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What Nobody Tells You about Dog Adoption

Profile photo of Heather Venkat, DVM, MPH.By Heather Venkat, DVM, MPH


Jump to:
Why are dog lovers adopting?
What are shelter dogs?
Why are there shelter dogs?
Pros of dog adoption
Cons of dog adoption
Where can I adopt a dog?
What should I consider before adopting a dog?
What should I look for when adopting a dog?
How do I get to know a shelter dog?
Dog Adoption FAQ


For dog lovers looking to get a puppy, there are four places where folks continue returning to over and over again: Responsible Breeders, Pet Stores, Casual or “Backyard” Breeders, and Rescues and Shelters.

We talked about the untold secret of pet stores here, and we dove into the perks of purchasing from a reputable dog breeder over here.

 

Today, we’ll share the inside scoop on shelters and dog adoption.  We’ll dive into dog adoption to better learn what it is, what it’s not, the pros and cons of adopting, and places to adopt a dog from.

We will also pinpoint what to look for when adopting a puppy or dog, along with important factors to consider before adoption, and more.

Welcome!  I’m glad you’re here!

Let’s get started.

 

Why are Dog Lovers Adopting?

According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter US shelters each year.  Of these dogs, 1.6 million are adopted into homes.

While many people are buying brand-new puppies from responsible breeders, there is a growing fan base for puppies and dogs coming from rescues and shelters, too.

Why is that?  The simple answer is that many dog lovers are choosing adoption in order to rescue an adult dog to give it a second chance.  Many adopters believe they are saving that dog’s life if it is coming from a shelter with high euthanasia rates, for example.

Other canine lovers prefer adopting an adult dog (versus purchasing a puppy) to avoid the naughty puppy stage.

By adopting an adult dog, you skip right past the potty training stage.  You also avoid the hyper puppy stage and enjoy the reward of a more docile adult dog.  Another benefit may be that the dog’s personality is more obvious as an adult dog versus when getting a puppy.

Some folks choose adoption also because of a dog’s shorter lifespan.  Rather than committing to a full thirteen years of doggy life (on average), you may only be committing to a few years depending on the age of your dog.

 

What are Shelter Dogs?

If you opt for adoption, you’ll have the privilege of bringing home a shelter dog.

Contrary to popular opinion, not all shelter dogs are mutts coming from a questionable gene pool.

In fact, according to the Humane Society, as many as 25% of shelter pets are purebred.

 

While many shelter dogs are rescued from unfortunate lives, this is not always the case.

Sometimes dog lovers are simply unable to keep a registered dog so they drop him/her off at a shelter.  Or older owners may pass away and their dogs are relinquished to the shelter at no fault of their own.

The result?  You have a fully registered and papered pure-bred dog waiting for a new home.

 

Alternatively, there are breed-specific rescue organizations that accept a single breed from rescues and shelters.

For example, if you are looking for a German Shepherd dog, you might visit a German Shepherd rescue organization.

 

Within shelters, some dogs arrive as puppies, others as adults.

Some are trained, others are not.

Whatever the case, the options are many when looking to bring home a new canine friend from your local shelter.

 

Why are there Shelter Dogs?

As mentioned earlier, some shelter dogs are rescued from unfortunate circumstances.  Many dogs, however, are simply coming from families that are no longer able to keep their dog.

Reasons why a dog lover may need to drop his/her dog at a shelter can include:

  • An overseas deployment
  • Job loss
  • Evictions 
  • Serious illness or injury preventing them from properly caring for the dog
  • Moving to an apartment or place that does not accept dogs or a certain breed
  • Not having time to provide adequate exercise, training, and care
  • Escalating medical costs to care for the dog

While having a dog as a furry member of the family is rewarding, not everyone has the luxury of providing them a good home.

People lose their job, workloads get heavier, and budgets get stretched too thin.  Life happens.

As a result, individuals are forced to drop their dog at a shelter.

