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15 Questions You Need to Ask Before Adopting a Shelter Dog

Ask yourself and the shelter these expert-verified questions to help make your adoption process as seamless and smooth as possible—for both you and your new furry family member.

15 Questions You Need to Ask Before Adopting a Shelter DogPongsatorn Singnoy/Shutterstock

Am I even ready to adopt?

This question may seem like a no-brainer, but you really need to be 100 percent ready to adopt a shelter pup because the idea of owning a dog is a lot easier than the reality. It’s not all slobbery kisses and cuddles. “A dog needs to be fed, socialized, and walked,” says Rena Lafaille, Direction of Administration and Promotions at the ASPCA Adoption Center. “They are more time-consuming than having a cat. Consider your schedule.” You also need to make sure you can afford a dog—use this guide to assess the costs.

Happy family playing with their dog in bed.bbernard/Shutterstock

Is the entire family on board?

A new dog is a really big commitment and you want to make sure the entire family is ready. “That’s a really important question especially if you’re going to bring a dog home to a family,” says Lafaille. “You want to figure out who has what responsibilities when taking care of the dog.” Figuring out beforehand who will be the primary caretaker, who will be taking the dog on walks, and who will be feeding the dog will make the adjustment easier for the whole family. These 18 dog breeds are the best for kids.

trendy pregnant woman with her pet dogESB Basic/Shutterstock

What’s the dog’s behavior like?

“It’s always good to know the full history,” says Kimberley Alboum, Director of Shelter Outreach & Policy Engagement at the Humane Society of the United States. “To have a successful adoption, it’s good to know about quirks beforehand.” Maybe the dog is shy and takes time to warm up to people. Or maybe the pup came from a large family so is used to loud noises and tons of people running around. “These animals spend hours with staff and volunteers, making them the best people to ask to learn more about your potential pet’s likes, dislikes or quirks,” adds Lafaille. “This information should help you determine if a potential pet is a good fit for your home.”

Kitten and dog sleepingSilvia Piccirilli/Shutterstock

Will my current pets get along with the new dog?

“You definitely want to make sure four-legged family members are also on board,” recommends Lafaille. If you already have pets at home that you know don’t get along well with other dogs, then getting a new pup probably isn’t the greatest idea. And the shelter will be able to tell you if the dog you’re interested in likes other dogs, or if it needs to be the only dog in the household. Lafaille advises that you ask follow up questions like, Have they had a play session with another dog? Will the dog be a dog park type of dog or will it be more independent? Check out these training secrets that dog trainers won’t tell you for free.

Shepherd mix puppy dog makes funny face lying on shag rug carpet at homeN K/Shutterstock

What type of mix is the dog?

This is a simple question but it can provide a ton of insight. Knowing the breed of the dog can give insight to his personality and whether he’ll be the right fit for you and your family. But don’t fret if the shelter can’t give you exact answers on the origin. A pup doesn’t have to be a full-bred to be a great companion. “Sometimes they won’t have an answer, but that’s the beauty of the animal shelter,” says Alboum. “They learn about the dogs.” Here’s a guide to picking the best dog breed for you.

Young couple of caucasian male and female with beagle in dining roomKatsiaryna Pakhomava/Shutterstock

Where did the dog come from?

The animal shelter will be able to tell you if the dog was an owner surrender or if it was a stray found roaming the streets. Knowing the condition in which your dog was brought to the shelter will help you with future issues that may arise. For example, maybe the pup is very active, which may explain why it ran away in the first place and was found as a stray. And don’t forget: “An owners surrender has a bad rep, but it’s not always a bad thing,” reminds Alboum. “There are animals that end up in shelters where their owners have died or they can’t afford them any longer.”

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Was this dog in a foster home?

A dog that lived in a foster home may behave differently than a dog that’s coming straight from the animal shelter. A dog that’s been fostered may already be housebroken and know some basic commands, where a shelter dog might take some more training—though this is not always true. Knowing the answer to this question will help you and the new dog better adjust to life at home. Don’t miss these 11 tear-jerking stories of rescue dogs that found the homes they deserve.

