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Adopting a Dog from a Shelter

Ready to add a canine member of the family? When adopting a dog from a shelter, you give that pet a second chance! You are rescuing that dog and giving it a happy home for the rest of its life.

Learn what questions to ask when adopting a dog, the types of dogs you’ll find at rescues and shelters, and how to find a specific breed (if that’s what you’re looking for).

brown and white dog looking through wire fence - adopting a dog from a shelter

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When thinking of adding a dog to your family, consider saving a life and finding one at a shelter. Many were loving pets who just need a second chance.

For some the term “shelter dog” conjures up images of strays–untrained or unsociable animals that are not suitable for family life. Many dogs, however, were given away when their owners could no longer care for them. Some common reasons dogs are given up are:

  • Job loss (can no longer afford pet care)
  • Illness or death
  • Landlord problems
  • Allergies
  • Lack of time (due to new job, school)
  • New baby

Sometimes the issue is simply lack of education or preparation. Often people buy a puppy impulsively, (they are awfully cute), only to realize that a dog is more of a responsibility than they have time or money for.

That tiny puppy in the pet store only stays tiny for so long, and the owner may not have realized how much energy that breed has, or how big that particular dog may get. That’s why we recommend adopting an older dog vs. a puppy.

Brown dog in cage - adopting a dog from a shelter

But I want a specific breed…

Adoption doesn’t necessarily mean mixed breed or “mutt.” Most recognized breeds have rescue agencies, and even purebreds are given to shelters on occasion. If you are set on a specific breed, the boxer for example, an online search is usually all it takes to find a boxer rescue in your area-especially if you are near a major city. One plus side of using a breed rescue is that they often foster their dogs before placing them for adoption. 

This allows the agency to provide information on how the dog does with children and other animals. If not, sites such as Petfinder allow you to search by the breed, age, and sex of the dog you’re looking for and usually provide a little information about their history as well. Last, the AKC has an online index of breed-specific rescues.

I’d really like a puppy

Puppies are put up for adoption too, usually after an owner realizes what a hassle a young, untrained dog can be. Puppies are cute and definitely worth the patience and responsibility required to own one, but there is a lot to be said for an older dog who is past the stage of chewing on toes, shoes, and anything else that moves, and can go several hours without having an accident. It’s also easier to gauge the temperament of an older dog quickly. 

Puppies are all pretty full of energy, so it’s hard to know which will eventually become a dog that lounges in front of the TV with you and which will be the one that runs along side you as you jog. In contrast, you should be able to tell what kind of activity level an adult dog has after spending a short time together. 

Many shelters will allow you to spend some time with a dog you’re considering, either taking it for a walk around the shelter or having a short visit outside of the kennel it’s being housed in. Once the dog has gotten over its initial glee of having someone pay attention to him, he should settle into his usual level of activity.

Brown dog sitting on dirt

Help put an end to puppy mills

Not every puppy comes from a puppy mill, and not every pet store buys from one, but many do. Puppy mills are basically dog factories where animals are kept in substandard conditions, given minimal care, and often have health and socialization problems as a result. 

It’s hard to resist the cute puppy faces staring out from the pet store cages, and it may feel like you’re doing a good thing by buying one and “rescuing” them. In reality that’s one more empty cage for the puppy mill to fill, and they will.

Questions to ask when adopting a dog

Adopting a new dog can indeed be scary, especially if you have children and other pets in your home. You don’t know anything about her background. Is she healthy? Are there any behavior problems you should be aware of? 

Whether you are planning to adopt from your local rescue group or an online adoption community, don’t be afraid to ask questions! My advice is: don’t ever feel pressured into adopting a specific pup. It’s okay to say no.

Remember that the dog you are going to adopt will be part of your family for many, many years. Plan to take the time to find your perfect match. 

Here are some of the questions to ask when adopting a dog:

  • Why is she in the shelter? Was she a stray or surrendered by a previous owner?
  • Why did the previous owner surrender the dog?
  • Was she a victim of animal cruelty? 
  • What was the dog’s condition when she was first brought to the shelter?
  • Has she been adopted out before? 
  • Do you have a copy of her veterinary records? 
  • Can you tell me more about this dog’s personality? 
  • Does this dog require ongoing treatment and special care? Any dietary restrictions? 
  • Can she walk calmly on a leash or does she need more training?
  • Is it okay for her to go on a walk with another dog? 
  • What kind of training does the dog have?
  • Does she show any signs of separation anxiety?
  • Is the dog crate trained? Housebroken? 
  • How does she act in a crate? Calm, anxious, bark?
  • Any known behavior issues?
  • Any fears? Is she scared of loud noises like thunderstorms? 
  • Is she okay with other dogs and other pets like cats? How does she act around smaller animals? 
  • Is there anything that brings out aggression in her? How does she feel towards strangers, bikers, or mailmen? 
  • Has she been around children? How does she act around them? 
  • Has she ever bitten, nipped, or attacked anyone?
  • Is she overly excited, scared, or calm inside a moving vehicle? 
  • Has the dog been neutered or spayed?
  • Do you provide any post-adoption support? Any discounted training sessions or phone support to make the transition easier?
Beagle laying down on mat next to window - is adopting a dog free

Is adopting a dog free?

Most times, it is not, though it can be very low cost. When adopting a dog from a shelter owned by your county, for example, there may be no fee other than the dog license (which you have to purchase no matter where you adopt your dog).

With non-profit rescues, a donation is expected. This monetary donation helps offset the cost of caring for animals while they wait to be adopted. Most dog rescues rely on donations and fundraising for the bulk of their funds.

What is the cost of adopting a dog?

Adopting a dog is a huge commitment. Caring for one, whether it’s a toy or large breed, adult or puppy, can be so expensive. It’s like raising a human kid! Don’t rush the process and make an “impulse” adoption. Before adopting a dog from a shelter, you need to make all the necessary preparations. 

The more you prepare for it, the better your pet parenthood experience will be.

Unless you end up finding a stray puppy, you’re going to spend $50 to $150 (or more!) when you adopt a dog from a shelter. There are thousands of shelters and rescue centers in the U.S., and each comes with its own adoption fees and procedures. The cost depends on the type of dog and the organization.

Adoption fees are usually not very expensive and are used to provide care for the other animals in the shelter. Think of it as a donation to the rescue group, helping them to operate more efficiently, rehome more dogs and continue saving more pups. 

Do you know that paying an adoption fee can help you save more money? This is because it typically covers the initial veterinary costs required to prepare dogs for new homes. 

Do you know that paying an adoption fee can help you save more money? This is because it typically covers the initial veterinary costs required to prepare dogs for new homes. 

Adoption fees usually include the following: 

  • Wellness Examination
  • Rabies Vaccine
  • Distemper Vaccine 
  • Parvo Vaccine
  • Flea and Tick Preventative Treatment
  • Microchip 
  • Deworming 
  • Heartworm Test
  • Preventative Heartworm Treatment
  • Spaying or Neutering

Each shelter has their own arrangement, so feel free to ask what’s included in your adoption fee. Some even include some awesome perks as a way of saying “thank you” for giving a dog in need a forever home. 

If it’s your first time owning a dog, you need to invest an additional amount for some doggie essentials, including veterinary services which won’t be covered by the adoption fee. 

Wondering about the overall cost of owning a dog? The answer here depends on factors such as where you live and your lifestyle. Don’t worry. There are price points that can accommodate all budget ranges! Set monthly and annual budget plans. Look into what other pet parents are buying and resort to DIY toys if you must.

Brown and white dog - what questions to ask when you adopt a dog