 

A second source for shelter dogs is dog trafficking.  It’s a hard reality that we won’t expound on today, although we talk in-depth about it over here.

 

Pros of Dog Adoption

1. You’re saving lives!

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again.  When you adopt a dog, you’re impacting two lives.  Both the dog you are adopting, as well as the next dog who fills the space you just opened at the shelter.

Two dog shelter volunteers playing with a dog in the play area.

2. Up-to-date

Many shelter dogs are up-to-date with their vaccinations.  They are spayed/neutered, and many are even properly microchipped.

 

3. More Affordable

While purchasing a dog can range anywhere from $200 – $3,000 and beyond, shelter dogs typically range in price from zero to $250.

 

4. Already Trained

This isn’t true for every shelter dog, but many dogs arrive potty trained and accustomed to living in a home.  For the most part, they already know the rules of living with people!

 

5. Fewer Surprises

If you opt for an adult dog, you won’t be guessing on the adult size.  What you see is what you get.

Also, most hereditary issues surface in dogs before their second birthday.  So if the dog you are considering adopting is past his/her second birthday, your chance of encountering surprise hereditary issues lowers exponentially.

Not to mention, many mixed breeds typically have fewer inherited diseases.  

 

6. A Second Chance

This one goes for both you and your dog.  Your dog is given a second chance to be themselves and essentially start a new life.

And you?  You get a second chance to love as well.  By forming a precious relationship with your new dog, you’ll create many happy, dog-filled memories.

Bringing a dog home will change your life.  Each day will be filled with less boredom and more excitement for sure.

 

Cons of Dog Adoption

It’s only fair to give you both sides of the coin.  While there are lots of positive reasons why you might adopt a dog, let’s also consider why adoption may not be right for you either.

 

1. Past Trauma

Not every shelter dog is a perfectly well-rounded, expertly trained canine.  Sadly, many do come from traumatic pasts.

Each dog has his/her own unique way of responding to trauma.

While some will brush themselves off and are happy to start a new life, others are not so resilient.

The result?  Dogs who carry a traumatic past are more likely to need an extra dose of patience.  They may also need more consistent, kind, and loving canine training.

 

2. Unknown Breed

True to popular belief, the majority of rescue and shelter dogs are in fact dropped off with no paperwork proving their breed.  (Of course, there is always the exception, like we talked about earlier.)

As a result, many of the dogs adopted from shelters are not a confirmed breed.

They may be purebred, they may not be.

Experts at the shelter usually give an educated guess at what a dog’s breed is, although sometimes you just cannot know for certain without performing a doggy DNA test.  Many dogs are incorrectly labeled as a certain breed or breed mix.

 

3. Unknown Medical or Behavioral Conditions

Dogs that are given up to a shelter might have separation anxiety, which can be hard to identify in a shelter setting.  

Shelter dogs might also have a medical condition that was never diagnosed if the previous owner didn’t ensure the dog had regular veterinary care.  Or an owner might have given up a dog because they weren’t able to afford to care for a chronic condition, such as kidney disease or hip dysplasia, but they might not reveal that information to the shelter staff.

 

4. Strict Adoption Criteria

Some shelters and rescues can be very difficult to adopt from.  You may be interested in a dog, however, because you work eight hours a day or don’t have a yard, your application might be rejected.  

Some breed-specific rescues prefer to adopt to people who have owned that breed in the past or can prove they are familiar with the specifics needs of that breed.  

Whatever the case may be, be prepared for the possibility to be denied the ability to adopt a certain dog. 

 

 

Where Can I Adopt a Dog?

You can adopt a dog from any rescue or shelter.

However, it’s important to note that shelters vary in the type of housing and care they can provide for their dogs, depending on space and resources.

Regardless, you might start your search at a local shelter or local animal control facility and then branch out from there.

 

Don’t be intimidated to ask hard questions.

How is the shelter caring for their dogs?  Where are they getting their dogs from?  Why was a particular dog given up at the shelter?

