Adopting a dog from a shelter is not as simple as you might think. A lot of things could easily go wrong in the process, but for now, let us not dwell on that. From my experience, there are a lot more advantages to adopting a dog from a shelter than buying a puppy from a breeder or pet store, even if it's a reputable breeder.
Table of Contents
- Why Adopt a Dog from a Shelter
- 1 Assess Your Dog Adoption Needs
- 2 Talk to a Pet Counselor Before Adopting
- 3 Prepare Your Questions for the Animal Shelter
- 4 Meet Different Kinds of Dogs in the Shelter
- 5 Prepare a Home for Your Pet
- 6 Learn About Dog Adoption Requirements
- 7 Visit Your Nearest Dog Shelter Facility First
- 8 Assess Your Choices
- 9 (Maybe) Listen to Your Instincts
- 10 Don't Judge a Rescue Dog by His Bark
- 11 Enlist the Help of a Professional Dog Trainer
- 12 Purchase the Necessary Dog Supplies
- 13 Fill Out the Application
- Tips for a Smooth Transition
For one, it is less intensive on you to adopt a shelter dog. Dogs coming from shelters are already vaccinated (for rabies and other diseases). Years ago, I made the mistake of buying my first dog from a local pet shop, and regretted it all the way. The pooch was fine, but the vet bills and health expenses for puppy shots and vet check ups were astronomical the first year.
Secondly, some dogs in shelters are already house-trained. While it may take them a week or so to get used to their new environment (i.e. your house), you will save a lot of time and energy by adopting a dog that already knows his manners, and you don't need to housetrain a puppy yourself.
Also, compared with dogs freely given out or those bought from pet shops, dogs adopted from shelters tend to be healthier. They are well-taken care of by the animal shelter's veterinarian before they are lined up for adoption, so if there are any health conditions you should know about, the shelter will inform you.
I could give you so many more reasons why you should adopt rather than purchase a dog. But, for the moment, let’s just discuss some tips to help you prepare for adopting a new pet and making the transition of a new rescue dog to your home as smooth as possible.
13 Tips for Rescuing a Dog From a Shelter
Why Adopt a Dog from a Shelter
There are several good reasons why I’d rather adopt a dog from a shelter than buy a puppy from a pet store, aside from discouraging the proliferation of puppy mills (pet shops that sell puppies for profit rather than the welfare of the dog).
In addition, adopting a pet dog offers a large emotional benefit. As with most dog owners, I had a sense of fulfillment in the feeling of saving a dog’s life, instead of spending money to buy one that’s in no danger at all, and it seems many pet owners agree with that.
Most importantly, you save an innocent dog from being euthanized every time you adopt.
This is either a requirement of the law or simply a result of scarcity of resources to care for the animals long term. Because of the sheer number of abandoned pets in animal shelters in the USA, some organizations euthanize those that aren't adopted quickly.
The costs involved with dog adoption are also more favorable.
I find it a lot more convenient to adopt a shelter dog, because veterinary concerns are already taken care of.
Most animal shelters do not place dogs for adoption until they are up-to-date on vaccinations, spayed or neutered and any underlying health concerns have been addressed.
Not only is it more convenient, it's also much cheaper to adopt a rescue dog, as opposed to buying a dog from pet stores or breeders, and having to carry out these procedures yourself.
Now that you know why adopting a dog is better that buying a puppy, let's talk about the hows. Here are my top tips to follow when considering the adoption of a shelter dog.
1 Assess Your Dog Adoption Needs
You need to know the reason (other than saving a life) why you need to adopt a dog. It would be helpful for you if you could answer some of the more important questions for yourself, and your family before adopting a rescue dog.
- Entertain a child?
- Guard your house?
- Help a disabled family member?
These will help you narrow down the choice of your next pet, where to find him, and even whether you should adopt a dog at all. Many of these questions reveal crucial factors to consider and should help you determine as to the size and breed of dog that you will adopt. Every breed has their skill set, and not all dogs are great with children or make for ideal watch dogs guarding homes.
Dogs are also a chore to take care of at times and may be expensive to maintain. Consider the initial and maintenance costs of keeping the dog. Do you know how much a dog will cost you per year? Are you going to be able to afford a canine companion?
You also need to consider how much space you have in your home and yard.
Do you have enough space for the breed you want? If you're considering a large breed or a very active breed, you'll need a lot of space both inside and outdoors. If you live in an apartment in a large city, a smaller breed that doesn't bark would be a much better fit.
