Adoption of large tan dog from shelter

Everything You Need to Know About Adopting a Rescue Dog

Adopting a rescue dog is a big decision for you and your family, and there are many things to consider. Keep in mind that your cute, new pooch will become a member of your family for many years to come. Therefore, you will want to choose carefully and wisely.

We often assume that we just need to find that special, cute dog at the local shelter and bring her home. However, that is only one step when adopting a rescue dog, and it is important not to rush the process. Key factors to be considered include cost, lifestyle, healthcare, training, long-term commitment, integration with family, and preparation of your home.

Key Considerations

I will be the first to admit that I want to wrap my arms around all of the dogs at the shelter and bring them home! They all look so anxious to be free and eager to move into a warm, comfy home.

Therefore, my first word of warning is to lay out a plan for adopting a rescue dog before you visit the shelter or search for a dog. It will be important to stay grounded and adopt a dog with both your heart and your head. And be prepared to have your heartstrings tugged!

Make Sure You Are Ready to Adopt a Rescue Dog

Cost and Commitment

Probably the most important things to think about when adopting a new dog are the cost, the long-term commitment, having a dog-friendly home and family, and your ability to properly care for your dog:

  1. Can you afford the initial adoption fees and ongoing costs (see below for average costs).
  2. Are you prepared to have a new furry friend in your life for several years?
  3. Will your home accommodate a pet and do other family members want a pet?
  4. Do you have the time and ability to provide care for your new dog’s daily needs?

Caring for a Dog is a Daily Commitment

As an example, it is unfair to leave dogs home alone for several hours a day without companionship or access to the outside. Ideally, dogs should have potty breaks at least every 6-8 hours max. Keep in mind that while you enjoy how eager your new pup is to see you when you get home at night, just know that he has had a very long day alone, bored, and perhaps anxious. We have our work, friends, family, hobbies, but our dogs only have us. And, they depend on us for everything.

So, if you have long workdays, just make sure a friend or family member can interact with your dog during the day. You can also consider getting a dog-walker and a doggie door or taking your pooch to doggie daycare. These options can add to the cost of owning a dog, so factor that into your decision.

Adopting a Dog is a Big Adjustment

Having a dog in your life can be quite an adjustment, which will require a few hours of your time each day. This interaction will include feeding your dog twice a day, going for walks, playing and cuddling with him, grooming, cleaning up poops, and tending to his various needs.

Having said all of this, I can attest to the fact that having dogs takes a lot of time! However, I love it and wouldn’t give up my dogs for anything!

Find a Reputable Shelter or Rescue Facility

Sad rescued dog in a waiting to be adopted

Now that you feel certain you are ready to adopt a rescue dog, where do you find your new best friend? There are four primary places to adopt dogs:

  • Shelters
  • Rescue groups
  • Online
  • Breeders

Shelters

Local animal shelters are usually government agencies or organizations that have contracts with local officials. Shelters take in strays, abandoned, neglected, and abused animals. Additionally, shelters work with animal control officers to temporarily house aggressive dogs who may have bitten someone. Many shelters have a “no-kill” policy and will hold an animal until it can be adopted. Unfortunately, some shelters that have limited space and become easily overcrowded will euthanize pets if they cannot be adopted out within 30-90 days.

County or city-sanctioned shelters are a great place to adopt a dog. They often house a variety of dogs of all ages including some purebreds. The fees are reasonable and the shelter staff is usually eager to provide support for new owners.

Rescue Groups

Animal rescue organizations are often non-profits that specialize in rescuing various types of animals such as retired racing dogs like Greyhounds; dogs kept in horrific conditions in puppy mills; dogs trained to fight, older dogs that have been abandoned; pets left homeless due to natural disasters, or situations involving, hoarding, abuse or neglect.

These groups often rely on foster families to temporarily house and provide rehab care before adoption. You will pay higher adoption fees and may be interviewed by the rescue group. Some organizations also do home visits to see if you have a dog-friendly home.

A reputable organization should be registered as a 301(c)3 nonprofit. You can check their status on Guidestar.org which often includes 3 years of tax returns. Additionally, you can check o charity’s ratings and reviews at CharityNavigator.org, BBB give.org, and GreatNonprofits.org.

Online

Several online organizations provide services to match you with a dog such as petfinders.com for or akc.org. You can read more at PetMag.com, which has a helpful post about the 8 best online pet agencies. Be wary of online services that do not appear reputable or legitimate. See this article at Fraud.org for information about scammers.

