The Ultimate Guide to Dog Adoption

  • By Caroline Denholm

Considering dog adoption? It’s a wonderful thing to re-home a dog.

Not only do canines offer unconditional love and constant companionship; they’re also known for soothing stress and improving their owners’ overall health and wellbeing.

In this comprehensive guide to dog adoption, we’ll dig into everything you need to know about adopting a four-legged friend.

From important questions and breed selection to average costs and preparing for your pup’s homecoming, we promise to take the guesswork out of the adoption process by breaking down each step into bite-sized chunks.

This Dog Adoption Guide Includes:


  1. ·         Important questions to consider before starting the adoption process
  2. ·         The perks and pitfalls of puppies vs. dogs
  3. ·         The best time of year to adopt a dog
  4. ·         The importance of researching breeds
  5. ·         The best places to adopt a dog and average adoption costs
  6. ·         What to look for in a dog
  7. ·         Important questions to ask the shelter or rescue group
  8. ·         How rushing the adoption process can lead to frustration and heartache
  9. ·         What to expect during the adoption process
  10. ·         A list of everything you’ll need to care for your new pup
  11. ·         How to prepare for adoption day
  12. ·         Adoption day tips
  13. ·         How to bond with your new four-legged family member
  14. ·         Why consistency is important for you and your pooch
  15. ·         Tried-and-true tips and tricks for your dog’s first night at home
  16. ·         What to do when issues arise
  17. ·         Tips for your dog’s first week at home, and beyond

What to do if you’re on the fence about adoption We understand that adopting a dog can be an overwhelming process, so we’ll only cover the most essential information and avoid any fluff.

Important Questions to Ask Yourself Before Adopting a Dog

When you start searching for a pup, you’ll likely fall in love with multiple canines. It can be helpful to consider the following before making your selection:

Consider lifestyle: How much time can you devote to being a pup parent?

Virtually any dog you bring home will need help adjusting to the new environment, so you’ll need to pencil in plenty of time with your pup in the beginning. Some dog breeds are considered low-maintenance, while high-energy breeds need lots of exercise on a daily basis. There are dogs that rarely need grooming, but others need intensive brushing and/or regular professional grooming services, which can be time consuming and costly.

Consider the reason(s) you want to be a dog owner: Are you looking for a laidback companion or a travel buddy? Would you like to take your pup on a daily walk or run?

If you dream of owning a dog that will stay by your side during a weekend Netflix marathon, you should probably steer clear of breeds known for their energetic nature. If you’re looking for a travel-friendly dog, you’ll want to avoid anxiety-prone breeds. Some pups make excellent walking and running partners, while others simply can’t keep up.

Consider your living situation: Do you have a yard or access to a park where your dog can get daily exercise?

While virtually all dogs can benefit from daily outdoor time, some require more than others. If you live in an urban area with little access to open outdoor spaces, you may want to consider a breed that isn’t keen on vigorous activity.

Consider your housemates: If you have a partner and/or children, are they onboard with owning a dog?

It’s hard to believe, but dog ownership isn’t for everyone. It’s important to discuss the possibility of adoption with everyone in your family prior to starting the process. If your partner despises small dogs, or your child is deathly afraid of larger breeds, these issues should be addressed before choosing a pup. Keep in mind that some dogs are more kid-friendly than others, and children should be taught how to interact with dogs to ensure everyone’s safety.

Consider your support system: Do you have friends and/or family members who can dog sit when you’re away?

Whether you work long hours or enjoy frequent travel, you’ll want to have a couple of dog sitters on speed dial. Dogs who experience separation anxiety, and those who are left alone for long periods of time, are prone to acting out. Many busy dog owners utilize dog daycare and boarding services.

Consider your level of commitment: Are you able to offer consistent training, especially in the beginning?

There’s no doubt about it: Becoming a dog owner requires a long-term commitment. Canines thrive on companionship and routine, and their owners must possess an abundance of patience, especially in the beginning. Consistent training is the key to a successful introduction period and keeping destructive behavior at bay.

There are many helpful resources to help you train your dog at home. Our favorites include:

Lucky Dog Lessons by Brandon McMillan, which includes basic training techniques, a kind approach to learning commands, and solutions for common behavioral issues.

Dog Training Guide by George Allen, featuring personalized training tips, especially for adult and senior canines.

Consider the other pets in your household: Do your current animal(s) play well with others?

Many dogs love the companionship of fellow four-legged creatures, but warming up to a new dog may take some time for your current pets. For tips on introducing your pets, check out this informative article by Animal Planet.

