unwilling to bond?


  • “I’m getting used to the cold weather” Usually means that the dog hates going outside even to go to the bathroom when it’s chilly. This dog may decide it’s best to go in the house when it’s cold or they may just need a coat and/or booties. Either way, they aren’t likely to be your next skijoring buddy.
  • “I’m still pretty young so I’m working on a lot of training right now” This dog most likely still exhibits rude puppy behavior. It’d be a good idea to ask where the dog is on mouthing, potty training, and jumping. People seem to lump a lot into “still learning because they are young” so it can also include aggression issues. Make sure to ask!
  • “..needs an adopter that is truly dedicated to continuing her progression.” This dog most likely has some anxiety (or other behavioral issue) and wouldn’t be considered a ready-made dog. This dog could need a lot of training or they could just need an owner that understands their boundaries.
  • “He likes to show you just how high he can JUMP!” This dog is most likely exuberant and high energy with no manners.
  • “She is great with … children 8 years and older.” Saying a dog is good with kids “x” age and older doesn’t give a whole lot of information. I know some 4 year-olds who are completely respectful and appropriate around dogs and some 12 year-olds I would never trust. It’s always better to describe the actual concern. Does it mean that she is just not careful enough around children and will knock them down and steal their snacks? or that she is scared of small children? Or will bite if handled inappropriately which younger children are likely to do?


  • “….is learning how to share politely with others as he thinks all toys and bones in the house belong to him.” This dog is resource guarding. The important questions to be are what does he guard, who does he guard it from, and in what circumstances. Has there been an incident with another animal or human secondary to the resource guarding?
  • “…..with some practice he would be a great walking/running buddy.” To me, this translates into a higher energy dog that needs training for loose-leash walking.
  • “…. has too much spunk to attend any of our adoption events.” This most likely means the dog is reactive (will bark/alert) to other animals (or people). Depending on the person who wrote it, ‘spunk’ could be a euphemism for fear aggression (i.e. Did you see this spunky Chihuahua try to bite me?)
  • “…. can be vocal in the sense that he will let you know when he wants something.” Again, if it’s mentioned in the profile it is probably more than a minor concern. This dog probably barks more than your average dog, which makes them more likely to bark under other circumstances because barking itself is a rewarding behavior.
  • ” Good with Dog-Savvy Cats.” This phrase is so common there is an entire article on it.

None of these phrases (or their potential meanings) change the fact that these dogs could be (and probably are) fantastic dogs. I would rather have more information than less on a dog’s temperament so seeing these lines helps to give a little insight into what the dog’s personality could be.

What phrases have you seen that probably mean something else?




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