The Ultimate Guide to Dog Adoption: Process, What to Ask and Tips to Get Approved

Kid playing with an adopted dog

Whenever someone decides to buy a pet from puppy mills or pet stores, a dog from a rescue or shelter is put to sleep. This is the sad reality for unwanted pups who are either saved or surrendered to different nonprofit organizations.

If you are an advocate of dog adoption, or you simply want to make a difference in at least one dog’s life, then you should learn about how to choose the right breed, the adoption process, the preparation for your dog’s arrival, and home introduction. These four stages are what comprise this ultimate dog adoption guide.

To learn more about the things I’ve mentioned, as well as some key tips that you’ve never heard before, read this article from beginning to end!

Why Should You Adopt a Dog? A Closer Look to the “Adopt, Don’t Shop” Movement

I’m sure you have heard the catch-phrase “Adopt. Don’t shop.” countless times, but what does this really mean for the canine population?

For several years now, many animal rights advocates have been using this term to promote the act of adopting dogs from rescues and shelters. To put it simply, these words are worth a thousand dogs’ lives.

Originally, the “Adopt. Don’t shop” campaign was launched by Last Chance for Animals (LCA) in Los Angeles. This organization is actually a nonprofit group which aims to put an end to animal exploitation since 1984.

They’ve been working closely with several groups and private individuals who also want to promote humane treatment for dogs. Eventually, their campaign became more influential, and their catch-phrase stuck.

More and more people were encouraged to adopt, which is a good thing because according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), around 6.5 million companion pets are placed in shelters every year.

If you are still hesitant to adopt, here are some sound reasons why you should:

  • You’ll be able to save a life. Most dogs in shelters and rescues that aren’t adopted are euthanized. By bringing home one, you are already making a difference.
  • You’ll get a pet for a lower price. All you have to pay for is the adoption fee which only ranges from $50 to $500. That’s way more inexpensive than spending thousands of dollars purchasing from breeders.
  • You’re helping fight puppy mills. Puppy mills are still in business because some people still patronize them. By spending your money on adopting, you are not enabling these inhumane facilities to continue their practices.
  • You’ll get to help more than one animal. Once you bring home a dog from a shelter, another stray or rescued pet can be accepted to the facility. Also, the adoption fee you will be paying helps other dogs to get better care.

Are You Ready to Adopt? 6 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Adopting

Woman adopting a dog from a rescue

Consider the questions below as your mini checklist. If you have answered yes to all of them, then you’re most definitely ready to adopt a dog from a rescue.

1. Would your lifestyle allow pet-owning?

Let’s admit it, some of us aren’t made for pet-owning much less adopting a dog from a shelter. It may be because we are too occupied with our own lives, or we simply aren’t capable of handling them especially if they need too much exercise.

Before you contact a rescue near you, you must be a hundred percent sure that you can handle the dog you are bringing home.

2. How much time can you spare?

This is another critical point that you have to consider before you apply for pet adoption. Do you have time to take care of a rescue dog?

If you have so much workload or you have multiple kids to attend to, your plate must be already full. Take these into account if ever you want to adopt.

3. Are you financially capable of looking after a dog?

Dog owning is not cheap. The initial adoption amount may not be that costly, but the items you need to purchase to maintain your dog are expensive.

You need to buy them dog food, crate, bed, brush, leash and collar, and other essential items which amount to a few hundred dollars a month. Thus, you need to evaluate your current financial status before searching for pet companions to bring home.

4. What’s your housing situation?

Another thing to look into if you are planning to adopt is the size and type of your home. Do you have a fence to keep the dog from going outside?

Can you give them a place inside your home where they will not be disturbed in case you have visitors?

Does the apartment complex you are renting allow pets? Remember that the majority of your dog’s life will be spent inside your home. Hence, assessing your housing situation is critical.

5. Are any of your housemates allergic to dogs?

This a deal-breaker since you can’t simply put your housemate’s life at risk by adopting a pet. If any of your housemates cannot stand the dog’s shedding or their dead skin, I think you might have to let go of your adoption plans.

6. Are your housemates open to the idea of living with a dog?

Aside from asking your housemates if they have an allergy, you also have to consult them regarding their view on adopting a dog.

They may be uncomfortable about having a pet at home, or they may be afraid of dogs, so the key is to always “ask.”

What Are Rescues and Shelters? Is It Safe to Adopt From These Organizations?

First off, let’s try to differentiate shelters from rescues. Shelters are often government-owned facilities where one can surrender their pet. They accept any type of animal so they are always full.

This is also why some of the pets surrendered to these facilities are put to sleep.

Rescues, on the other hand, only take in specific animals under their care. They are nonprofit organizations that are run by volunteers and are solely funded by donations. Their goal is to save and rehabilitate dogs before finding their forever homes.

You don’t have to fear adopting from rescues and shelters because the dogs under their care undergo a series of health tests and behavioral evaluations and modifications to ensure that they’re in a good state.

These facilities also won’t knowingly give you a dog with an unstable temperament because they observe them for the whole duration that they are under their care.

