10 important things to consider before adopting a dog from a shelter

Fiona Goodall/Stringer/Getty ImagesAdopting a four-legged friend comes with a ton of responsibility.
  • Adopting a dog is a huge responsibility, and it can be especially overwhelming for first-time pet owners.
  • Insider put together a list of top tips for prospective dog owners to make your adoption process easier.
  • From the type of breed to how well-trained the dog is, there are plenty of things to consider before bringing home a furry friend from the shelter.
  • Make sure your home is equipped with the proper supplies and modifications before adopting a dog, and try to find a pet that best matches your household’s energy level.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Adopting a dog from an animal shelter is no small task and can be especially daunting for first-time pet owners.

To help simplify the process, here 10 things to keep in mind before giving a dog a forever home:


Ask for an assessment of a dog’s behaviour and health, if one isn’t initially provided.

ShutterstockIt’s important to find a dog that fits your lifestyle and personality.

“Any established shelter that prides itself on being at the forefront of animal rescue will provide behavioural and health assessments,” Ryan Parker, a certified dog trainer who’s worked for The Humane Society of Ocean City, told Insider.

Many reputable shelters will take the time to analyse the personality, energy level, and health of each dog they’re putting up for adoption, but if this information isn’t handed out, prospective owners should always ask for it.


Test how well-trained a dog is at the shelter.

Veronika7833/iStockMany dogs can be trained to perform dozens of behaviours.

When you’re looking for a dog at the shelter, you can do a couple of quick tests to assess the potential adoptee’s intelligence and level of training.

For example, do they come to you when you call their name? Do they walk well on a leash, or do they constantly pull you all over the place? Can they follow basic commands like “sit” or “stay?”

This basic assessment can help prospective owners determine how much training they will need to provide the dog with right away.


Take note of a dog’s energy level.

Andia/Universal Images Group via Getty ImagesSome breeds are more active than others.

Before making a decision, it’s important to consider the amount of energy and time you have to devote to a new four-legged friend. According to Parker, if the energy level of the owner’s household doesn’t match that of the dog, the adoption often doesn’t work out.

Do you live in a smaller urban area without much room for your new dog to run around? If so, a high-energy dog may be unhappy.

Do you live on a farm with a big family and plenty of space? If that’s the case, an energetic puppy could be right for you.


Make sure you find out as much as you can about a dog’s history before the adoption.

bruev/iStockIt can give you insight into the dog’s behaviour.

Here are some questions you may want to ask at the shelter, according to The Humane Society of the United States: How long has the dog been there? Did the dog arrive as a stray? Was the dog surrendered by a previous owner? If so, why?

All of these questions will help to-be owners determine the background of a dog so they can best cater to the pet’s needs.


Find out how a dog responds to food.

iStockSome dogs exhibit a behaviour called food guarding.

Depending on a dog’s history, it may engage in food guarding – which is when dogs become protective over their food or toys. Food guarding can range from mild growling to biting, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Although food guarding is a normal behaviour that develops when dogs have to compete for food as a puppy or a stray, an overly aggressive response to food can be dangerous for you and those in your household.

As such, it’s important to talk to a dog shelter about how potential adoptees respond to food. It might also be worth asking the shelter to feed a dog in front of you so you can assess the situation yourself.


See how your prospective pup socializes with humans and other dogs.

Photology1971/iStockYou can learn a lot about a dog from first impressions.

A dog that has been adequately socialised is friendly to most people and other animals. Well-socialised dogs are also more comfortable in unfamiliar situations, according to the Animal Humane Society.

When you’re at the animal shelter, be sure to take note of a dog’s first reaction to you. Are they cautious, aggressive, or friendly? First impressions will give you a good idea of how your new dog will react to strangers on the street and in your home.

It’s also a good idea to see how a potential adoptee interacts with other dogs. Ask the employees at the shelter if their dogs get to go outside and play with each other, which exposes them to new surroundings and encourages them to socialise.


Figure out whether you want to adopt a purebred or a mixed-breed dog.

Fischer S./iStockIt’s important to do your research before adopting.

Since different breeds of dogs have different needs, take the time to learn about each one you’re considering before adopting.

If you’re hoping to adopt a husky, for example, make sure you have time to brush the dog at least once a week. And if you’re interested in a Great Dane, you should know, despite its size, the breed is generally quite docile and loves to lounge around all day.


Find out how old a prospective pet is.

Hide Inada/ShutterstockYounger and older dogs are right for different owners.

It’s important to take the time to analyse if a younger or older dog is right for your schedule, home, and lifestyle before settling on a pet at the shelter.

Puppies require a considerable amount of time and patience upfront since you’ll have to carefully train and socialise them.

On the other hand, older dogs, sometimes referred to as senior dogs, tend to have lower energy levels and are often already trained. However, they’re also more likely to have health problems – which may not be a financially viable option for some people.


Be sure you have your house ready and stocked with any supplies a dog might need.

ShutterstockMake sure everything is in order before you bring your dog home.

Is the dog microchipped? Do they need medication you have to obtain? Do you have food, toys, and grooming supplies ready? All of these are important questions to ask yourself before you officially adopt a dog and take them home.

Luckily, The Humane Society of the US has a handy list of the supplies you’ll need to welcome your new pet. Generally, your home should be stocked with food and a few toys. You should also have a collar and leash ready to go.

It’s also important to get rid of anything in your home that could potentially be dangerous for your dog, like certain houseplants, candy bowls, and mothballs.


Figure out if you’re actually an ideal candidate for a dog.

Fiona Goodall/Getty ImagesJust because you want one doesn’t mean you’re ready for a pet.

Many people want a furry friend, but that doesn’t always mean they’re ready for the responsibility.

Really sit down and ask yourself if you have the money, time, and commitment to adopt a dog. If you’re already finding yourself backing down from the challenge, it may not be the right time for you.

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