The Big Guide to Adopting or Rescuing the Right Dog for Your Family

Choosing a dog for adoption is exciting. You’re growing your family, and whether you’re rescuing a dog from a shelter or adopting a puppy, there is a lot to consider.

Don’t feel overwhelmed. In this article, we’ll help sift through all the decisions required in adopting a dog by looking at what kind of canine is best for you and what you’ll need to know throughout the process.

Why Do You Want to Adopt a Dog?

Before you do anything, think through your personal motiviations for rescuing or adopting a dog. Do you want a dog to play with your young children? Do you simply want some quiet company, perhaps a lap dog, or a companion for your daily strolls? Is the dog going to have a job: therapy, herding, hunting, protecting, etc? Are you looking for a running partner? As you consider Adopting a dog, answering these questions will help you select the correct size and breed of dog. Consider your expectations of your dog when selecting the right canine companion. Do NOT select a dog purely on looks.

Are You Ready for the Responsibilities of Adopting a Dog?

Adopting a dog is a big responsibility. Ask yourself the following questions, and answer them honestly. Evaluate your current life situation, and determine if you can appropriately provide for a dog.

  1. Is your home large enough to comfortably house a dog? Dogs should never be expected to live their lives confined to one small area, such as a single room or a crate.

  2. Do you have enough free time to provide a dog with the attention he needs? More than eight hours alone is not advisable for most dogs.

  3. Will you be willing and able to provide a dog with ample exercise every day? Most dogs need at least one hour of exercise each day.

  4. Will other pets and members of the family be comfortable with having a dog? Allergies, phobias and dislikes of dogs, and nervous or ill pets are things to consider before adopting a dog.

  5. Are you willing to provide a home, medical care, and appropriate nutrition for the duration of a dog’s life? A dog is not disposable; he is a lifelong commitment.

  6. Are you able to financially afford annual checkups, spay/neuter, vaccines, heartworm and flea prevention, emergency room visits, quality dog food, and any other needed pet supplies? A puppy’s care costs about $640 to $1,125 in his first year. Routine maintenance of an adult dog costs about $440 – $775 per year. You may also want to consider insurance for your dog to prevent against unexpected vet bills.

  7. Are you willing to handle the normal frustrations that come with having a dog (e.g. barking, house-training, accidents in the home, chewing, shedding, etc.)? No dog is perfect.

  8. Are you willing to spend time on a consistent basis helping your dog to be obedient, socialized, and well-mannered? A polite dog will be more enjoyable and easier to handle in public.

Finding the Best Dog for You

When adopting or rescuing a dog, how do you find the best dog for you?

Selecting the right dog can be a tough choice. There will probably be many dogs tugging at your heartstrings, and you will want to take them all home. Don’t forget to use both your heart AND your brain when making the decision.

How will you know which dog is perfect for you? It’s a personal decision. Most people just know it when they’ve found the right one. Some people let the dog choose them; others look for the quiet dog that is sitting off by himself. Often the way the dog advertises himself is indicative of the personality he will have after you adopt him. Sometimes, it takes getting the dog out of that stressful situation and into your peaceful home before he shows his true colors.

When you’re looking for your dog, be patient. Don’t make a quick decision and take the first dog you see. If there’s a bond between you and a dog, you will feel it.

Selecting the Right Dog Size

Before selecting your desired breed, think about what size will be appropriate. A very small dog is generally not safe around small children. Children may be too rough with the dog and cause injury. Small breed dogs also get underfoot easily, so they may not be appropriate in a busy household. Small dogs are great for the elderly or for a small, quiet family who is looking for a lap dog. They are also a good option for someone who lives in an apartment and doesn’t have space for a larger dog.

Large breed dogs may not be appropriate for someone who is elderly or weak and is unable to control the strength of these dogs. They are also not suited for very small homes or apartments. Large dogs are hardy and usually do well with children. It is important to remember that the larger the dog, the more expensive they are to maintain. Large dogs also tend to live shorter lives than smaller dogs.

Selecting the Right Dog Breed

If you have a particular temperament in mind, you may find it helpful to research PetPlace’s breed profiles to find your ideal dog. While each dog is unique and has his own personality, the profiles will give you a general idea of what to expect from a particular breed. Listed below is a general overview of the characteristics of the AKC’s canine groups.

Sporting Group – These dogs are quite active and require regular exercise. These intelligent dogs make great family companions. They enjoy hunting and participating in field sports.

Hound Group – This group is extremely diverse and difficult to generalize. These dogs are talented, driven hunters. They also require regular exercise.

Working Group – The dogs in this group are best known for their jobs, such as pulling sleds, guarding, and rescuing. These large dogs are intelligent and easily trained. Because of their size, it is important that they receive appropriate obedience training. They require regular attention, exercise, and mental stimulation.

Terrier Group – Terriers are known for their spunk and feisty attitudes. Terriers often do not do well around other pets, but their high energy level is well-suited for active children. Many terriers require regular grooming.

Toy Group – These tiny pups are famous for being itty-bitty. Despite their size, many are packed with attitude. Toy dogs are ideal for people living in a small home and for those looking for a lap dog.