Puppy or Dog? The Perks and Pitfalls of Adopting Pups vs. Adult Dogs


If you’re unsure whether to adopt a puppy or older dog, the following info should help:

Advantages and Disadvantages of Adopting a Puppy

We’re the first to admit that puppies are irresistible, but they often require more time and effort than older dogs. Let’s weigh the pros and cons of adopting a younger pup:


  • You can form an early bond, and you won’t have to break previously learned bad behaviors.
  • You could spend many happy years together.
  • Preventative care is typically much cheaper than diagnostic testing and healthcare treatments in older dogs.


  • Even the most patient people tend to find the puppy stage exhausting. From training to frequent cleanups and sleepless nights, puppy parents rarely get a break from the action.
  • A puppy’s personality can be unpredictable during the growing process.
  • It’s often difficult to predict how big a puppy will grow. Many dog owners admit that their 120lb pups were expected to weigh much less.

Adopting an Older Dog

Adult dogs come with a long list of perks and a few potential problems:


  • Adult dog owners don’t have to deal with the tiresome puppy stage.
  • Older dogs tend to be less hyper than peppy puppies.
  • Pet lovers with hectic schedules appreciate that grown dogs require less time and energy than puppies.
  • Dogs who are 3 years and older are typically more emotionally mature than puppies.
  • An adult dog’s personality is already developed and unlikely to drastically change.
  • With dogs who are fully grown, there’s no shock factor regarding size.


  • It can be difficult to break bad habits in older dogs.
  • Grown dogs who have been neglected or received improper care from a previous owner may require extensive healthcare.
  • While you can teach an old dog new tricks, it will likely take lots of time and patience.
  • Older dogs are prone to arthritis.

The Best Time to Adopt a Dog

While there’s no wrong time of year to adopt a dog, exercise and house training can be difficult in extreme temperatures or inclement weather. Because socializing a dog is extremely important, pup parents may need to get creative when introducing their dogs to new people and other canines.

It’s a good idea to adopt a puppy or dog when you have plenty of free time. New pets need lots of attention from their owners; however, frequent visitors can be overwhelming, so the holidays may not be the best time to bring a new pup home.

Finding Your Four-Legged Companion: 3 Great Ways to Adopt a Dog

Be sure to research breeds before starting the adoption process to avoid falling in love with a pooch that won’t mesh with your family or suit your lifestyle. If you’re keen on adopting a mixed breed pup, research both breeds, and ask the shelter or rescue group about any known behavioral problems.

1. Shelters

When you adopt a dog from a shelter, you are literally saving a life. Many dogs who end up in shelters have survived horrific circumstances. At best, their owners were unable to keep them, which can be traumatizing in itself; however, these dogs have often been neglected and/or abused and are in desperate need of a loving home. Your new companion will be forever grateful.

Shelters generally charge an adoption fee of $0 to $500, and most have each dog vet checked, vaccinated, and spayed or neutered before sending the pup to his or her new home. Check with your local shelter for adoption fees and what’s included.

2. Rescue Groups

Rescue dogs are typically kept in foster homes until they find a new forever home. The individuals who take these pups in temporarily are able to form a close connection with the dogs and monitor any behavior problems. Foster parents can also help determine if a dog and potential owner are a good match.

Rescue groups charge between $50 and $300 for adoption, on average, and pups are usually examined by a veterinarian, vaccinated, and spayed or neutered prior to adoption.

3. Adoption Services

Online adoption services can help connect you with the right pet for you and your family. is a non-profit organization that advocates pet adoption and offers an easy-to-use database to simplify your search.

The dogs listed on reside in shelters and rescue groups, so the adoption fees are based on the shelter or rescue’s fee schedule.

What to Look for in a Dog


When searching for your doggy soulmate, it’s important to keep a few things in mind. The following do’s and don’ts will help you decide which hound to take home:


  • Pay attention to the connection between you and the dog.
  • Consider dogs who have been at the shelter or rescue for a while. Black dogs, senior dogs, and those with disabilities are often passed over, despite the fact that they’d make excellent companions.
  • Spend as much time with the dog as possible. Take walks together, introduce him or her to your family members, and spend quality one-on-one time together.
  • If you have other dogs at home, ask the shelter or rescuer if you can introduce the canines. While it may take time for them to warm up to each other, it’s important to see how they interact.
  • Ask the shelter or rescue group if they allow owners to return dogs. While it’s important to get to know a dog as much as possible prior to adoption, you may notice new behaviors once your dog has settled into your home. This process can take several weeks or even months, so discussing returns with the organization is essential.


