Planning to adopt a dog? Good for you! With approximately 3.1 million dogs entering U.S. animal shelters annually, providing a loving, stable home to a pooch in need is one of the best decisions you can make. Before you start daydreaming about spoiling your future pup with the coolest dog gear (hello, matching dog harness and leash sets), it’s important to do your research and make sure you’re asking the right questions. That way, you know you’re choosing the right dog for your family and lifestyle.
To help you find the perfect canine companion, here are a few questions to ask when adopting a dog.
Questions to Ask When Adopting a Dog
1. Do I meet the requirements to adopt a dog?
Whether you're getting your dog from an animal shelter or a private rescue group, you can usually count on both organizations to have a unique set of requirements that potential adopters need to meet before they can bring home a dog. (If they don't, consider it a big red flag.) Depending on the animal rescue organization you go through, this could be anything from filling out a simple questionnaire to scheduling a home visit and providing a list of references.
It can be tempting to lie on your pet adoption application, especially when you have your eye on a specific pup. But doing so could result in a dog going to a home that isn’t a good match for them. For the sake of the dog’s well-being, you should be as open and honest as possible on your adoption questionnaire.
2. How much is the adoption fee and what does it cover?
While adopting a dog is generally less expensive than getting one from a breeder, that doesn’t mean your furry friend will come free of charge. Most organizations have adoption fees that help cover the medical expenses of the pet, as well as food and other necessities while the dog waits for his or her forever home. These fees can range from $50 to $600 for dogs, depending on factors such as the dog’s age, breed and health.
If that seems like a high price for a shelter pup, just know that you’re probably getting the better end of the deal. The Animal Humane Society estimates that pet adoption fees only cover 39 percent of the total cost of care for the animal, with the remaining 61 percent being covered by private donations and fundraising events. Plus, these fees usually cover expenses that the prospective adopter would otherwise have to pay for themselves, such as spay and neutering, vaccinations, flea treatments, microchipping and more.
3. Has the dog undergone temperament testing? May I see the results?
In addition to a health exam, shelter pets often undergo basic temperament testing that helps screen for certain qualities and behaviors. At a minimum, the dog is screened for qualities like friendliness and sociability towards other people and animals. Larger organizations may have more funding, allowing them to perform in-depth assessments that test for anxiety, arousal, possession aggression and more.
As with dog and cat friendliness assessments, the results of temperament testing are by no means concrete. You should still exercise caution when introducing your dog to new people and situations.
Also, keep in mind that you can do your own behavioral assessments while at the shelter. Here’s how:
- Read up on dog body language. People misread canine body language all the time, especially in chaotic environments like animal shelters. Taking the time to learn about dog body language will help you understand what the dog is trying to communicate, which in turn will make it easier for you to get an accurate read on them.
- Hold out your hand and talk to them. Offer your hand to the dog (outside of the kennel) and talk softly to the dog. If the dog comes up to you with his tail wagging and ears perked up, it’s a good indication they’re friendly and sociable.
- Watch how the dog interacts with different situations. Stand to the side and watch how the dog responds to different people. If the dog shies away from loud noises or children, they might not be a good fit for a home with kids.
- Schedule multiple meet-and-greets. Once you find a dog that you’d like to get to know better, ask a staff member if you can take them somewhere quiet. You’d be amazed at how differently some shelter dogs behave just by being away from all the barking.
4. How did the dog end up at the shelter?
Was the dog picked up as a stray? Surrendered to the shelter? Rescued from a hoarding situation? Sometimes, surrendered pups will come to the shelter with a bit of history, which is incredibly important to know because it can help you determine if you’ll be a good match. For example, if the dog was surrendered because it kept digging its way out of the backyard, you’ll need to decide if you’re willing to put in the time and work to correct the problem. Other dogs may have an unknown history, which means you’ll need to rely on observations from the shelter staff to tell you more about the dog.
5. Does the dog get along with other animals?
If you have other furry family members at home, you’ll want to find out how the dog does with other animals. Some shelter dogs are good with other dogs, but have a high prey drive that might make them unsuitable for a home with cats. In contrast, some dogs are perfectly fine with cats but show aggression when forced to share a home with another dog.
So, how do you know if the dog you’re interested in is good with other animals? While there’s no foolproof way to tell, many shelters do some form of dog- and cat-testing to determine if the shelter pet can live with other animals. This information can often be found on the shelter pet’s adoption profile, which is usually located on the shelter’s website or hanging outside the dog’s kennel.
However, keep in mind that these assessments are guidelines only. You should still be cautious and take things slow when introducing your new dog to other furry family members.
