This post may contain affiliate links for your convenience, which means I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

Adopting a shelter dog can be the most rewarding experience. Nothing like the love a dog that you have rescued from a life of uncertainty.

The dog adoption process can be confusing, scary and even frustrating at times. All you want to do is adopt a dog… why does it have to be so complicated?

I’ve been through the process of adopting a dog seven times with our own dogs over the past two decades. I’ve been on the other side of the adoption process with our foster dogs more times that I can count.

It doesn’t have to be scary, in fact that is why I created Rescue Dogs 101. To help you on your journey of adopting a shelter dog!

The Process of Adopting a Dog from a Shelter or Rescue

Here are the steps to expect from a typical dog shelter. Every rescue is different, so each may have their own requirements.

  1. Make sure you are ready to adopt a dog.
  2. Search for a reputable shelter or rescue.
  3. Fill out an application.
  4. Perform a home visit.
  5. Be approved to adopt.
  6. Search and wait for your perfect dog you want to adopt.
  7. Meet the dog and decide if he is right one.
  8. Ask a lot of questions about this dog!
  9. Fill out the adoption contract.
  10. Take your dog home.
  11. Be patient while your dog adjusts to his new home.
  12. Live happily every after!

Need more help? Check out The Rescue Dogs 101 in-depth course: Roadmap to adopting your perfect rescue dog >>

How Long Does Dog Adoption Process Take?

To be honest, most of my answers are going to be “it depends”. Every shelter, humane society, and rescue have their own processes. It can range from a couple hours to weeks to months to find and adopt your perfect dog.

Adopting a dog from a Humane Society or Shelter

Hours to Days – When adopting from your local humane society or shelter, you can adopt a dog and bring him home within a couple of hours.

This option is great for those that want instant gratification and just cannot wait. But I will warn you, you will know much less about the dog you adopt then if you choose to go through a foster-based rescue.

Foster-Based Dog Rescue Adoption

Days to Weeks to Months – You can expect a volunteer-run rescue to take the longest, but they can also have the most benefits. It can take a day to weeks or even months.

To give an example, the rescue I volunteer for requires several steps before one can adopt a dog. Filling out an application, background checks, phone interviews, home visit, and a minimum of 24-hour waiting period before adoption. I know it sounds like a lot, but all these steps ensure that the dog is going to the right home.

You can learn more about the differences between a shelter, humane society, and rescue by reading What’s the Difference Between a Dog Rescue and Humane Society or Shelter.

What Are the Most Common Dog Adoption Requirements?

This is going to vary depending on the shelter, humane society or rescue. So check with them directly, most will have their requirements listed on the website.

  • Most animal adoption agencies require you to be 18-21 years old.
  • Either own a home or have approval from your landlord to have a dog
  • Assume responsibility for proper food, water, shelter, regular exercise, and veterinary care.
  • Proof current pets are up to date on vaccinations and health care.
  • Some rescues require you to have a fence or experience with specific breeds. I personally do not agree with such requirements, but it’s up to each individual rescue to have their own rules.

If you run into a rescue that has very strict rules, that will not allow you to adopt, then I recommend keep searching. Don’t give up, there are so many dogs needing a home… the right one is out there for you!

Adopting a Dog Process application

What To Expect With The Dog Adoption Interview Questions

One of my volunteer positions with the dog rescue is to perform home visits and ask four pages worth of adoption interview questions. Expect to be asked about the following:

  • Do you own or rent your home? If renting, do you have permission from your landlord?
  • Is your yard fenced?
  • Who all lives in the house and what are their ages?
  • Do you have any other pets in the house? Are they all up to date on their health care?
  • Why do you want to adopt a dog?
  • What experience do you have with dogs?
  • How many hours will the dog be home alone each day?
  • Where will the dog sleep?
  • What is your energy level? Will you be taking the dog for long walks or runs?
  • How do you plan on exercising the dog?
  • Have you ever taken a dog training course before?
  • What type of training methods have you used?

These are just the most common. Expect even more questions from rescues, and maybe less from a shelter.

My Dog Adoption Application Tips

First and foremost, always tell the truth and nothing but the truth. Never lie on a dog adoption application. Even if you really want to adopt a particular dog from a rescue that requires a fence and you don’t have a fence. Trust me… that rescue is going to perform a home visit and will soon find out that you really do not have a fence.

The application process can be tedious, but it’s there so the shelter can match you with the best dog for your family.

Be open and honest with all of your answers. I’m a true believer in if it was meant to be, then it will happen. Don’t get caught up on the excitement of adopting a particular dog and say anything to make sure you get said dog.

Pet Adoption Love Letter

I first learned about the lover letter when we purchased our home this summer. We happen to live in an area that the housing market exploded and houses were receiving multiple offers on open house day! Adding a love letter to our offer helped us get the home we really wanted.

If there is a particular dog you really, really want to adopt, consider writing a letter to the rescue. The letter should describe why you feel you would be a great home for this dog. What type of home you can offer, how you will give everything the dog could possibly ever need or want. How you will take this dog for walks every day, play his favorite game of ball… you get the idea.

Including references from friends, vet, or even your trainer could also help. Do you belong to any groups, taken courses? You are reading this blog… you could mention you’ve done extensive research before deciding on adopting this dog.

Put your heart into this love letter, but always be honest and don’t get too attached to a dog that is up for adoption. There could be many more people wanting the same dog, or the dog could already be in the adoption process.

Adopting a Dog Process application denied

What Should I Do If My Dog Adoption Application Was Denied?

I mention above that some rescues do have strict rules about fences or prior experience. I’ve even heard families with young kids couldn’t adopt.

If any of these crazy reasons are why you were denied, keep searching for a rescue that will adopt to you.

Most rescues are started by people that have a big heart for animals and just want them to be happy. But occasionally you will find that love gets in the way of reality that no person or family is perfect, just like no dog is perfect.

If your application was denied because you work 12 hours a day or because you have had to surrender a dog in the past. Then it’s time to reflect on why you want to adopt a dog. Are you truly ready to adopt a dog?

Questions You MUST Ask When Adopting a New Dog

Turn the Table and Ask Your Own Questions

When you are ready to adopt a dog, make sure you perform your own interview on the rescue about the dog. This is such an important part of adopting a shelter dog. These questions are going to ensure you find a reputable rescue and a healthy dog.

I recommend you head over to our adopting page next: Tips for Adopting a Rescue Dog. It’s full of all the information you need in your journey of adopting a dog.

P.S. I would love to hear about your adoption process experience. Please leave a comment below, it could help someone else in our community in their journey.

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.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

  1. My husband and I had filled out an application to adopt a dog from the Embrace a Discarded Animal society, and everything was going well until the next day when we brought our dog Ashley to meet the dog.After that when we were finalizing the adoption papers, they said they couldn’t continue as there was some kind of mix up. Then they told us that we could not adopt the dog we chose,for some undisclosed reason. It was Embrace a Discarded Animal society from Blaine Washington.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}