Even though their dogs are oftentimes more challenging to own than the ones you can buy from a breeder, you won’t regret it once they have warmed up to you as their new owner.

Also, you can always seek the help of professionals if you are having difficulties with them.

Why Do People Put Their Dogs up for Adoption or in a Rescue?

Shelter dogs of different breeds in a dog shelter for adoption

Before you judge pet owners who put their dogs for adoption, remember that each of them has their reason for doing so. Collectively tagging these people as heartless is inappropriate because most of the time, they only want what’s best for their pet.

Here are the most common reasons why owners surrender their dogs to rescues and shelters:

  • They no longer have time to look after their dog.
  • They found out that they are allergic to dogs.
  • They have personal problems to attend to which limits their time for their pet.
  • They are moving places.
  • For some, they realize that they already have too many pets at home.
  • They’re doing some major house renovations.
  • They aren’t prepared for the attention that their dog needs.
  • They aren’t financially capable of handling the dog’s medical needs.
  • The dog may have a different reaction to children.
  • The dog is too active for them to handle.

How to Adopt a Dog? 4 Main Steps to Bringing Your New Dog Home From a Rescue

There are four key stages that you should be aware of if your mind is set on adopting a canine companion.

These are choosing the right breed, the adoption process, prep work for your dog’s arrival, and home introduction. They are all discussed in detail below.

1. Choosing the Right Breed

So, how do you choose the right breed for you? Do you solely depend on appearance? Nuh-uh! Check out these tips:

  • Make a checklist. The very first step in your dog adoption journey is creating a checklist of the traits and characteristics that you want to see in a pet. This should involve appearance and size, energy level, temperament, and shedding tendencies.
  • Narrow down your choices. Once you have already furnished a checklist, you can start trimming down your options. If you want a fluffy dog with a balanced temperament, that means your options are the Poodle, Bichon Frise, and Yorkshire Terrier. Meanwhile, if you are after a working pup who has a fierce appearance, you can opt for Pitbulls, Bulldogs, and the like.
  • Consult your family members. As I’ve mentioned earlier, asking for the opinion of your family members if you live with them is a crucial step. They may have allergies that you may not be aware of, so the breed you should take home is essentially hypoallergenic.
  • Research on the cost and expenses of owning them. Apart from the common criteria for choosing a pet, you should also research which breeds are not that expensive to care for in the long run. If you want to save up money, you should skip Bulldogs, Chow Chows, and other high-maintenance breeds.

2. The Adoption Process

Once you have already chosen a breed, your next step would be to find rescues or shelters where you can apply for an adoption. Here’s how you can find one and the succeeding steps that you should take to get approved.

  • Attend adoption events. Local shelters and rescues stage adoption events from time to time to showcase the dogs in their care. This is a good chance for you to learn about their adoption process so you can better prepare. Watch the video below to see an example of an adoption event headed by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Over 500 Cats and Dogs Find Homes at North Carolina Adoption Event
  • Check out local dog rescues and pet adoption websites. I can assure you that your state has local dog rescues that you can get in touch with if you feel like you’re ready to adopt. The best way to search for one is to use the mighty Google search bar. Trust me; you’ll be amazed by the results.
  • Submit a detailed application. Sending an application is the easiest part. Most of the time, all you have to do is fill out the rescue’s application form through their website and wait for them to contact you. I suggest that you answer in detail so they will feel like you are rested in adopting.
  • Prepare necessary documents, requirements, and fees. Once you become an adopter, the rescue will ask you to prepare some requirements that you would have to submit within a limited time. It would be better if you have researched these documents beforehand so you won’t spend much time completing them.
  • Spend time with the dog if the rescue or shelter will allow. If everything turns out well, you will be allowed to spend time with your adopted dog inside the facility. This is of course, through the guidance of a shelter or rescue staff. Grab this chance to get to know your dog because you might still discover something that can change your decision.

3. Prep Work for the Dog’s Arrival

Adopting a dog does not end in filling-out paperwork and paying the necessary fees. Once your request for adoption is approved, the real work really begins. Below are some useful tips in preparing for your dog’s arrival.

  • Research the dog’s history. Ideally, you should already know everything about the breed you are taking home. But aside from the general facts that you found on the web, you should ask the rescue center for the specific history of your dog. Why is it given up for adoption? Does it have any health issues? Does it behave well? All these are necessary if you want to offer the best care and maintenance for them.
  • Research on obedience and housetraining. This won’t be an issue for seasoned pet owners, but for novices, learning about how to facilitate housetraining and obedience training is a must. There are a lot of comprehensive videos on Youtube that can offer you information about this. But if you are still hesitant, ask a professional to teach you or have them train your dog directly.
  • Find a professional veterinarian. Most of the time, rescue centers require that you are already affiliated with a professional vet before approving your application. If they didn’t, I would still implore you to find one since most breeds come in tons of health issues.
  • Dog proof your home. Sounds a bit ridiculous, right? But trust me, this is something that you should prioritize. You don’t want your dog to pry open cabinets or accidentally ingest cleaners or chemicals just because you failed to keep them out of your dog’s sight.
  • Buy initial doggie items and supplies. Luckily for you, you can shop for doggie items and supplies while lounging on your couch. All you have to do is browse online stores and have the items delivered to your doorstep. However, if you still love the traditional way of shopping, you can do so by checking out dog supplies shops near you.