2 Talk to a Pet Counselor Before Adopting
Most animal rescue organizations and shelters have pet counselors that can help you choose the right dog for you. Inform the counselor about your requirements.
Who are pet counselors? They are simply experts in “dog.” They will gauge your requirements and help you accordingly, depending on what you have in mind. Don't just rely on dog breed adoption surveys to pick the best canine companion for you.
In my case, the counselor was nice enough to tell me the lovely Cane Corso I’d seen first wasn’t the best choice when it comes to kids. I needed a family friendly pooch, and decided to change my mind based on the advice of the pet counselor that helped me.
3 Prepare Your Questions for the Animal Shelter
Animal shelters want to find the best home for their dogs, so they will ask you tons of questions beforehand. But don't be shy – you should also ask them your own questions.
In order to further ease the dog selection and adoption process, you should feel free to ask about anything that you have in mind.
The organization that you're working with want to make sure that this is the right fit for both of you just as much as you do, so they should be willing to answer any questions that you can think of.
Below are some of the questions I asked my rescue organization in order to help me find the perfect dog to suit my and his particular needs:
- Why is the dog in the shelter in the first place? This may help you understand his behavior or special health needs.
- Are there any medical issues to consider? Medical bills may inflate your budget, if you have one.
- Is the dog showing any signs of stress or behavior issues? Dogs, like humans, often show symptoms of longing, depression and stress. Such dogs, for instance, would not be good to in a home where the owners were gone for long periods of time each day.
Prepare your questions in advance, write them down so you don't forget, and make sure to go through the whole list. It's better to ask in advance than seek answers later.
READ THIS: 25 Best Dog Breeds for Small Apartments
4 Meet Different Kinds of Dogs in the Shelter
When you'll walk into the animal shelter and go “browsing” through all the dogs there that want a new home, you'll like fall in love with the first few you see (first impressions matter!) But keep at it, and don't stop until you've seen everyone.
Don’t be too hasty and pick out the first dog that is offered to you, as appealing as he may turn out to be. Once you go through all the different dogs that the shelter has to offer, then and only then should you make your final choice.
5 Prepare a Home for Your Pet
Having a dog isn’t always going to be easy, and you may need to make a few changes here and there around your home. This is both for the safety of your home and for the safety of your newly adopted pup.
For instance, get him a dog bed, some essentials (I discuss those below), and be ready to clean up after him. You may also need to puppy-proof your home if you're adopting a curious dog that likes to chew. If you’re a new owner, getting used to it may take a while.
This has to be done before you adopt a dog. Regardless of what puppy you choose, puppy proofing your home will usually be the same, so you might as well do it in advance.
6 Learn About Dog Adoption Requirements
You may be asked questions regarding your mental and physical well-being, income or daily schedule (or that of your family members) to ensure you can take care of your new pet.
Don't take this personally.
The shelter just needs to be sure that you're going to be able to care for the dog that you adopt and give him the time and attention he needs.
Ensure that you meet dog adoption requirements. The most common regulations are:
- At least 21 years old
- You must own your house or have written permission from a landlord
- Vet reference to ensure that your new dog will have proper health care
- The motive is dog adoption and not as a gift to others
Consider anything else that you may think might impact whether you're allowed to adopt a dog from a particular shelter or not, and if possible, fix any potential issues.
7 Visit Your Nearest Dog Shelter Facility First
You must not rely on images that you've seen online or the descriptions of the dog's behavior, and make a decision that way. It's not going to turn out well for either of you.
Sadly, most of those descriptions and photos aren't always recent. You need to visit the animal shelter, inspect the facility to make sure that it is a legitimate organization and the animals are well cared for.
8 Assess Your Choices
At this point, you have narrowed down your choices for puppy adoption. Now, it is time to assess the dog, especially if the animal shelter has few ideas about the pet’s background and behavior. Here are a few tips regarding what to look for:
- Reaction to other people
- Reaction to surroundings
- Barking, stance, and other dog behaviors
These are just a few pointers, but come up with your own indications what makes an appropriate rescue for you to adopt, and whether you'll live in peace together.
9 (Maybe) Listen to Your Instincts
While some of you may balk (or bark) at the idea, I do suggest that you rely on your gut instinct as well. It’s hard to explain it, and it's not the most science-based approach to adopting a dog, but perhaps fate draws you to a certain dog and not another. Even if it's a senior preloved dog, if you're drawn to that animal as much as the animal is drawn to you, then it may be your next best friend.