(Always, always, always avoid shelters who appear suspicious of dog trafficking.)

If you do adopt a dog, will it arrive vaccinated, microchipped, and healthy?  Is there a health guarantee provided for the first week or two after adoption?

Are the dogs being exercised?  What is their diet?

Are the dogs tested for their temperament prior to adoption?  Which dogs are friendly with other dogs, cats, or children?  

 

In addition to your local shelter, PetFinder and Adopt a Pet are two places online where you can also search for your perfect adoption match.

Dog Adoption The Right Way Infographic

 

What Should I Consider Before Adopting a Dog?

  1. Do you have enough money for ongoing veterinary care, food, a collar and tags, and appropriate grooming?  (Here’s a list of essentials you’ll want to have on hand before your new dog arrives home.)
  2. Do you have enough time for regular exercise and proper dog care?
  3. Are you ready to commit to caring for a new dog for a lifetime?  Is the rest of the family on board with gaining a new furry family member?
  4. Are you prepared to start training a new dog?  Use positive reinforcement, and always be firm, kind, and consistent.  We talk more about how to train a dog over here.
  5. Do you have other dogs or pets at home?  If so, how might they react to adding a new pack member?  Do you have a plan to slowly introduce them?  What if they don’t get along?
  6. Is your current home suitable for a new dog?  If you’re honest, do you have enough space for a new four-legged friend?  Does your apartment or housing building allow dogs of that size and breed?  Do you have appropriate fencing that will keep the dog in your yard?
  7. Is anyone in your home allergic to animals?  If so, you’ll want to consider opting for a hypoallergenic dog breed.
  8. Does the dog you are considering have any medical conditions?  If yes, do you have the finances to give the dog proper care?  (Tip: if your budget feels stretched thin, consider opting for good dog insurance.)
  9. How old is your dog?  If you’re bringing home a young puppy, will you have the time and patience to work through puppy adolescence together?
  10. Do you live in a dog-friendly neighborhood?  Are there other dogs on your street?  Do you have access to a nearby dog park and hiking trails?  Will you have access to a reputable veterinarian?

 

What Should I Look For When Adopting a Dog?

1. Don’t rush.

If the dog you are interested in has a history of trauma, it can take weeks for that same dog to open up and begin showing his/her true colors.

Different dogs display varying levels of resilience and will respond to trauma in their own unique way.  Some dogs may hide, cower, or not want to play right away.  Other dogs may try to run away from you or escape their crates.  They might be more sensitive in the first couple of weeks as they adjust to a whole new home and environment.

If we’re honest, there’s always a bit of risk involved when getting a new dog.

So take your time and be choosy when looking for a dog that’s right for you.

It’s okay to appear skeptical.

What’s more important than saying yes right away, is that you ensure the dog you are getting is truly a good match for you.

This way you won’t be stuck returning him/her later because you made a hasty decision.

 

2. Know what kind of dog you are looking for.

Think about your current lifestyle and ask yourself:

  1. What’s my current energy level?
  2. What’s my true personality?
  3. How sociable am I?

Let these questions guide you in finding a dog that is similar to yourself, rather than just being drawn to a dog’s outward appearance.

For example, if you have no intention of exercising often, then avoid getting a dog who is high energy.  You’ll both drive each other crazy.

 

3. Choose a good shelter.

There are two types of shelters.

First is the open-intake shelter.  These facilities accept all dogs and cats from both owners and animal control.

Open-intake shelters typically have the highest number of pets and might offer less individual attention to each of their dogs.

 

The second type of shelter is a limited-intake shelter.  True to their name, they limit their source of dogs.

Typically, limited-intake shelters do not accept dogs from the public but rather from local open-intake pounds.

These shelters have the luxury of being pickier with which dogs they accept, and subsequently have fewer animals in their care.

As a result, limited-intake shelters typically know each of their dogs better and require higher adoption fees.

 

4. Talk to shelter staff.

Again, don’t be afraid to ask hard questions.

