Dog Adoption 101: Process, Costs & Tips

Are you ready to begin the rewarding experience of adopting a rescue dog? By choosing to adopt you are providing a deserving animal with a loving forever home and saving a life. Adopting from a shelter also creates a positive impact on your community by reducing shelter overcrowding and being a great example of an adoption success story! This beginners guide will help you navigate the dog adoption process, give you preparation tips, and answer some common questions. 

How to Adopt a Dog from a Shelter or Rescue

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Before beginning any adoption process, it is important to research the specific shelters and rescues in your area, as each process may vary from shelter to shelter, but generally the dog adoption process follows these steps: 

  • Research: Do research on different types of breeds, ages, energy levels and personality traits that may work best with your lifestyle. Check local shelters, rescues and fosters to see what resources and animals they have currently available to ensure that you and your future dog will be a good fit for one another.  
  • Fill out an application: The shelter or rescue will often have an application on their website for the specific dog you are looking for, but some prefer to have the application filled out in person. The application usually includes questions about your living situation, experience with dogs, and sometimes asks for references, including your veterinarian's contact information. 
  • Interview and first meeting: Many shelters conduct in person interviews and see how you and the other members of your family (including other pets) interact with the dog you are looking to adopt. Sometimes these steps are combined and in other cases the interview may be separate from the first meeting. Rescues sometimes require a home visit.  
  • Adoption finalization: Once the adoption has been cleared, you will fill out final paperwork, pay the adoption fee, and take your new dog home. 

Why Should You Adopt a Dog?

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Photo © The NOAH Center

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Photo © The NOAH Center

VS-Photograph_20231109_GFL_AdoptionUpdate_004_©TheNOAHCenter copyPhoto © The NOAH Center

Adopting a rescue dog offers numerous benefits for both you and them. Here are some key reasons why you should adopt, not shop:  

  1. Saving Lives: Millions of healthy, innocent dogs end up in shelters each year due to overpopulation or circumstances entirely out of their control. Adopting a dog gives these sweet animals a second chance, which not only saves their lives, but opens a spot in the shelter for another dog — ultimately saving the lives of 2 animals with each adoption. 

  2. Promoting a variety of breeds and personalities: By choosing a shelter dog, you are supporting genetic diversity, as rescue dogs often come from a diverse range of breeds and mixes which can lead to healthier animals less prone to genetic predispositions and inbreeding associated with purebreds. Shelters also offer a wide range of ages and temperaments, so you are sure to find the personality right for you and your family.

  3. Being More Cost-Effective: Adoption fees are significantly lower than the cost of purchasing a dog from a breeder. Most fees cover spaying/neutering, vaccinations, and microchipping. 

  4. Contributing to the Solution: With so many challenges in our society, it can be hard to feel like you can make a difference. Adoption is a great way to make a big difference for your pet, the organization and, of course, your family.  

What Fees are Associated with Dog Adoption?

Adoption fees vary by shelter but typically fees cover important services like spaying/neutering, vaccinations, and microchipping. Some shelters may even include basic supplies like a collar and leash. Fees can range depending on the age, breed, and location. Be sure to research your local rescue to understand their specific prices and offerings.  

How to Adopt a Dog for Free

While free adoptions are uncommon, some shelters offer promotions or waive fees for certain dogs, often seniors or special-needs animals. Consider foster-to-adopt programs, checking local classifieds, or asking friends/family if they know of any dogs that need to be rehomed. If free adoption is your goal, research organizations in your area and be patient; the right opportunity may come along. 

How Long Does It Take to Adopt a Dog?

The timeline depends on the shelter, location, demand, and your application processing. Be patient — a responsible shelter will prioritize the perfect match for both dog and adopter. It could take a few days or a few weeks.  

Preparing Your Home for a New Dog

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Before bringing your new dog home, it is important to ensure your environment is safe and animal-friendly: 