Breeders

First, consider adopting a pooch in need from a shelter or rescue group, as it will help save a dog’s life. If you need a specific breed, you may be able to find one at a shelter. If not, you may want to adopt from a private breeder or a reputable online agency such as akc.org. Just make sure the breeder is reputable and treats his dogs as part of the family. See this article by VCA Hospitals about finding reputable breeders.

Do not buy from pet stores. Pet stores often support large, inhumane puppy mills where the dogs are treated as commodities and not living beings with feelings and needs. Puppy mills have been outlawed in several states such as California due to their inhumane treatment of dogs.

Understand Your Options if it Doesn’t Work Out

Life Does Not Always Go as Planned

As with any new change in life, it is not unusual to feel uncertain about adopting a pet. But sometimes even if you have done everything to prepare yourself and find the perfect dog, it is possible that it may not work out. Therefore, you should find out what the shelter’s policy is regarding returning a dog if it truly is not a good match. Most reputable shelters will take a dog back so that he can find a home that works well.

You should also find out if the organization has a trial period in which you can take him home for a few days. This will give you an idea of what it may be to actually adopt him. Just remember that it usually takes a dog at least three months to really settle in. He will be most likely be a little frightened at the beginning which could trigger some initial behavioral problems. Shelter staff generally recommend a trial period of at least three months, since it takes at least that long for a dog to settle in.

Ask the Shelter for Help

Additionally, most shelters and rescue groups will have resources available to provide support, information, and guidance for a smooth adoption. So if you are struggling to make it work, ask them for help. The shelter staff wants you to succeed. However, if it just does not work, they will prefer that you bring him back to them to shelter so they can place him in a home that works. Don’t give him away to someone else or sell him online. He could end up in a bad situation.

If all else fails, it will be good to know what your options are for returning a dog if it just isn’t a good match.

How to Adopt a Rescue Dog that Works Best with Your Lifestyle

Your Lifestyle

When adopting a rescue dog, consider how you would like to spend time with him. You may want a high energy dog to engage in fetch and other sports. Or you may prefer a more mellow dog who is content to sit quietly by your side. Think about the activities you engage in and how your new pup could fit in with your lifestyle.

  • Do you prefer a dog who likes to swim and go on long hikes with you?
  • Maybe you just want a sweet family dog who gets along well with children.
  • Or you may want a low energy lap dog to keep you company.
  • Think about what size dog your home can accommodate.
  • What access will your dog have to the outside and local park?

Age and Gender

Shelters and rescues often have male and female dogs of all ages. Puppies are always adorable and very popular. But they do require a lot more care. They will need several potty breaks during the day and night and a lot of training.

Older dogs, however, can be just as sweet and will probably be housebroken. Also, consider senior dogs who really need a home, especially those whose owner has died. Seniors can be very friendly, mellow, and great companions.

Ask Questions

So, be sure to ask the staff a lot of questions to get as much background as possible. Find out how long the dog has been in the shelter and what his behavior has been like. Ask why he was rescued or ended up in the shelter. Do they know his breed and age? Does he have any health or behavioral problems that will need to be dealt with?

Keep an Open Mind and Heart

Small brown dog recovered after tooth extraction
Soulful eyes!
Photo by Judy Swayne

Most importantly, select a dog that you really feel a heart connection with. You may prefer a purebred, but mutts are great as well. Spend some time hanging out with different dogs to get a sense of their personality. Also, remember that a shelter is not a natural environment for a dog, and they may be more guarded or shy than normal. But usually, after several weeks, a rescued dog’s true personality will emerge and she will begin to blossom with your loving care.

Just keep an open mind, because you may be surprised by who steals your heart!

The Cost and Long Term Commitment of Adopting a Rescue Dog

Dogs are rarely free. Even if a shelter waives or reduces their adoption fees to help reduce their overcrowded facility, you will still have some initial and ongoing costs for your new rescue dog.

Adoption Fees

Local shelters generally have very reasonable fees, since they often have government support. They can range from $25-$200 and help to cover the cost of vaccinations, neutering, and other medical costs.

Rescue groups generally charge more due to the additional costs of actively rescuing dogs, which may include some rehabilitation and fostering. These fees can range from $400 upward to several thousands of dollars for some breeds. Additionally, these groups are usually nonprofits that do not receive government funding

Annual Cost to Own a Dog

You will probably need to spend a few hundred dollars when you first bring your new dog home for basic things like bowls and beds. (See more below.) But it does not end here. Be prepared to spend at least $1,200–$1,800 per year for food, vet visits, grooming, kennel stays and doggie care. In the post below about seniors adopting rescue dogs, I outlined in a table the itemized cost of caring for a dog.

