Published: April 23, 2018  

Last updated: July 18, 2024  

Adopting a new rescue dog into your home is exciting and scary at the same time. Unless you know what questions to ask when adopting a dog, you will know very little about the dog’s background, where they came from, whether they are healthy, or whether they have any behavior problems. The unknowns can be especially concerning if you have children.

As a potential adopter, asking the right questions to the shelter or rescue staff will help you find out as much as possible about the rescue dogs you are interested in adopting. 

It’s also important to mention that no matter how many questions you ask and get answers to, every situation is different. So a dog may act one way in a shelter, or foster home and completely different in your home environment. 

📖 Read the 3-3-3 rule

puppy sniffing other puppies ears

I have put together a list of questions to ask the shelter or rescue staff when adopting a dog. Think of it as a set of dog adoption interview questions for the dog. You don’t need to ask ALL of these questions, but having this list to reference will help you feel comfortable in knowing you are adopting your perfect dog!

Keep in mind the rescue organization or animal shelter staff won’t always know everything about the dog either. And it’s impossible to fully assess shelter dogs, as they aren’t living in a home environment where they can become comfortable enough to show their true personality.

This is what I love about being a foster home for dogs, we get the opportunity to get to know the dog before they are adopted, allowing us to inform the adopters of all of the dog’s personality traits.

Dog Rescue to Home Survival Kit Pages

General Questions to Ask When Adopting a Dog

Knowing the dog’s history and circumstances of the dog’s arrival at the shelter or rescue provides context. Was the dog surrendered by previous owners or found as a stray? Understanding the dog’s life before arriving at the shelter helps paint a more comprehensive picture.

Inquire if the dog has been adopted previously and returned. If so, find out the reasons for any previous returns or re-adoptions. This information can reveal potential challenges or specific needs the dog may have.

Don’t ever feel pressured into adopting a particular dog, you have the right to say no and wait to find your perfect match. Remember, this dog will be part of your family for the next 10, 15, or more years.

  1. How did the dog end up in the shelter or rescue?
  2. How long has the dog been in the shelter or foster home?
  3. Why was the dog surrendered?
  4. Is there any history of abuse or neglect?
  5. How would you describe the dog’s personality? 
  6. Where do they sleep at night? In a crate, dog bed?
  7. Have they been to a groomer before? How did it go?
  8. Do they allow you to trim their nails, clean their ears, and bath them?
  9. Are there any special needs this dog requires?
  10. What are the adoption fees for this dog?
  11. Will it be possible for my current dog to meet the adoptable dogs before adopting?
  12. Do you have a foster-to-adopt program?
brown and black dog wrapped in blanket looking sad and sickly.

Health Questions

Before bringing a dog into your home, it’s essential to know about its health and medical history. Inquire about any known medical conditions, chronic conditions, and the dog’s vaccination history. 

Understanding the spaying/neutering status and any recent illnesses or treatments will give you insights into the dog’s overall well-being.

  1. Has the dog had a general wellness exam by a veterinarian? When? Did they find any health issues or concerns?
  2. Do you provide any health guarantees or support in case of medical issues shortly after adoption?
  3. Is the dog neutered/spayed?
  4. Are they current on all vaccines? Rabies – Distemper/Parvo – Bordatella. If you adopt the dog, make sure to get copies of all vet records.
  5. Are they current on heartworm and flea/tick preventative?
  6. Have they had a Snap 4 DX test? (A 4Dx snap test is a blood test that is run by a vet. While not required, it provides valuable information. The test is a screening process for six vector-borne diseases: Heartworm, Lyme, Ehrlichia canis, Ehrlichia ewingi, Anaplasma phagocytophilum and Anaplasma platys.)
  7. Is the dog microchipped, and how can I update the contact information if needed?
  8. Do they have any allergies? To food or environmental?
  9. Check the eyes and ears for yourself. Are the eyes clear of discharge, are the inside of the ears clean?
  10. Have they had any dental problems?
  11. What type of food do they eat? Find out the brand and exact variant so you can either feed the same food or slowly transition to a higher quality food.

