What You Should Know Before Adopting a Shelter Dog

dog in animal shelter

Are you thinking about adopting a shelter dog? Congratulations — you are a life saver! Just be sure to read the following tips so you’re well prepared for your new family member.

Choosing the Right Pet for Your Lifestyle

Like people, pets have different temperaments and activity levels. If you’re basically a couch potato, a working dog like a border collie would not be the right pet for you. Although you may fall in love with a dog you see on the shelter’s website, consider your lifestyle before making a commitment.

This is the most important thing you should consider when adopting a shelter animal, according to Madeline Bernstein, president of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles (spcaLA), an independent animal organization.

“The best type of pet for you and your family—age, breed appearance, species, activity level—is dependent on you,” she told me. “Shelter pets, like people, have different needs and personalities. Do you have kids? Are you active? Do you want to spend a lot of time training? Ask yourself these questions and discuss as a family. Most importantly, come to the shelter with an open mind. Personality and compatibility are really the important things to factor into a decision.”

Finding a Perfect Match at the Shelter

Adopting a dog from a shelter has some benefits over adopting one from a rescue. For example, there are many more dogs to choose from and lower adoption fees.

“In our community, there are too many wonderful, sweet and healthy pets and too few owners,” Bernstein said. “By choosing to adopt, you are helping to end the pet overpopulation crisis. Any adoption is a win, but when you adopt from a shelter, that kennel space is opened for the next needy pet.”

  • Be sure to bring a photo ID. If you’re a renter, it’s a good idea to bring a copy of your rental agreement or a letter from your landlord indicating that dogs are allowed in your home.

  • If possible, you should bring all family members, including your other pets if the shelter allows it, to see how the dog reacts to them and vice versa.

  • Unless you’ve already selected a dog from the shelter’s website, let the shelter staff know what kind of dog and personality you’re looking for, and if you’d prefer a certain breed.

  • Shelters are very stressful environments for animals, so don’t dismiss a dog just because she seems scared and unfriendly in her kennel.

  • Many animal shelters have “meet-and-greet” areas where potential adopters can interact with dogs. Just remember that because of their circumstances, many shelter animals may be skittish and apprehensive at first.

  • Don’t be disappointed if you can’t immediately take your new family member home with you. Many shelters require pets to be microchipped and spayed or neutered before being released to their forever homes.

This video, which is played in the lobbies of Salt Lake County animal shelters, has additional helpful tips about finding the right shelter dog for you.

Preparing Your Children for a Dog

If your children, especially little ones, have never been around a dog before, you can prevent injuries by teaching them how to respectfully treat your potential new family member.

  • Tell your children not to yell at or run toward the dog, which will frighten him. Explain that pets are not toys and must not be treated roughly.

  • Decide who will be responsible for various tasks like walking and feeding your new dog— but don’t give your child too much responsibility right away. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recommends that until you know what tasks your children can handle on their own, always supervise them when they are caring for your dog.

Additional helpful tips can be found on the AVMA website.

Preparing Other Pets for Your New Dog

Some shelters have play areas where you can bring your dog to meet the pet you want to adopt so you can see if they get along. If this isn’t available, be prepared to gradually introduce your pet to your new family member. And be sure to give your existing pet just as much, if not more, attention as you do to the newcomer.

It’s important to introduce your new dog on neutral turf – never inside your house. With both dogs leashed, take them for a relaxed walk, side by side and a safe distance apart. Let them meet and sniff each other. If they’re getting along, take them to an enclosed area and remove their leashes. The Best Friends Animal Society has detailed instructions for introducing dogs successfully.

Preparing Your House for Your New Pet

Before going to the shelter to adopt a dog, make sure your house is prepared.

  • Buy pet supplies including food, bowls, toys, bedding, and a collar and leash.

  • Many adult shelter animals have already been housetrained, but be prepared with potty-training pads just in case.

  • Put anything you don’t want your dog to chew or eat out of their reach.

  • Inspect your house from a dog’s-eye view. Hide or tape down any hazards such as electrical and mini-blind cords.

  • Put childproof latches on low cupboard doors. Install baby gates or keep the doors closed to block areas that are off-limits to your new dog.

  • Make sure all trash cans have secure lids or can’t be accessed by your dog.

Check out more pet-proofing tips from the American Humane Association.

Additional Resources

For more information about adopting shelter dogs, visit these websites.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Laura Goldman

I am a freelance writer and lifelong dog lover. For five years, I was a staff writer for i Love Dogs. When that site shut down, I started this blog...because I STILL Love Dogs!