Few things provide as much love and devotion as a dog. That’s why it’s no surprise that around 1.6 million dogs are adopted from shelters each year—and even more when you add in adoptions from rescue groups and breeders. Once you figure out how to adopt a dog and experience the joy a dog brings to your life, it’s almost impossible to be without one.
“Dogs and cats can provide judgement free companionship and a release from life's stresses,” says Jessie Roper, lifesaving outcomes specialist for Best Friends Animal Society. “They help you live in the moment, bring a smile to your face, or just cuddle up with you on the couch after a long day.”
If you’re interested in expanding your family with a new dog but don’t know where to start, the process can seem overwhelming. Should you browse your local shelter or find your new friend online? How will you know when a dog is right for you? What should you have ready when they come home? Are you even ready to add a dog to your life?
Our guide below will walk you through the dog adoption process step-by-step, from the moment you even consider a new pet all the way to bringing them home. Adopting a new pet is a beautiful and memorable moment that should be cherished for a lifetime, so let us help you make that transition as easy and stress-free as possible.
Am I Ready for a Dog?
How do you know if you’re ready to adopt a dog? Welcoming a pet into your family is a big commitment in many different ways.
“You’ll want to consider how your new dog will fit into your current lifestyle and home,” says Roper. “If you don't have a fenced-in yard, do you have the time to walk your dog several times per day so he can exercise and use the bathroom? Will your other pets or family members at home be comfortable with a newcomer? Are you willing to learn some basic training techniques so you can communicate well with your new pup?”
Before running to the shelter and falling in love with a sweet pound puppy, here are some factors to consider:
How stable is your household? Do you plan to move anytime soon? Are the kids getting ready for head to college? Eric Merchant, an adoption representative of Greyhound Pets of America Greater Northwest, says these are key things to consider before adopting a new dog. “For me, stable living situation is key,” he says. “Dogs need some time to settle in, so I won't place dogs in households that are preparing to move in the near future or have kids leave the house.”
Caring for a dog takes time. Every day, you’ll need to feed your pal, take them to the bathroom and exercise them, Merchant says. You’ll need to groom them regularly, including trimming their toenails, brushing their coat and teeth, and giving them a bath. You’ll need to take them to the veterinarian for checkups and shots. And you’ll need to consider how long the dog will be a part of your life, which could be up to 10-plus years depending on the breed.
A dog also costs money. You need to have enough to buy quality food and treats, toys, a collar and leash, grooming supplies, medicine and supplements, a bed, cleaning supplies and more. You’ll also need to pay for veterinary bills and possibly pet insurance, a groomer and a trainer. And these things are just the beginning. A pet doesn’t cost quite as much as a child—but it’s pretty close!
“Adopters should be prepared to face an unexpected vet bill at any time,” Merchant says. “Doesn't mean you have to be rich, just realistic about what adequate veterinary care entails and the fact that random injuries do occur.”
Another point to consider is the humans in your family and the role the dog will play in your life. Is everyone ready to help care for the dog, or will all the responsibility fall to one person? Will you need to call for backup because schedules aren’t lining up? “I don't like to leave a dog alone more than five hours a day,” Merchant says. “So, if everyone in the home works outside the home, you may have to arrange for a dog walker in the middle of the day.”
If you have children, are they old enough to understand what having a dog means? If you’re older, will you have the ability to walk the dog, be agile enough to share a home with them and care for them as you both age?
Space, Inside and Out
Having another living being in your home is also something to think about. If you live in tight quarters, is a big German Shepherd a good idea? A dog will also need a yard to stretch their legs and go to the bathroom.
These, of course, are just a few things to think about before adopting a dog. Whatever you do, avoid being spontaneous. Consider your situation carefully before making such a commitment.
And “if you’re not sure you’re ready to adopt, or you're not sure what kind of dog would be a good match for your family, consider fostering a dog instead,” says Roper. “You can open your home to a dog in need and help save a life whether that dog ends up being a match for your home or not.”
Where to Adopt a Dog
When you’re ready to adopt a dog, you have quite a few choices. To ensure you’re getting your pal from a reputable source, head to an animal shelter, animal rescue, trusted breeder or established online source, like Adopt-a-Pet.com.