  • Choose a dog based solely on breed or looks.
  • Select a “working dog” if you live in an apartment or urban setting with little access to open outdoor areas for your dog to exercise.
  • Adopt a dog based on his story. While the pup’s past may be heart wrenching, he or she may not be a good fit for your family or lifestyle.
  • Rush the process. Finding the perfect dog can take time. Be selective, and never settle. Keep in mind that some shelters and rescue groups allow potential pet owners to foster a dog before initiating adoption. Fostering is a great way to connect and determine if the pup is right for you, and vice versa.

Creating a Dog Wish List

In addition to the do’s and don’ts listed above, you may want to make a wish list before searching for a dog. Divide the list into must-have traits and preferred traits, and include any deal breakers. Emotions can take over while looking for a pup, but your list can help keep you grounded when you’re tempted to take home the first adorable canine you see.

10 Important Questions to Ask the Shelter or Rescue

We highly recommend taking along a list with the following questions (and any others you can think of) when visiting a shelter or rescue:

  1. What is the dog’s history? Was he surrendered or found as a stray?
  2. How is the dog’s current behavior? Does he or she have a history of behavioral problems?
  3. Do you conduct behavior tests? If so, can you provide a copy of the results?
  4. Has the dog been trained and socialized?
  5. Has the dog received veterinary care? Does he or she have any special medical needs, such as medication, health problems, etc.?
  6. Has the dog been spayed or neutered?
  7. What is involved in the adoption process, and how long does it typically take?
  8. What is the fee for adoption, and what is included in the price?
  9. What food and treats is this dog used to?
  10. Can I return the dog if things don’t work out? What is your policy?

Additionally, if you have pets at home, enquire about the dog’s behavior around other animals, and ask if you can bring your dog(s) to the shelter for a doggy meet-and-greet.

The Dog Adoption Process

While the adoption process varies depending on the shelter or rescue, common steps include:

  • Filling out an extensive application, including personal and family information, lifestyle and activity level, information about your current pets, your experience with animals, and which veterinarian you plan to use. If you rent, the adoption coordinator may check with the property owner to ensure pets are allowed in your home or apartment.
  • An in-person interview with a shelter or rescue representative. This person may ask you to elaborate on the information provided on your application, and observe you with the dog.
  • A meet-and-greet with your family and any other pets to determine if the dog is a good fit.
  • Signing a contract, which will likely include adoption rules and expectations.
  • Taking your pet home. If your chosen dog has already visited the vet and been cleared for adoption, you could take him or her home right away. In many cases, new pup parents have to wait anywhere from a few days to several weeks to bring their dog home.



Dog Starter Kit: What You’ll Need for Your New Pup

You’ll want to pick up the following items before bringing your dog home:

  1. Collar
  2. Leash
  3. Identification tag
  4. Food: dry and/or canned
  5. Treats
  6. Food and water bowls
  7. Crate and/or carrier
  8. Toys
  9. Dog bed
  10. Dog shampoo
  11. Sponge
  12. Comb or brush
  13. Nail clippers
  14. Toothbrush and toothpaste specifically for dogs
  15. Enzymatic cleaner
  16. First aid kit

Optional items include:

  1. Puppy pads, for house training
  2. Waste bags
  3. Pet/baby gates

Prepping for Adoption Day

Ahead of bringing your new pooch home, you’ll want to prepare your home, making it as comfortable and dog-friendly as possible. Preparations should include:

  • Having everything your pup needs on-hand. Refer to the Dog Starter Kit section above.
  • Dog proofing your home. Make sure any choking hazards and other harmful items are out of your dog’s reach, along with any items you prefer to remain bite-free. Some dogs love chewing on shoes, slippers, stuffed animals, etc., and it may take some time to break this bad habit.
  • Establishing who will feed, walk, and train your pup. It will help to discuss these expectations before bringing your dog home.
  • A safe, quiet place for your dog to rest and recharge. Like humans, dogs need downtime, and your pooch will undoubtedly appreciate having a space of his own. Many dogs enjoy the safety and security of a crate. If you prefer a crate-free home, designate a room or other area where your dog can enjoy regular quiet time.
  • A plan for bringing your pup home. Take along a collar and leash if these items aren’t provided by the shelter or rescue, and if possible, ask a loved one to drive so you can give your dog your undivided attention. It’s important to spend time acclimating your dog to your home, so plan on plenty of together time in the beginning.
  • Schedule a vet visit. Your dog should visit the veterinarian within the first week of coming home.


