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Questions to Ask When Adopting a Dog

It can be scary adopting a dog and not know anything about his background, right? Where did he come from, is he healthy, does he have any behavior problems?

Whether you are adopting from the humane society or a local rescue group, it’s so important to find out as much as possible about the dog you want to adopt.

That is why I have put together a list of questions you should be asking the humane society or rescue group about the dog you want to adopt. Think of it as a set of dog adoption interview questions.

Questions You MUST Ask When Adopting a New Dog

These questions will help you feel comfortable in knowing you are adopting your perfect dog!

The amount of information that you can get will vary. A dog that is in a shelter situation may not be able to be fully assessed since it is not in a home environment.

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

Consider the fact that it can take several weeks for a dog to feel comfortable in its environment (read about the 3-3-3 rule), and when in a shelter, a dog may never feel comfortable.

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.

Below is the complete list, but make sure to download our free Adoption Questionnaire PDF so you can print it and bring it with you when you meet the dogs you are interested in.

Dog Adoption Interview Questions

  1. How did the dog come to be in the shelter or foster home?
  2. How long has the dog been in the shelter or foster home?
  3. Why was he surrendered?
  4. Where does he sleep at night? In his crate, dog bed?
  5. Has he been to a groomer before? How did it go?
  6. Does he allow you to trim his nails, clean his ears, give him a bath?

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

Health Questions

  1. Has the dog had a general wellness exam by a veterinary? When? Does he have any known medical issues?
  2. Is the dog neutered/spayed?
  3. Is he current on all vaccines? Rabies – Distemper/Parvo – Bordatella. If you adopt him, make sure to get copies of all vet records available.
  4. Is he current on heartworm and flea/tick preventative?
  5. Has he 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.)
  6. Does he have a Microchip?
  7. Does he have any allergies?
  8. Check the eyes and ears for yourself. Are the eyes clear of discharge, are the inside of the ears clean?

Potty Training Questions

  1. Is the dog potty-trained? Don’t assume that an adult dog is already potty-trained.
    Does he have any signals to ask to go outside?
  2. How often does he go outside?

Recommending Just for You: How to Potty Train a Puppy Fast & Easy

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Energy Level Questions

  1. How much exercise does this dog need?
  2. What is his typical energy level like?
  3. How many times a day does he need to be walked, and for how long?
  4. Does he relax and lay down when you are ready to stop playing?
  5. What are his favorite activities? (Playing fetch, swimming, frisbee, walking, running)
  6. Would he be a good dog for going on hikes or running?

Crate Training Questions

  1. Is the dog crate trained?
  2. If not crate trained, do you leave him loose when you’re not home? If so, how does he do? Any mischievous behavior?
  3. How does he act in a crate? Calm, anxious, bark?
  4. How do you think he does when left alone?

Recommending Just for You: Why Should I Crate Train My Dog?

Behavior Questions

  1. Does the dog have any resource guarding issues with food, toys, or anything else?
  2. Is he independent or dependent? Is he unsure or shy?
  3. Does he show any signs of separation anxiety?
  4. Does he bark excessively when left alone?
  5. How long can he be left home alone?
  6. Does he have any fears? (Thunderstorms, loud noises)
  7. Does he chew things such as kids toys, furniture or shoes?
  8. Does he like to play with other dogs?
  9. Is this dog-friendly around other dogs? How does he act when he meets new dogs? On leash and off leash.
  10. Ask to see him interact with another dog.
  11. Have you ever taken him to a dog park? How did it go?
  12. If you have a cat, has he been around a cat before? How does he act around cats?
  13. Is there anything that brings out fear or aggression in him? (Bikers, strangers, men, etc.)
  14. How does he act around strangers? Is he scared, shy, aggressive, or friendly when meeting new people?
  15. Is the dog child-friendly? Has he been around kids? How old where the kids?How does he act around them?
  16. Has he ever nipped, bitten or attacked anyone?
  17. Do you consider him a vocal dog? What makes the dog bark? Does he bark when left alone, at the doorbell, at people/dogs on walks?
  18. How is he in the car? Is he calm, overly excited or scared of the car?

Training Questions

  1. Has the dog had any formal training for behavior, obedience, hunting, agility, etc.?
  2. What commands does he know? Ask for specific words or hand signals used, this will help you understand how to interact with the dog if you adopt him.
  3. What type of training tools have been used on him? E-collar, prong collar, etc.
  4. How does he walk on a leash? Does he walk with a flat collar, harness, prong collar, or any other tools?
  5. Does he pull or lunge at other dogs, people, cars, or bikes?
  6. Can I take him for a short walk? If you have another dog, ask if you can walk the two dogs together.
  7. Does he have any known behavioral issues?
  8. Is he food motivated?
  9. What type of discipline works with him? A firm no, a leash correction, redirection, time-out?

If you want the PDF version of our Adoption Questionnaire, click the button below to get a free copy >>

From rescue to home your survival checklist contents

Adopting the Perfect Dog

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 an adoption question? I am always looking for input and opinions, if you have a question that you feel should be added, please comment below.

About the Author


Debi McKee is a mom of three kids, three dogs and the creator of Rescue Dogs 101... where she guides you in your journey of adopting and raising a rescue dog every step of the way. She also volunteers for a local dog rescue and Humane Society.

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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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