Most counties or cities have an animal shelter or humane society that takes in stray dogs or dogs that are relinquished by their owners. These dogs are often perfectly healthy and sound animals and make wonderful pets.
It is possible that some shelter pets may have behavioral or medical issues to contend with. Be sure to have a discussion with the shelter staff of any outstanding concerns, but keep in mind that some issues may not reveal themselves until you bring the animal home.
Animal rescues come in several forms—for instance, all-breed rescues and purebred rescues—and most of them are run by folks who are passionate and dedicated to finding ideal homes for the animals in their care. In most cases, they will screen and scrutinize prospective homes very carefully before adopting out their dogs.
If you’re looking to adopt a purebred rescue, a trusted breeder may be an option. They often have adult males or females whom they no longer use for breeding or who have developed flaws that no longer allow them to compete in conformation shows. Though they’re past their prime, they make wonderful and loving house pets.
An established online resource like Adopt-a-Pet.com is also a fantastic way to search for your perfect pal across the country and beyond. The website collates adoptable pets from rescues and shelters across the country. You can search by age, breed or location and then scroll through the photos and descriptions to learn more. You can even sign up for new pet alerts, which will let you know by email when new pets are available in your area.
Avoid questionable sources, like dogs posted in newspaper ads, for sale in the back of a pickup truck, listed on Craigslist and the like. You won’t know whether they’re from backyard breeders or puppy mills, most of which treat their animals poorly and are only in the business to make money.
What to Expect During Dog Adoption Process
The dog adoption process varies depending on how you find your dog. However, once you’ve found your source—a shelter, a rescue, a breeder or an online resource—here’s what you can generally expect:
Initial contact: “Most groups will have information about their adoption process on their website, so start there first,” Roper says. If you visit a shelter in person, you won’t need an appointment in most cases (see section below regarding COVID-19 restrictions). If you contact a rescue, a breeder or an online source by telephone or email, you will need to set up a time to meet in person, either at your home or the rescue’s facility or breeder’s home.
“For Greyhound Pets of America GNW, an online application gets the process started,” Merchant says. “After you complete the online app, the placement volunteer calls and makes an appointment to visit with their Greyhound to get a sense of the household, meet any current pets, and take a look at the yard and fencing.”
Application: You will need to complete an application to adopt a dog. Some applications are simple, asking your name, address and reason for adopting; others require more extensive information about your home, yard, fencing, other animals, whether you have children, your knowledge of the breed and more. If you rent your home, be prepared to have your rental agreement or letter from your landlord stating that you can have a pet, says Merchant.
“Be patient if you don't hear back right away. Many rescues and shelters are receiving lots of adoption interest during COVID-19 so they may not be able to respond immediately,” says Roper.
Meet and greet: If your application is accepted and the adoption moves forward, you will have a chance to meet the dog and make sure your personalities mesh. At a shelter, this will happen in a fenced yard or kennel at the facility; through a rescue or breeder, this will happen at your appointment.
Your current dogs will need to mesh with the new dog, too, so plan to set up a separate appointment time for them to meet. You can also check with the new dog’s caregiver to see whether they have been temperament tested around other animals, Merchant says.
“Our Greyhounds are tested with small dogs and cats when they come to us,” he says. “Since they have high prey drives, this is something we take very seriously. Introductions generally happen on the day of the adoption. At any sign of aggression, we'll call off the adoption, but generally if a Greyhound has been determined to be cat- or small-dog safe, they will be happy to meet their new housemate.”
The fees: How much does it cost to adopt a dog? This will vary depending on where you get the animal—but you will generally be charged an adoption fee of at least $50. Typically, younger, more popular dogs or purebred dogs will cost more than older dogs. Keep in mind that the fee includes initial medical care, spay/neuter costs, transport costs, microchip, license fee, boarding and food. When you think about it, $50 is a bargain!
Welcome home! Once everything is OK’d and the fees are paid, your pal is ready to go to their new home. Be sure to have an appropriately sized carrier or seatbelt harness ready for safe transport. After you get home with them, if something happens and the adoption won’t work out, most reputable organizations will let you bring the dog back with no questions asked, Merchant says.