You care about how your future dog is being treated.  It’s only fair you are free to ask questions now.

 

When searching for your dog, ask the staff at the shelter how much playtime each dog receives.

Are dogs being actively trained?

Are the staff and volunteers compassionate towards the dogs?

What type of diet are the dogs enjoying?

Bonus tip: also while visiting, read a dog’s info card and learn if the dog is identified by a name or number.  Typically, dogs with actual names are better cared for versus those that are simply assigned a number.

 

5. Is the dog on sedative-type medications?

Learn if your dog has been spayed or neutered recently, or undergone a different surgery.

If the answer is yes, the dog you are excited about could still be recovering and on meds that prevent it from jumping around too much in order to help its incision heal.  If this is the case, visit again another day to get a better understanding of your dog’s true colors.

 

6. Avoid busy seasons and giant sales.

This one may feel a bit counter-intuitive.

Yet animals often appear more stressed during busy seasons when lots of folks are searching for their new dog, such as around the holidays.

Plus, if you hit the shelter on a busy day, it’s likely the staff will be stretched thin and less likely to thoroughly answer your questions.

An ideal time to purchase a dog is during a slow season, just before the weekend starts.  This way you’ll beat the weekend rush, plus have the entire weekend to start settling into life together with your new dog friend.

 

How do I Get to Know a Shelter Dog?

(while visiting a shelter.)

It can be hard to make an educated decision simply by meeting a dog at your local shelter.  Fortunately, the odds are not all stacked against you.  Here are a few simple things you can do to better understand a dog, even if it’s but a short visit.

A family of 4 trying to find the best dog to adopt at a rescue shelter.

Engage in playtime together.  

Ask the shelter staff if you can spend time with the dog in the same room or yard together.  Watch if the dog you are considering is able to get excited, and then calm down again after a bit.  If the dog doesn’t know how to calm down, you’ll need to decide whether or not you would want to put in the extra time to train and exercise a dog of that energy level.

 

Ignore the dog for a bit.  

After you greet a dog and get through the initial petting, go ahead and actually ignore the dog for a few moments (which is hard to do if they are really cute!).  At this point, a well-trained dog will realize you’re no longer playing and will meander away.

However, if the dog suddenly becomes pushy and whiny, you’ll have some work ahead in curbing possible separation anxiety.

 

Include children during your visit.

If you have children in your home, include them in your visit to the shelter.  Watch how a dog interacts with children to make sure he or she is okay around and enjoys children.  Also, make sure that the dog is not showing undesirable behavior, such as a larger dog jumping up on small children or knocking them over.

 

Observe dog body language. 

If a dog is stressed, he/she may start licking her lips, slowly turn away, excessively sniff the ground, or blink often.  If you notice these signs, bringing home that dog could mean a string of stressful happenings in your household.

However, if the dog appears friendly and relaxed instead of stressed, it’s likely he/she will behave similarly at home too.

 

Offer the dog a treat. 

Erick Pleitez from 3lostdogs expounds, “One way to judge a dog’s stress level is to watch their reaction to food.  Hand her a treat.  Ideally, she’ll come over to sniff and then eat it.  If she won’t take a delicious treat, she’s probably uncomfortable or anxious.  A dog who frantically lunges for the food is probably also feeling some anxiety.

“Drop some treats on the floor.  Approach the dog as she eats, but don’t stick your hands near the food.  If she stiffens up, freezes, covers the treat with her body, or walks away when you approach, beware.”  These signs could indicate possible food aggression, and you will need to decide if that is something you want to work through at home or avoid altogether. 

 

Meet multiple dogs.  

As you encounter multiple dogs, you’ll gain a better understanding of what is normal dog behavior and what’s not.

Once you are drawn to a specific dog, if possible, visit several times before committing to adopt that specific dog.  Ask the shelter if the adoption is first come/first serve, of if other people are interested in that dog, so you don’t miss out. 