A golden doodle smiles as it approaches a fire hydrant.Wendy van Overstreet/Shutterstock

Is the dog house-trained?

Obviously, no one wants their new pup peeing and pooping all over the house, so asking this question beforehand will allow you to best prepare for training. A lot of people are deterred by pets that aren’t house-trained, but Alboum points out “there’s always an adjustment period with everything, but it’s one of those things that you can get through.” Looking for tips on how to house train? Read these 12 things veterinarians wish you knew about how to potty train a puppy.

two small dogs playing together outdoorsotsphoto/Shutterstock

How active is the dog?

This question is a big one since you want to make sure that you and the dog have similar and compatible lifestyles. For example, if you’re not a very active person, then you probably shouldn’t adopt a dog that needs to go on very long walks. Instead, you may want to consider adopting a more senior dog. And don’t let the size of the dog fool you. A larger dog doesn’t necessarily mean it needs more space or is more active. Similarly, you shouldn’t assume that a small dog doesn’t need lots of outdoors time. “Big or small dogs, it really doesn’t matter,” says Lafaille. “Each dog’s activity level is different.”

Veterinarian at workPressmaster/Shutterstock

Does the dog have any medical issues?

A dog with chronic medical issues is a bigger responsibility than a dog that’s healthy, so you want to make sure you know what you’re getting into before bringing your pup home. “Some shelters have resources and in-house clinics, others can only vaccinate, so it’s important to ask for all medical records or medical observations,” says Alboum. These are the most common health problems in 14 popular dog breeds.

Tiny Chihuahua Puppies Falling Asleep on Owners BedAnna Hoychuk/Shutterstock

Is the dog spayed/neutered and vaccinated?

“Spaying or neutering a new pet is important for both the health of the animal and to avoid potential unwanted litters of puppies and kittens. Vaccines are also essential for animal health,” says Lafaille. “Depending on where you live, both may be required by law. Some shelters and rescues will only adopt out animals that are spayed/neutered and current on vaccines while others may provide vouchers or instructions on how to have these procedures done after adoption.”

Three Golden Retriever Dogs wait for a treat while trying with owner outsideInBetweentheBlinks/Shutterstock

What type of programs was the dog involved in at the shelter?

“Most shelters have life-saving behavioral programs,” says Alboum. “Since you don’t know the history, you really want to have a conversation with the staff about what they’ve observed from a behavior standpoint and what you can do moving forward.” It’s important to carry on the work that the shelter was doing with the pup. If the shelter staff was teaching the dog to walk on a leash, then you should be doing the same.

Happy family at animal shelter choosing a dog for adoption.hedgehog94/Shutterstock

What kind of support do you offer new adopters?

Some shelters will follow up with new adopters to make sure the dog has fully adjusted to its new life, while others will send you on your way once the paperwork is signed. “Many shelters and rescues offer support to their adopters,” says Lafaille. “That support could be medical treatment for an unexpected illness (often within a specific time frame following adoption) or advice in addressing any behavioral concerns.” Just be aware that you will likely have to cover the costs associated with any medical treatments. Check out these other things to know before adopting a rescue dog.

Young casually dressed woman holding her adorable French bulldog puppy. Close up shot with wide angle lens. City street in background. Selective focus on dog's head.DuxX/Shutterstock

What are the adoption fees?

Asking this question early on in the adoption process will help ensure that you can afford the dog you’ve fallen in love with. It’s also important to note that different dogs may have different adoption fees. For example, older dogs are often less expensive than puppies. Going in with a set budget on what you can afford and being transparent with the shelter will allow them to better assist you in finding a dog.

Girl volunteer in the nursery for dogs. Shelter for stray dogs.David Tadevosian/Shutterstock

How can I help if I can’t adopt?

So you’ve decided that now isn’t the right time to adopt a dog. Good news: You can still help all those animals in shelters! You can volunteer at your local shelter or donate pet products. Maybe host a doggy food drive at your school. You can also act as an ASPCA Adoption Ambassador. There are plenty of ways you can still help without adopting. Take a look at these before-and-after dog adoption photos—they’ll break your heart.