How to Adopt Shelter Dogs Navigating the Dog Adopting Process

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Animal shelters can be stressful places, and dogs won't always be themselves at first when you go to meet and adopt. Learn how to successfully adopt a dog from a shelter.

If you’ve decided to adopt a dog, congratulations! Adopting or rescuing a shelter dog is more humane and more earth-conscious, and you could very well be saving a life.

Here’s what you need to know to adopt a dog.

What to Expect at the Animal Shelter

A visit to an animal shelter can be a tough experience. In urban areas, kennels and cages will likely be brimming with dogs. Rural or suburban shelters may be somewhat less populated. Either way, prepare yourself for a cacophony of barking and a long line of sad faces. Some of the dogs may be in poor health or appear aggressive.

Spending time in a kennel can be very traumatic for a dog. They can become reclusive, anxious, and protective. In the shelter environment, dogs will often exhibit behaviors that disappear after just one or two days in a loving home environment. Keep an open mind. 

Shelter Tips

  • DO. Adopting a dog from a kill shelter can very well save a life. If you have one in your area, try it first.
  • DON’T. Never expect to see many young puppies. Pups tend to be adopted first and can be hard to come by.
  • DO. Be open to adopting a dog six months or older. You’ll be doing a real kindness to adopt an adult dog, as older dogs are the most likely to perish in shelters.
  • DO. Ask shelter staff about the history of an animal you’re interested in. Many shelters, like some ASPCA-affiliated shelters, will have stories about the animals posted to their cages. Take the time to read those. If there is no information provided, ask shelter staff what they may know about your dog of choice. There may not be any history, but sometimes there will be details that help a lot. For example, it may be known that a dog is already housebroken if they exhibit food aggression, whether a dog gets along well with other dogs, or if a dog is good (or not) around kids.
  • DO. Ask to take the dog for a walk. Some shelters will allow a brief jaunt around the block. Others will bring the dog out into a yard or fenced area so you can get a better sense of them one-on-one.

How to Greet a Dog So You'll Become Friends

  • DO. Visit a dog you’re interested in more than once. Just as we all have good days and bad days, so do dogs. It’s unrealistic to expect to go to a shelter once and go home that very day with the dog of your dreams. Visit them three, four, even five times. Get to know them, and let them get to know you too. If you’re worried that your dog of choice might be adopted out from under you, ask shelter staff to get in touch with you should anyone else express interest?
  • DON’T. Never bring a dog back to a shelter. Make sure you can handle the dog before bringing them home. Once you sign your papers and leave the shelter, you’re committing to the dog. Just as you wouldn’t return a $900 Labradoodle to the pet store, neither should you return your adopted mutt to the shelter. It’s traumatizing for a pet to be returned to a shelter environment.
  • DON’T. Don’t adopt a dog until you’ve made a real heart-to-heart connection. Get to know the dog who appeals to you. Most adoptive pet parents say the same thing: you’ll know it when it happens. Don’t settle, and don’t rush the process.

What to Bring to the Shelter

Adoption requirements are different from shelter to shelter.

  • Some shelters require proof of age, so bring along two forms of identification.
  • A personal character reference may be requested.
  • In some areas, you may need to prove that dogs are allowed in your place of residence. A letter from the landlord, or a copy of the lease, should suffice.
  • Some rescue organizations and shelters will want to send a representative to your home to ensure you have the means and the space to properly care for an animal.
  • Most shelters and rescue organizations will ask for a donation or adoption fee. These fees go toward dog food, medical care, upkeeping of the facilities, and other dog supplies. Most shelters operate on a shoestring budget and rely on adoption fees and donations to remain operational.

Before Bringing Your New Dog Home

Many shelters will offer to spay or neuter your pet. Some shelters will even vaccinate your pet for you. That can be a money-saving step, so inquire about these options during the adoption process.

If the shelter does not provide these options, make an appointment with a local veterinarian as soon as you can after bringing your new dog home.

  • Shelters can be havens for common ailments like kennel cough, fleas, worms, and other illnesses. Have your new dog checked out as soon as possible after adoption.
  • Be sure to get all the first-stage vaccinations. Your veterinarian will advise on what’s needed.
  • Newly adopted dogs should not socialize with other animals outside the home until they’re licensed and vaccinated.

Bringing Your New Family Member Home

The whole family will be excited to receive your new family member. No one more so than the dog! In the first few hours and days, your new dog will likely want to wander the house and sniff around, checking out their new environs. Keep an eye on them, as you may discover that areas of your home aren’t entirely safe. Electrical cords and breakable objects, for example, may need to be moved.

Make sure your dog has a place of its own to sleep, and you’re on your way!