📖 READ Dog Food Transition: A Quick Guide for Healthy Switches

high-energy dog running in grass.

Energy Level Questions

  1. How much exercise does this dog need?
  2. How would you describe the dog’s energy level?
  3. How many times a day do they need to be walked, and for how long?
  4. Do they know how to relax and lay down when you are ready to stop playing?
  5. What types of activities or exercises does the dog enjoy? (fetch, swimming, frisbee, walking, running)
  6. Would they be a good dog for going on hikes or running?

📖 READ Dog temperament testing

Behavior Questions

Ask the shelter or rescue group about the dog’s behavior in the shelter environment. How does the dog interact with staff and other animals? Are there any observed behaviors such as anxiety or aggression? Additionally, inquire about the dog’s past behavior and temperament, including any history of fear, anxiety, or aggression, and how the dog responds to different stimuli.

Understanding the dog’s socialization experiences is crucial. Ask about interactions with adults, children, and other animals, as well as exposure to different environments. Also, inquire about the dog’s preferences or dislikes, including favorite activities or toys, and any specific triggers or fears.

  1. Has the dog undergone any behavioral assessments or training while at the shelter?
  2. Are there any known behavioral issues we should be aware of?
  3. Does the dog have any resource guarding issues with food, toys, or anything else?
  4. Are they independent or dependent? Are they anxious or shy?
  5. Do they show any signs of separation anxiety?
  6. Do they bark excessively when left alone?
  7. How long can they be left home alone?
  8. Do they have any fears? (thunderstorms, loud noises, men)
  9. Do they chew things such as kids’ toys, furniture, or shoes?
  10. Do they like to play with other dogs?
  11. Would this dog prefer to be the only dog in the house or with other dogs?
  12. Are they dog-friendly around other dogs? How do they act when they meet new dogs? On leash and off leash.
  13. Ask to see them interact with another dog.
  14. Have you ever taken them to a dog park? How did it go?
  15. If you have a cat, have they been around a cat before? How do they act around cats?
  16. Is there anything that brings out fear or aggression in them? (Bikers, strangers, men, etc.)
  17. How do they act around strangers? Are they scared, shy, aggressive, or friendly when meeting new people?
  18. Is the dog child-friendly? Have they been around kids? How old were the kids? How does the dog act around them?
  19. Has the dog ever nipped, bitten or attacked anyone?
  20. Do you consider them a vocal dog? What makes the dog bark? Do they bark when left alone, at the doorbell, at people/dogs on walks?
  21. How are they in the car? Are they calm, overly excited or scared of the car?
  22. Can the dog jump fences? Do they need a high-fenced secure yard?

📖 READ Rescue Dog Separation Anxiety Solutions

small dog outside in grass bitting and pulling on leash.

Training Questions

Find out about the dog’s training history. What basic commands does the dog know? Are there any ongoing training needs or challenges? It’s also helpful to ask about housebreaking and crate training history to ensure a smooth transition into your home.

  1. Potty Training: Is the dog potty-trained? Don’t assume that an adult dog is already potty-trained. Do they have any signals to ask to go outside? How often do they need to go outside?
  2. Do they have any known behavioral issues?
  3. Has the dog had any formal training for behavior, obedience, hunting, agility, etc.?
  4. What commands do they know? Ask for specific words or hand signals used, this will help you understand how to interact with the dog if you adopt them.
  5. How do they walk on a leash? Do they walk with a flat collar, harness, prong collar, or any other tools?
  6. Do they pull or lunge at other dogs, people, cars, or bikes?
  7. Can I take them for a short walk? If you have another dog, ask if you can walk the two dogs together.
  8. Does the dog have a good recall? Do they respond to their name when called?
  9. What type of training tools have been used on them? Martingale collar, E-collar, prong collar, etc.
  10. Is the dog food motivated? If not, what does motivate the dog?
  11. What type of discipline works with them? A firm no, a leash correction, redirection, time-out?
  12. Crate Training: Is the dog crate trained?
  13. How do they act in a crate? Calm, anxious, bark?
  14. If not crate trained, does the dog have free roam of the house when alone? If so, what do they do? Any mischievous behavior?