A Long-Term Commitment

Dogs live for an average of 12 years with a range of 10-18 years depending upon the size and breed. So, please keep this in mind when you adopt. Rescue and shelter dogs have already been through a lot and they really need a stable, and loving home. Make sure you can provide this for them.

Your Newly Adopted Rescue Dog Will Need Health Care

Sick pug wrapped in a blanket.

As with humans, dogs have health care needs as well. Most shelters and rescue groups will provide some initial healthcare which often includes vaccinations, general checkup, flea/tick baths, neutering, and microchipping. If the shelter finds a serious or chronic health issue, they treat the dog. Some of these initial problems can involve:

  • Flea or tick infestation
  • Worms or other GI infections
  • Wounds/broken limbs
  • Abscessed teeth
  • Eye infections
  • Chronic conditions such as diabetes or allergies

However, keep in mind that the shelter will only treat initial or acute problems. It will be up to you to provide ongoing care for current or new conditions. So, plan to find a good local vet and schedule an appointment within 30 days of adoption to assess your new dog’s general health.

Pet Insurance is a Really Good Idea

The Evolution of Pet Health Insurance

When I was young, growing up in Iowa, I don’t think there even was such a thing as pet insurance. We rarely took our family dog to the vet unless he had an accident or needed a rabies booster. Today, however, and fortunately for our family pets and our pocketbooks, a wide array of pet insurance options are available. The first insurance company in North America was formed in 1980 – Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI). See more about that at the healthypawspetinsurance.com blog.

Pet insurance initially started as a way to cover accidents and injuries, but now, most companies also offer coverage for chronic illness, disease, and cancer treatments. Options to cover routine wellness and dental check-ups can be added to the package as well.

I highly recommend purchasing a pet policy for both accident/injury and chronic illness. When I researched insurance coverage, the wellness and dental packages did not seem worth the cost. So, I opted to pay out of pocket for routine medical appointments.

My Personal Experience

I was relieved last year that I had decided to buy a policy for both of my rescue dogs that covered accident and illness. At 8 years old, one of my mixed breed dogs developed a large mast cell tumor on one of her hind legs. Unfortunately, it had already started to spread by the time it was diagnosed. (See my post below to read more).

Small black dog on couch with cone on her head after cancer treatment.
Georgia after surgery

She ended up having surgery and chemotherapy as well as an alternative treatment for radiation therapy. All of this would have cost me close to $20,000, Fortunately, the policy I bought from Pets Best covered almost 90% of the cost. See this great review about Pets Best from CanineJournal.com.

Several good pet insurance companies also provide good coverage options. A good article that rates 10 top pet insurance companies appeared on March 4th, 2022 as an update in Forbes.com/advisor for pets. It is a good idea to compare as each company offers slightly different options.

Adequate pet health insurance helps ensure that you will be able to provide your dog with medical treatment for unexpected and costly accidents or illnesses. I personally would never want to make a decision based on finances regarding whether or not my dog can receive life-saving medical support.

Be Sure to Prepare Your Home When Adopting a Rescue Dog

When adopting and bringing home a new dog, regardless of whether she is a puppy or a grown dog, you may want to confine her to one part of your home. This will help you to keep an eye on her until you can determine how she will behave. You may want to buy a small child’s gate to keep your new furry friend from wandering into places where she could get into trouble.

Dog-Proofing the Rooms in Your Home

Think about all of the lamps, appliances, and devices you have plugged into wall sockets. Dogs, especially puppies, love to chew on things! If you leave them alone, make sure they do not have access to plugged-in cords–at least initially. Make sure you do not have any poisonous house plants. Pups love to chew on anything that might be edible. There is nothing better than “found food”! See this list on a post at Weddinganimalhospital.com for common house plants that are really bad for dogs to eat.

Even though my dogs were 6 years old when I adopted them, one of them, Georgia, really liked to chew on odd things. One day when I was gone for a few hours, she decided to go into my music room and chew on the small cord connected to my guitar amp! Fortunately, it was unplugged and she did not swallow it.

A few days later she thought that a large, hard, rubber doorstop would be fun to chew on. She had so much fun with it, that she chewed it up and swallowed all of the pieces. That landed her in the hospital and cost me $1,700! She was eventually okay, but it was quite an ordeal for both of us!

Make Sure Your Yard is Safe

If you have a fenced yard, make sure there are no holes. If you do not have a fence, you could install a temporary fence. which is not very expensive. I am not a fan of electric training collars and fences. I don’t think any dog can be trusted 100% of the time to obey commands. Instinctive behavior can sometimes take over regardless of training, especially for a rescue dog who may have had some past trauma.