One final thing to do if you want to make sure your dog has everything they need to live a happy and healthy life is a PetPlus membership. With the lowest prices on flea & tick, heartworm, Rx medications, food, and more, PetPlus makes it so you will never have to give your pooch anything but the best.

You must ensure proper flea treatment for dogs. Capstar for dogs Flea Killer is a great dog flea medicine that you can opt for. 

10 Tips for Finding Your Shelter Dog

Whether purebred or mixed, shelter dogs can make a wonderful addition to your family. However, choosing from your many options can prove daunting, and there are also some key factors you need to keep in mind.

If you're thinking about adding a dog to your household, you're sure to feel the rush of excitement and warm, fuzzy feelings as you head out to select your new best friend. However, adding a dog to your home means a lot of new responsibilities, and if you're choosing a shelter dog, there are some special considerations you need to make.

#1 A Puppy Is A Lot of Work

Many people opt for a puppy when they decide to add a dog to their family. However, a puppy isn't the best option for everyone. Not only will having your heart set on a puppy greatly reduce how many dogs you have to choose from at the shelter, but it will also mean that you now have to plan on devoting extra time to potty training, obedience training, and socializing, and so on.

#2 Older Dogs Have A Good Foundation

The great thing about considering a dog of 6-8 months or older is that they have likely already been house trained and perhaps have some obedience training as well. While you can't control how their previous owners may have treated them as far as care and socialization, you'll be able to get a good idea of their personality since it has likely already formed by this age.

#3 Meet-and-Greets Matter

Gone are the days when people mindlessly walked into pet shops and picked out whatever cute puppy happened to be staring at them through the window. While most people could learn to love any dog they bring home, the person who will ultimately be caring for the dog (whether that's you, your loved one, or a child) must be going to click with their new friend. A meet-and-greet matter to get an idea of the dog's personality and traits.

#4 Breeds Aren't A Big Deal

While you may have your mind set on getting a specific breed of dog, keep in mind that this is not necessarily a determining factor. For instance, just because golden retrievers are big sweethearts, that doesn't mean they are the absolute best dog for your family. There are plenty of options, and your shelter probably has plenty of mixes and just plain mutts to choose from.

#5 Size Is A Consideration

What's more important than choosing a specific breed is thinking about the specific qualities of a dog you're considering. Size is one of those factors, and it's going to impact your decision based on where you live and how much room you have to keep them. An apartment dweller is going to have to opt for a smaller breed than a person who lives on a farm in the countryside.

#6 Energy Is Also A Consideration

While breed may not be a big deal to you, knowing a dog's breed can help you look up their stats to know how much energy they generally have. Even without that information, you can spend some time with the dog during your meet-and-greet to get a good idea of how hyper they are. Of course, most dogs are shy while in the shelter and may not show all of their true colors. Ask the staff if they think the dog is high-energy or not, and then consider if that fits your lifestyle. For a high-energy dog, the Hill’s Dog Food brand will be ideal, especially products from their Hill's Science Diet Dog Food lineup. 

#7 Take Them Up On The Trial Offer

Most shelters realize that dogs act differently while in the strange, loud kennel. They are likely to change a bit, perhaps becoming more relaxed or more fun-loving, once you bring them home and they get settled in. For that reason, most shelters offer a trial period where they encourage you to keep the dog for days, weeks, or even months. If things don't work out, remember that the shelter always welcomes and encourages you to bring the dog back to them and let them know what happened so future adoptees can have more information about the dog.

#8 Prepare Before You Adopt

Adopting a dog is not an easy feat. Many shelters want to do a home check beforehand, but most don't have time. Regardless, you should make sure you're prepared for your new four-legged friend by going ahead and purchasing a dog bed, transport kennel, and at-home kennel where you can put them for the first few days when you don't want to leave them alone. You should also pick up some toys for the dog so they can settle in more quickly.

#9 Consider Their Needs

When you adopt your dog, be sure to ask the staff what sort of food they have been eating and whether or not they like certain toys, baths, or walks. That will help you get prepared for the arrival of your new buddy, and it will make their transition to your home that much easier for everyone. If you decide to change their food, be sure you gradually mix the new food in with what they're currently eating so as not to upset their stomach. Your dog will already have enough on its plate, so try not to throw them any dietary changes as they adapt to their new lifestyle.

#10 Spend Time Bonding

Many people who bring a dog home don't give it too long of a chance before they get overwhelmed with them. Your new dog will most certainly be excited that they are entering a new home, but you should give them upwards of 2-4 weeks to get to know them. If it doesn't work out, it's okay. 

There are more dogs to choose from, and one of them is surely right for you. Plus, the dog you take back is certainly right for someone else out there.

More on Bringing a Dog Home

10 Questions to Ask When Adopting a Dog
Transitioning Your Pet from Shelter to Happy Home
Which Dog Breed is Best for You?

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