Que the confetti, you are finally in a place where you are ready to adopt a rescue dog. Maybe you found an apartment that accepts dogs, or maybe you just bought your first home and can’t wait to add a dog to the backyard. Or maybe this isn’t your first dog, but your first time adopting a rescue dog. 

Whatever the reason you decided you want to adopt a dog, let’s make sure you are prepared for this journey. 

So what do you need to know before getting a dog… it can’t be that difficult right? Just head to the pet store or animal shelter, bring home a puppy, and live happily ever after.

Um, yeah not so fast. Here is a list of what to know before adopting a dog before heading to the local shelter:

small light colored dog laying on pillow

1. Adopting a dog is an emotional decision

Adopting a dog is a highly emotional decision. Dogs make it so easy to instantly fall in love with them just by a mere gaze of their eyes. You may even feel an instant connection with a dog without even meeting them. 

It’s impossible to keep your emotions out of the decision to adopt a shelter dog. But you need to try and use your common sense more than your heart. 

While it’s easy to be drawn to a particular dog, take your time to find a good fit for your lifestyle. Consider factors like energy level, size, and temperament. Do not adopt a dog because you feel sorry for it, or the rescue organization tells you it will be euthanized if you don’t adopt them, this could be a red flag

2. What you see is not always what you get

I asked the Rescue Dogs 101 community the one thing they wished they knew before adopting their dog. I thought it would be best to share their responses in their own words:

  • “That he’s reactive.”
  • “How sweet she’d be in ten months!”
  • “That she was getting her confidence from other dogs”
  • “That rescues say they’re housebroken – but they’re not. I’d rather they be honest and say “she’s 75% housebroken” so I know to focus on it when we get home instead of finding out the hard way.”
  • “What I was getting into. I love him dearly, but I have no clue if I’m doing this right. I’ve had him 20 days and he still won’t look at me and hides in a corner all day. Everyone says to be patient with him. I’m not impatient with him, I’m worried I’m not doing it right. He can have all the time needs, but I have no way to gauge my efforts.”
  • “That he HAAAAAAAATES other animals!!! ALL of them, he’s not picky! I still would have rescued him, but I would have done some things differently!”
  • “That he will do things on his timeline, not mine.”
  • “That it would take so long to bond. 333 was more like 666 for us…”
  • “Not to believe what the fosterers say in my case 

3. All family members need to be on the same page

Everyone in the household needs to want to adopt a dog. If your spouse isn’t thrilled about getting a dog, then maybe this isn’t the right time. Trying to convince someone that you need a dog is not the best idea. The dog will sense the tension in the house which can have negative effects on the dog and the family. 

Hold a family meeting and decide on what type of dog would be a good fit for your home. Agree on the house rules when it comes to the dog. Will the dog be allowed on furniture, who will feed the dog, walk them, and where will they sleep? Getting these responsibilities and rules figured out now will help keep everyone on the same page. 

dog sitting on back of couch looking scared

4. The adoption process can be frustrating

Depending on where you choose to adopt your new best friend, the process of adopting a dog can take an hour or it can take months. Some rescue organizations have an application, home visits, and other requirements.

Don’t let the process scare you away from adopting and waiting to find the kind of dog you are dreaming about. 

If you find the adoption process to be too quick and the shelter staff is pushy, this could be a red flag

But in general animal shelters will have the quickest adoption process, while small rescue groups may take longer and have more requirements. 

📖 READ: Red Flags When Adopting a Dog

5. Not all rescues and shelters are reputable

It’s an unfortunate fact that there are individuals out there who don’t have the dog’s best interest at heart. All they seem to care about is a quick turnaround so they can make money. 

Please research and find a REPUTABLE shelter or rescue. There are plenty of pet stores that have dogs for “adoption”, when in fact they came from a puppy mill. Or people slapping the name of a rescue when they are a backyard breeder, or worse stealing dogs for profit. 