📖 READ Rescue Dog Training & Behavior Resources

Dog Rescue to Home Survival Kit Pages

Future Support and Follow-Up

Ask about post-adoption support or resources available. Inquire if there are plans for follow-up communication or check-ins after adoption. Having ongoing support can be beneficial as you navigate the initial stages of welcoming your new dog.

No one ever intends to have issues after adoption day. But it’s a good idea to be prepared just in case things don’t work out as you planned. These questions will help make sure you get the support you need. 

  1. Do you offer any guidance or resources for helping the dog transition to a new home?
  2. Are there training classes or behavior resources available for adopted dogs?
  3. Can you recommend local trainers or behaviorists if needed?
  4. Do you have an online community or support group for adopters?
  5. What steps should I take if the dog shows signs of illness or distress after bringing them home?
  6. What if the dog ends up not being the right fit?
  7. How can I contact the shelter if I have questions or concerns after adopting the dog?
  8. What is the process if, for any reason, I need to return the dog to the shelter?
  9. Are there any conditions or fees associated with returning an adopted dog?
portrait of dog looking at camera

Adopting the Perfect Dog

After getting all of your dog adoption interview questions answered by the adoption center and you think you’ve found a good fit, it’s time to take a step back and analyze. 

Adopting a dog is a very emotional decision. Taking the emotion out of the decision is almost impossible, so do the best you can and assess if this is the perfect dog for you and your family.

Are you adopting them because you feel sorry for the dog, or because they are so darn cute you can’t help yourself? Or is the dog’s personality and temperament the right fit?

Make sure that all family members agree that this is the kind of dog that will fit into the family dynamic.

Honestly, no dog is perfect. But by asking all of these questions, you can be prepared and hopefully find a dog that is a perfect match for you and your family.

Did I miss any important questions? I am always looking for input and opinions, if you have a question that you feel should be added, please comment below.

📖 Visit our Adoption Page for all the information you will need when adopting your new dog!

About the Author

Debi McKee

Debi McKee is the expert behind Rescue Dogs 101 where she guides you in your journey of adopting and raising a rescue dog every step of the way. She is a mom of 3 human kids and 4 dogs and volunteers for a local dog rescue and Humane Society. Click here for more about Debi and her passion for helping you and your dog.

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  1. Hi Debi
    Love the questionnaire for adoption. I’m going to use it to make sure we have as many answers as possible ready for our rescue dogs seeking adoption.

    There are two questions I would add:

    1. Can the dog jump fences and walls? Does he need a high fenced secure garden?

    2. Does the dog have good recall? Does he respond to his name, return when called etc?

    Hope this helps you as it’s helped me.


  2. I am in the process of getting a rescue dog and I found your hints very informative & helpful. I'm meeting my rescue dog (5year old Bichon Frise) this weekend. I hope it goes well & I find my furever friend.Thank you.

