How To Adopt A Dog – The Ultimate Guide

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You want to know how to adopt a dog? That’s great! Knowing what questions to ask before adopting a dog will make the process much easier. For you, and your potential new family member. Whether you’re a seasoned dog owner or a complete novice, this ultimate guide will help you every step of the way.

Why Adopt a Dog?

They need you

3.5 million dogs go into shelters across the US every year. About half these will be adopted. Sadly, up to ten percent of these adopted dogs will return to the shelter. There are many reasons for this, but often it’s because the dog wasn’t matched very well with the new family.

Also, shelters are always short of space. When you adopt a dog, that provides valuable room for another dog who needs help.

Less cost to you

When you adopt a dog, they have usually been vet-checked. They may have been spayed or neutered, micro-chipped and flea treated. Some shelters also take care of vaccinations and any medical treatments required.

Check here to see if sterilization in shelters is required by law, in your state.

Help stop puppy mills

These are dog breeding facilities. They have a high volume production of puppies for the domestic market. They have no regard for animal welfare, and these puppies are sold to pet stores or online markets. When you adopt from a shelter, you are not supporting this cruel industry.

Dog sitting outside cages

Am I Ready to Adopt a Dog?


What type of person are you? Are you energetic? Do you work long hours, then like to go home and relax or do you enjoy long hikes in the countryside? You may live in a big city. Are there parks close by? How dog-friendly are your neighbors? Is there a vet in the area that you can get to? Asking yourself these types of questions helps you to think about how you can fit a dog into your life.


When you adopt a dog, you take on the responsibility of caring for them for the rest of their life. They may live for up to 18 years so it’s important to take that into account. It’s a big commitment and one which should be taken seriously.

What plans do you have for the future? If you are likely to move house, are you willing to ensure your dog can go with you? Moving house is one of the top reasons that dogs are surrendered to shelters. New landlords say ‘no’ to dogs, or the new house is too small for everyone. This especially applies to big, energetic dogs like Rottweilers and Retrievers.

Are you prepared for the financial responsibility of a dog? Feeding, medical care and all the things they need to be happy and secure are all part of the relationship. Your adopted dog may have been vet checked at the shelter. It’s always a good idea to register them with your local vet. Get them checked over within a week or so of getting them home in case anything needs attention.


Is the entire family happy to have a new dog? Who will be the main caregiver? Someone should have ultimate responsibility for feeding, walking, toileting, and socializing your dog. 

Dog experience

Will this be your first dog? What kind of dog do you want to share your life with? It’s not easy to tell what breed the dogs are in a shelter. Often they are mixed breed so until you spend time with them it’s hard to assess their temperament.

What Can I Offer a Dog?

The most important thing is to match your dog to the type of person you are, and the lifestyle you lead. How much time do you have for taking care of a dog? Your dog needs to be socialized and walked every day. Sometimes several times a day if you live in an apartment with no yard. Choose a dog with about the same energy levels as you. If you like being in the outdoors, running or hiking, then an active, fit dog will be a good choice. If, on the other hand you’re happier at home and being more relaxed, you could consider a senior dog. Or any other dog with less get-up-and-go.

Remember, smaller dogs can have a lot of enthusiasm for outdoor pursuits. I’ve had terriers most of my life, and it’s hard to tire them out. Choosing a dog shouldn’t be an emotional decision. Almost every dog in a shelter will steal your heart. Try to stay focused on the practicalities of selecting your new family member.

How should I introduce my other pets to the new dog?

If you’re worried about how to settle in with your new dog, ask if it’s an option to foster them for a week first. That way you can relax and enjoy the first few days of the new family together. You will know that if things go wrong you can rewind. I can almost guarantee that things will go better than you think. Especially if you’ve chosen your adopted dog wisely. If you already own a cat, they may need some extra care to get used to a new dog.

Remember that most shelter staff will want to match you with the right dog. They’ll know you have other pets to consider. This guide shows ways of introducing your dog to other pets.

Questions To Ask At The Shelter

The first thing to consider is, are you adopting from a ‘shelter’ or a ‘rescue’ facility, and what’s the difference? Animal shelters are generally government funded. They have paid staff. The dogs may have been surrendered by their owners. They may have been picked up as strays by dog control officers. The dogs are kept at the shelter until they are re-homed or euthanized.

Rescue facilities are private organizations. The staff are volunteers. The only financial help they receive is from donations and fundraising. The dogs in their care have usually been rescued from abusive situations. They will be allocated to one of the foster homes associated with the organization. The dog will remain there until they are re-homed.

Dog looking out the car window

What does this mean for you as a potential adopter?

Shelters are generally higher volume establishments. They have a desire to re-home quickly so they can provide sanctuary for other dogs in need. The staff you deal with may not have had as much to do with every single dog there, so make sure you ask lots of questions. Don’t feel rushed to make a decision, and try to leave your heart outside.

Rescues tend to take a longer time to make sure you, as a potential adopter are the right fit for the dog you like. They will interview you. They will often undertake a property inspection to see where the dog will live. The dogs will have been fostered. This means the carers will have witnessed the dog in the home environment. They may have more knowledge about the temperament and habits of the dog.

Beautiful natured and loving dogs are found at both places. One place isn’t better than the other, but it’s helpful for you to know how each one works.

Dog with food bowl

History And Temperament Of The Dog

How did the dog come to be in the shelter, and how long has he or she been there? You need to know what you may be dealing with if possible. If a dog has been traumatized, more care may be needed with integrating them into your household.

Was the dog surrendered and if so, why? You should be informed of any problem behaviors. It’s unlikely that any shelter facility will attempt to re-home a dangerous dog.

Is he or she house-trained? You may need supplies of paper or training pads.

What has he or she been fed while at the shelter or rescue? It’s a good idea to continue with whatever diet they are used to, at least for a few days. It helps them to have something familiar while they settle into their new home. You can gradually replace this food with your preferred type.

Does the dog shed its coat? This may be difficult for staff to answer but worth asking anyway.

Is it possible to take the dog for a trial period? What is the return policy if things don’t work out?

Some shelters and rescue facilities perform dog behavior assessments. The results of these may not be very reliable. It’s very difficult to judge a dog who is in unfamiliar territory. They will be feeling stressed and fearful. Check out this research which was undertaken to evaluate the two main tests used in the US.

Health Questions

Has the dog been vet-checked, and are there any medical issues that need attention? Have they been neutered or spayed? Have they been micro-chipped, vaccinated and flea-treated? Most shelters and rescues will take care of these things. The price you pay to adopt a dog will cover some of these costs.

If you feel confident, check the eyes and ears for yourself. Are the eyes clear of discharge, are the inside of the ears clean? Carefully and gently stroke the dog all over their body. Pay special attention to the belly area underneath. Lumps and bumps that shouldn’t be there will need to be checked by a vet.

Communicating With Your Potential Dog

If you are new to having a dog in your life, this guide will help you recognize a dog’s body language. No matter what your experience with dogs, if you have a calm demeanor, it will help you and your dog ‘talk’ to each other. If your new hound displays signs of separation anxiety, check this article out.


If you know what to expect when adopting a dog, you will enjoy the process much more. Take good care of them. You will be rewarded with a lifetime of unconditional love and companionship. Remember it may take some time before you feel bonded with your new family member. They need time to adjust to a new environment, new routines and most of all, learning to trust you.

Remember the two main questions to ask before going to a shelter or rescue.

1. Am I ready to adopt a dog?

2. What can I offer a dog?

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