  • Puppy-proof: Secure cords, hide toxic plants, and remove chewable items. Consider using gates to limit access to specific areas. If you find your dog likes to chew on furniture, bitter apple spray is a great option to deter them from chewing on couches and coffee tables.  
  • Create a dedicated space: Provide a comfortable bed, food and water bowls, and engaging toys. Consider a crate for training or anxiety relief. 
  • Establish boundaries: Slowly introduce your dog to your house, the process may be overwhelming for them and it’s easier to potty train a dog if you limit their access. Determine what areas your dog is allowed to go and set up gates or close doors to rooms off limits. 
  • Stock up on essentials: Important essential supplies include food, a leash, harness, poop bags, crate or bed, a first aid kit, and basic grooming supplies. 
  • Schedule a vet visit: Plan to bring your new dog to the vet within 6 months or less to get a checkup and any necessary vaccinations. 
  • Consider Pet Insurance: Pet insurance can be an emergency only or cover regular vet visits. Look for different options and plans that are going to be compatible with your budget. Emergencies happen, it’s important to be prepared.  
  • Find Local Resources: Owning a pet for the first time can be overwhelming, so find local resources that can help. Know where the emergency vet is located, look up local training classes, dog parks, and doggy daycare centers that can all be utilized as needed.  
What is the right age to adopt a dog?

Choosing the best age and temperament is entirely dependent on your lifestyle and preferences. Puppies can be excellent for families with smaller children as they grow and learn with your kids and tend to be more compatible with children if they are introduced to them young. However, puppies require intensive training and supervision.  

If you have a calmer home or lifestyle, or do not have time or the desire to train a puppy, adult dogs often come with housetraining complete and calmer personalities.  

Senior dogs tend to be low maintenance and have lower energy and can be great for someone looking for a calm companion. Often, Senior dogs are overlooked at shelters, and you are giving them a chance for a loving home in the last years of their lives.  

Choose the age that fits your energy level and resources. 

What are the benefits of adopting an older dog versus a puppy?
  • Calmer and more settled: Older dogs have typically gone through the energetic puppy phase and are less prone to chewing, accidents, and destructive behavior. This can be ideal for busy households or those seeking a laid-back companion. 
  • Potty-trained and socialized: Most senior dogs have already been housetrained and likely have experience interacting with other dogs and people, making them easier to integrate into your household. 
  • Giving them a second chance: Choosing an older dog means providing a loving home to an animal who may have been overlooked or forgotten. 
How do I ensure that my living situation is suitable for a new dog?

Before adopting a dog, it’s important to ensure you can provide a healthy environment for your new pet. Unfortunately, many dogs are rehomed due to ill-preparation for adoption. Here are some important things to consider before beginning the adoption process: 

  • Lifestyle: Can you devote time to walks, playtime, training, and vet appointments? Are you prepared for barking or shedding? How often are you home or away and will your dog be left alone often? 
  • Evaluate your space: Do you have enough room for the dog to comfortably move around and play? Depending on their size, breed, activity level and age, different dogs need different amounts of space.  
  • Household: Is everyone in the household comfortable with a dog? How are responsibilities going to be divided? Are there any allergies or concerns to discuss before beginning the adoption process? 
  • Plan for travel and absences: How often do you travel? Ensure that you arrange for kenneling, dog sitting, or dog walking services if you're away for extended periods. 
  • Consider your finances: Ensure you can afford proper food, vet care, insurance, and potential emergencies. 
How do I ensure I'm providing proper care, nutrition, and exercise for my adopted dog?
  • Nutrition: Choose high-quality, age-appropriate dog food based on your dog's size, breed, and activity level. Pay attention to any potential food allergies or reactions and consult your vet for specific recommendations as needed. 
  • Exercise: Provide regular walks, playtime, and mental stimulation based on your dog's needs and abilities. Some breeds need multiple walks a day and may thrive in an environment with a backyard fence so they can run around outside. Senior dogs may require gentle exercise, like shorter walks and indoor playtime. 
  • Training: Enroll in basic obedience training or refresher courses to establish communication and good habits. Positive reinforcement methods like clicker training and treat training (particularly for food motivated dogs) are most effective. 
  • Veterinary care: Schedule regular checkups and preventive care. Address any health concerns promptly and follow your vet's recommendations.  
  • Proper Documentation: Check what documentation is required in your community, apartment complex or neighborhood. Make sure you keep rabies documentation ready and follow all proper procedures for your area.  
  • Love and attention: Shower your dog with affection and quality time. Social interaction, playtime, and cuddles are essential for their emotional well-being (and yours). 

Adopting any dog is a big, yet incredibly rewarding, commitment. Do your research, prepare your home and yourself, and be patient and loving throughout the process. Your reward will be a loyal and devoted member of your family.

If you aren’t ready to adopt, there are many Greater Good initiatives to support shelters by providing food, flying pets to parts of the country where their chance of getting adopted is greater, and providing spay and neuter for free in areas at high risk. Donate now to support these important programs.