Bringing Your Dog Home


Hurray! It’s finally adoption day! The following tips will ensure a happy homecoming:

  1. Go straight home. Be prepared, and don’t make any pit stops.
  2. When arriving home, walk your new arrival around the yard on a leash. Show the pooch where to use the bathroom, and have treats on-hand as a reward for a job well done.
  3. Introduce family members one at a time. A big welcome party can overwhelm a pup. Let your dog get acquainted with each family member individually, and allow the canine to initiate contact. Avoid hugs, kisses, etc. in the beginning, as these interactions can be overstimulating.
  4. Family time only. Your pup will need time to adjust to his or her new living situation. Make your home a visitor-free zone for the first several days.
  5. Take frequent trips outdoors. Even well-trained dogs may need to be reminded that they are indeed house trained. Patience is key, especially in the beginning.
  6. Give your dog plenty of private time. It may be tempting to snuggle up to your pup constantly, but he or she will likely need time to unwind after exploring your home and getting to know you and your family.
  7. Be cautious when introducing your new pup to other pets. Introduce your new addition to any other dogs outside, and don’t let your new canine chase your cat(s). Avoid leaving your pets alone together until everyone appears to feel safe and comfortable.

The First Night with Your Dog

We can’t predict if your new pup will sleep peacefully or whine his or her way through the first night at your home. Along with a massive amount of patience, the following tips should help you both survive your first overnight together:

  1. Fill his or her belly. A good meal often leads to a good night’s sleep.
  2. Encourage relaxation before bed. Avoid play and excitement leading up to bedtime. It can be difficult for dogs to settle down after a play session.
  3. Put your pup’s bed in a quiet corner, preferably in your bedroom. The first night can be difficult in a new place, so make your pooch as comfy as possible. Remember: The spot your pup sleeps on the first night doesn’t have to be forever.
  4. If your dog has a crate, leave it open. This may prove to be your canine’s preferred place to sleep.
  5. Surround your dog with soft, non-squeaky toys. They can be comforting and keep your pup occupied if he or she wakes up during the night.
  6. Avoid hopping out of bed every time your dog whimpers. It’s important to teach your canine that you’re unavailable after bedtime, with the exception of emergencies, of course.

The First Week with Your Canine

Your first week with your pup will likely be the perfect blend of companionship and chaos. These tips will help you survive week one:

  1. Do what works for you: Some pet pros recommend taking “pawternity” leave to bond with your pet, establish rules and routines, and help prevent and correct behavioral problems. Other experts warn that constant togetherness during the first week can lead to separation anxiety and other issues once the staycation is over. A happy medium may be taking an extended weekend to bond with your new family member.
  2. Follow through on house rules: Whether you’re home full-time during the first week or not, it’s important to set ground rules and enforce them consistently. Make sure everyone in your home is aware of these rules and abides by them, too.
  3. Stick to a schedule: Establish and maintain a daily routine with your pup, including regular potty breaks, meal times, exercise, play time, relaxation, and bedtime. It will take a while for your dog to get used to the house rules and daily schedule, so be patient and practice self-care to prevent frustration.
  4. Plan on being homebound: Too many outings, or exposure to lots of new people, can be overwhelming for a dog. Stay close to home during the first week, and don’t be afraid to tell friends and extended family members to hold off on stopping by.

Week Two and Beyond


After the first week, you and your pooch can start building on your routine and continue to strengthen your bond. Here are a few tips to try once you’ve made it through week one:

  1. Enroll your pup in obedience or training classes: Virtually any dog can benefit from professional training. Not only will you and your pooch meet other people and pups; you’ll learn valuable skills that could greatly impact your relationship and your dog’s behavior going forward. Look for a trainer who uses positive reinforcement, and be sure to ask which class is best suited to you and your pup.
  2. Strike a balance between play and relaxation: Even the most energetic dogs need downtime, so offset fun activities with rest and cuddle time.
  3. Prioritize socialization: Regardless of your dog’s age, he or she needs exposure to new people, places, and things on a regular basis. Start small by walking around your neighborhood, and when your pup is ready, slowly work up to strolling through busier areas, or visit a popular dog park. Pay attention to your pup’s demeanor, and head home if he or she needs a break from the action.

