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Young woman with worker choosing which dog to adopt from a shelter.

these puppies just need a little love! ❤️

The essentials

  • Adopting a new dog is a big responsibility, so be sure to ask these questions before you commit — There’s no shame in not being quite ready yet!
  • This post is for people looking to adopt a rescue dog — If it’s a puppy you’re in the market for, check out our puppy articles.
  • It’s essential to be honest about whether you have the time and money to adopt a dog — Having a pet can be time-consuming and expensive.
  • Make sure you feel comfortable with your chosen animal shelter or rescue first Ask as many questions as you need before committing to adopting a new family member.

Why do I need to ask questions before adopting a dog?

Adopting any animal is a big commitment and shouldn’t be taken lightly. You need to make sure you can afford to take care of your new pet. It’s important to consider what kind of dog is right for you and your family. Plus, shelter pups may have behavioral problems or medical issues you need to take into account.

The animal shelter or rescue also needs to know you’re going to be a responsible adopter, especially given that over 3 million dogs are surrendered to shelters per year in the US. Asking the right questions is one way to help prove you’ve really thought about your decision.

Finally, even if you ask all the right questions during the adoption process, unforeseen circumstances can arise. Maybe your new pup doesn’t get along with your cat, or is too rough and tumble for your toddler. While you should be willing to give your new adopted pup plenty of time to settle in and adapt to their new home, you might end up needing to take them back to the pound. Just remember that this is not a personal failure; it’s a part of responsible pet ownership. Even though it’s sad for everyone involved, it may be the best thing to do.

Questions to ask yourself before adopting a dog

Whether it’s your first time adopting a dog or you’re on the fence about rescuing a four-legged friend, these are the questions you should ask yourself first.

1. Do I want a shelter or rescue dog?

It’s easy to get confused, but there’s a difference between shelter dogs and rescue dogs. While animal shelters (like the Humane Society) house surrendered pets or street dogs, rescue groups generally take in specific dog breeds, friendly dogs from shelters with high euthanasia rates, or pups with specific medical needs. At a shelter, you can easily see all the dogs during your visit but the staff may not have as much information about their temperament.

Meanwhile, rescues house their pooches in foster homes first. This means you can learn more about them before adopting. This is ideal if you have other pets or want to adopt a specific breed without supporting puppy mills.

2. What breed or type of dog is the right dog for me?

Being honest about whether or not you want a specific breed can help you choose between shelter dogs and rescue pups. It can also stop you from becoming overwhelmed with options.

Consider whether the energy level and size of your preferred breed fits in with your lifestyle, too. Let’s be honest, adopting a Great Dane if you live in a city apartment isn’t a great idea, but a smaller, older dog could be a great fit.

3. Can I afford to adopt a dog?

Dogs don’t come cheap! Before heading to the pound and going googly-eyed over a potential ‘furever’ friend, sit down and do some math. Once you factor in the pet care essentials (food, toys, dog training, kennel costs, dog adoption fees, and vaccinations), you’re looking at spending over $2000 a year on your dog. Not to mention emergency vet fees, which can cost up to $1500 a year, as well as replacing anything they accidentally destroy. This can range from a cheap pair of socks to a pricey sofa. 😬

👉 Overestimate the expense of adopting a dog and be honest about whether it fits into your household budget. 

4. Do I have the time and ability to care for a dog?

Do you have a busy job or a hectic family life? Do you have the time to give a dog the attention — including daily walks, socialization, and playtime — that it needs? Dogs can be a handful, and you probably shouldn’t adopt if you don’t think you have the time to care for one. You may even need to make time for training classes, as well as regular veterinary care visits.

🚨 Be honest with yourself. Adopting a dog is a big responsibility and it’s okay if you don’t feel ready to bring a new dog home yet. 

5. Is my home suitable for a dog?

Like children, dogs take up more space than you might expect. Is your house dog-friendly? Think about how spacious and safe your house or apartment is for a dog. Make sure to do a home check to evaluate. Having a fenced-in yard where your pooch can run around leash-free or access to a nearby dog park is great.

