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Adopting A Dog - Part 1: The First Things You Need To Know

Updated on August 4, 2014

Thinking About Adopting A Dog?

A great many dog owners say that adopting a dog from a shelter or rescue group was the best thing they ever did . . . and that the adopted dog was one of the best pets they ever had

If you're thinking about adopting a dog, you are smart to seek out answers to some of the questions or concerns you may have. For instance, you may be wondering: Will an 'adopted dog' fit into our family . . . our lives? How can we be sure if the dog is healthy? Will she or he behave or come with a whole host of behavioral problems? Which shelter or rescue group should we deal with? What is the adoption process?

The answer to these and other common questions about dog adoption will be covered right here . . .

But before we move on, here's a question for YOU . . . are you prepared for dog ownership . . . are you reasonably confident that adding a dog to your home (at this time in your life) is the right thing to do? If you're not sure, you're invited to read the following before moving on: READ . . . How to Take Care of A Dog ... the RIGHT WAY! and Need Help Choosing A Dog?

7 Reasons Dog Adoption Is A Great Choice


  • 1. You save $$$:
  • Adopting a dog from a rescue or shelter is much less expensive than getting a new dog from a pet store or breeder. In fact, the cost can be a few hundred dollars less.
  • 2. Your dog will be Vet checked:
  • The dogs you get from a reputable shelter or rescue group, have recently had veterinary care, are up to date on their vaccinations and are almost always spayed or neutered.
  • 3. You get to choose from a variety of breeds:
  • Shelters and rescues have an array of breeds and mixed breeds of all ages, from puppies to adult canines. If you are open to different breed possibilities, the shelter or rescue list of dogs will be like visiting a "doggie buffet."
  • 4. You can have more confidence starting out as a new dog owner:
  • Most rescue groups make it point to "screen" prospective new dog owners. And once they have approved you for a dog adoption, you'll feel confident knowing that you were seen as a viable pet owner. Additionally, the folks at the adoption center will be happy to provide you with literature and resource information to help you with your new pet.
  • 5. You help reduce pet overpopulation:
  • The fees you pay for your adopted dog help to pay for spaying and neutering of other dogs, and since your dog will be spayed or neutered before you bring him or her home, you ensure that your dog, at least, won't be contributing to the problem.
  • 6. You might be able to "return" your pet:
  • In an extreme case . . . if you find yourself in the unfortuante position of having to let your dog go, many rescues have an "open door" policy. They ask that if you absolutely must let your dog go (although that is discouraged on every level), that you call them first and see if they can take the dog back. This is of course in line with the philosophy of keeping dogs out of city pounds and kill shelters.
  • 7. You could save a life:
  • While the threat of euthanasia of pets is almost nil at a rescue shelter, if you adopt from a so-called "kill shelter," you are literally saving a perfectly adoptable dog that might otherwise be slated to be put down within days or even hours.

The Biggest Concern Most People Have About Adopting A Dog

How Will I know if the dog I'm looking to adopt does not have health, behavioral or emotional problems?

TRUTH: The majority of the dogs at shelters and rescues are perfectly normal and will make great companions. Most of them are only there because of circumstances affecting their previous owners, not them. Also you have the added peace of mind knowing that the pet has been Vet checked.

It's also TRUE: Some dogs from shelters and rescues sometimes have emotional problems. They might have been abused or neglected. Dogs that DO have emotional difficulties are generally not the ones you'll be considering for adoption, anyway. It takes a special kind of dog owner with some expertise in those matters to adopt a dog like that. And if you think you can do it . . . then a rescue or shelter is the place to go.

It's also TRUE: Some dogs do have pre-existing medical conditions which is generally why they spend a much longer time at the shelter. That's because they are harder to place. If you read between the lines, you will realize that a rescue group or reputable shelter is more concerned about the welfare of the dog and will not knowingly "push" this speical-needs pet on anyone who is not willing to (or unable to) handle it.

Bottomline: Please don't assume you'll be "stuck" with a dog that has a lot of problems. You most likely won't.

Rescues and Shelters and Pounds, Oh My!

What Are the Differences Between Dog Rescues, Shelters and Pounds?