Bonding with Your Four-Legged Friend

There’s much more to bonding than cuddles and treats. These tips and tricks will help you connect with your pup:

  1. Practice patience by giving your dog all the time he or she needs to warm up to you and your home.
  2. Don’t underestimate routine. Your adherence to a schedule will boost your dog’s comfort level and demonstrate your dependability.
  3. Set house rules and stick to them. Make sure everyone in the family is aware with acceptable and unacceptable behaviors, and keep the lines of communication open when it comes to training and rewardable behavior. Boundaries = respect.
  4. Pencil in exercise and playtime. Your dog needs exercise, and playtime is an excellent way to develop your bond. Playing fetch with a ball or Frisbee is a great place to start. Walks, jogs, swimming, and tug-of-war are also fun bonding activities for you and your pet.
  5. Prioritize relaxation. Along with exercise and play, your pup needs rest, and so do you! Spend time relaxing with your dog every day to help strengthen your bond.
  6. Treat your dog to hand feedings. Boost your hound’s trust by feeding him or her from your hand daily.
  7. Start with simple tricks. Short training sessions are ideal for new adoptees. Reward your dog’s efforts, and work your way up to challenging tricks slowly.
  8. Encourage good behavior. Your dog will likely respond well to praise and positive reinforcement. From nailing a trick to waiting patiently for the next bathroom break, let your pup know when you’re proud on a regular basis.

When Issues Arise

Problems are unavoidable when it comes to taking in a new pet. Below, we highlight a few common behavioral problems and underlying issues, along with tried-and-true ways to deal with them:

  1. Incessant barking: If your dog won’t stop barking, anxiety or pent-up energy could be the root cause. He or she might be bored or simply craving attention. Addressing these issues could lead to a quieter, less-stressed pup.
  2. Chewing: When dogs chew on random objects, they are usually bored or anxious. Provide a variety of toys, and offer praise when your dog chooses to chew on a toy rather than your sofa or slippers.
  3. Separation anxiety: If your pup freaks out when you walk out the door, make leaving and returning home insignificant events. Announcing your departure can worsen separation anxiety. Try offering your pet an item of clothing that smells like you while you’re away.
  4. Accidents: In some cases, accidents can indicate an underlying health issue. Schedule a vet visit to ensure your pup is in tip-top shape. If accidents persist, further housebreaking may be in order.
  5. Begging: If your dog is prone to begging, just say no (consistently) when it comes to table scraps. Teach your dog to go to his quiet place during meals, or make him go to another room while you’re eating. If your pup obeys the rules and behaves throughout the meal, offer a nutritious treat as a reward (after you’ve cleared the table and disposed of any fallen scraps).
  6. Chasing: It’s natural for dogs to chase people, other animals, and basically anything that moves. While outdoors, keep your dog on a leash, and train your pup to come to you when you call his or her name. Keep a close eye on your canine to identify any moving people or objects that may be a trigger.
  7. Jumping: It’s difficult to ignore an attention-seeking dog, but it’s often necessary to prevent pups from jumping. Once your dog calms down, you can offer praise and a treat as a reward.
  8. Biting: When a dog bites, it’s not always triggered by aggression. Canines who are fearful or in pain may resort to biting. It’s also common for dogs to bite due to their need to protect or defend, and it’s sometimes simply a natural instinct. Proper training is essential to prevent biting. Some pup parents hire a professional trainer to help break this potentially harmful habit.
  9. Aggression: Dogs who exhibit aggressive behavior have often survived abuse or neglect. Environmental factors play a big part in aggression, which may include growling, snarling, and even biting. The first step is scheduling a vet visit to ensure there are no underlying health concerns. If the doc gives your pup a clean bill of health, consult a dog trainer who has experience with aggressive dogs.

Unsure if You’re Ready to Adopt a Pup?

Now that we’ve covered everything there is to know about dog adoption and the first few weeks, you may have a better idea whether you’re ready to adopt.

If you’re still on the fence, it’s probably not quite time to make a long-term commitment.

Volunteering at a local shelter, pet sitting for a friend or neighbor, or fostering a dog could help you determine if you’re ready to add a canine to your family.


Dog Ownership is One of Life’s Greatest Joys

You’ve probably heard that owning a dog is a lot of work, and it undoubtedly is; however, it’s also an incredibly rewarding experience.

We might be biased, but we believe the perks far outweigh the pitfalls when it comes to dog adoption.

Dogs bring joy to their owners, add purpose to their lives, and offer an endless supply of love and companionship, not to mention a plethora of physical and mental health benefits.

As the late wildlife preservationist and author Roger A. Caras once said, “Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.”


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