Non-Sporting Group – Like the hound group, the non-sporting group is quite diverse and difficult to generalize. This group includes a wide range of breeds, from very common to unusual.

Herding Group – This group is known for doing exactly what their name states, herding. These dogs, some very small, are capable of herding large groups of farm animals. Some dogs from this group that live as a family pet will gently herd children or other pets in the house! They make great companions and are quite smart.

A dog does not need to be recognized by the AKC to be a wonderful pet. There are countless mixed breed dogs that are equally special. Mixed breed dogs can be a “grab bag” of the characteristics of their parenting breeds. Some mixes have an adorable, unique combination of traits that is tough to find in any other dog. Often these dogs do not develop the medical problems common to their parenting breeds.

Selecting the Right Age for Your New Dog

Before you begin the search for your dog, consider what age is best for you and your family.

A puppy is an adorable bundle of joy. There is something very special about watching a dog grow from puppyhood to adulthood. It is very much like raising a child. You are given the opportunity to shape the dog’s life, and you have a hand in who he becomes. Along with these joys, come many extra frustrations and expenses. You are responsible for completing the series of puppy vaccines, spaying or neutering, giving obedience training, and house-training. There are also the inevitable messes, chewing disasters, and sleepless nights.

Adopting an adult dog may give you the opportunity to bypass the stresses of puppyhood. Often an adult dog is already obedience and potty trained. You may also be able to avoid the extra costs of spaying and neutering and the initial series of vaccines. However, it is also possible that an adult dog will come with “baggage”. His previous home may have been abusive, or he may struggle with the stress of separating from that family.

Adopting a geriatric dog brings the satisfaction of knowing that you have offered a loving home to an animal that may not have otherwise found that security. It is very difficult to find a home for an old pet, because most people are looking for a pup or young dog. Older dogs are usually very relaxed and laid back, and, in their wisdom, they are quite grateful for the love you offer.

Buying Supplies for Bringing your Adopted Dog Home

Listed below are some basic supplies that will make life with your new dog start off smoothly. Some of these items may need to be purchased after you have adopted your dog. Many pet stores allow dogs to shop with their owners; the two of you may enjoy choosing these items together.

  1. Dog Food – Choose a quality, nutritious food. This will be the basis for his energy used to grow, thrive, and enjoy life with you!

  2. Food and Water Bowls – These can be fun and unique to your dog’s personality, or they can be simple and functional.

  3. Leash – Leashes come in several styles, serving different functions. There are loads of colors and prints available.

  4. Collar – A dog’s collar is his main article of clothing. It can display his personality while serving as a leash connector and a holder or his ID tags.

  5. Dog Bed – Spoil your dog with a luxurious place to lay his adorable head.

  6. Treats – Treats are great for training, rewarding a good behavior, and just as a special snack.

  7. Toys – Toys provide your dog with mental and physical stimulation, entertainment, activities with you, and they can even clean his teeth!

  8. Shampoo – Keep Fido’s coat soft, clean, and smelling fresh with a shampoo made for dogs.

  9. Dog Crate – These are especially important during the initial months of training and adjusting to his new home. A crate can provide a dog with security and comfort.

  10. Dog Tags – If your dog gets lost, a tag will provide the person who finds him with your name and phone number.

  11. Toothpaste and toothbrush – Dogs need clean teeth too, but don’t use your own oral hygiene products on Fido!

  12. Nail trimmers – Your dog will need his nails trimmed regularly so he can walk comfortably.

  13. Pet Seat Belt – If your dog will be riding in the car frequently, you may want to consider buckling him in with a pet seat belt.

  14. Pooper Scooper – Keep your yard sanitary, and pick up after your canine friend.

  15. Puppy Training Pads – These are disposable pads made of diaper material that can be laid out to absorb potential puppy accidents.

  16. Baby Gates – These can be used to keep your dog out of off-limits rooms.

Pet Proofing Your Home

As you prepare for your new adopted or rescued dog, prepare your home ahead of time. This is especially important if you are adopting a puppy! Make sure it is safe and there will be no threats to your new housemate.

The easiest way to do this is get down on the floor at a dog’s level. Look around. What can a dog reach? What might he pull over on himself? What is he going to chew? Try to move these items out of his reach. Tie up loose electrical cords. Do not leave small items, clothing, shoes, children’s toys, etc, lying about.

Use trashcans with lids. Dogs love to root through the trash. Bathroom trash is especially appealing and dangerous. Items such as diapers, women’s sanitary items, and dental floss are common gastro-intestinal foreign bodies.

You may want to cover linoleum and hardwood floors with rugs. Dogs may slide on these floors and become apprehensive about walking on them.

Be sure all windows and screens are well secured to prevent a dog from jumping or falling.

If you have a pool, it should be covered or otherwise unaccessible to your dog to prevent drowning.

With puppies, it is probably best to place a baby gate in front of any staircases.

