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Dogs in a cage in a rescue home

The essentials

  • Make time for a thoughtful search — As a potential adopter, start a list of what you are looking for in a furry companion. Then, begin searching online or in-person at adoption clinics.
  • Get ready to apply and interview — After you find your perfect pup, you will probably need to submit an application and be interviewed. In some cases, the shelter may also conduct an at-home visit.
  • Take your puppy home — Once you pass the interview, it’s time to take your dog home! You may also need to pay a small adoption fee.

Adopting a dog can be an incredibly rewarding and life-changing experience. However, before embarking on this journey, approach the adoption process with careful consideration and preparation.

From hours of researching different breeds and animal shelters to assessing your lifestyle and commitment, adopting a dog in need of a home requires thoughtful planning to ensure a successful and fulfilling adoption. By understanding the responsibilities involved and taking the necessary steps, you can provide a loving forever home for a dog in need.

How to adopt a dog in 4 steps

You shouldn’t take the decision to adopt a dog lightly— it’s an important decision. Discuss with your family members why you want to take in a dog, ensuring the reasons are enough to keep you committed.

Adopting a pet is saving a life. But if you can’t provide the necessary time and commitment, it’s better to let someone else do the lifesaving.

Consider whether you have the time, money, and stability to give the dog the love and attention it deserves. If you are unsure whether adoption is a good idea, talk to your local rescue groups and shelters about what makes a good, responsible dog owner.

Step 1: Know what you want

When adopting a dog, finding the right breed or pup that suits your lifestyle and preferences is crucial. For example, if you travel a lot, you might consider a smaller breed that can fly with you — most airlines require checking large dogs. Are you only looking for purebred dogs, or do you have a mixed breed in mind?

Each breed also has its own unique traits, energy levels, and temperaments that can greatly impact your daily life and the dog’s overall well-being. Understanding these characteristics is essential to ensuring a successful, harmonious adoption.

Consider the following factors when determining the best breed or dog for you.


Consider if you want a puppy or an adult dog. Age will correlate to other care factors, such as potty training,  feeding needs, sleep schedules, and behavioral training. You might also need to spay or neuter a puppy, whereas an older dog may already be spayed or neutered. Think about these aspects when considering your ideal age for your new companion.

Energy level

Some breeds, such as border collies or Siberian huskies, are highly active and require plenty of exercise and mental stimulation. If you have an active lifestyle and enjoy outdoor activities, these breeds may be a good match.

On the other hand, if you prefer a more laid-back lifestyle, a low-energy breed like a basset hound or a bulldog might be more suitable. Just be sure you’re aware of their health needs as well.


Dogs come in various sizes, from tiny Chihuahuas to Great Danes. Size should align with your living situation and available space. Larger breeds often require more room to roam and exercise, while smaller breeds are more adaptable to apartment living.


If you or someone in your household has allergies, consider hypoallergenic breeds, such as poodles or Portuguese water dogs, that are less likely to trigger allergic reactions. Keep in mind that no breed is completely hypoallergenic, but these breeds tend to produce fewer allergens.

Family dynamics

If you have children or other pets at home, choose a dog with a compatible temperament. Some breeds, like Labrador retrievers and golden retrievers, are known for their friendly and patient nature, making them an excellent choice for families. Individual personality can also play a significant role, so we recommend meeting and interacting with the dog before adopting.

Special needs

Special needs dogs may have medical conditions, behavioral issues, or past trauma requiring unique care. While these dogs often require extra attention, providing them with a loving home can be incredibly rewarding. Assess your ability and willingness to meet their specific requirements, whether it’s ongoing medical care, behavioral training, or a quiet, calm environment.

Step 2: Scout out the rescues

Next, decide the rescue or nonprofit organization you want to adopt from based on your budget, proximity, and any dog-based requirements such as age, breed, or disabilities. Technology makes it easy to look at available animals online before visiting the rescue, depending on the organization. Most adoption centers allow you to use some in-depth filters, such as whether a dog is good with young kids or adult cats. Use these!

Depending on how long you want to wait, you may be able to fill out an adoption survey and get notified when matching dog profiles become available. Within the U.S, there are plenty of animal welfare organizations and routes you can take when looking for your perfect pup.

If you haven’t found a dog you like, try another rescue, explore different profile links, or wait until your dream dog is free for rehoming.

Our favorite rescue organizations

Name About Location(s)
ASPCA A trusted animal welfare organization that offers pet rehoming services. Asheville, North Carolina; Columbus, Ohio; New York City; Los Angeles; and nationwide (horses). For example, if you wanted to know how to adopt a dog in NYC, you would just enter your ZIP code for options.
The Shelter Pet Project A joint partnership between the Humane Society and Maddie’s Fund. It seeks to educate on the benefits of adoption. It offers a cool search tool, where you select a pet by ZIP code or city. The project has options across the United States.
Adopt a Pet A service in which people can both adopt and rehome pets. Dogs from over 17,000 local shelters and rescues across every state can be filtered and selected.
Pet Finder The service allows you to search for all types of pets. You can also set up email alerts for specific breeds. Search by ZIP code in all 50 states.