  3. Sometimes dogs are abandoned, picked up on the street or road, so a dog rescue centre would have absolutely no idea re a dogs history. Rescue dogs in the UK are usually collected from someone who has come into possession of the dog and faced with either having the dog destroyed or trying to find them a good home. Most dogs are dumped by unscrupulous dog breeders and have been I’ll treated, undernourished and neglected. They are not house trained. Fir this reason rescue dogs will be placed in a dog foster home to be assessed for common sense questions like whether or not the dog is used to children, or cats, and if they walk nicely on the lead. I doubt many rescue centres would know if a dog had previously had agility training or if it would be necessary to ask so many question. Whilst I agree questions need to be ask, anyone rehiring a dog is quite clueless as to a dogs personality type until the dog has been lovingly cared for for at least 3 months or longer to give them time to settle, feel safe and establish a healthy bond with its new family. Most rescue dogs will be stressed, confused and have some kind of behaviour problem when first re homed but with kindness, patience and gentle training these problems can be managed. Most people have unrealistic expectations therefore, many dogs are returned because the new owners can’t cope or aren’t prepared to give the dog the time and degree of care a rescue dog needs. That said there are many happy endings for rescued dogs and their owners. One important factor that needs to be mentioned is rescue dogs are not happy to be lone dogs because their pack animals, so I believe it’s much kinder to have at least 2 dogs so they always have company. A great way to resolve many problems with rescued dogs is to give them a routine with plenty of exercise, don’t like to be left alone for hours – they chew because their distressed for example. No one should adopt a dog if they have children under 7 or if the owner goes out to work fall time it’s cruel to leave a dog on its own all day. Most I’ll health in dogs is caused through feeding dogs human food. Dogs need a diet which is similar to what they would eat naturally ie chicken, fish, offal, fruit and veggies and have access to fresh water daily. Dogs need a comfortable bed where they can be left undisturbed which is off the ground and of adequate size. I wish more dog owners were educated as to a dog’s basic needs, rather than all the emphasis put on the dog. Most responsible dog rescue centres do try to re home dogs in good, loving forever homes.

  4. Always ask if you can "Foster to Adopt" Usually dog stays with you for 7 days and you can see behavior outside and in home. That way not committing to dog until more ready. Our shelters in midwest rarely know anything about the dog because they're strays and stay at the center in kennels. So 90% of these questions they don't know the answer to. They should test though for dog and child friendliness

    1. This is a great list, I agree. One thing to note is that even if a dog tests well with one dog or several, they still might not like all dogs (just like people!). Same for testing with kids – what holds true in the past might not be the same going forward, or with age, so caution is always a good thing when introducing a dog to any new situation.

  5. I would inquire if any temperament tests have been done. Reputable breed-specific rescues routinely do them and will not adopt dogs who don’t pass a temperament test.

    I would also ask if there is any history of wandering, either by jumping fences, digging under fences, or just being a clever escape artist.

    For female dogs, you might inquire about any breeding history, litters, birthing or mothering issues, because they may have had a litter before coming into rescue. Some purebred males may also have been used as stud dogs in puppy mills.

    It is wise to ask about any history of abuse or neglect because this can explain behavior. You need to know if there is any possibility that a dog came out of the fighting circuits, they are trained to attack to kill at a signal, for example snapping their collar. They have no normal hierarchy of aggressive response but are conditioned to go immediately into killing.

    I find it worth noting that even with as much information as possible, you still may not know all the dog’s triggers.

  6. Wow! What a comprehensive list! I am meeting a senior dog this afternoon to potentially adopt and I had only thought of maybe 20% of these questions. I also really appreciate the tips & additional info from your commenters. Thank you!

  7. Having had “rescue” dogs for decades, I have learned specific medical questions to ask. We almost adopted a small dog with Luxating Patellas. I already had spent thousands for one of our other dogs to get necessary surgeries, and I knew it was primarily a small dog issue. The woman looked stunned that I had asked, because YES, the dog DID have luxating patellas. She was not going to disclose that. I also ask about heart murmurs. That can run into lots of heartache and money down the line. And, I ask about allergies, Cushing’s, dental issues.

    Dogs, like people, have genetic or breed-specific issues. There is no perfect dog and there are no guarantees. My brother had a mix-breed dog who lived to be 22 and only ate Purina Dog Chow and whatever critter he could catch in the back yard. You just never know which dog is going to be incredibly long-lived and healthy. But, you have to ask questions. A lot of questions!

