Finding Your Fur-Ever Friend. The Step-by-Step Guide to Adopting a Rescue Dog

Deciding if a Shelter Dog is Right for You

Adopting a dog from a shelter has many benefits compared to buying from a breeder or pet store. First, you will be saving a life and giving a deserving animal a second chance at a happy home. Shelters have to euthanize millions of healthy, adoptable pets every year due to overcrowding and lack of space. By adopting, you help break this cycle and reduce the overpopulation of homeless pets.

Shelter dogs also tend to be healthier and better screened than pet store dogs. Most shelters thoroughly vet dogs before making them available, checking for any medical issues, administering vaccines, and spaying/neutering. Pet store dogs often come from mass breeding facilities with poor conditions.

The costs of adopting are usually much lower as well. Shelters charge an adoption fee to cover expenses, but this is minimal compared to buying from a breeder or store. For example, the ASPCA says the average adoption fee is around $100 compared to $500-5000 for a purchased puppy.

However, adopting a rescue dog has unique considerations. Since shelter dogs often have unknown backgrounds, their health and temperament can be unpredictable. They may need training and care for issues like anxiety. Make sure you have the time, energy, and resources to properly train and care for a shelter dog. Confirm that a canine companion aligns with your lifestyle before making the long-term commitment involved with having a dog.

Understanding Shelter Dog Backgrounds

Shelter dogs often come from challenging backgrounds like abandonment or abuse. According to a 2021 study, owners surrendering pets to shelters commonly underestimate their dog’s behavior problems, with aggression and high arousal issues being more prevalent in long-term shelter dogs (Characteristics and Welfare of Long-Term Shelter Dogs).

With care, patience and training, shelter dogs can become great pets. However, it’s important to be realistic about the time and work involved in managing any behavioral issues. A 2023 study found a high prevalence of behavior problems in adopted shelter dogs.

understanding shelter dog backgrounds

Consider fostering a shelter dog first to see if you’re prepared for this commitment before adopting. While challenging, caring for a shelter dog can be incredibly rewarding.

Choosing the Right Shelter

When looking to adopt a dog from a shelter, it’s important to find one that takes good care of their animals and properly evaluates them for adoption. Here are some tips for choosing the right shelter:

Visit local shelters and Humane Societies in your area to see their facilities in person. Meet with staff to ask about their adoption process and fees, dog housing conditions, veterinary care, and behavior evaluations. Well-run shelters will be transparent about their policies and procedures. As recommended by PetNewsDaily, some of the top rated shelters in the U.S. include the Humane Society of Utah, Charleston Animal Society in South Carolina, and the Humane Society of South Mississippi.

Read online reviews and check ratings on sites like TopDogTips and OneGreenPlanet to find the most humane shelters with healthy, adoptable dogs. Look for shelters with high live release rates, enrichment programs, and those that utilize positive reinforcement training.

choosing the right shelter

Avoid shelters that seem crowded or unsanitary. Also be wary of shelters that do not properly screen potential adopters or make the process too difficult. The best shelters balance ensuring dogs go to good homes with making adoption accessible.

With research and visits, you can find the shelter that is the right fit for adopting your new furry friend.

Considering Shelter Dog Age and Size

When adopting a shelter dog, you’ll want to think carefully about what age and size dog will be the best fit for your home and lifestyle. Puppies require an enormous time commitment for training, socialization and care. You’ll need to housetrain them, teach basic commands, and provide lots of mental and physical stimulation. Adult and senior dogs from a shelter often come already housetrained and with calmer temperaments, making them easier to handle especially for first-time dog owners.

You’ll also want to consider the size of the dog when looking at shelter dogs. Make sure to choose a size you can physically handle and that will fit comfortably in your living space. Larger dogs require more exercise and feedings, while smaller dogs need less space but can be more fragile. Take your activity level, yard size, apartment rules and experience handling dogs into account. Shelters often label dogs with their projected full grown size such as small, medium or large.

With some preparation and realistic expectations, both puppies and adult dogs of any size from a shelter can make wonderful pets. The key is finding the right match for your home based on the dog’s age, energy level, size and your own time and ability to meet their needs.

Handling Shelter Dog Meet and Greets

When you meet a potential adoption dog at a shelter, ask the staff if you can interact with the dog in a private meet room, not just inside the noisy kennel. This will allow you to better evaluate the dog’s personality and temperament. According to the ASPCA guide “Reading Canine Body Postures” (, you’ll want to carefully observe the dog’s body language for any concerning signs like growling, stiffening, or trying to avoid you. A dog that seems relaxed, friendly, and engaged is likely a good match.

handling shelter dog meet and greets

Come prepared with treats and toys. You can use these to assess the dog’s trainability by practicing basic cues like sit and stay. A dog that responds well to treats is likely to be very trainable. Bringing a toy can also help gauge the dog’s playfulness and energy level.