  • A rescue group is generally defined as a group that "rescues" dogs from a variety of sources.
  • Many rescue groups send staff to dog pounds to retrieve the most "adoptable" dogs, which means they are the most social, have qualities people are looking for in their dog, and generally have the greatest likelihood of being adopted.
  • Rescue groups also include organizations that deliberately "rescue" certain breeds of dogs from pounds or even abusive situations. These groups might specialize in German Shepherds or Labrador Retrievers, for example. If you are looking only for a specific breed, seeking a local rescue group that specializes in that breed is an option.
  • One of the great advantages of getting a dog from a rescue is the dogs usually are getting a good deal of attention and care from the rescue group. The volunteers with the group will have a very good feel for the dog's temperament, health concerns and general quirks. This is all very helpful to you as you begin to discuss adopting the dog.
  • There are hundreds of dog rescue groups across the country. Many have websites so you can see pictures of dogs that are available for adoption and some let you place a "statement of interest" in a particular dog so you can start the adoption process.


  • A shelter is just what the name implies. Dogs (and cats) are sheltered there until someone adopts them, they are returned to their owner, or they are euthanized.
  • Shelters are often run by city or municipal governments, but they can also be run by private groups interested in helping to decrease the population of unwanted animals.
  • Although the level of interaction with animals at a shelter is likely a little less than at a rescue, you still will be given a good picture of a dog's personality. Often the shelter workers will have favorites and it's these dogs they will be more inclined to encourage you to consider, even if you were looking for a different breed or age.
  • Shelters are like rescue groups in that they actively try to place dogs in new homes. You might see ads for shelters in local newspapers, at pet stores and online.
  • It's important to know if the shelter you are dealing with is a "kill" or "no-kill" shelter. Many people mistakenly believe all shelters are "no-kill" facilities. Here's the distinction:
  • "No-kill" shelters
  • will usually house animals until they find a home or they die of natural causes.
  • "Kill" shelters
  • are where animals will be put down if they are not adopted or returned to their owners within a specified period of time. If you are considering a dog that's living at a "kill" shelter, you want to act quickly so that your choice of dog isn't put down before you get a chance to give him or her a new home.

Dog Pounds:

  • City or county pounds are generally "kill" facilities and most will often only wait the requisite 3 days before putting the animals down. That's why many people start their dog hunt at the pound, in order to save a dog life first, and then move on to shelters and rescue groups.
  • Be aware this: Pounds are different than shelters or rescue groups in that the cages might not be as clean, getting someone to help you could be difficult and information about specific dogs might be very slight or even nonexistent.
  • Adopting from a pound is certainly a viable option and thousands of people do it annually, but it takes a little more work and faith on your part. The precious upside, of course, is that you could literally be saving a dog that is within hours or days of being put down.

Can I Go Home With You?

Can I Go Home With You?
Can I Go Home With You?

What to Look For In A Shelter Or Rescue Group

Here are a few basic elements you should look for in a good shelter or rescue:


  • As previously stated, if you look for your dog at the
  • pound
  • , you might have a hard time finding someone to help you. You might need to ring a bell, head back to the front desk to get help or stand around until an animal control officer or other staff person sees you and can help.
  • Shelters
  • who are truly dedicated to "sheltering" dogs and cats until they find a home, will usually be staffed very well and finding someone who can help you is easier than at a pound. In addition, the staff people will usually have a good knowledge about most of the animals up for adoption.
  • Working with a rescue gives you the most intimate contact with staffers who can help you find your perfect dog. They usually have had a great deal of contact with the animals and can spend time with you as you get to know the dogs. They will be able to give you some clues as to the nuance of the dog's character and personality and give you a sense of which dog would be right for your family and lifestyle.


  • If you've ever looked into acquiring a dog from breeders or pet stores, you'll know the cost of getting a dog from a rescue or shelter is almost insignificant by comparison.
  • Generally, the price you pay to get a dog from a shelter or rescue is equivalent to what it cost the group to house, feed and take care of the dog you buy. It depends on the group from which you are adopting, but generally these cost factors include food, spaying or neutering, medical care and any other associated costs, such as license fees or salaries (for some shelters).
  • Although costs are usually minimal (most of the time you can adopt a dog for less than $100), your concern here should be that the costs are fair and include an honest accounting of the investment the shelter made in the dog.


  • Although it's unlikely you will come home with an ill dog, there is chance that could happen, if the shelter or facility from which you got the dog isn't clean.
  • If you are visiting shelters, look for the availability of hand sanitizers for visitors, frequent cage cleanings and food areas that are clean and well cared for.
  • The last thing you want is to get your new dog home and have to deal with a case of parvovirus (also known as parvo) or kennel cough.

