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Your Ultimate Guide to Dog Adoption

brown lab playing lying on back in the grass

So you’re thinking about adopting a dog — that’s wonderful! You’re about to embark on a journey of rescuing, caring for and providing a loving home to a pup in need. In return, you’ll get unconditional love, unlimited snuggles and all the kisses and tail wags you could ask for!

Use our complete dog adoption guide to prepare for your journey. The links below will help you navigate.

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How Should You Prepare for Adopting a Dog?

Before you head to the shelter, it’s a good idea to prep your home for your furry friend’s arrival. In addition, you should purchase items they’ll need to make the transition as smooth as possible.

collie getting lots of pets outside

Steps to Prepare for Adopting a Dog

  1. Decide how to divide the petcare responsibilities in your household. Who will take your new dog outside for potty breaks, and how often? Who will feed the dog or take them on walks?
  2. Discuss and establish some house rules. Where will your new dog sleep? Are they allowed on the couch or the bed? If you have young children in your household, make sure their play sessions with the dog are always supervised.
  3. Dog-proof your home. Go from room to room and look for possible safety hazards or breakable items within reach. Pick up small items your new dog may swallow or choke on. (It helps to get down on all fours and look at each room at “dog level.”) Cover wires and cables, or move them out of sight.
  4. Move potentially toxic items, like potted plants and cleaning products, out of reach.

Items to Buy When Adopting a Dog

Check with the shelter before you purchase dog supplies, as some of these items may be provided when you adopt:

  • Crate or kennel
  • Dog-specific bedding
  • Food and water bowls
  • Quality dog food and dog treats
  • Collar and leash Grooming supplies like brushes, shampoos and nail clippers
  • Housetraining and yard waste supplies like puppy pads and dog waste removal bags
  • Enzymatic cleaners for house-training accidents Dog toys

Other Considerations

Start researching vets in your area. Ask your shelter if they have a recommendation.

Consider basic obedience training. Teaching your new dog simple commands like “stay,” “come” or “leave it” can help keep your pup safe.

What Dog Should You Adopt?

When you start your dog adoption search, you’ll be greeted with a wealth of choices and options. What breed should you choose? What size dog is right for your home and lifestyle? Do you want an energetic, on-the-go dog or a couch potato companion? Are you up to daily coat maintenance, or are once-a-month baths and nail trims more your style? Make sure to do some research ahead of visiting a shelter; our Dog Breed Selectoris a great place to start.

black dog being held standing next to vet outside

What Can You Expect at the Shelter?

Try not to go to the shelter expecting to find “your dog” the first time, because you may not — although it is difficult to leave without a new family member once you’re there! It’s important to find the right dog for you — one that fits your lifestyle, family dynamic and home. Be prepared to visit as many times as it takes. In the long run, it’ll be worth the wait.

Bring a notepad and pen so you can write down pertinent information and important questions you want to ask. And make sure to have your phone handy to take pictures; some shelters may not let you take pics of their dogs, but most will. Consider leaving the shelter with your notes and pictures and giving the decision more thought before coming back to adopt a dog.

It’s very easy to fall in love at first sight, but you should spend time with a dog before adopting them. Look for a dog who’s happy and friendly, and avoid aggressive dogs. Many shelter dogs are energetic because they’ve been confined, so don’t rule out a dog just because they seem hyper.

The Adoption Questionnaire

If you find a dog you think is meant for you, you’ll start the application to adopt process. This involves some paperwork, including the most important document, the Adoption Questionnaire, which typically contains questions such as:

What are your reasons for adopting?

How many members live in your household?

How much time do you spend away from your home daily?

Where will your dog be kept at night?

Do you rent or own an apartment or house?

Do you have any other pets? Are they spayed or neutered? Are they up to date on vaccinations?

Have you ever dropped off a pet at a shelter? If so, what were the circumstances?

Have you ever had pets? If so, what happened to them?

Do you plan to spay or neuter your dog? (Many shelters do this automatically; some don’t.)

Will you take them to obedience lessons?

    Keep in mind that the purpose of these questions is to place a dog in the best home for them, weed out people who will potentially abuse their dogs (use them for dog fights, etc.), and keep the chances of having the dog returned to the shelter as slim as possible.

    After the paperwork is complete, a shelter worker will sit down with you and ask a series of questions based on the information you’ve provided.

    Questions You Should Ask the Shelter

    It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of finding a potential new best friend, but make sure you take the opportunity to ask some questions of your own. To make sure you cover your bases, download our list of questions you should ask the shelter when adopting a dog.

    Next Steps

    Ultimately, if you’re approved, you'll pay a fee or donation, and may be asked to sign an adoption agreement, which is like a contract.

    And then — unless they need to be spayed or neutered first — you can take your new dog home immediately!

    Adopting a dog is a serious, years-long commitment, which is why the adoption process is so involved. If you have second thoughts at any point, listen to your instincts. However, if you’re sure the dog you’re considering is the perfect match for you, get ready to enjoy years of long walks and snuggle sessions with your rescue pet at your side.

    • The Serious Benefits of Play

      dog carrying a frisbee in its mouth

      Playing and having fun helps to eliminate stress from your life—and the same holds true for your dog. In fact, incorporating various forms of play into your dog's daily routine is vital to helping him develop a healthy, loving personality.

      The benefits of play

      Here are some of the ways that playing and having fun is important:

      • Physical health. Active play helps keep your dog's heart healthy, keeps the joints lubricated, and improves his overall balance and coordination.
      • Mental health. Games with rules force your dog to use his brain, not just his body. This can help keep his mind sharp and focused.
      • Social skills. When your dog plays with other dogs and other people, it helps improve his overall social skills. He learns basic rules and how to play by them.
      • Bonding. Even if it's only for a few minutes a day, playing with your dog helps strengthen the bond between you.
      • Your health. What better way to alleviate the stress of a busy workday and get a bit of exercise than to come home and play with your dog? It's a win-win for both of you.

      How to play with your dog

      There are right ways—and wrong ways—to play. The most important thing to remember is that you're the boss. You decide what games should be played and you set the rules. This helps establish your credibility as the pack leader. It also helps keep your dog from getting overly excited and out of control while you play. If your dog does become difficult to manage, simply put a stop to the game until he calms down again.

      When you're teaching your dog a new game, reward him when he does well. Remember, rewards don't have to be just treats. You can also reward him with his favorite toys or lots of hugs and praise.

      When you start out teaching your dog a new game, keep it simple and go through the game slowly, until your dog fully grasps the rules. Also, wait until he fully understands one game before you teach him a new one, otherwise it will end up confusing him.

      Playtime tips

      • Avoid games like keep away, wrestling, or tug-of-war. Those games encourage biting or dominant, aggressive behavior.
      • Stay in control of the game at all times. Show your dog that you're the pack leader, not just another member of the pack. Retrieval games are good at teaching control.
      • Don't include your body or clothing as part of any game.
      • Incorporate the SIT or DOWN and STAY commands in every game.
      • You decide when it's time to end the game, not your dog. The best time to stop the game is when your dog is still eager to play.
      • If, for some reason, your dog doesn't seem to understand the game at some point, go back to the beginning, or simply leave it and try again a few days later. Don't get angry if you're dog isn't "getting it" right away. Remember it's supposed to be a fun experience for both of you!

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