  8. GREAT RESOURCE! While we think we are asking all the questions in the moment of excitement and meeting a new dog who may be your new family member it’s so easy to get caught up and forget some of these really essential questions! We had the experience of this recently and although I asked many of these questions I did forget some really important ones and the owners themselves either forgot or neglected to tell us intentionally — this dog had to go through the stress of coming to our home only to be taken directly back to his owners within an hour of arriving at our home. That’s not fair to him or anyone involved and frankly it could have very easily turned into a dangerous situation. The questions are so so important because how a dog behaves in certain settings when you meet them is really not a clear indication of who that dog will be in YOUR home. We learned a valuable lesson from this experience and we are grateful for this list for the future! We are just fortunate that no one got hurt and including the poor dog who deserves so much more than being put into situations such as that. As adopters it is OUR responsibility to ask the all of the right questions for our safety and happiness but just as much for the dog’s safety and happiness. THANK YOU FOR THIS INSIGHT!

  9. I’m thinking about getting a rescue Anatolian. My boy died last March, greatest dog ever. My kennel person, a professional dog trainer, asked me to check on the two dogs’ temperament test. What does that entail, and what questions should I ask? Thanks. Bill Muehlenweg

  10. Ask how much grooming/ bathing is required, especially with long haired breeds. Has the dog been socialized with children? I just adopted a rescue long hair dachshund. He is too small to go outside by himself in a fenced yard because of hawks and owls. He is great with children but scared to death of my husband. I just read about the 3-3-3 rule… 3 days to get used to the new environment, 3 weeks for personality/ bad habits to show up, 3 months to settle in. We are almost at 2 months, so this was helpful/ hopeful.

    1. How is the dog with men is a good question to ask if you aren't sure it's been around men. A neighbor of ours got into a bad situation with a Golden Retriever who was downright aggressive with men. It should never be taken for granted what experiences a dog you are considering might have.

      Also if you have or are visited by elderly or people with mobility issues/aids you should ask if the dog has experience with them and consider asking if they can be tested. A dog can easily trip up an adult with mobility issues just as much as they can knock over a toddler. Some dogs can also be fearful/reactive.

      When in doubt about your dog's experience always consider some positive association training before bringing introducing someone vulnerable/ don't hesitate to put your dog in a crate or behind a gate while they get used to someone/something new in their environment.

  11. Thank you for this article! I am going to pick up (I hope) my rescue dog today and am happy to have all these questions to ask/consider. Much appreciated!

  12. I always adopted a dog. Knew this dog was abused thus considered it.
    Eventually the dog came to trust me and love me. Never had a dog that I miss dearly.
    I only want to rescue another dog. Matje Matten

  13. Hello! Great list! Wanted to suggest two more questions.
    54. What are his favorite kinds of toys? Fetch toys, plush toys, squeakies, tug toys, floating toys, food-dispensing, interactive?
    55. Does he like the water?
    I’ll let you know if I come up with any more during my search.

  14. I have had dogs my entire life and I love them all dearly. My dog recently died and I am temporarily living with a friend. She is really concerned about getting a dog from a shelter, she is afraid of destructive or aggressive behavior. I don’t want to get a puppy right now, I wanted to adopt a middle aged guy. Do shelters ever let prospective owners take home a dog to see how it goes for a week or two? I would pay the fee first. Does anyone do that, or is it unheard of?

    1. It’s possible. Usually more likely with a rescue than a shelter. Maybe sign up to foster a dog, that will allow you to take the dog on a trial run and adopt if you decide he’s a good fit. Check with the rescue first to make sure they offer a foster to adopt program. That’s how we adopted our dog Ginger.

  15. If only rescues could answer all of these questions. It sure would be handy if abandoned dogs at shelters came with their full background.
    I feel like you need to specify some of these questions apply to more long term fosters.

  16. You brought up some very valid questions in regards to what needs to be asked prior to adopting a dog; the crate training questions were also really good! A lot of people decide to adopt a dog simply based on the “cuteness” level, without really thinking about deeper factors. Great post!

  17. This is a very comprehensive list! The shelter may not be able to answer all of them but it’s important to get as much info as possible. Shared!
    Love & biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

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