Adopting a dog is no small feat.
Adding a new member to your family is a major life event that will take hard work and careful preparation — not to mention the years of dedication to taking care of your new pup. For anyone who hasn’t been through the adoption process before, it can get very overwhelming, very quickly.
That’s where we come in. We’ve compiled the ultimate guide for new dog adopters, beginning with the questions you should ask as you’re considering getting a dog, all the way to what to expect on adoption day and the days and weeks that follow. For any dog adopter, it’s a must-read.
Before we dive in, we should note: This is general advice that’s good for most dog owners. But keep in mind that all dogs are different, with different temperaments, personalities, needs, and levels of training. Because of that, some of these tips will vary from dog to dog. The bottom line: Your dog is a living thing with a unique personality, wants, and needs. It’s up to you to learn about your pup and adjust as needed to take care of him or her as best you can.
What to Research Before You Decide You’re Adopting a Dog
The hard work begins before you even make a decision about adopting a dog. There’s so much research and so many questions you should ask yourself before deciding on a dog. Here are some considerations you should take, as well as what shelters will be looking for in a potential adopter.
Is a Dog Actually the Right Pet for You?
There are a number of things any potential dog owner should consider before deciding that a dog is the right pet. These are just a few of the most important ones:
- Lifestyle: A dog will require a lot of your time and energy. Unlike a cat or other pet, you’ll need to take your dog outside for exercise and to potty. You can’t leave a dog home alone for as long as some other pets. Dogs are pack animals and require as much time as possible with their person to be happy. How will that fit into your work and social schedules? Will your lifestyle fit a dog’s needs?
- Budget: Like any pet, dogs can be expensive. Even a routine vet visit can cost hundreds of dollars, and a minor injury or illness can rack up a four-figure vet bill in no time. And that’s just medical care. Your dog will need toys and supplies, high-quality food, treats, and other supplies. If you’re an inexperienced dog owner, you may need to pay for a trainer. And if you ever take a trip or go on vacation, boarding or an in-home dog sitter will be another major expense.
- Space: Can your living space actually accommodate a dog? For example, if you live in an apartment complex on a busy road, your space may not be ideal for a pup. Dogs are the kind of pet that do best when they have a safe, secure home with a fenced yard where they can safely get their needed outdoor time. If you don’t have a lot of space in your home, it doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t have a dog. But it could limit the type of dog you should look for — for example, a large, high-energy breed might be a bad fit if you live in a small apartment.
Possibly the most important question you should ask yourself when considering adopting a dog is this: Are you and your family ready to commit to a dog for up to 10-15 years? If the answer is no, a dog is not the right choice for you.
In addition to those questions you should be asking yourself, most reputable animal shelters will look for certain traits and qualifications before approving someone to adopt a dog. Here are just some of the standard questions a shelter or rescue might ask you when you consider adopting a dog:
- Do you own your home or rent?
- If you rent, do you have permission from your landlord to own a pet? Can we contact them?
- Do you have a yard? Is it properly fenced?
- Do you have children? How many? How old are they? Have they had experience with dogs before?
- Who else lives in your home? Do they agree with your decision to adopt a dog?
- Do you have other pets? How many? What kinds? Are they fixed? Are they comfortable around other animals?
- Do you live in a city? If so, are there adequate nearby areas to walk your dog?
- Have you ever had a dog before? Are there any breeds you have experience with?
- How many hours per day are you home? Where will your dog spend most of its time?
- Does your city or state have any dog-related rules or laws (i.e. licensing laws or breed restrictions)?
Where Should You Choose to Adopt Your New Dog?
You can adopt a dog from a lot of different shelters and rescues. How will you know which one to go with?
First, this is a great place to say that you should avoid pet shops at all costs. In many cases, pet shops get their dogs from puppy mills, which are abusing and sometimes illegal breeding operations designed to produce as many puppies as possible, as quickly as possible. In buying a dog from a pet shop, you might be inadvertently supporting a puppy mill.
Instead, look for a local Humane Society or rescue operation; they’re available in most cities. You’ll want to look for a shelter that’s clean, where the dogs look healthy, and where the staff are willing to work with you, one-on-one, to help you find the perfect new addition to your family.
What Kind of Dog Is Right for You?
If you’ve considered all of these questions and decided a dog is the right pet for you, it’s now time to decide what kind of dog. Dogs come in all shapes and sizes, and at an animals shelter, you’ll likely be able to choose from a wide variety of breeds, ages, training levels, and more.
So when you’re looking for the perfect dog to adopt, here are some questions you should answer for yourself (and share you answers with the shelter or agency you’re adopting through — they can help narrow down their adoptable dogs to ones that fit your wants and needs).