If you feel a special attraction towards a dog, or just get a general negative vibe about it, go with that feeling. Alternatively, try to pay more special attention to that case at the very least, because for whatever reason, gut instincts oftentimes do work.
10 Don't Judge a Rescue Dog by His Bark
This is a very important point that most future dog owners do not consider and simply fall for judging a dog by his bark.
Samantha has done a great interview with a long-time professional trainer and avid sled dog rescuer on this very subject.
Do remember that shelter dogs may bark at you when you inspect them. I was informed that they were simply reacting to the other dogs, and not being hostile.
These dogs are in a new environment with new animals and new people coming in daily. You can't always judge a dog based on his behavior in an animal shelter environment.
11 Enlist the Help of a Professional Dog Trainer
When you're not sure about something, and if you can afford it, a professional dog expert, in particular an experienced dog trainer, can be your greatest asset if you want to adopt a dog that's going to fit you, your lifestyle and will listen to what you're saying.
I highly recommend to seek the help of a dog trainer to ensure your new pet companion can respond to at least the basic commands (sit, stay, come, fetch, etc). These aren't only handy, but are essential – every house dog must learn them for everyone's safety.
12 Purchase the Necessary Dog Supplies
If you are 100% sure you will bring an adopted dog home, there are a few items that are necessary before you finally head over to the shelter. We've already talked about getting the basic stuff like a dog bed, but here are a few dog supplies most canines need.
Make sure that you have:
- Dog food bowls for meals and water
- A reliable dog leash and collar (carry them along with you to the shelter)
- (Optional) A pet gate for dogs
- A few basic dog grooming supplies
- A few good dog toys
- High quality dog foods
- (Optional) Some healthy dog treats
- Dog ID tag in case the shelter doesn’t have one
Some of these are optional while others are absolutely essential for any dog owner to have in order to ensure health and safety of their pets.
13 Fill Out the Application
Now it's finally time to fill out the application form for adopting a puppy or adult dog from the animal shelter of your choice, and provide them with all the necessary paperwork.
Remember to include all relevant details, as these things matter on the approval of your dog adoption. You might be asked to provide proof of home ownership, maybe even proof of income, a letter from your veterinarian, documentation of your work schedule.
Occasionally, some dog rescue organizations are particularly clingy to details and may ask for even more details. If you've confirmed that the organization is legit, then there should be no problems with giving them all the information. See my list above, too.
RECOMMENDED: 26 Step Checklist for Adopting A New Dog or Puppy
Tips for a Smooth Transition
After you've successfully adopted your new puppy, adult dog or senior pet, it's not over yet – you need to ensure that the dog will have a pleasant experience and a smooth transition into your (and now his or hers) new home.
Here are some personal experience-based essential tips when it comes to bringing home a new dog that you've adopted from an animal shelter:
Expect the unexpected on the dog’s first day at home. Not all dogs are shy, so your newly adopted pup may cause some major disruptions to your normal family life.
Prepare for the period of adjustments for the dog and your family. Discuss this with all the members of your family and be sure that you're all on the same page as far as the dog's daily routine, training and who will be caring for the new pet.
Ensure your dog is well trained with regards to responding to commands. In especially applies to training, routines and commands when called, walking on a leash or harness, potty behavior and socializing with humans and other dogs. If he's not ready, you need to start this training as soon as you bring him home.
Stay patient with your dog. Give your newly adopted puppy some reasonable amount of time to adjust to the new environment and the rules of the house.
Supervise him well. Your dog will likely be curious about the new place, and will go around sniffing and adventuring. Make sure you observe him from the distance.
Prioritize dog training basics. Teach your dog good in-home manners from day one; correct immediately if he shows any canine behavioral problems.
Ensure safety and security of your new pet. Along with other tips above, always keep your dog's ID tag attached and secure it well, at least for the first months.
Having a dog around your home can help brighten things a lot, besides helping kids (and even adults) to be responsible. It is a lot of work and will require a lot of effort initially.
But you'll be rewarded with this (see on the right).
Dog care isn't always easy. Remember that despite the good times, there will always be bad times. Be patient with your pooch, and give him enough time to adjust and learn.
In conclusion, please note that as in my personal case, a representative from the animal shelter may drop by once in a while to check on the dog. If they determine you can’t take care of him, they will probably take him back very quickly.