Young black man connecting with shelter dog and considering adoption

Questions to Ask Before Adopting a Rescue or Shelter Dog

Last updated on January 28th, 2024 at 06:08 pm

Adopting a dog is a significant commitment, one that could enrich your life with companionship and joy. Before taking the plunge, understand that it’s not just about the warm feeling you get when you first meet—the decision requires a deep dive into the dog’s history and present condition.

Finding a new furry friend can feel overwhelming as you enter a shelter and find so many dogs who need a good home. If you are like me, you may feel pulled to adopt every dog in the shelter!

Remember, this decision is more than just choosing a pet; it’s about understanding what it truly means to add a new member to your family. The shelter’s insights will help determine if their current behavior and training align with your expectations for bringing a dog into your home environment.

Key Takeaways

  • Choosing a dog from a shelter is a careful process that involves identifying the right match for your home.
  • Asking detailed questions about the dog’s history, health, and behavior is crucial to making an informed decision.
  • Understanding the level of support from the shelter can help ease the transition for you and the dog.
Read more: Questions to Ask Before Adopting a Rescue or Shelter Dog

Important Questions to Ask About a Shelter or Rescue Dog

The primary questions to ask before adopting a dog should center on a dog’s background, health, behavior, levels of training, special needs, energy level, barking frequency, and prior owners if known. If you can get the dog’s full back story, that will be helpful.

But more importantly, what the dog is like now and how he or she relates to people and other animals will be critical things to know.

General Questions to Ask About A Dog’s Background

Understanding a dog’s past can significantly influence their future with you. Uncover how the dog arrived at the shelter or rescue; whether they were an owner surrender, a stray, or rescued from a challenging situation. Determining the number of previous owners, if any, can shed light on the stability of the dog’s life up to now. When discussing the dog’s history, consider their:

  • Origin story within the shelter system
  • Known identifiers such as name, breed, and age
  • Observable temperament
  • Details of the most recent ownership
  • Any identified special needs

Bear in mind that some dogs end up in shelters due to changes in their owner’s life circumstances, not because of behavioral problems. Information gleaned can help you gauge whether this dog may be the right fit for your home and lifestyle.

Dogs end up in shelters for a multitude of reasons including when an owner dies or it may have become lost and could not be reconnected to his family. So the staff may not always have a lot of information.

But try to get as much information as you can to help determine if he is a fit for you and what kind of care he will need. You can learn more about rescue dogs from my extensive post, How to Comfort and Heal a Rescue Dog.

Inquire About a Dog’s General Health

Tan colored dog lying on table at vet with male and female volunteer staff petting him.

Adopting a dog also means taking responsibility for their health. Equip yourself with knowledge about their physical well-being by asking:

  • Recent health examinations and outcomes
  • Presence of known medical issues or injuries
  • Vaccination status and microchip information
  • Availability of past medical records
  • Requirements for special care or dietary needs

A visual inspection can complement what you’ve been told; check for clear eyes, clean ears, and a healthy coat. Remember, a thorough veterinary exam should follow adoption to address any undetected medical conditions and confirm your new companion’s health status. For more insight into canine health and vaccinations, you may find it useful to explore articles about vaccinations necessary for dogs and how to assess the health of a rescue dog.

Find Out About the Dog’s Current Behavior

Cat and dog resting together on bed

Recognize that shelter environments can alter a dog’s behavior. Yet, some behavioral patterns are crucial to understand:

  • Compatibility with other pets
  • A history of biting or aggressive tendencies
  • Reactions to strangers or children
  • Exhibit of stress-related or obsessive behavior
  • Barking or whining levels given the shelter context
  • Leash walking manners and needs for a specific harness
  • Indications of house training
  • Response to basic obedience commands

In cases where a dog has been with a foster family, leverage that opportunity to gain insight into their behavior in a more typical household setting. A foster caregiver can offer valuable perspectives on the dog’s adaptability and existing training, which can significantly influence your decision to provide a loving home for them.

Remember, as a prospective adopter assessing these factors about the dog’s background, health, and behavior will help ensure you find the right dog for your home and that the dog finds a good match in you.

What Resources and Support Does the Shelter/Organization Provide?