Introductions: When you get home, that’s time to introduce your dog to your home and yard. It will take some time—weeks to months, in some cases—for your new pal to get used to the place and your routine. Be patient, because this is a learning experience for both them and you. And if you already have pets in your home, be sure to follow best practices for introducing your dog to your new dog and introducing your cat to your new dog to ensure a smooth transition.
Veterinarian visits: Take your new dog to your veterinarian as soon as you can to establish them as a new patient. Bring all the paperwork provided by the shelter, rescue group or breeder, including when the dog has had their shots, heartworm treatment, and flea and tick preventive. If you don’t have an established veterinarian, ask your trusted dog-parent friends who they use.
Establish your team: Now that your new dog is getting settled, it’s time to think about other members of your dog-care team, including your groomer, trainer, doggy daycare, dog walker—all depending on you and your dog’s needs. Choose them carefully!
Adopting a Dog During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Thanks to COVID-19, everything has changed—including how shelters, rescues and breeders are handling finding homes for their dogs. What has changed?
- If you’re heading to a shelter, call ahead to find out if appointment is needed. Some states have eased restrictions, while others have tightened them.
- Wear your mask, of course! Whether you’re going to a shelter or meeting with a rescue representative or breeder, don your mask and keep a safe distance, even if you’re feeling healthy.
- Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before and after touching dogs, no matter where you are. The virus hasn’t been known to pass via dog fur, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
- Some organizations are doing virtual home visits, notes Merchant. “Adopters are sending pictures of their yards and fences,” he says.
- Help support your local shelters and rescue groups with donations when possible, Merchant says. “Many of our fundraising opportunities have dried up, and our ‘Meet a Retired Racer’ events at pet stores have been put on hold.”
How to Choose a Dog
When choosing a particular dog to join your family, it can be a challenge to know what you’re getting before you live with them for a while. However, you should consider their gender, age and health before you take the dog home.
Roper encourages adopters to keep an open mind when choosing a dog. “Don't judge a book by its cover!” she says. “You can't tell much about a dog's personality by how he or she looks, so think about what you want to do with your future pet. Do you want a running buddy or a couch potato? Are you a social butterfly who wants a dog to go everywhere with you or would you rather Netflix and chill at home?”
She says to communicate your preferences with a staff member at the shelter who knows the dogs’ personalities well and could potentially find you a match. “Your ‘matchmaker’ may have suggestions for you that you would have never considered but might be the perfect fit for your family,” she says.
Here are some more tips for choosing a dog to adopt:
Male or Female?
Male and female dogs embody distinct characteristics that make them unique. You can see these behavioral differences readily when the dog is not spayed or neutered. Males are loyal and devoted companions, but they have more of a tendency to mark their territory. While females might mark too, they also come into heat twice a year, requiring you to guard them from male suitors.
If you decide to adopt a spayed or neutered dog, many of his or her gender traits might diminish, but his or her personality won’t change.
Puppy, Adult or Senior?
When you’re looking for a dog to adopt, there’s nothing quite like a puppy. Cute and cuddly, the gaze from a puppy’s big, round eyes can melt any heart.
But puppies are a lot of work, too. “If you're considering a puppy, make sure you have time for everything that goes with it. Just like human kids, puppies need education, enrichment, exercise and lots of attention,” says Roper. “Puppies aren't the right fit for every home, but they can be a great option for families who are looking to invest in their dog's future by socializing them and training them from a young age.”
Puppies will rely on you completely to care for their every need. You’ll teach them how to act, where to sleep and what to play with. As they grow up, you’ll help mold their personality and behavior.
An adult dog, however, can be a delight, too. They have graduated from that awkward puppy stage into adulthood, rendering them more manageable and independent. Depending on their history and training skills, you may not have to send them to basic obedience classes or housetrain them. They’re more likely to be ready to be your constant companion.
“For those looking for more of a plug and play experience, consider an adult dog or a senior who can fit into your current routine,” says Roper. “Older dogs can make the best companions—they can offer wonderful friendship for adopters looking for mellower experience, and they have left the teething stage far behind them!”