- Puppy, adult dog, or senior dog? Which best fits your lifestyle? Can you provide for a dog’s needs at any of those ages (for example, a puppy will need more training and care, and a senior dog might have more medical needs)?
- Do you have the time, patience, and resources to work with a dog that has bad habits or behavioral problems?
- How much daily exercise can you provide your dog? Would you rather have a couch potato, or a dog that will go running with you every day?
- What size of dog best fits your space? Do you have room for a very large breed?
- What kind of behavior are you expecting from your dog? Do you want an outgoing, confident dog that’s easy to train? Or could you handle a timid dog that needs time and affection to come out of its shell?
- Would you like a cuddly, clingy dog, or one that’s more independent?
- Do you have other animals in your home? Does your new dog need to be accustomed to being around certain other pets?
Before deciding on a dog, try to have several meetings with your potential new family member in the shelter. Bring all members of your family (including other dogs) to a meet-and-greet to make sure everyone gets along.
Watch the dog’s behavior closely for any red flags, like lethargy, panting or drooling, lungeing, or excessive barking, which can all be signs of illness, aggression, or extreme stress. Spend as much time as possible with the dog and try to get to know him or her a little, though keep in mind that the shelter environment may be stressful and meeting new people is exciting, so your dog’s behavior in this setting might not be quite normal.
Adopting a Dog: Getting Ready for Adoption Day
Before you bring your new dog home, there’s a ton of work to do.
Step 1: Dog-Proof Your Home
Carefully assess your home for anything that might be hazardous to a dog (for example, poisoning houseplants, cleaning supplies, exposed wiring for electronics, etc.). Try to see your home from a dog’s perspective. Look for things a dog might get into, and make sure they’re all safe and secure to keep your new pet safe.
Another important part of dog-proofing is deciding where your dog is and isn’t allowed to go. With a new dog, you might want to limit their exploring to one small area for the first few days, so they don’t get overwhelmed.
Step 2: Get all the Supplies You Need
Your new dog will need a lot of supplies. The checklist below will get you started, but keep in mind that there may be other supplies you need for your dog’s specific needs.
Step 3: Find a Vet
You don’t want to be scrambling to find a vet when your dog gets sick or injured. Before you even bring a new dog home, find a nearby vet that you like.
Step 4: Make a Plan for Family Introductions
The last thing you need to do before your new dog comes home is make a plan for how you’re going to introduce him or her to other pets and family members. Remember that your home will be a new place for your dog that might be scary or overwhelming. Plan to introduce new people and pets slowly, and provide lots of time for everyone to get comfortable around one another.
What to Expect in the First 30 Days After Adopting a Dog
You’ve made it to adoption day! Congratulations!
Now it’s time for you and your new dog to begin your lives together. Here’s what to expect over the first several weeks, and how you can help your new pup get as comfortable as possible.
In the First Week
The first week that your new pup is home with you should be all about settling in, learning to trust each other, setting boundaries, and establishing a routine.
Dogs are happiest when they have a clear, predictable routine each day, so during this week, decide on things like meal times, when to go for walks, and when to go out to potty, and stay consistent with those times from now on.
Toward the end of the first week is also a great time to schedule an introductory visit with your new vet.
In the Second Week
During week two, your dog should be getting more and more comfortable in their new home. As they get more comfortable, you’re likely to begin seeing any bad habits or negative behaviors emerge. That makes week two the perfect time to start positively reinforcing good behaviors, and working on basic training.
Depending on your dog’s age and level of training, you may need to start with basic commands like “come,” and “sit,” or you may be able to work on more advanced training. If you’re an inexperienced dog owner, this is the time to enroll your dog in a training course you can take together. You’ll be able to learn from dog training experts, and the class will help you and your dog bond and further build trust.
In the Third Week
By the third week, your dog should be getting pretty comfortable with you and your family, unless he or she is particularly timid or shy.
If your dog seems to be settling in well at home, week three is a good time to begin looking for opportunities to socialize your dog with other people and animals. Walks around your neighborhood or a trip to the dog park can be good options.
Remember to continue with your daily routines you established in the first week. Dogs are happiest when their days are predictable, and not knowing what to expect can cause them extra stress and anxiety in a new home.
In the Fourth Week and Beyond
As your new dog continues to settle in, keep sticking to your daily routine, working on training, and building trust and your bond. Many experts say dogs need at least three months to fully settle into a new home, so keep that in mind as you move forward.
Adopting a Dog Should Be Rewarding
Don’t worry if adopting your new pet feels overwhelming sometimes. Just keep trying to do the best you can for your dog. Remember that having a pet is one of the most rewarding experiences one can have, despite all the challenges involved. For more resources and information about how to keep your pets as happy and safe as possible, visit our blog.
Congratulations on your new dog!