4. Home Introduction

The following tips I will be sharing are paramount to the success of your adopted dog’s transition to your home. Most pet owners forget this part of the adoption process because they are too focused on getting approved, so here goes.

First Day

  • Once your dog arrives at your home, bring him to the area where he can relieve himself. This is a good time to start housetraining.
  • Do not introduce your dog to strangers yet. Let them acclimate to their new environment first.
  • Follow the feeding schedule of the rescue or shelter and do not immediately change your dog’s diet as this will cause gastric distress.
  • Go easy on your dog when it comes to engaging them with activities. Just remain calm and quiet around him on the first day so they can settle easier. Being too excited about their presence may result in an unexpected response from them.

Succeeding Days and Weeks

  • Keep a schedule of your dog’s feeding, playing, and toileting time. This helps set expectations for both you and your new dog.
  • Observe your dog’s body language when you bring him to dog parks or training classes. If they are too fearful or they seem like a bully, then they may need behavior modification.
  • Use positive reinforcement in correcting their behavior or training them.

Note that although these are standard techniques for home introduction, each dog is unique and may require more intensive care. Always base your approach on your dog’s needs.

Questions to Ask Rescues and Shelters When Adopting a Dog

Woman playing with a rescue dog in a dog shelter

Whether you are looking for these questions because you genuinely want to learn about dog adoption or you want to earn some plus points from the approval committee, I got you covered!

Here are some of the top questions that you should ask shelter and rescue staff when adopting a dog:

  • How did this dog end up being under your organization’s care?
  • Does this dog have a history of abuse?
  • How long has it been rescued or surrendered?
  • What is this dog’s age?
  • Is this dog spayed or neutered?
  • Is this dog vaccinated?
  • Does this dog do well with kids and strangers?
  • Is this dog exposed to other animals?
  • What is this dog’s current dog food? Is this a picky eater?
  • Does this dog undergo training? What types specifically?
  • Is this dog housetrained?
  • Where does this dog used to sleep at night?

6 Tips for Getting Approved by a Rescue to Adopt a Dog

Many animal welfare groups would encourage you to adopt, but they won’t tell you how difficult it can be especially for rescues and shelters that follow strict guidelines.

To help you ace the adoption process, I gathered some useful tips from adopters and rescue staff members which I came to know from my years of being a pet enthusiast. I hope these pieces of advice land you a pet and not a heartbreaking rejection.

  • Tip #1: Install a fence as this is the primary requirement of most rescues. Some even straightforwardly put this on their website to lessen the volume of applications they have to evaluate.
  • Tip #2: Look up the policies of the rescue facility. This will guide you in answering their questions during the interview since you have an idea of what they are expecting.
  • Tip #3: Do not hesitate to ask the staff what you want to learn about the dog. This technique is the most common one, but it also works every time. By asking questions, you show the rescue organization that you can invest time in the whole adoption process.
  • Tip #4: Always provide detailed information. Imagine that you are applying for a job. If you didn’t put the necessary details in your resume, employers would assume that you aren’t interested in being part of your company. The same goes for nonprofit rescues. If you don’t give them all the details they asked for, they would feel like you are not really that excited about adopting a dog from them.
  • Tip #5: Show effort by meeting the dog in person. This won’t only impress the committee in charge but will also help you assess the dog’s behavior and temperament.
  • Tip #6: Make sure your other pets have up-to-date shots. This is quite a big deal for rescue organizations since this proves that you are a responsible pet owner. Also, your association with veterinarians who administer vaccinations and health checks is a big plus.
  • Tip #7: Learn to wait because as cliche as it may sound, patience is the key to successful dog adoption. If the rescue hasn’t contacted you yet, do not flood them with emails and phone calls since this is a reflection of your personality. Follow everything they ask of you and wait.

Final Thoughts: Is Dog Adoption Really the Better Option?

I cannot say that dog adoption will work for everyone because we each have different lifestyles and the ability to handle rescue dogs.

However, if the idea of adoption is something you look forward to and you have devoted much of your time in preparation for this, then go ahead and fill out that application form.

Just make sure that you carefully choose the dog you’re going to bring home because similar to buying from breeders, some pets are meant for us and some pets are not. I know this seems cheesy, but this truth needs to be told.


Racquel Smith February 7, 2022 - 8:18 am

Very helpful!! My name is Racquel. I am 71 years old. I want to rescue a Pembroke Welsh Corgi. I want an older dog because of my age. I often dog sit for a Corgi name Shorty who is 18 months old. I have been keeping Shorty since he was 2 months old. Can you recommend a rescue in the Chicago land area? Thank you.

Judy May 15, 2022 - 8:51 am

What a great article, John. Been studying up so that once I have more time next year while I still have lots of energy and can devote a lot of time, I can adopt, hopefully a Goldendoodle if I am lucky enough to find one. I will use all this info to study up and prepare in order to start that journey well.


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