Adopting a Shelter Dog – Things to Consider

There are many factors that a prospective adoptee should consider before making their first trip to the shelter, the main three being Commitment, Cost, and Choice.

Going into a shelter unprepared is like going into a candy store just to look – you can’t! You may end up adopting the cutest or saddest face that you see without first considering whether you are ready for the commitment involved. These quick and unprepared adoptions often result in the pet being returned to the shelter or given away at a later stage, to the detriment of the animal.

The lifespan of a dog can exceed 15 years, so make sure your current living arrangements can provide a safe and loving home for your new companion, and if you were to move, you would be able to take him or her with you. Bear in mind that rental properties may require deposits and pet rent, and may have breed restrictions.

Far too many animals are returned to shelters due to personal or business lifestyle changes. Before adopting your new “Friend for Life,” consider whether you want to travel or seek out a different career that may take you away from home. If so, who will take care of your pet when you are away?

It is extremely important that you have the time, and possibly the finances to commit to your new companion’s behavioral training. Training provides dogs with good manners like walking nicely on a leash, coming when called, socialization, house training. Plus, training can address bad habits. Training builds a mutual bond between you and your dog and is one of the most important things that keeps him or her in their “forever home.”

The initial cost of dog ownership can exceed $1,500 in the first year, due to purchases such as a dog crate, puppy pads, toys, grooming supplies, and the like. Each additional year may cost up to $1,000 for food, supplies, and routine annual vaccinations and wellness visits to your veterinarian. You will also need to be prepared for sudden and unexpected medical expenses due to sickness and/or injury. Pet Insurance, as with human medical insurance, is a great option but does come with a monthly fee attached, and does not necessarily cover everything. If you travel, you will need to pay for pet sitting or kennel services, and if you rent an apartment or house, there is often a pet deposit and monthly pet rent fees.

The choice of which dog to add your family is often based on looks alone. Who can resist the unique looking dog, the cute fluffy dog, or the dog with two different colored eyes? While you need that initial first bond, there are other important factors to consider. Dogs, like people, have different personalities, characteristics, and needs. It is important that you choose a dog that best matches your lifestyle, living environment, and family dynamics. This will help ensure that the dog will become a permanent member of your family.

Puppies need housetraining and need to eliminate every 3-4 hours. If not properly socialized at an early age, they can become shy and fearful. A new puppy may be best suited for a person or family who works or stays at home, or is able to go home at regular intervals during the day.

Consider your activity and living conditions. If you live a more sedentary lifestyle, an older dog or a dog that does not require much exercise may be best. An active person who loves to hike and go the beach may consider a much more active and high-energy dog. They need a great companion on outdoor treks.

Another consideration is whether you have young children now or plan to in the future. Certain breeds and temperaments may not be the best fit due to size and energy levels.

Before visiting the shelter, you may want to research the various breeds of dogs and their characteristics. This can be a helpful resource when deciding on the right fit for you and your family.

As much as we try to enrich the lives of shelter animals with playtime, walks, toys, and treats, even the most outstanding shelter can still be a stressful environment for any dog. This can sometimes alter his or her behavior in order to cope. Some dogs may become excitable and constantly bark for your attention, while others may become shy and inhibited. While no observed behavior should ever be disregarded, it can often be a temporary byproduct of the environment and can change once in a permanent home.

While in the shelter looking for their new companion, a prospective adopter should pay attention to the dog’s body language and how the dog interacts with different people and situations.

  • Does the dog appear nervous or confident around large groups of people?
  • Does the dog shy away from young children or loud noises?
  • Does the dog approach the kennel to meet you, or does he appear to be shy and timid?
  • Does the dog bark a lot?
  • Does the dog appear to have high energy or does he or she appear very calm?

For example, a highly excitable large dog may not be a good fit for a house with small children as he or she may unintentionally knock them over. The same dog might make a great hiking partner for someone with older children who love the outdoors.

If a dog is very shy and timid and does not approach the kennel to meet you, this does not mean the dog is anti-social and will not become a loving companion. It simply indicates that the dog is fearful of where he or she is now. They may be best suited in a quieter home environment with someone who has the patience and time to build up his or her trust.

A dog, who happily approaches the kennel with moderate excitement, makes good eye contact and is willing to be petted, might make a good choice for a family with small children or considering having children in the future.


  • If the animal was relinquished to the shelter by his or her owner, what were the reasons for the relinquishment?
  • Are there any known medical issues that will require an ongoing financial commitment?
  • Is there any known behavioral history for the dog in respect to other animals and children?
  • Will this particular breed require a lot of maintenance and grooming time?
  • Does this breed have high energy levels and require a greater amount of exercise time?
  • What is the expected lifespan for the specific breed?
  • Is this breed often subject to breed restrictions by rental properties?
  • What are the expected annual costs involved in adopting a dog?
  • Where can we find resources on basic training?
  • Do you offer a certificate for a free first veterinary exam at a local clinic?
  • Do you have information about pet insurance?
  • What are your return policies?
  • To your knowledge, is this particular breed pre-disposed to medical issues?

These are all great questions to ask and can help you choose the correct pet for your family and lifestyle.

Knowing the return policy is important. Although the intention of the shelter and the adopter is to provide a permanent home, unforeseen circumstances may occur that require the animal to be returned.

Last Words
Research about breeds can help inform your decision. But remember, at the shelter, each dog is 100% unique. Do some homework and research the various breeds of dogs to learn their characteristics, lifespan, and amount of care needed. This can be a helpful resource on deciding the right fit for you and your family. For example, fluffy and longhaired breeds such as Bichon Frise and Maltese require daily grooming; whereas larger breeds such as Labradors and German Shepherds are working breeds have greater exercise and training needs.

While about 25% of shelter pets appear to be purebred, it is just that: breed appearance. Mixed breed dogs, or even those who appear to be purebred, may or may not exhibit characteristics, lifespan, and other factors common in their breeds. The shelter staff and volunteers are your allies in finding your new family member – don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Adding a new FAMILY member is an important decision and every member of the household should be involved. You want to make sure the dog is the correct fit for everyone. This also strengthens the bond and excitement for dogs and humans alike, and sets the path for a good and permanent future together.

In Conclusion
Adding a four-legged friend to your family not only saves the life of a shelter dog, but also has many health benefits for his or her human companions. Sharing your life with a dog helps the whole family keep active. Both The National Institute of Health and The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention have conducted studies that show pet parents exhibit decreased blood pressure and cholesterol, which can help minimize the risk of having a heart attack.

If you are unable to adopt a dog at the present time, there are other ways you can help homeless animals, like volunteering, offering an animal a temporary safe home through fostering, and by encouraging family, friends and colleagues to donate to their local animal shelter.

Please note, articles in the Animal Resource Library are for reference only, and are not meant to diagnose or treat any medical or behavioral issues your pet may be experiencing.