What to Know About Adopting a Rescue Dog

Published November 3, 2022
Woman Adopting a Rescue Dog

If you're thinking about bringing a furry friend into your life, you might consider adopting a dog. It's understandable to have questions about the process: how do you pick a rescue dog? Should you adopt a puppy or an adult dog? What if it doesn't work out? Put your mind at ease and feel confident adopting a dog with this guide.

Reasons to Adopt a Rescued Dog

Why consider adopting a dog from a shelter or rescue? There are several reasons people choose to go this route when searching for a dog.

  • Pet ownership is good for your physical and mental health. Research on the human-animal bond shows that pets have a profoundly positive impact on their owners. Dogs can boost your mood, reduce stress, decrease loneliness, and even improve your heart health.
  • Adopting is economical. Most rescues make sure all adoptable dogs are spayed or neutered and have all their vaccinations done before sending them to new homes. Any treatable medical issues, like parasites, ear infections, or puppy hernias, are generally addressed, too. So, even though you're paying an adoption fee, you generally save several hundreds of dollars on vet bills you'd otherwise have to pay if you got your dog from a breeder.
  • Saving one life can benefit the entire homeless pet population. When you rescue a dog, your adoption fee goes right back to the shelter to pay for supplies and care for other animals. It also frees up a kennel to house another pet; animal shelters often run out of space, so this is a big deal. Not to mention, declining to buy a puppy from a pet store aids the mission to put harmful puppy mills out of business.
  • You're giving a loving pet a second chance. You might not always know the circumstances that led a dog to the shelter; maybe they were found as a stray, or their owner passed away. But by opening your home to a dog in need, you're giving this special soul a second chance at a full, happy life.

Considerations When Rescuing a Dog

Homeless dog behind bars in an animal shelter

Before you impulsively head to the shelter to find your new best friend, there's a lot to consider.

  • You can never know what their previous life was like. Some rescue dogs come from difficult backgrounds where they were neglected, abused, or forced to fend for themselves. Unfortunately, these experiences may stay with a dog. Know there's a possibility your dog might need some extra patience when navigating certain situations. Working with a behaviorist can be a great way to overcome these behaviors.
  • It might take a while for their personality to blossom. Rapidly changing environments can be a lot for a dog, so don't be alarmed if they're a little shy at first. Once your dog feels comfortable and confident in your home, they'll settle into their authentic personality.
  • It can be challenging to know exactly what breed a dog is or how big a rescue puppy will get. Most shelter dogs don't come with a story, so you'll probably never know what their parents look like. The shelter staff can give you their best guesstimate if you really want to know. However, after you bring your dog home, you can run a full genetic report on them with just a quick swab of their cheek. If you have your heart set on a purebred dog, there are numerous breed-specific rescues around the country you can adopt from.
  • Some dogs are bonded to a previous housemate or a dog they met in the animal shelter. Usually, the dog's description will indicate if this is the case because it can be difficult to fall in love with a dog, then discover they're part of a two-package deal. However, if you have the space and resources for two dogs, adopting a bonded pair can be a great way to make sure your new buddy has emotional support in their new environment.
  • Consider your existing pets. Even though it's extremely generous to save a dog's life, you have a commitment to any existing pets in your household. Think about how your pet will react to a new addition. There's always an adjustment period, but if you know a new puppy will stress out your senior cat, it may not be the right time.

Cost of Dog Adoption

Dog adoption fees can range anywhere from $25 up to $500, depending on the organization. Rates are based on many factors, including geographical location, expenses, whether the rescue receives funding, and more. But you can often find discounted adoptions. These usually fall on national holidays or pet-related celebrations, like National Rescue Dog Day on May 20th.

Aside from the adoption fee, there are other expenses to be aware of. You'll need to buy food, a collar, leash, harness, treats, toys, monthly preventions, vet visits, and other supplies or services. Make sure you're ready for both the time and financial commitment of owning a pet before adopting a dog.

Adopting a Puppy Versus an Adult Dog

Volunteer at animal shelter helping boys meet rescue dog

Many people find themselves set on getting a puppy, but there are advantages and disadvantages to adopting both young and adult dogs.

Puppies: Pros and Cons

If you've ever raised a puppy, you know they're a handful. You'll need to potty train them, socialize them, and teach them commands while simultaneously keeping them from chewing on everything or making messes. Adopting a puppy comes with other challenges, including their genetics. If you don't know the puppy's breed or how big their parents were (which is information most shelters don't have), it's challenging to predict their full-grown size. You also won't know about any possible inherited conditions, which might not pop up until they mature.

However, puppies are undeniably adorable. And raising a dog from puppyhood can be an incredibly fulfilling experience. You can watch your little one grow and experience the world through their eyes. Some experts say puppies are easier to introduce into a household of other animals because adult dogs and cats are more likely to accept a puppy.

Adult Dogs: Pros and Cons

On the other hand, when you adopt an adult or senior dog, it's possible they've had experiences that could impact their temperament. For example, they could feel fear around brooms or have separation anxiety as a result of abandonment. However, these can be addressed and often resolved with patient training.

With an adult dog, you know they'll be emotionally mature. Most are already potty trained, socialized, and have grown out of their teething phase. That said, don't let the old saying "You can't teach an old dog new tricks" dissuade you because you certainly can train an adult dog just as if not more quickly than a puppy. Plus, the dog will already be their adult-size, so you can plan accordingly without any surprises.

How to Pick a Rescue Dog

After making sure you're ready for the commitment of a dog, it's time to find your perfect match.

  • Identify your criteria. Think about what you're looking for in a dog. Would you like a dog that's closely bonded with you or one who's more independent? Do you have several hours each day to commit to exercising a high-energy dog, or would you prefer a couch potato? Do you have restrictions on size based on your rental property or home type? Maybe you're interested in adopting a retired service dog. Write it all down, so you know exactly what requirements will fit your lifestyle.
  • Search available dogs. Check out online adoption platforms or head to your local animal shelter to see which dogs they have available. Carefully read through their bios. Most shelters indicate if a dog is house trained, good with children, needs a lot of activity, or has any medical issues. See if any of their adoptable dogs catch your eye.
  • Schedule a meeting. If you find a dog that you feel would be a good fit for you, schedule a meet-and-greet. Depending on whether the dog is in the shelter or foster care, they'll let you know how you can interact with them. This will give you an opportunity to play with them, pet them, and see if you have a connection. Most animal shelters will allow you to bring your current dog(s) and family members to meet your new prospective dog, too, to make sure everyone gets along.

What if the Adoption Doesn't Work Out?

This is a somewhat controversial topic, but it's important to discuss; sometimes, a dog just isn't a good fit with a specific household, and that's OK. This can be a heartbreaking realization, but in no way does this mean you or the rescue dog have failed. Most shelters have a policy that states they will accept pets back within two to four weeks (or sometimes longer) after their adoption. The rescue wants the dog to find a well-suited home, just as they want you to find a dog that's a great fit for you. Contact the rescue to let them know your concerns, and they can help guide you.

Save a Life Through Pet Adoption

Shelters are always filled with loving dogs ready to make an incredible pet for the right family. By adopting a dog, you can give one of these pets a second chance. However, if you're unable to adopt right now, there are other ways you can help pets in need. Consider fostering, volunteering, or donating funds or supplies to your local shelter or rescue. Even a small gesture can make a huge difference in these animals' lives.

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What to Know About Adopting a Rescue Dog