Dog Adoption Guide

Everything You Need to Know About Dog Adoption

Family at an animal shelter
Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Dog adoption is a wonderful thing. There are millions of pets in shelters and rescues waiting for forever homes. By adopting a dog, you can help homeless pets and set a great example for others. Dog adoption is not right for everyone, and it is not something you should enter into lightly. Getting a dog is a major decision that will affect your life for many years.

If you have decided that dog adoption is for you, this is great news!

Bringing an adopted dog into your home should be a rewarding experience for you and your family. Before you look for your future best friend, arm yourself with the knowledge to navigate the world of dog adoption and make the best decision possible.

What Kind of Dog Should You Adopt?

If you have decided on dog adoption, you may want a mixed breed dog. Or, you may have your heart set on one specific dog breed. It is possible to adopt purebred dogs from shelters and rescues if you plan ahead. However, if you are not set on a certain breed, you should still have an idea of the type of dog you want. Consider age, size, grooming needs, health issues and activity level. Have your desires in mind before you go looking. Better yet, make a list of dog features broken down into three areas:

  • What you absolutely need in a dog: Do you have children, cats, or other dogs? The dog you adopt needs to be able to get along with everyone in your home. Are you in an apartment or small home and need a small dog? Are you allergic to certain types of dogs and need a hypoallergenic breed? These are just a few of the things to consider.
  • What you'd like in a dog but can live without: Perhaps you have a soft spot for a specific breed but will be happy with a mix of that breed. Maybe you want a dog with short hair but don't mind a little extra grooming if you meet a great long-haired dog.
  • What is not acceptable to you: These are the dealbreakers. What qualities would prevent you from even considering a certain dog? Size? Temperament? Maybe you have a fear or dislike of a certain dog breed. Perhaps you rent your home and must meet specific lease the requirements.

    Write it all down and bring the list with you. This way, when you get out there and see all those cute faces, you will know where to begin.

    When NOT to Adopt a Dog

    It's best to avoid adopting a dog under the following circumstances:

    • You are in the process of moving
    • You are remodeling or repairing your home
    • You are about to have a baby (it's usually better to have the baby and let life settle down a little before introducing a new dog)
    • It's the holiday season (dogs are not meant to be gifts and the holidays are usually too hectic for a new dog)
    • You or someone in your household is going through any other major life event (the new dog could be lost in the shuffle or be overwhelmed by the chaos)

    Where to Adopt Your Next Dog

    You can adopt a dog from several places, like an animal shelter, a general rescue group, or a breed-specific rescue group. The internet is a great way to find dogs for adoption in your area, but be careful to avoid certain places. Go to the official websites of shelters and rescues or search a reputable site like Petfinder.com, where many rescue groups and shelters list their available dogs.

    If you want to go out and meet some dogs, contact groups in advance to find out if they hold special adoption days. Learn their hours of operation so you can allow yourself time to spend with the dogs and talk to staff.

    Research animal shelters and rescue groups before visiting. The organization should have a good reputation and be not-for-profit. The facility should be clean and safe, and the dogs well cared for. Adults should be spayed or neutered. You should be able to tour the facility, see all dogs available for adoption, and talk with staff or volunteers. Adoption fees should be reasonable and intended to cover expenses, not create profit. If the organization you are visiting does not seem legitimate, it's best to find a better place to adopt your new dog.

    Picking the Dog for You

    Some say that when you find the right dog, you just know. This is not always the case. You may fall in love with more than one dog and be faced with a decision. Perhaps none of the dogs you met were right for you. It's alright, you do not have to choose that day. After all, this is your new best friend. You may be spending the next 12-15 years together. You want it to be right, so sleep on it. You can always go back another day. If the dog you wanted is not there, maybe it was meant to be. The serious commitment of dog ownership should not begin with uncertainty.

    The Dog Adoption Process

    Congratulations! You have found your new dog. Now it's time for the formalities. Most organizations require an application before you can adopt. This is to prevent pets from ending up in the wrong hands. While it may seem like an interrogation, these groups have policies in place for a reason. Fortunately, most people have no trouble getting approved. Some groups require a waiting period before taking your new dog home, possibly due to a medical procedure that was done. Some dogs can have a waiting list, so ask questions up front.

    Find out what the adoption fee includes (vaccines, spay/neuter, etc). Before signing the contract, learn what is expected of you and what the group will do to assist you. If the dog is too young to be spayed or neutered, the contract will require you to have this done in the future. Also, find out what happens if you cannot keep the dog. Most organizations ask that you return the dog to them if you can no longer care for it (not give it away to someone else). Find out what is known about the dog's history and what health issues, if any, were noted while the dog was in their care.

    Coming Home

    Great news! You have a new companion. What now? At the time of adoption, you may have received a kit or packet of some type that offers advice about caring for your new dog, so refer to this first. They may have provided a food sample and other supplies, but plan to go out and get some basic dog supplies. Next, you should puppy-proof the house, even for an adult dog (in case he is extra curious). Find a veterinarian and bring your new dog in for a wellness exam as soon as possible.

    Prepare yourself and know what to expect after your adopted dog comes home. In the beginning, your dog will be adjusting to his new environment. Sights, sounds, and smells will be unique and maybe even a bit scary. Depending on your dog's background, the concept of life in a house may be completely foreign. Be patient and try to make your home a positive environment for your dog. You will need to separate him from other pets at first. 

    If you have children in your home, make sure the kids know how to behave around dogs before your new dog comes home. Teach the dog how to interact properly with children. Never allow your dog to be alone with young kids.

    If you have a cat in your home, be very careful to properly introduce the dog and cat. Dogs can do great harm to cats if they don't know how to behave (and cats can hurt dogs too).

    If you have one or more dogs at home, it is also important to carefully introduce the dogs to each other. They may become great friends or simply learn to accept one another. In some cases, they might have to remain separated.

    As your new dog adjusts to life in your home, you can gradually begin to work on trainingbonding, and preparing for your life together. Be patient with your dog and try to set a routine. This will give your dog a feeling of stability and security.

    What If It's Not Working Out?

    Remember, it can take a long time for any dog to adjust to a new home. You and your family will need time to adjust as well. You may notice your new dog has behavior problems, fears or phobias, or simply lacks training. If the adjustment period is long and difficult, it's a good idea to seek assistance from a dog trainer or behaviorist. You may need to consult with more than one. Be patient and follow the advice of the experts. If you feel that you have truly exhausted your options, you may decide you must give up your new dog. Remember to first try to bring your dog back to the adoption location. If that is not an option, then you must be responsible and find a good home for your dog. Hopefully, you will never have to be in this situation.