Step 3: The evaluation process

Many rescues require an evaluation process prior to authorizing an adoption. Not all of them require this many steps, but in general, this process is a great way to make sure you’re the right person for the right dog. Call the rescue ahead of time or visit their website so you’re prepared.

The application

The specific documents required for adopting a dog may vary depending on the shelter or rescue organization you are working with. However, here are some common documents that you may be asked to provide:

  • Adoption application. Most shelters and rescues will have an adoption application form that you need to fill out. This form typically asks for your personal information, contact details, and questions about your experience with pets and how you plan to care for the dog.
  • Identification. You will likely be asked to provide a valid photo ID, such as a driver’s license or passport, to verify your identity.
  • Proof of residence. Some organizations may require proof of your current address, such as a utility bill or rental agreement, to ensure the dog will be living in a suitable environment.
  • References. You may be asked to provide personal references, such as friends or family members, who can vouch for your character and ability to care for a dog. The organization may contact these references to gather additional information.
  • Veterinary references. If you have previously owned pets, the organization may request contact information for your current or previous veterinarian. This allows them to verify your history of responsible pet ownership.
  • Adoption fee. Shelters and rescues typically charge an adoption fee to help cover their costs. You will need to provide cash or credit card payment for the adoption fee, which can vary depending on the organization and the dog’s age, breed, or medical needs.

It’s important to note that these are general documents that may be required, but the specific requirements can vary. It’s best to contact the shelter or rescue organization directly to inquire about their specific adoption process and documentation needs.

The interview

This can be either face-to-face or via email or telephone. Be prepared to be questioned about the details of your home: yard, type of neighborhood, whether you rent or own, and more. Interviewers may also ask about your daily schedule and how you plan to care for your new pup. Have all of these details handy and be ready to discuss them with the rescue organization.

These personal questions may seem intrusive, but it’s to ensure that you are a good match for the type of pet you have accepted. This is also the perfect time for you to ask specific questions about a potential pup. If a dog’s listing says it is slow to warm up to people, does that mean it might be reactive to certain situations or small animals? Might the dog easily slip a collar in fear, making a harness a better choice? Does the dog have a microchip?

Ask questions that help you get a better idea of what everyday life with the dog will be like.

Your home check

Adoption personnel wants to see if your home is a suitable environment for their dog. During your appointment, they may evaluate:

  • Are there any dangers, like a balcony or pool?
  • Will it be easy to escape?
  • How much room is there?
  • sierrAre there places nearby for you to explore with your dog?

Don’t despair if you live in an apartment in the city — many dogs, even medium and large breeds, can live happily in a small home as long as they are walked enough. Small dog breeds might only need an obstacle course in the living room to get enough exercise.

Be honest in the interview and home visit. Don’t say there is a huge park across the road if there’s not. If you have cats and kittens at home, don’t give them to your neighbors for the day. This stage is for your benefit to ensure a safe and happy environment.

Meet and greet time

You can now meet the potential dog(s) to see if you are compatible. Please remember that all visitors are strangers to the dog. They may not automatically jump all over you, and that’s OK if it takes a few minutes to warm up. Shelters can be stressful for pets.

If you and the dog seem to get along and you are comfortable handling them, the shelter may ask you to bring in other family members, including furry ones (within reason). If you have a pet rabbit or guinea pig, you can probably keep them at home!

Step 4: Adoption approved!

Once the shelter is 100% certain that the right decision is to unite you and the rescue dog, it will approve the adoption of your new pet. Now is when adoptive pet parents tie up any loose ends with paperwork and pay any fees. Once this is complete, you will officially get your new dog and begin the new journey of bonding!

You’ve hopefully already purchased the necessities needed at home, including food, bowls, toys, a bed, a lead, and a harness. We’ll walk you through each, below.

Preparing your home

First things first, puppy-proof your space and make sure that it is safe. Take care of any repairs, such as doors that don’t close or fences with gaps. Decide in advance what the house rules will be so that you can be consistent with enforcing them:

  • Will you allow them up on the furniture?
  • Will they sleep on the bed with you or somewhere else?
  • What will their daily routine look like, including walks and mealtimes, and who in your household is responsible for which task?

Supplies you will need

When bringing a new dog into your home, it’s essential to have the necessary supplies ready to provide them with a comfortable and safe environment. Your adoption counselor or person you adopt the dog from may have a list or even provide some of these supplies.

