10 red flags to be aware of when adopting a dog

Adopting a dog is a huge decision and it can be daunting. Navigating the world of shelters, online ads, and vet records isn’t easy, but knowing signs to watch out for that a dog isn’t the right match for you can help you end up with the perfect pooch.

Here are some things to be aware of when adopting a dog that they aren’t right for you.


Be wary if the dog barks or growls at you non-stop.

Matt Cardy/Getty ImagesBarking or growling could be a sign that they aren’t going to adjust well to a new situation.

According to Cinco Ranch Veterinary Hospital, excessive barking or growling might be a sign that a dog will have trouble adjusting to new people and situations.

Though this isn’t always a sign of a serious problem – the dog could just be excitable – it can signal a pooch that will need extra help easing into a new home.


If a dog seems too calm, that could also be a red flag.

Photology1971/iStockA dog not reacting might mean that they are sick.

Conversely, a dog that seems very quiet or non-responsive to you might also have some hidden problems.

The Cinco Ranch Veterinary Hospital warned that a dog that doesn’t seem to react to new people positively or negatively might not be feeling well. Make sure to talk to shelter staff or previous owners about any past or present medical issues before taking a dog home.


Consider pet adoption ads carefully and read between the lines.

Flickr/Mosman CouncilMake sure you read ads before adopting a dog.

According to Dogster magazine, it’s crucial to read between the lines when perusing online dog adoption ads.

Phrases like “has a lot of energy,” “needs a big yard,” or “prefers to be around people” might signal behavioural issues such as a lack of training or separation distress. If an advertisement notes that the animal is territorial or “protective,” that might mean you’ll be getting a dog who howls if anyone approaches you or becomes aggressive if its toys are taken away.

Be sure to ask detailed questions about the dog and its behaviour before agreeing to any adoption.


It’s not a good sign if owner is reluctant to show you the dog’s medical records.

John Moore/Getty ImagesMake sure you are able to get access to the dog’s medical records.

If you’re adopting a dog from a shelter, you’re likely to be given access to any medical records the dog arrived with.

However, if you’re adopting a pet from its current owner and they are hesitant to divulge anything about the dog’s medical history or show you paperwork certifying that it is healthy, you may want to keep looking.

Seeing vet records before finalising an adoption can save you from paying costly medical bills down the line and will allow you to confirm a dog’s age and history, Dog Time advised.

Of course a dog with health problems isn’t always a deal-breaker, but it’s important to know how to care for it.


A dog that cowers at the back of its crate or hides when it sees you is probably afraid of people.

Justin Sullivan/Getty ImagesDogs who hide might be afraid of people.

According to Center for Shelter Dogs, a dog that scoots to the back of its kennel or hides behind furniture when you approach may be fearful of people.

Unfortunately, dogs who are afraid of people take a lot of training to overcome their fear and may bite or snap if they feel threatened. Though you may be able to overcome this behaviour with enough time and effort, it’s best to know that upfront.


An overly friendly dog might seem like fun but could end up being a handful.

KalebKroetsch/iStockExcessive playfulness might mean they need a lot of training.

Though taking home a friendly dog is a better scenario than adopting a fearful or aggressive dog, the Cinco Ranch Veterinary Hospital advised that excessive playfulness or boundless energy might mean that a pup will need lots of training.

If you have minimal time or resources to invest in training a rambunctious dog, opting for a more sedate animal might be a better option.


A dog that lunges at other dogs or people might be aggressive.

Photo courtesy of UPS Dogs/ FacebookA dog that lunges at other dogs or people aren’t socialised.

If a dog repeatedly lunges at you or other dogs, it may not have been properly socialised, according to The Animal Humane Society.

Though this doesn’t have to be a serious problem, dogs that aren’t accustomed to people or other animals are more likely to react aggressively or bite when they feel overwhelmed or threatened. Adopting a dog like this might mean a lot of time spent training and socialising with other dogs.


Be sure to notice if the dog is breathing heavily when you interact.

Flickr/ddohlerHeavy breathing often means stress.

Just like humans, dogs tend to breathe more heavily than normal when they are stressed. According to Psychology Today, a dog that seems to pant when you approach or interact might be fearful of people.

Of course, panting can also be a sign that the dog is thirsty, too warm, or has just been running around.


Lip-licking might be a sign of stress.

bruev/iStockLicking lips can be caused by stress or nausea.

If the dog you’re considering adopting is always licking its lips, that might not be a good sign.

According to Psychology Today, dogs mainly lick their lips as a response to stress, nausea, or treats. If you’re not holding out anything delicious, you can be pretty sure the dog is either nervous in your presence or isn’t feeling well. Both scenarios are cause for concern and should prompt a conversation with the current owner or shelter staff.


Be careful adopting a dog that doesn’t seem to click with you.

Anoir Chafik/UnsplashDon’t adopt a dog that you aren’t sure about.

Just like us, dogs usually prefer some people over others. If a dog seems to be showing interest in you by accepting a gentle pat, sniffing you, and generally being close to you, that’s a good sign.

But it’s important to trust your gut. If a shelter dog doesn’t seem right for you – or if you don’t think you can handle its medical issues – it’s probably best to keep looking so it can go to a home that is right for it too.

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