When I adopted my two rescue dogs, I received a lot of support. You can read more about my dogs’ back story on our About Us page. Therefore, when adopting from a rescue organization, you’re not alone in the journey. Support often extends beyond the initial adoption process. Here’s what may be available to you:

  • Essential Supplies: Shelters usually offer a starter kit. This can include food, treats, leashes, and even dog dishes to help you begin your new journey together.
  • Guidance and Training: After bringing your adoptable dog home, you might receive advice and training support. In some cases, obedience classes are part of the adoption benefits.
  • After-Adoption Care: Your local shelter or animal rescue may provide medical support post-adoption. It’s prudent to inquire about the extent of medical care that’s covered.
  • Helpful Staff: Shelter and rescue staff are there to assist with any challenges. For example, if you’re facing hyperactivity or leash-walking issues with your new companion, don’t hesitate to reach out for help.
  • Trial Adoptions: Some shelters facilitate a trial period to ensure a good fit in the shelter environment before finalizing the adoption.
  • Contracts and Fees: Familiarize yourself with any required paperwork, such as an adoption contract. Be sure to understand the adoption fees as part of the process.

After I adopted my two rescue dogs, I received additional support regarding some of their behaviors such as walking them on a leash. The shelter owner recommended head halters and even showed me how to use them.

I was also given a large crate to use initially at night and when I was away. Eventually, I did not need the crate, but it was a huge help in the beginning as my pups settled in.

Remember to leverage the resources provided by foster families, humane societies, and the adoption center to ease the transition for both you and your dog.

What Happens if it Does Not Work Out?

Brown and white dog destroying a pillow in living room.

When efforts to create a harmonious home with a new dog falter, understanding your alternatives is vital.

  • Explore Solutions: Before making a final decision, consult with shelter staff. They may offer valuable advice on dog’s behavior and integration strategies.
  • Integration Period: Give your new pet at least three months to adjust. This duration is often when improvement is noted as the dog starts feeling comfortable in their new home.
  • Professional Help: Consider bringing in a dog walker or behaviorist, who can help address and manage your dog’s behavior and needs efficiently.
  • Return Policy: If returning the dog becomes the only option, review your adoption contract for the proper protocol. Ensure a smooth transition back to the shelter or foster care to help the dog find a more suitable permanent home.

Be sure to give your new dog a fair trial of at least 3 months. This initial period is usually the toughest part of the transition and the 3-month point is usually when a new dog starts to relax and blend in. So, don’t give up too soon! Sadly, most dogs are returned to shelters after one week, which is not enough time for them to adjust. See my post, I Can’t Cope With My New Rescue Dog. What Should I Do? for more information.

Remember, while the shelter’s goal is to find forever homes, they also want to ensure the welfare of the dog and compatibility with the family. Your approach to this situation can significantly impact the dog’s chance for finding a lasting home in the future.

Final Thoughts About Asking the Right Questions Before Adopting Your Dog

Embarking on the journey of adopting a dog involves serious considerations. Whether it’s your first time or you’re a seasoned pet owner, each canine comes with its unique personality and needs. It’s essential to ensure that the kind of dog you bring into your home aligns with your lifestyle. Here’s a quick guide to help you make an informed decision:

  • Different Breeds: Understand that various dog breeds have different care requirements, from exercise to grooming. Select a breed that fits your capacity to provide care.
  • Assess Your Life: Reflect on whether it’s the right time to adopt. Pet ownership is a long-term commitment and your new furry friend will become a part of your family.
  • Space and Time: Ensure you have enough space at home and spare moments to cater to your new family member. Your dog will depend on you for companionship and exercise.
  • Prepare for Adjustment: Be ready for the “getting to know each other” phase. Your adopted dog may need some time to learn and adapt to new things.
  • Beyond Appearance: Don’t choose solely based on the look of the dog. Consider their temperament and history which are critical for a harmonious fit with your home.
  • Naming: Once you’ve brought home your new companion, choosing the perfect moniker for your new friend can be a delightful experience.

Do your best to gather as much information as possible. Use both your heart and your head to make a decision. Remember, there is no “perfect dog”. But there is that special dog you will fall in love with after carefully asking all of the right questions.

2 thoughts on “Questions to Ask Before Adopting a Rescue or Shelter Dog”

  1. I’d love to adopt a shelter dog because I think that rescue and rehabilitation are powerful forces. I’m helping the greater cause of eliminating pet overpopulation and ensuring these animals have a brighter future by providing a shelter dog with a loving and caring home. When you remarked that there is no such thing as a “perfect dog,” but rather a particular dog that you would fall in love with after carefully considering your options and making the appropriate inquiries, it brought tears to my eyes. https://gigis.org/adopt-a-dog

    1. Hi Lily, thank you for your comment. Yes, the “perfect dog” is the dog you fall in love with. Even if a shelter dog require some training and transition time, their loving spirit can still shine through. Thank you for the link to gigis.org for dogs ready for adoption. What a wonderful organization in upper midwestern USA! I will be sure to add gigis to my adoption page for mixed breeds.
      All the best, Deanna, Charlotte, and Georgia

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