Apartment owners need not despair though, as this isn’t essential if you can commit to long daily walks. And renters: does your landlord even allow pets?

👉 If you don’t want fur or paw prints on your precious possessions, a dog might not be the right pet for you. Your home should be as much theirs as yours.

6. Do I have other pets?

‘Fight like cats and dogs’ is a saying for a reason. If you have cats, are they used to being around dogs? Do you have the time and space to keep them separate and slowly introduce them to one another? Cats aren’t the only question mark though. Other dogs can be territorial and you need to make sure they’ll accept another four-legged member of the family into their space.

7. Will my family help out?

If you have kids, they may be excited about the prospect of getting a puppy, but less excited about looking after one. For families with older kids, it could be useful to agree to a dog care rota for the whole family before you bring your new pet home. And if you know the family can’t or won’t help? Make sure you’re ready to take care of the pup alone.

👉 Before making a final decision, ‘borrow’ a family friend’s pooch for the week and see how you cope with having a dog around the house, or consider becoming a foster family for a rescue dog. This can be a good, pressure-free way to see just how ready you and your family are to adopt.

What to ask at the shelter

Once you know that you’re ready to adopt a dog, make sure to ask these all-important questions at the rescue shelter.

1. First, cover the basics.

Start simple and ask about your potential pup’s breed, age, and weight. (Did you know that around a quarter of pups in shelters are purebred?) If you’re thinking of adopting a puppy, do the staff know how big it will be once fully grown? Also, take note of the pet food brand, favorite toys, and sleeping arrangements of the dog. Will you need a crate or is a dog bed enough? This will help you with the transition period once you take your new pet home. Finally, find out if the dog is housebroken, knows where to go potty, and is trained.

2. What’s the dog’s backstory?

Were they surrendered by their previous owner or were they found on the street? This information is essential for figuring out their temperament, the level of training they may need, and uncovering any potential behavioral or emotional issues.

And, although heartbreaking, it’s key to find out if your potential pet was abused, as they may have certain triggers you need to be aware of and work on fixing. For example, if your dog was regularly left alone, they may get anxious if you’re out of the house for long periods of time.

3. What is this dog’s medical history?

Beyond behavior, ask about your dog’s medical history. Most rescue or shelter pups should be spayed/ neutered and vaccinated as standard before they can be adopted out. Some may even have a microchip already. You should also check whether your chosen pooch has ongoing health problems which may need regular treatment or could affect their life span.

4. Does this dog have any behavioral issues?

You may be comfortable adopting a dog that needs extra training or a little help to trust humans, but it’s absolutely fine if you’re not. Some common dog behavior issues include excessive chewing, separation anxiety, and leash pulling. These need to be dealt with anyway, but especially if you have other pets or children. And, it’s your responsibility to make sure your dog is safe to be around other dogs before letting them off-leash in a dog park.

5. What’s this dog like?

Do they like to sleep all day or are they hyperactive in the evenings? How do they cope around young children? Excessively boisterous dogs prone to jumping and biting aren’t safe for families, while some dogs are especially fearful of men, other dogs, or being left alone.

🚨 If you have pets and kids, you may need to know more about a dog’s temperament. This is where rescues may be better than shelters, as foster families will often have more information about the dog’s nature. 

6. What are the shelter/ rescue’s adoption policies?

First, ask about the pet adoption fees and find out if you can spend one-on-one time with your maybe-mutt before adopting. Some shelters even let you bring along your current dog, so you can see if they get along. Then, make a note of any follow-up services they offer or ask for, like home visits or regular photo updates. Finally, double-check the center’s policies for what happens if things don’t work out.

🚨 If the shelter or organization can’t answer some of the questions or you don’t feel satisfied with the answers, consider visiting other dog rescues in your area instead. You need to feel comfortable with your decision to adopt a dog.