Check your landscaping and make sure you do not have plants or trees that could be harmful to your new pooch. Dogs will probably leave poisonous plants alone, however, a curious dog or puppy may opt to nibble at something anyway. See this post at SPCA.com for a list of plants to avoid. Again, “found food” sometimes cannot be resisted even if it is bad for your dog’s tummy!

You can also see a more complete list at Kremp Florists which provides a comprehensive list of resources regarding pet safety precautions around gardens, plants, toxins, and pesticides.

Roses with wicked thorns!
Rose bushes with wicked thorns!

I have some wicked, ancient rose bushes with huge thorns. To keep my new rescue dogs from getting poked in the eye, I put a short fence around them as a deterrent,. I also added a second gate to my backyard in the event someone walked into my yard and left the main gate open. Likewise, on my front porch, I installed a metal child gate used for the top of the stairs, to keep my dogs from running out every time I opened the front door.

Stock Up on Dog Food that Meets Your New Dog’s Needs

My two mixed breed rescue dogs munching happily on their Fromm's Kibbles from Amazon stainless steel bowls. Love the dog food and bowls!
Dinner time!

Find Out What the Shelter was Feeding Your Dog

Find out from the shelter staff what they have been feeding your rescue dog. Continue to feed the same food for at least a few weeks. Then do some research to learn about higher quality foods. If you find a brand that seems superior to the shelter food, go ahead and slowly transition your dog over to it by using a 25% ratio of new food to old and slowly increase every 3 days until you reach 100%.

Introducing New Food

This may be a trial and error process to see if the new food works. If your dog seems to have digestive issues or increased allergies after a few weeks, you may need to try something different. It is not unusual for dogs to have allergies to certain types of protein. And some dogs are picky eaters and may not like certain dog foods.

Some people do not believe in commercial dog food and maintain that dogs should be cooked homemade meals. But this can be dangerous to your dog’s health if it is not nutritionally balanced. If you prepare home meals, then I suggest you check first with a nutritionist to give you a balanced recipe.

I personally think that a high-quality dry kibble from a reputable company that has not had recalls, is fine for dogs. It helps with their dental health and is balanced. I sometimes supplement with canned dog food toppers or plain chicken and beef that has not been seasoned.

Basic Supplies & Equipment You Will Need When You Adopt a Rescue Dog

Basics

You will need several initial items for everyday use:

  • water and food bowls
  • collar and leash
  • dog bed/blanket
  • food
  • treats
  • poop bags
  • brush and comb
  • dog shampoo

These are just some of the things you will need immediately. The list will most likely grow over time, as you discover more needs for you and Fido.

Other Items

If you need to confine your dog for short periods you may also need to purchase a crate. Just make sure it is big enough for him to stand up and turn around. I am not a big crate fan. But it may be helpful in the beginning and some smaller dogs actually like crates as it feels like a small den. Just make sure you line it with a comfy pad and blankets. You can also purchase child safety gates to keep your dog out of certain rooms.

Small white and tan dog in a booster car seat
Going for a ride!
Photo by Judy Swayne

If you plan to travel with your dog a lot, I highly recommend you invest in car guard rails or screens to keep him from climbing into the driver’s area, which is illegal in some states. Additionally, there is a full array of safety items for dogs including harnesses, back-seat hammocks, bucket-style car seats, and seat belts made for dogs. Just check to make sure the seatbelts have been tested for safety. These seat belts are similar to body harnesses and can be connected to your vehicle’s seat belt. But under no circumstance should a seat belt be connected to your dog’s neck collar, as this could choke and kill him.

Don’t Forget the Toys!

Like people, dogs need something to do. Usually, the highlights of their day are mealtimes and going for walks. So, make sure they have something to do in between.

Chew bones are great for their dental health and most dogs really like to chew. It can be a great tension reliever and a lot of fun. Just make sure it is not too hard or it will crack their teeth. Hard rubber is the best but some bamboo made chew bones can work.

Charlotte playing with her red squirrel from Fluff & Tuff

Balls, squeaky toys, stuffed animals, tug of war toys are all great options. You may need to try a few things to see what your dog likes. Some dogs may get too hyped up with squeaky toys as it may fuel their prey instinct. Try to get hardy, safe toys that your dog cannot easily destroy and swallow. Vets usually recommend avoiding rope toys as pieces of string can be swallowed and bind up the GI tract.

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Understand that there is an Adjustment Period when Adopting a Rescue Dog

Any time you adopt a dog, it may take several weeks to months for him to fully adjust. Not only will your new furry friend need to adjust, but you will too! You will both need to get to know each other and build a relationship. Your pooch will need to learn new rules and understand your expectations. You will need to teach your dog what he can and cannot do, as well as learn about his specific needs.