To determine if a dog is in good health, look for the following features:
- Clear, bright eyes with no redness, discharge or injuries
- A cold, wet nose with no discharge of any kind
- Clean, odor-free ears with no signs of ear mites or infection
- Clean and bright teeth with little tartar
- A smooth, clean coat free from external parasites, including fleas, ticks and mange
- Healthy, pink or black (depending on the breed) skin with no sores
- An overall sound structure with healthy legs, paws and body
- No signs of coughing, congestion or diarrhea
- Free and easy movement with no difficultly moving about
- Up to date on their shots and vaccinations
When meeting your dog for the first time, they should be happy to see you and willing to approach you without fear. The pooch should appear confident and not afraid of sudden sounds or movements.
Another important behavioral consideration to make is how the dog interacts with other animals. To see if your potential new dog is well-socialized, observe how the pet reacts in the presence of other animals during your meet-and-greet. You can also ask the pet’s caregiver if the dog has been temperament tested beforehand for better insight into their behavior.
When choosing a particular dog breed, keep in mind their activity level and what they enjoy doing. For instance, if you live on a farm and need a dog to herd your sheep or you like long endurance hikes, a herding or working dog would be an ideal pick, Merchant says. “Going in, you should understand what role the dog will play in your life,” he continues. “Exercise partner, emotional support, working dog on a farm? The roles can vary, so you want to have clear expectations going in.”
Preparing Your Home for a New Dog
Preparing your home and yard for a new dog is similar to doing so for a curious toddler.
“My rule of thumb for bringing home a new dog is to supervise them as much as you can in the beginning so you can prevent behavior problems before they start,” says Roper. “Your dog doesn't know what you expect from them unless you communicate what you want, so provide lots of opportunities to go potty, and give them appropriate toys and chews so they don’t try to find their own.”
Look at the world from your dog’s perspective and pay particular attention to the following areas:
The kitchen contains all sorts of interesting drawers, cabinets and cords, not to mention smells and tastes. Childproof latches, which can be found at your local hardware store, prevent curious dogs from investigating and keep potentially dangerous foods and cleaning supplies out of reach. Tuck power cords out of reach or enclose them in a chew-proof PVC tube to divert your dog’s attention.
Tempting smells entice dogs, too. Be diligent about putting leftovers away rather than leaving them on the counter. And secure the garbage can with a locking lid or store it behind a latched cabinet door to keep the rubbish inside the can—not all over the kitchen floor! (Remember, some human foods are toxic to dogs.)
Razors, pills, cotton swabs and soap left within your dog’s reach can be easily ingested—which can mean an emergency visit to your veterinarian. Family members need to be conscientious about cleaning up after themselves in the bathroom.
As with the kitchen, use a trash can with a locking lid, or stash it under the sink. Also install childproof latches on the drawers and cabinets, and be sure to tuck dangling cords away, out of your dog’s reach.
Dogs are scent oriented, so they gravitate toward anything that smells like you. Shoes, slippers and clothing will quickly become toys if you don’t safeguard such items behind a closed closet door. Keep clothing picked up, store shoes out of reach, and put laundry in a tall, closed hamper. Also store jewelry, hair ties, coins and other small ingestible items in containers or drawers, and secure any exposed cords or wires.
There are all sorts of temptations in your office: papers, magazines, cords, wires, paperclips, rubber bands and staples. These items can be fatal if chewed or swallowed. As with the rest of the house, pick up strewn office supplies, secure or enclose cords and wires, and keep decorative items well out of your dog’s reach.
When you look around your garage and yard, you’ll see many obvious and not-so-obvious dangers to your dog. Put away paint, cleaners and insecticides. Put up fences to protect precious or poisonous plants for dogs. And put tools and gardening equipment out of your pup’s reach.
So many dogs need homes. If you’re open to welcoming a dog into your family, there’s bound to be one out there to make your life complete. Visit your local shelter, check with your favorite rescue group or scroll through the adoptable dogs online.
“As Americans learn about the hundreds of thousands of dogs and cats who are losing their lives in shelters across the country, they are choosing to give a loving home to a pet in need rather than buy one from a store or a breeder,” says Roper. “Many adopters come to realize that they need these pets as much as the pet needs them.”