Good Information About Your Dog

  • If you are getting a dog from a large shelter, you want to make sure that good information is available about the dog you want to adopt. Usually this will be in the form of papers attached to the dog's cage. These papers might indicate a variety of things, which include but are not limited to:
  • The dog's general temperament; the dog's breed (or a best guess, if it's not known); how the dog did on assessment tests; how long the dog has been at the shelter; where the dog came from (ie., was the dog surrendered by the owner, or was the dog a stray).
  • The more information you can have about your dog BEFORE you bring him or her home, the better off you both will be. You'll have the information you need to create the best environment for the dog and will be able to prepare for your new pet appropriately.

The Shelter's Community Standing

  • This particular element can be difficult to pinpoint. If you have heard of the shelter or rescue in some public way, that can be a good thing . . . If you haven't, it's not necessarily bad.
  • When you visit the shelter, feel free to ask questions like: How long has the shelter been in existence? How is the shelter funded? How many dogs does the shelter or rescue place each year? Does the shelter do any public awareness training or education about dog ownership? Or, other questions that are meaningful to you.

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    • profile image


      5 years ago

      What a wonderful, educational lens. Thanks for writing it. There are so many misconceptions about adopting dogs. I have 5 shih tzus. I got Olivia from a shut down puppy mill and a month later she gave us 3 girls. Then we added Tucker to our family. I got him from a shelter near me. Very best dogs I have ever owned (or really, that have owned ME)

    • tonybonura profile image

      Tony Bonura 

      5 years ago from Tickfaw, Louisiana

      You give some great information for prospective adopters. So many people have some false and downright funny ideas about adopting pets.


    • Steph Tietjen profile image

      Stephanie Tietjen 

      6 years ago from Albuquerque, New Mexico

      My dog, Carlos, is just like you said in the first paragraph--the best pet I ever had. He came from a shelter. This is super information, I'm adding your link to my new lens.

    • dogsrspecial profile image


      6 years ago

      Thanks for a great lens with a really important message. If I had time and money to do it I'd devote myself to stopping puppy mills. All the folks who worry about race horses and lab animals need to add their voice and experience to this issue. Anyone who has ever seen the situations the dogs are forced into can never get the images out of their minds. Good work.

    • TransplantedSoul profile image


      7 years ago

      Thanks for this info. I just wrote about our American Dog adoption: He is so happy now.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      We adopted a chocolate lab who was originally a rescue dog. (She has her own lens - Sophie's Story'). She came to us fully house and crate trained and has been the perfect dog for our family.

    • LizRobertson profile image


      7 years ago

      I'm a big fan of shelter dogs. Our best dog, Bingo, joined us that way... I'm not sure what breed he is but he's so all out excellent... I wrote him a lens!

    • PNWtravels profile image

      Vicki Green 

      7 years ago from Wandering the Pacific Northwest USA

      Very informative lens that does a great job of clarifying some confusion and misconceptions about dogs in rescues and shelters. The last 5 dogs I've owned have been "second hand" dogs and all have been wonderful companions. Blessed by a SquidAngel

    • CrossCreations profile image

      Carolan Ross 

      7 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      Great tribute to dog rescue as a way to adopt a dog. Liked & lensrolled to golden retriever rescue. Best to you.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      While there may be some legit reasons for seeking a breed dog (body guards, guide dogs, shepherd dogs, etc), I believe that people who prefer breeds just for fancy ought to think it over. Adopting a dog could literally save a life. Besides that, I have read that the conditions at "breeding farms" are absolutely horrible: dogs are allowed just a tiny cage, in which they can hardly move, they are not given proper care, and are continually put to mate, which results in destroying the dog's health and, consequently, in a miserable life followed by premature death. It's an absolute shame! Please, seriously consider choosing a dog from a rescue or pound, if more people did that it would decrease "breeding farms" business.

    • KarenTBTEN profile image


      8 years ago

      An important resource. Blessed by a SquidAngel.

    • Health-Gal profile image


      8 years ago

      the last 3 dogs in my home were rescue dogs and I am sure that when the moment arrives that another dog will come to me, it will be a rescue dog again. Thanks for creating this lens and making people aware that rescue dogs deserve a new loving home too, not just the puppies!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      very important info!


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