How to Adopt a Rescue Dog

Young girl showing picture of her dog on her mobile phone

Let me share our experiences of adopting Coco, a 7-year old Pit Bull Terrier mix.

We have owned dogs since 1986. But have been “dogless” the last three years. Our two cats don’t make up for not having a dog around the house. 

This time we decided to adopt a dog from a local dog rescue organization. Our previous dogs have come from a breeder, a friend who was moving, and a pet store. 

Yes, the ASPCA commercials pull on the heart strings. But the facts are clear, shelters euthanzie 670,000 dogs a year. Yet, people adopt 1.6 million dogs a year from shelters. 

People assume pets surrendered to shelters have behavioral problems. Some do. But the most common reason is related to housing. landlord, or moving issues. 

young girl with adult cocker spaniel

Planning a dog adoption

I believe the planning phase of adopting a rescue dog the most important and most time-consuming. There are so many factors or variables to consider.

The steps involved in planning:

  • Conducting a personal assessment of the family 
  • Identifying a dog’s characteristics suitable for the family
  • Finding a suitable dog
  • checkApplying for an adoption
  • checkPreparing the home for the new arrival
  • checkWelcoming tips for your new dog
  • checkCaring for your new dog

Conducting a personal assessment of the family

Understand that getting a dog either by adopting or buying one requires a commitment of time and money for the life of the dog.

Are you ready for a dog?

Conduct an assessment of life style and family personality characteristics, type and size of home including yard, family member schedules, family member roles and responsibilities. 

Things to consider include:

  • Financial – estimate annual feeding and care costs. Acquisition costs of adopting (adoption fees, if any) vary. Adoption fees usually cover cost of neutering/spaying, vaccinations, licensing, flea/tick applications, and de-worming.
  • Discuss the dog’s history (owners, behavior, medical) with the adoption agency.
  • Find a veterinarian – plan on a wellness assessment during the first 90 days.
  • checkDecide on feeding – will the dog food be homemade or commercial, how much and how often, and supplementation (ask your vet).
  • checkPlanned dog activities (mental and physical) including exercise.
  • checkTraining, dog and family.
  • checkDog care responsibilities – who will be primary care giver, feed and exercise dog.
  • checkSetting ground rules for dog and family. Will the dog have free reign or limited to only certain parts of the home, for example.

Identifying a dog’s characteristics suitable for the family

A prospective dog owner should consider their life style and family personality characteristics to ensure the pet of interest is a good fit in terms of breed, size and behavior. Some of the online dog breed selectors such as the American Kennel Club or Animal Planet can help identify breeds that match.

Mixed breeds or mutts become a little harder to match up as different breed characteristics may dominate.

But the advantage of adopting an adult dog is the dog’s personality has developed unlike a puppy or young dog.

Finding a suitable dog

Now that you have an idea of what kind of dog matches with you and your family, it is time to find a suitable dog. 

Where to find rescue dog adoptions near me:

  • Local Humane Society
  • County animal shelters
  • Rescue organizations, (501(c)3) not-for-profit
  • checkPrivate placement
  • checkPet Finder online

I encourage prospective dog adopters to select several dogs for consideration. Unforeseen circumstances may make the first choice unavailable.

Applying for an adoption

The adoption process is straight forward in general. Prospective owners will be asked to provide personal information, fill out an application or questionaire, have an interview, and pay an adoption fee (which varies) once an adoption has been approved. Some organizations may require a “meet and greet” with the pet as well as a home visit from the adoption agency.

This is all for the purpose of making a good fit for the family and dog.

Depending on location, local laws, and source (for example, private owner), the process can be as simple as paying a fee and picking up the dog.

I prefer the adoption agencies that use a detailed process. This helps reduce the emotions involved in getting a new pet and improves the adoption results.

How to Prepare Your Home for Your Adopted Dog 

Prospective dog adopters can prepare their homes using the following tips:

  • Identify and remove toxic plants. This is the most important one because of the potential for drastic results. PetMD and the ASPCA has lists of plants, both indoor and outdoor, that are toxic to dogs. I pulled out my hydrangea bushes and Dianthus plants in preparation of adopting Coco.

If you think your dog has eaten any questionable plants or other substances, call Pet Poison Helpline or your veterinarian for assistance. Accurate and timely identification of the suspected substance is very important. Having the container, package, or label in hand will save valuable time and may save the life of your pet.

  • Check for safety or health hazards. Make sure household cleaners and chemicals are stored so your dog won’t get into them. Check for loose or frayed cords, especially if the dog is a chewer. 
  • Make a shopping list of essential and nice to have items.
  • Food
  • pawBedding
  • pawVeterinarian care arranged
  • Crate or harness for transporting dog
  • Dog License according to local regulations
  • pawCollar, leashes, and identification tags
  • pawToys
  • pawBasic grooming equipment and supplies
  • pawDog steps to help dogs climb into vehicles or onto furniture (if necessary)
  • pawMicrochip
  • pawNutritional supplements
  • pawTraining classes

Young girl washing her dog in a bathtub.

Welcoming Tips for Your New Dog

Arrival day can be controversial among family members. Everyone wants to greet the newest member of the family!

People do not realize the new dog will be stressed in a new environment with new people.

Don’t overwhelm your new dog the first day or throw a welcome home party with friends and neighbors! 

Give the dog a chance to become familiar with the new surroundings and bond with the family and family pets, if any.

Help your new dog adapt to the new surroundings and people by establishing a routine for feeding, exercise, and play.

If the ground rules for dog and family were not discussed previously, now is a good time to settle on rules. Goal is to have a happy, well-behaved, and healthy pet.

If you want an overly excited, jumping on you or in your lap, aggressive dog that does not trust or respect you, then set no ground rules and let the dog run your life.

Because dogs are pack animals.

They either lead or follow.

Caring for the new dog

Be patient with the newest family member. It may take awhile to adjust.

Use positive reinforcement methods when training your dog. Reward positive behaviors with affection, affirmation, and treats.

Ignore negative behavior.

Ignoring bad behavior is difficult for most of us. But it helps to remember dogs react on an instinctual level, not an intellectual level like us. And not all dogs react positively to negative reinforcement.

But if the bad behavior is a threat to people, other animals, or the dog itself, then take control to stop the behavior.

Remember your dog has had different experiences. But together, you will create new ones. Plus, you will have a new happy, healthy friend for life.

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