Try observing the dog in different moods.  Learn what your dog was doing just before you arrived.  Perhaps she was exercising or napping?  By the time you meet him/her, is she feeling hungry, exhausted, excited?

Also ask the shelter or rescue if they allow a foster-to-adopt situation. This is where you can take the dog home for a “trial period” of about a week or so to see if they would fit in well in your home, no strings attached.

 

Hire a trainer to come along to the shelter.  

Many trainers are experts in the dog world and will notice things that others easily miss.  

 

Dog Adoption FAQ

Q. What dog should I adopt? 

First, ask yourself: What is your current energy level? What is your true personality? How sociable are you? Then look for a dog breed who is similar to you.

 

Q. Where can I find a puppy for adoption?

Dogs and puppies are available year-round from many rescues and shelters. Alternatively, you can browse dogs and puppies for adoption online at reputable sites such as AdoptaPet.com and PetFinder.

 

Q. What is the best age to adopt a dog?

The best age to adopt a dog is anytime beyond eight weeks old. It is critical a puppy remains with the mother during his/her first weeks for optimum development and socialization.

 

Q. Is it free if you adopt a dog?

The cost to adopt a dog or puppy ranges anywhere from zero to approx. $250.  Associated costs help cover vaccinations, microchipping, spaying or neutering, and proper veterinarian care.

 

In Closing

That’s a wrap on what people are not telling you about dog adoption.

You’re no longer in the dark.

Instead, you’re now ready to make a fully informed decision that is best for you and your family.

 

If you do adopt a puppy or dog, whether you’re from Indiana, Idaho, or Texas (or really anywhere!), we’d love to meet your dog.

Introduce your adopted dog in the comments below.

 

As always, we’re glad you are here.

Whether it’s your first time here or you’ve been here since the beginning, thanks for being a part of this dog-loving community!

Until next time,

VIP Puppies

 

References:

ASPCA (n.d.).  Pet statistics.  Retrieved from https://www.aspca.org/animal-homelessness/shelter-intake-and-surrender/pet-statistics.

ASPCA (2019).  10 Reasons to adopt a shelter dog.  Retrieved from https://www.aspca.org/news/10-reasons-adopt-shelter-dog.

Hansen, S. (2019).  Adoption from a shelter vs. buying from a breeder: what’s best for you?  Retrieved from https://www.labradortraininghq.com/labrador-puppies/adoption-vs-breeder-whats-best/.

Kent, S. (n.d.).  Dog adoption checklist.  Retrieved from https://www.petfinder.com/pet-adoption/dog-adoption/dog-adoption-checklist/.

Millan, C. (2019).  Before you adopt a dog.  Retrieved from https://www.cesarsway.com/before-you-adopt-a-dog/.

Rivera, M. (n.d.).  The average cost to adopt a dog from a shelter.  Retrieved from https://pets.thenest.com/average-cost-adopt-dog-shelter-3886.html.

Pleitez, E. (n.d.).  A guide to choosing the right dog from a shelter.  Retrieved from https://3lostdogs.com/a-guide-to-choosing-the-right-dog-from-a-shelter/.

Shelter vs Breeder (n.d.).  Positively.  Retrieved from https://positively.com/dog-behavior/new-dogs/shelter-vs-breeder/.

16 Things to Think About (n.d.).  Peta Kids.  Retrieved from https://www.petakids.com/save-animals/dog-adoption-guide/.

What Is the Best Age (2016).  Missmollysays.com.  Retrieved from https://missmollysays.com/what-is-the-best-age-to-adopt-a-dog/.

 

Profile photo of the author Heather Venkat, DVM, MPH.Dr. Heather Venkat has been a veterinarian since 2013, working in companion animal medicine with dogs and cats, as well as veterinary public health. Her passion is in prevention, One Health, and strengthening the human-animal bond. A bonafide animal-lover, she competes in dog sports and currently shares her home with a border collie mix named Luna, three cats, and two leopard geckos.

 

 

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