dog looking through fence

Shelter Dogs 101: Your Guide to a Successful Adoption

CITATION: “© [Phils Photography] / Adobe Stock”

Adopting a dog is a wonderfully selfless act, one that requires a lot of forethought, planning, and follow-through. Each year approximately 1.5 million animals in shelters are euthanized, a statistic that can be changed through the adoption of rescue animals. Giving an animal a chance at a new life is a wonderful thing, and it’s important to be prepared for the commitment that comes with it. Read our tips for adopting a rescue dog to help yourself get ready for your new friend. Keep in mind that this is an overview—you’ll want to consult further resources for more detailed information.

Choosing Your Dog

Choosing the right dog for you is essential, and you’ll want to do research to determine which type is right for your family. Having a compatible dog is very, very important to a successful home integration, and what constitutes compatibility will be different depending on where you live, whether you have kids, are married, enjoy physical activity, etc.

You may have taken into account the dog’s history (if he or she is old enough to have one), but certain animals have unknown pasts that may affect their behavior. Some people are more than happy to take on a challenging pet, like an animal with a history of abuse, but that requires extra work in rehabilitation and psychological training on top of other more conventional aspects of dog-rearing. Also consider the age of your dog and his or her medical history (vaccinations, neutering/spaying), as this will affect the cost, both personal and financial, of adopting.

Home Introductions

Bringing home a shelter dog is certainly a cause for joy! Of course, it’s crucial that you’re prepared for it, too. Before you bring your new pup home, take the following things into consideration:

  • Where will your dog be spending most of its time? You’ll want to dog-proof that area. This means removing wires from the floors, putting any chemicals away or securing them on high shelves, installing baby gates, and removing rugs and anything you don’t want to get chewed up.
  • Gather supplies. This includes a leash, collar, ID tag, crate, bed, bowls, food, toys, grooming supplies, waste bags, cleaning supplies, etc.
  • Create a dog care regimen and stick to it. What time and how many times a day will you feed them? Do they need medication? When will they be walked? Who will do the walking? A responsible dog owner is a prepared dog owner!
  • Are there children? A new dog might need more time to get acclimated to being around kids. Ensure that your children are aware of the new rules you’ve set up regarding the dog.
  • The dog should be secured in a crate on the drive home. Having an extra person there to calm him or her down will help prevent any unnecessary panic.

Dogs need time to grow accustomed to their new surroundings. We suggest taking it slow for the first couple of weeks, keeping your furry friend mostly in one room so they become familiar with the new smells and sounds. Later, you can allow the dog to explore the home and yard and get acquainted with the children, if there are any. This will likely be his or her first time being around so many people at once—don’t add to the stress by inviting lots of people over too soon.

Taking Care of Your Dog

So you’re a dog parent—what now? Like most parents, this experience will consist of trials and errors, and unwanted bodily fluids. You can minimize confusion in just a few steps.

Many parents choose to crate train their dog initially. Some people instinctively believe that putting a dog in a crate is a cruel practice—but on the contrary, for many anxious dogs the crate acts as a safe space where they can rest without bother. When used properly, it can be a great way to manage destructive behavior and provide your dog with an area in which to calm down. It can also be useful if you can’t directly supervise their behavior, since you can trust that they’re safely tucked away in their crate. Of course, you should choose the right size and type for your dog, and be careful to use it only over short periods of time.

Puppies certainly need to be housebroken, but sometimes adult dogs who’ve spent their whole lives at the shelter do as well. When housebreaking a dog, you’ll want to consider a few possible causes of bladder mishaps. They could be suffering from an unknown medical condition, anxiety, or digestive upset. Housebreaking should start right away, because the sooner you start, the quicker they’ll be able to learn. For more in-depth instructions on housebreaking, check out this easy guide.

Routine and nutrition are among most important aspects of taking care of a new pet. The routine should consist of regular feeding times, bathroom breaks, and walks. Structuring their lives with consistent rules and obedience training will prevent numerous behavioral problems that can arise when a dog begins to feel dominant. Having a routine also allows you to monitor your dog’s health and overall emotional wellness. If they’re not eating their food or wanting to go outside for breaks, you’ll quickly notice and be able to investigate.

Your dog’s diet is instrumental to their growth and happiness, but different dogs have different nutritional needs. In fact, diets vary between puppies, adults, and dogs of different breeds. Consult your pet’s veterinarian to get them started on the correct diet, and always remember that human food is never a proper substitute for kibble. In fact, many foods we consume are toxic to dogs, and giving them extra food may make them overweight.

An older dog may come with medical conditions, such as obesity, heart problems, gastrointestinal incontinence, and especially arthritis. If you notice that your dog is reluctant to move, avoids stairs, and/or has started limping, arthritis may be the cause. Arm yourself with dog hock braces or dog leg wraps to ease their pain. Therapeutic dog leg wraps are not only excellent for arthritis, but also help with injury prevention and relieving muscle soreness in active dogs prone to injury.

Though they’re four-legged canines, dogs are similar to humans: they crave attention, they can be anxious or nervous about new situations, and sometimes it takes a while for them to reveal their personalities. When the going gets tough, keep your focus on the love you and your furry friend share, and know that there’s always a community of animal lovers and seasoned dog rescuers who will gladly offer you support and answers to your questions. You’re not alone!