Cleaning chemicals, rat poisons, onions, garlic, insect baits, chocolate, antifreeze, some plants, potpourri, cigarettes and ashes, macadamia nuts, grapes, raisins, and many over-the-counter and prescription drugs are toxins for dogs. Keep these items completely out of your dog’s reach. If you’re unsure about an item, consult your veterinarian.

When to Begin Looking for Your Dog

Do not begin looking for your dog until you are 100% sure that you are ready for the commitment. It is not fair to bring a dog home, only to decide later that you are not ready and then force him to face the confusion of going to another family.

Like any big life decision, you should not adopt your dog during times of great stress. If you’re in the midst of having a baby, losing a job, getting married or divorced, moving, or facing any other major life event, it may not be the best time to add a dog to the mix. Your decision to adopt may not be rational, and your stress level will be detected by the dog, making him uncomfortable.

The best time to add a canine companion to your family is when life is as normal as possible, you are thinking clearly and with a level head, and you have plenty of time and energy to devote to the dog.

Where to Look for Your Dog

Where should you look to adopt a dog? If you are searching for a pure bred dog, talk to your veterinarian or other animal professional about locating a reputable breeder. Simply looking through the newspaper or searching for a sign along the road is not conducive to finding a healthy puppy. You may find yourself buying from an irresponsible breeder who does not practice necessary health screening and selectiveness in the parenting dogs.

Pure bred dogs can also be adopted from rescue groups who make it their mission to rescue a particular breed from unfortunate situations and place them in loving homes. By adopting from a rescue organization, you can be part of the pet-overpopulation solution, and you can help a pet that desperately needs your care.

Your local animal shelter, humane society, or “pound” is an excellent place to find your pooch pal. These facilities take in mixed and pure bred pets that have been abandoned or surrendered and homeless pets wandering the streets. These dogs are especially eager to find a family, and giving one a home will surely give you that warm, fuzzy feeling that lets you know you’ve done something wonderful.

Pet stores are also an option when searching for a mixed or pure bred dog; however, there is much controversy regarding the suppliers of these dogs. Many pets stores obtain their dogs from puppy mills, which are inhumane facilities breeding mass amounts of dogs in unsanitary conditions. It can be difficult to know with certainty which pet stores are obtaining their dogs from reputable sources.

Getting to Know the Pet Community

Before you bring home your new, furry friend, check out your local pet-related businesses. You should locate a veterinarian, be sure you’re comfortable with him or her, and talk about what to expect with your dog’s healthcare. Ask friends and family to refer you to their veterinarian. You might also consider choosing a groomer, trainer, boarding facility, and/or doggie daycare for your dog.

It is also helpful to search for the closest 24 hour emergency veterinary hospital. When you find one, call them to learn their fees and their location. This is information that will be difficult to obtain during the stress of an actual emergency. Many emergency facilities will even give you a tour, if you are interested.

Before you bring your dog home, you may also want to search for a pet-friendly park where you can walk your dog and perhaps let him run off-leash (when he is trained and ready for that!).

It is also wise to line up some pet-loving friends who would be willing to lend their pets to help you socialize your dog. As an added perk, if your dog is socialized with your friend’s pets, your friend may be more likely to pet-sit when needed!

Understanding Pet Adoption Contracts

Depending on where you adopt your dog, you may be asked to sign an adoption contract. In this case, there will be some guidelines to which you must agree before adoption. This is to ensure excellent quality of care to the dog. Some agencies even follow up the contract with a check-in at the home after adoption. Some things you may need to agree to in contract include proper medical care (spay/neuter, vaccines, parasite prevention, etc.), providing a fenced yard, promising that if you ever need to surrender the pet you will bring it back to the place of contract, not changing the pet’s name (if he already has one), etc.

Bringing Your Dog Home

Before your bring home your new adopted dog, try to have things set up for your dog in your home as much as possible before he arrives. Make the home welcoming to him. Don’t forget to use a baby gate to block off any rooms or staircases where you don’t want your dog.

On the day of adoption, you may want to have a puppy-training pad or blanket in your car in case of any accidents or car sickness. Remember, your dog will be nervous and excited. Accidents are not unexpected. You will be excited as well, but do your best to not overwhelm your dog with your emotions. Try to be calm and not frighten your new family member. Speak to your dog in a steady, relaxing voice. Let him sniff you and get to know you. Go slowly with him.

When you arrive home, allow him to sniff things outside and inside. He has a lot to explore and learn about his new life. Give him time to soak it all in.

Don’t allow children and other family members to all surround the dog and pet him at once. Everyone should introduce themselves one at a time in a calm manner in order to not overwhelm the nervous pooch.

If introducing your dog to other pets, you may want to consider doing this in a neutral location other than your home. This will prevent territorial conflicts. Supervision is extremely important during pet-to-pet introductions. Read PetPlace’s article, Introducing a New Dog Into Your Household to learn more about helping your new dog adjust to other pets.

Enjoying Life with your New Dog

In making the decision to adopt a dog, you have made a life change that will surely fill your heart with much joy. Dogs are one of the most rewarding responsibilities you can ever assume. For giving them a good home, they will pay you back every day with unconditional love, a wagging tail to warm your heart, and all their silly dog antics to keep you laughing.