  • Dog bed. You’ll need a suitable dog bed for your pet to rest. If your dog is a puppy or is known to be a nibbler, an “indestructible” bed might be a good fit.
  • Crate. If you are crate training your dog, you will want to provide one so that your dog can rest and feel secure. You can also look into special bedding just for crates.
  • Bowls. You’ll need bowls for feeding and for water. In some cases, you can find products that provide both types in one.
  • High-quality dog food. A high-quality dog food tailored to your dog’s age, size, and specific dietary needs is crucial for their nutrition.
  • Collar and leash (or harness). You’ll need a collar or harness and leash to walk your dog in most public spaces. Consider your dog’s anatomy and habits to decide which will be best.
  • Dog tag. dog tag with your contact information will help bring fido home should they get lost. You can also look into products like FidoTabby Alert.
  • Shampoo. Grooming supplies, such as a brush or comb, can be tailed to your dog’s coat type. Dog-friendly shampoo is also essential for maintaining your pup’s hygiene.
  • Toys. To keep your dog entertained and mentally stimulated, provide them with a selection of toys suitable for their size and chewing habits.
  • Cleaning supplies. It’s crucial to have cleaning supplies, including pet-safe stain and odor removers, as accidents may occur during the adjustment period.
  • Treats. You’ll want to keep healthy treats for your dog, especially for rewards and positive reinforcement during training.
  • Flea and tick prevention. Protect your pet from critters like fleas and ticks. Talk to your veterinarian about the best flea and tick prevention, whether natural or not, based on your dog’s breed, age, and overall health.

Settling in with your dog

The shelter environment that your dog has been in will be drastically different from your home. Or, if you adopted your pet from a friend or neighbor, the home environment they are used to will not be the same.

In either case, give your dog about a month to settle in properly. Some dogs settle within the first day, but others may need a longer adjustment period. Your dog will need time to understand what is going on. Be patient and understanding, and use lots of praise and reward when your dog engages in promising behaviors.

Why an adopted dog?

Adopting a dog is typically less expensive than buying directly from a breeder. You usually must pay a small adoption fee, which can vary depending on the shelter and the age and breed of your dog. If the dog came from a loving family home, they will likely already know tricks — and be house-trained!

Because many pet parents prefer to raise dogs from puppyhood, puppies may cost more. If you adopt a senior pet, have the mindset that Fido may have certain diseases or illnesses — make sure to ask the shelter. This can let you prepare for your dog properly, ensuring you can cover expenses and reduce any surprises down the line. Pet insurance is one way to cut costs whether you adopt a puppy or an elderly dog.

Reasons dogs get surrendered

Despite stereotypes, the decision to surrender a dog is often not an easy one. While every situation is unique, lifestyle changes, financial difficulties, lack of training or behavioral issues, health problems, and sometimes even mismatched expectations or lack of commitment can lead to surrender.

By exploring these reasons with compassion and empathy, we can stop the negative stigma about shelter animals and increase adoptions.

Here are a few of the reasons that dogs can end up in a shelter:

  • Abuse or neglect. In rare cases, an animal welfare organization may be alerted to animal abuse or neglect. They then seize the animals and rehome them.
  • Change of circumstances. Although a dog is a lifetime commitment, circumstances sometimes get in the way. Jobs are lost, promotions are offered, and divorces and breakups occur. If people can no longer offer their dog the same quality of life, it may be in the dog’s best interests to go to someone who can.
  • Unwanted litter. When a dog breeds and has an unwanted and unplanned litter, it may be too much for the owners to care for the puppies. Rather than selling them themselves, they may surrender them to a shelter.
  • Behavioral problems. Some dogs are rehomed because they display negative or potentially dangerous behaviors. These can include aggression (either person or other animal directed), anxiety and excessive chewing or barking. You can ask for a dog that doesn’t have behavioral problems. Not everyone has the resources to deal with a difficult dog — and that’s OK.
  • Strayed from home. The dog may have gotten lost, and the owners failed to locate the pup. This could have resulted in the dog becoming a stray and getting picked up by animal control.


How can I tell if a dog is not a perfect match for adoption?

When adopting a dog, watch for potential red flags that could indicate an issue with the dog’s health, behavior, or suitability for your family. Some things to keep an eye out for are aggression, poor health, lack of socialization, or destructive behaviors.

What are red flags to look out for with dog adoption agencies?

If the shelter or rescue organization provides inconsistent or misleading information about the dog’s background, behavior, or medical history, this may be a red flag. Transparent and honest communication is crucial when adopting a dog.

Will adoption agencies or shelters provide support after adopting a dog?

A reputable shelter or rescue organization will provide support and guidance even after the adoption is complete. While there will be limitations, you should feel comfortable asking shelter staff for helpful tips about the newly adopted dog. Always ask questions and get answers about what to expect beforehand.

What is the difference between adopting a dog and fostering a dog?

Adopting a dog and fostering a dog are two different ways of providing a home and care for a dog, each with its own purpose and commitment. When you adopt a dog, you make a long-term commitment to provide a permanent home for the pet throughout its life. Fostering a dog involves providing a temporary foster home and care for a dog until a permanent adoptive home is found.

Do dog adoption agencies tell you about previous owners?

Yes. When the information is available, adoption agencies will give you all of the background information on the pet. This will include any information that the previous owners provided. If there were no previous pet parents on file (e.g. a stray animal), shelter staff can only provide current medical and behavioral details.

How do I schedule a dog adoption appointment?

You will want to look at the adoption process page of the shelter website (if available). Review any detailed information on adoptable animals. You should be able to see if the facility has adoption questionnaires you can fill out beforehand. Many times, adoptions are on a first-served basis. Check if the clinic offers walk-in adoptions or requires an email request or phone call first.