6. Is the dog housetrained?
Many dogs arrive at animal shelters fully housetrained, only to pick up bad habits because of not getting enough opportunities to relieve themselves outside. Others were never housetrained to begin with because they spent their entire lives outside or relieving themselves in a particular spot that isn’t found in their new home (think a doggy pee pad or a concrete floor).
Additionally, some housetrained dogs will urinate in a new home because they’re anxious and want to make the space smell familiar to them. To avoid this, make sure your dog relieves himself before you introduce him to his new home. It may also be helpful to let the dog explore his new home one room at a time.
7. Can the dog walk nicely on a leash?
Sadly, many dogs are surrendered due to unwanted but easily correctable behaviors — chief among them is walking poorly on a leash. More often than not, leash walking issues are the result of a dog owner who never bothered to teach their puppy proper leash manners.
If you find out that the dog you’re interested in needs a lot of leash work, don’t be too quick to write them off. While leash pulling is undoubtedly a frustrating habit, it’s often easily correctable with the right gear and a little bit of patience.
Tip: If you’re looking for a great training tool for your tug-happy pup, check out the cute dog harnesses at Beast & Buckle. Our no-pull dog harnesses are designed to discourage pulling and come in an array of fashionable designs to show off your new furry family member!
8. What type of medical care did the dog receive? Are they in good health?
It’s always a good idea to inquire about your prospective dog’s health history. Sometimes, dogs will show up at the shelter with common health issues, such as flea and tick infestations, malnutrition and viral infections. While some of these issues are easy to resolve, others may require long-term treatment that could impact the dog’s adoption timeline.
Most shelters and rescues will have a veterinarian or a veterinarian technician perform a health check on the dog upon admittance into the facility. Ask if you can look at the results of the exam and if the staff has any knowledge of the dog’s prior medical history.
9. What food is the dog currently eating and how much?
Upon being adopted, shelter dogs experience a whirlwind of changes all at once: a new home, a new family and a whole new way of life. Therefore, it’s best to keep your dog on the same diet for the first few weeks until she’s settled in and comfortable in her new home. Make sure you ask the shelter staff what food the dog is eating, how much and how often. Try to stick to the dog’s regular feeding schedule as best you can.
If you prefer to switch your dog’s food, talk with a veterinarian first to ensure that the dog doesn’t need to be on a special diet. When you switch her food, make sure you do it gradually to avoid giving her an upset tummy.
10. Will the shelter take the dog back if things don’t work out?
Looking into your prospective dog’s big brown eyes, it can be difficult to imagine any scenario in which you end up returning your furry family member to the shelter. But life happens. You might be hit with unexpected expenses and find yourself struggling to afford basic care for your canine companion. The dog could get into fights with your other furry family members, resulting in serious injury to one or both animals.
It’s worth noting that there are steps you can take to help keep the dog in your home. For example, if your dog develops a medical condition and you can’t afford to make a lump sum payment, many veterinarians will gladly work with you to come up with a payment plan. Additionally, Meals on Wheels, a local program that addresses senior hunger and isolation, has a program called PAWS that delivers free pet food, dog bones and pet medications to those in need.
11. Am I willing to be a responsible dog owner?
You’ve asked the shelter staff all the right questions and are now getting excited about the prospect of bringing your furry friend home. But have you stopped to ask yourself whether you’re ready to take on the responsibilities of owning a shelter pet?
Note: The following list is by no means exhaustive but here’s a general idea of the responsibilities you’ll have as a dog owner.
- Provide a safe place for them to relax. Your dog doesn’t need a temperpedic bed or anything like that, but they should have a comfortable place where they can go to wind down. Many dog owners find crate training to be an invaluable tool that can also double as a special place for their pups to relax.
- Schedule annual checkups. Taking your four-legged companion to the vet once a year is key to keeping them in good health. Even healthy dogs need annual checkups, so don’t skip them!
- Get your dog licensed and microchipped. Getting your dog licensed and microchipped will ensure that you’re reunited with your pup should they ever become lost. To keep your furry friend safe, be sure to check out our selection of blank dog tags for pets and have one engraved for your pet at your earliest convenience.
- Give your dog regular exercise. Exercise needs will vary by breed, age and health, but all dogs need a minimum of 30 minutes of activity per day.
- Pick up after your dog. Leaving your dog’s waste in someone’s yard isn’t cool and can contribute to the spread of disease. Don’t be that dog owner! Buy yourself a cute dog poop bag holder (or two) and clean up after your pet every time.
Get Your Shelter Pup Started Off on the Right Paw
Once you've made the life-changing decision to bring a shelter dog home, you'll want to do everything you can to help your dog fully adjust to new life. Remember — there are no perfect dogs. Your pup is bound to make a few mistakes while they acclimate to their new home. Give your four-legged friend time to acclimate, and they’ll reward you with years of joy and unconditional love.
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