Top Tips for Adopting a Dog

Adopting a dog is a big responsibility filled with joy and love. Here are some suggestions to think about if you're considering adding a dog to your life.

May 21, 2021
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Every year, an estimated 3.3 million dogs need a home in the United States. Dogs quickly become friends and family members, and enrich the lives of 78 million U.S. households. But adopting a dog is a big responsibility, and it's not so much taking in a pet as forging a loving relationship that will last for many years. Before you make the decision to bring a dog into your life, read these tips on finding the right pup for you and understanding what it takes to be a good pet owner.

Find a Shelter or Rescue

Amy Konkel

Amy Konkel

Amy Konkel

Photo by: Amy Konkel

Amy Konkel

Adopting a pup from a local shelter or rescue center — rather than buying from a pet store where animals often come from puppy mills — has several benefits beyond giving a loving dog a home. Staff and volunteers are very familiar with each dog's unique personality and can help you find a companion whose traits will mesh with yours. Shelter pups have received careful veterinarian care before being put up for adoption. Mixed breeds can display positive traits associated with each breed of their makeup and tend to have fewer of the health issues associated with pure breeds, such as hip dysplasia. Search here for a pet adoption agency near you.

Research Dog Breeds

It's common to have an idea of what you want your future best friend to look like. But perhaps a high-energy husky isn't the best dog for a small apartment, or a Pomeranian isn't the best breed to accompany you on backcountry ski tours. Dogs have been bred by humans for millennia to exhibit specific personality traits, be it high-energy work or cuddly companionship. Research and make a list of breeds whose traits align with your expectations. The pedigree of dogs up for adoption may not always be known, but staff should have a good idea of what breed or breeds compose a pup, and offer observations on its behavior. A great place to research dog breeds is the American Kennel Club.

Be Realistic About the Responsibility

It's hard to resist children who are pleading for a dog, and many a parent has relented on the condition that the children will be totally responsible for the new family member. Parents should understand that ultimately they'll be responsible for purchasing food, making vet appointments, feeding, paying bills, walking the dog (if the children are too little to manage the dog if it bolts, or if the dog requires longer walks) and many other responsibilities that go along with owning a pet. Dogs are a great way to teach responsibility to children, but parents should understand that they will ultimately be responsible for the new dog's care.

Try to Predict the Future

Photo by: Steve Larese

Steve Larese

No one has a (completely accurate) crystal ball, but you may have an idea about big changes ahead in your life. Will a new job entail being away from home a lot? Will you be moving into an apartment with no yard? Are children in your future? If you feel now is the right time to adopt a dog but believe your lifestyle may change in the next few years, factor that into the size and type of dog you adopt. Many dogs are surrendered due to a change in the owner's life, which isn't fair to the furry family member you've adopted.

Consider Adopting an Adult Dog

Many people have a puppy in mind when they start looking for a dog to adopt, but older dogs have many advantages for many households. It's a misconception to think that there must be an issue with an older dog, or that they won't bond with a family or learn new commands. Older dogs typically won't have accidents or chew the furniture. Many older dogs were surrendered due to no fault of their own and may already know commands. Older dogs will bond with your "pack" just fine. Shelter employees will be able to answer many questions about a dog's background and have knowledge of its demeanor. The personality and behavioral traits of an older dog are much easier to discern than those of a puppy.

Introduce Your Potential Pup to Other Pets

Photo by: Steve Larese

Steve Larese

If your household is already responsible for a pet that will interact with your new dog, make sure they get along first. Many shelters, including The Anna Shelter in Erie, Pennsylvania, have a separate room where prospective adoptees can meet pets already in the family to see how they react. Ask the shelter if it's possible to bring your pet on a follow-up visit to meet the dog you're considering.

Check for Allergies

Some people only realize they have a pet allergy after they've met the pet. If possible, everyone in your household should meet and come in contact with your prospective adoptee before making it official. Having an allergy doesn't have to be a deal-breaker, but it's good to know before proceeding. For those who do suffer from allergies, consider a hypoallergenic breed such as a poodle, a schnauzer or a bichon frise.

Be Honest About Exercise

Amy Konkel

Amy Konkel

Amy Konkel

Photo by: Amy Konkel

Amy Konkel

Every dog needs frequent exercise, and some breeds need a good workout nearly every day. Huskies, border collies, Australian shepherds and other breeds are known for their intelligence and energy. Sometimes active breeds are adopted in hopes of motivating the new owner to begin running. However, if these breeds don't get to enjoy frequent runs, they can act out and even suffer from depression. Make sure an active dog matches your lifestyle and the time you're able to spend exercising with your new pet. If you're just getting into exercising, establish your own habits and schedule before adopting a dog, and make sure you can get outside with your new best friend often.

Have a Training Plan Ready to Go

Once you bring your new dog home, the real work begins. The first step is selecting a name the dog will learn to respond to, that fits its personality and that you won't mind using for the next decade-plus. Decide upon a training regimen based on advice from the shelter and the breed/breeds of dog. Will you crate train your puppy? Are there any habits you wish to correct or instill in an older dog? Dogs respond well to loving discipline and will quickly identify members of the family as alphas (leaders). Be prepared to start training immediately upon returning home, even if that involves lots of cuddles and play. Be strong enough to resist the cries and protests of a new puppy during crating or training; it'll be much happier — and safer — in the long run knowing how to ask to go outside, not to bite or chew and come when called. Obedience classes are a great way to not only learn how to train your new dog, but also spend time together outside of the house and socialize with other dogs and people.

Understand the Expense

Photo by: Jenny Block

Jenny Block

There is a cost to adopt at most pet shelters, and that's just the beginning. Initial and annual vet check-ups and vaccinations, food, treats and toys all add up throughout the year. Make sure you can dedicate a portion of your budget to taking care of your pet.

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Consider Fostering a Dog First

If you're not sure about the commitment of adopting a dog, consider fostering one first. Many pet adoption agencies work with volunteers to foster puppies and older dogs. This frees up space at the shelter, and it's far more fun for the dogs, allowing them to socialize with people. Fostering time can vary from a few weeks to several months. It's a great way to help animals, and you'll learn a lot about caring for a new dog. Households without dogs already are considered a plus by many shelters. Often, foster families wind up adopting their charges. Contact your local shelter to ask if they have a foster program and what is expected of foster homes.

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