By thoughtfully handling meet and greets, you’ll get a much better sense of each dog’s personality and potential fit with your lifestyle.

Evaluating Shelter Dog Health

One of the most important steps when adopting a shelter dog is evaluating its health. Shelter dogs often come from difficult backgrounds and may have health issues. Be sure to ask the shelter staff about any known health problems or past vet care for the dog you’re interested in. Look for signs of good health like clear eyes, a shiny coat, strong appetite and energy levels. You may also inquire about the possibility of taking the dog to your own vet for an exam before finalizing the adoption. This allows your vet to look for any concerns like heartworm, intestinal parasites, or kennel cough.

Some common health issues in shelter dogs include:

  • Kennel cough – A highly contagious upper respiratory infection. Symptoms are a cough that sounds like a honking noise, fever, lethargy, sneezing, runny nose, loss of appetite.
  • Heartworms – Spread by mosquitoes, these parasitic worms live in the heart & lungs. Symptoms are fatigue, difficulty breathing, coughing.
  • Intestinal Parasites – Common worms include roundworms, hookworms, whipworms. Symptoms are diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss.

While health issues are common in shelter dogs, many can be treated with proper medical care. Discuss any concerns with the shelter staff and your veterinarian.

Considering Shelter Dog Breed and Mixes

When adopting a dog from a shelter, you will often encounter mixed breed dogs, rather than purebreds. This provides some advantages but also requires more research on your part.

Purebred dogs have more predictable sizes, coats, and temperaments based on their breed standards. However, mixed breeds offer unique combinations of traits from different breeds. They also tend to have fewer health problems associated with some pure breeds and less shedding or allergens.

It’s important to research the likely breeds present in a shelter dog by looking at their physical features. This can give you a sense of their expected adult size, activity level, grooming needs, etc. However, don’t make rigid assumptions, as mixes can show wide variations. The shelter staff may also have insight into the dog’s likely breed background.

Focus more on observing each dog’s individual personality and behaviors during your meet and greet rather than just their breed mix. Every dog is unique, with their own endearing quirks. An open mind will lead you to the right rescue dog for your lifestyle. For more details on breed traits, check out sites like

Preparing Your Home for a Shelter Dog

Before bringing your new shelter dog home, it’s important to puppy-proof your home by removing any potential hazards and securing things like trash cans. Make sure to have the following supplies ready to help your dog settle into their new home smoothly:

  • A crate with a comfy blanket or bed inside
  • Food and water bowls
  • Collar and leash
  • Interactive toys like ropes, balls, and chew toys

It’s also a good idea to set up any containment system you plan to use in your yard ahead of time. Check fences thoroughly for any gaps or weak spots your new dog could potentially escape through (Petfinder Adoption Checklist). You want your shelter dog to feel comfortable and secure in their new home right away.

Taking the time to prepare will help the initial transition go smoothly when you bring your furry friend home. With some basic supplies ready and potential hazards addressed, you’ll both be able to focus on bonding and building a happy life together.

Bringing Your Shelter Dog Home

Once you’ve completed the adoption process, it’s time to bring your new shelter dog home. This transition can be overwhelming for dogs, so make it as smooth and stress-free as possible. When picking up your dog, ask shelter staff for details on their current food brand and feeding schedule so you can maintain consistency initially. This will help avoid stomach upset from sudden diet changes.

bringing your shelter dog home

It’s important not to overstimulate your new dog on the first day home. Introduce them to their new space calmly and quietly, without a lot of excitement or guests. Limit introductions to immediate family members and provide a safe, cozy place for them to rest and decompress. Be patient and understanding as your new dog adjusts to their home over the first few days and weeks. Let them approach you and don’t force interactions. Stick to a comforting and predictable routine as they acclimate.

Dogs adopted from shelters often need time to settle in, overcome past trauma, and build trust. Provide affection and encouragement as they gain confidence. With a slow and loving introduction, your shelter dog will eventually relax into their forever home.

For more tips, check out “The First Day with Your Adopted Dog” from Longmont Humane Society:

Caring for and Training Your Shelter Dog

Once you bring your new shelter dog home, it’s important to focus on building a strong bond through proper care and training. Enroll your dog in vet-recommended training classes for socialization and obedience skills. Classes provide mental stimulation and help your dog learn to behave appropriately around other dogs and people (

Also maintain a consistent daily routine with scheduled feeding, walking, playtime, and rest. Be patient with any problem behaviors as your dog adjusts, and try positive reinforcement techniques before punishment. Consult a professional trainer or behaviorist if significant issues emerge, and don’t give up on working through them (

With proper care, training, and bonding time, you can help your shelter dog feel comfortable, engaged, and well-adjusted in their new forever home.

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