The 3-3-3 Rule and Bonding with Your Newly Adopted Rescue Dog

The 3-3-3 Rule is a term that rescue facilities and trainers have coined to describe the expected adjustment period for a newly adopted rescue dog. It describes each phase that a dog will usually go through for the first 3 days, 3 weeks, and 3 months after coming home with you.

Try to remember how unsettling it was the last time you moved into a new home. You were probably excited and a little anxious at the same time. The same will be true for your new dog. He is probably thrilled to be out of the shelter and in a new home where he is getting a lot of attention. But he may also feel a little overwhelmed.

First 3 Days

When your new pup first comes home with you, he may be a little anxious or fearful, not knowing if he can trust you yet in this strange new environment. This could be more pronounced if he has had abuse or trauma in his past. He has a lot to learn–where he can go potty; what he can and cannot touch; where he will sleep; what and when he will eat; and several other rules and boundaries.

Next 3 weeks

At the three week point, your new dog will begin to relax and let down his guard and begin to trust that you will treat him well. He will begin to understand the rules and boundaries of his new home and should be getting used to the daily routine His true personality will start to emerge. He may begin to test boundaries and even act out a bit, as he begins to assert himself.

After 3 months

After three months, he should begin to bond with you and be much more settled and secure. He probably realizes now, that this is a long-term home for him and not just a break from the shelter. This is the point where you can make huge in-roads with training and creating a loving, lifetime bond.

For more information about the 3-3-3 rule, see this great post at Furbaby Pet Care in Canada.

Your Rescue Dog’s First Day and Night

Your new rescue dog will most likely be feeling overwhelmed on his first day. The most important thing you can do is to make him feel welcome and secure. Introduce him slowly to other family members and hold off on having him meet friends and neighbors. Decide where you will want him to sleep, and let him know this is his special place.

Small brown dog asleep in her new bed
Sound asleep in her own bed.
Photo by Judy Swayne.

Introduce him to your yard or patio first, then bring him inside but keep him close. You may even want to keep him on a leash for the first few days as you let him know where he should go potty. Provide a safe, quiet place for him to settle and rest. Keep everything calm and relaxed. Try not to scold and be sure to praise him a lot. Be generous with treats and make sure he gets fed on a regular schedule.

Continue to Bond with Your Rescue Dog

After several weeks and usually, within 3 months or so, you and your new rescue pup will probably have established a trusting and loving bond. He will feel more secure and will begin to look to you as his new caring guardian and human parent. Eventually, he will become faithful and lovingly attached to you, and develop a deep sense of loyalty.

To enhance this bond, keep up his training and even step it up a bit. But also be sure to take him on fun outings and adventures. Doing activities together, even everyday simple things can go a long way to cement your relationship and let him know that he is important to you.

Your Newly Adopted Rescue Dog Will Need Some Training

Initial Training

Any dog, whether she is a puppy, a shelter dog, or an older dog will need some training when you bring her home. So, don’t just assume that if you adopt a mature dog that she will automatically behave like you want her to. She will need to learn where you want her to potty and where she is allowed to sit, sleep, and roam around.

You may need to teach her some basic commands such as sit, off, leave it, lay down, to name a few. Teaching her to walk with you on a leash may be necessary as well. She may not need to learn how to heel and march by your side, but she should be taught not to pull. You can also purchase a head or body halter to help with this.

Obedience Training Classes

When she has been with you for 3 months, this would be an ideal time to take her to obedience classes to enhance her skills. Not only is this a great way to train (both of you), it also improves your relationship and strengthens the bond.

Some rescue dogs may develop behavioral problems due to past trauma. Fearful dogs may bark or growl excessively. Others may be terrified and hide and cower. If this type of behavior continues after several weeks, consult with the shelter staff and consider hiring a private trainer or certified animal behavioralist. The shelter staff or your local vet can make recommendations.

Just don’t give up! Some dogs that have been raised in horrific conditions will need a little more time to decompress and heal. But in time, they can recover and learn to trust you and form a loving bond.

Final Thoughts — Your Rescue Dog will be Grateful!

Even if he cannot tell you, your adopted rescue dog will be grateful! Dogs love being part of the pack and are very social animals. It is not normal for them to be isolated from other animals or to be kept in a cage or tied to a stake.

Dogs love to cuddle, play, interact and are capable of forming strong, loving bonds with other animals and humans. When you adopt a rescue dog you have saved a life and created an opening in a shelter for another needy dog.

Good for you for adopting a rescue dog! You will probably find more joy than you could have ever imagined!