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Checklist for Adopting a Rescue Dog

Each year an estimated 1.5 million pets are euthanized in US shelters. While this number represents a dramatic decrease from the 2.6 million euthanized in 2011, it’s clear that there is much progress to be made. You can do something to help when you welcome a rescue dog into your home.

Why Adopt A Dog?

Many shelters are overburdened and under-resourced, especially in urban areas where the number of homeless pets is high. These shelters also frequently house “hard to adopt” dogs, such as senior animals and animals with special needs. That’s why the public’s help is so important in providing forever homes for these animals. Choosing to give a needy dog a home is incredibly rewarding! There’s nothing like adding a furry friend to the family.

If you’re considering bringing a new pet into your home, here are some helpful tips for adopting a dog:

  • The vast majority of shelter pooches have had significant contact with people and are eager to be loved. They’re also eager to love you back!
  • Many shelter dogs have been leash-trained, and already have some idea of house manners.
  • Adult dogs have outgrown the often-destructive puppy stage and are ready to settle into home life.
  • Most shelter pets have received their basic immunizations.
  • They are also usually already spayed or neutered.   

Considering A Shelter Dog?

Once you’ve made the decision to adopt a shelter dog, how do you choose the right one for you? Follow this dog adoption checklist on choosing the right canine for you and your family:

Do some research. By learning a little about different dog breeds, you can better define what animal might be a good fit for your home. Questions to ask may include: What breeds are best with kids? What breeds need the most (or least) exercise? What breeds are most likely to get along well with pets already in the home? What breeds are easiest to train? The answers can help you make more informed choices.

Ask shelter workers about specific animals. Make the most of your access to the shelter’s staff and volunteers, and ask lots of questions. Typically, shelter workers know some background information about a particular animal—such as the reason it was surrendered and how it has behaved in the shelter. You can inquire about any known health issues and get a better sense of what’s involved with a certain pooch. They’ll also be able to tell you about any special needs or preferences the animal may have. This can empower you to make the best decision for you and your household.

Consider a senior or special needs animal. Even if you already have an idea about what kind of dog you’d like, try to keep an open mind. Senior pets and animals with special needs are often the most likely to be euthanized and therefore are most in need of help. Many have been well socialized and simply need a loving home where they can spend their remaining years.

Follow your heart. Often, we don’t choose an animal as much as an animal chooses us. When visiting a shelter, you may find that a certain animal seems especially drawn to you, or that you are drawn to it. This kind of organic connection can be a sign that you have found a pet with whom you can form a lasting bond.

Have everyone in the family meet your potential pet. Once you have found a dog that you think is suitable for your family, make sure everyone who lives in the house visits. It’s important to see how your new dog will interact with the whole family. For dog-to-dog meetings, someone at the animal shelter should help you with the introductions. The process should be as peaceful as possible.

Bringing Your Shelter Pet Home

Introducing a new dog into your home can be stressful, whether that pet came from a shelter, a store, or a breeder. Below is some advice for bringing home a rescue dog and helping it acclimate to its new surroundings:

Buy the needed supplies. You’re going to need some basic pet care items before you bring home a new animal. For dogs, you’ll need a collar, leash, and ID tag, as well as food and a set of drinking/feeding bowls. Remember that dogs are den animals, so you may want to crate a new animal overnight for a while to relieve stress and give it a sense of security. A comfy dog bed should also be on the list of must-haves.

Pet-proof your home. Any obvious hazards or temptations that could prove harmful to a dog should be removed. These might include exposed wires or extension cords, certain types of houseplants, and any object that could be a choking hazard.

Prepare your family. If you have young children, they need to know basic new dog etiquette. A new animal can be skittish at first and should be allowed to get accustomed to its new surroundings without feeling rushed, crowded, or over-handled. The temptation to hug and cuddle a new pooch may be strong, but let the animal dictate the pace of these early encounters. Teaching kids to read the signs of a frightened or stressed dog can make pet adoption easier for everyone.

Along with everything listed above, remember also to be patient. Once you adopt a dog, it may take a few months for it to fully settle into your house. Don’t just open the door and expect perfection. Your dog just needs to be shown what to do, so call a trainer for help. We hope these rescue dog tips will help make your adoption joyful and stress-free!


Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.

Protect your pet from the unexpected with Figo Pet Insurance, rated “Best Pet Insurance” by Reviews.com since 2017.

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