Research and get recommendations from family and friends to find a reputable organization. Check reviews online. Do not assume everyone is good.

mixed breed puppy laying on lap

6. Your life will change forever

This can be good or bad, depending on how you look at it. 

If you are the spontaneous type, then you’ll need to say goodbye to those last-minute weekend getaways. 

Vacations get more complicated, trying to figure out what you’ll do with the dog. You’ll need to plan and find a dog sitter or dog boarding or maybe take the dog with you.

If you aren’t the traveling type, what about the nights out with friends? Don’t think you can be at work all day, then go out at night… who will take care of your dog? The dog doesn’t want to be left home alone all day and night. If you do, they will self-entertain… and trust me you don’t want that!

Now for the good side, your life will never be the same. You will never experience this kind of love and connection with another living thing. Dogs are special in that they will give you the unconditional love that you can’t find anywhere else. 

7. Dogs can live 10-20 years

I know it’s hard to think long-term, especially when it comes to the emotional side of deciding to adopt a dog. But what are your life plans? If you are in college, do you plan on moving back home with your parents? What is your life going to look like after college? 10-hour workdays? Going out with friends every night after work?

Do you see getting married and having kids in the next 10 or so years? Just because you have a new baby, doesn’t mean you can get rid of your dog. Make sure you find a family-friendly dog even if you don’t have kids yet.

8. Renting and having a dog

If you are renting your home, does your landlord allow dogs? Are there any breed or size restrictions? Even if you adopt a mixed breed, some landlords will discriminate against any dog that looks like a pit bull or bully breed. 

Check to see if there are extra deposit requirements and plan on not getting that deposit back. Some rentals will charge an extra monthly fee too.

Also, think about if moving is in your future. It’s harder to find rentals that allow dogs, so you will need to plan accordingly.

From rescue to home your survival checklist contents

9. Dogs are expensive

Can you afford a dog? I’m not talking just adoption fees. Even if you find a dog for “free”, you will have to pay for food, supplies, medications, vet bills, training and so much more. 

There are so many hidden costs of owning a dog. Some of our extra expenses have been a bigger SUV, agility classes, extra carpets, special cleaning products, dog massage therapy, baby gates, extra crates, allergy medication, dog playpens, and cargo liners for our cars.

📖 READ: How much does a dog cost per month?

10. You will need to be patient

One of the most important things to consider is that rescue dogs need time to adjust to their new life. Don’t expect to bring home a dog that has been tossed from home to shelter to home to immediately be your best friend.

If you join our Facebook group and read the comments and questions for the community you will see many people struggling with their dog transitioning to a new home.

Plan on at least three months before the dog relaxes and trusts you. Not all dogs will need this much time, and many dogs need six months or even a year before they become comfortable and trusting. 

📖 READ: Bringing Home a Rescue Dog and the 3-3-3 Rule

11. Energy level matters

Why do you want a dog? Are you looking for a high-energy dog to take with you on long walks, running, or hiking? Or maybe a low-energy dog that is willing to plop down on the couch after a long day at work. Or somewhere in between. Think about what activity level fits your lifestyle. 

Different breeds have different temperaments and exercise needs. Do a little research before falling in love with that adorable-looking face.

For my family, we have found that Labrador retrievers are the best dogs for our lifestyle. They are energetic yet can curl up next to you at the end of the day. Labs are so popular for families, but it’s also important to realize that yes, they are great dogs… they do require a lot of exercise. Oh, and they shed like crazy!

📖 READ: How to personality test a new puppy before adopting him.

young brown puppy laying on carpet

12. Puppies aren’t always better

As a rescue volunteer, I perform home visits, and more than half of the people I interview say they want a puppy. But I’m here to tell you puppies aren’t always the best option.

Let’s quickly compare your options for adopting a puppy vs. a young dog vs. a senior dog. 

Puppies require a lot of work when it comes to potty training and obedience. They need to be let outside a lot! They chew everything and they have baby shark teeth that hurt. It’s also very difficult to predict how big a puppy will get without knowing its inherited traits.

There are a lot of benefits to adopting a young adult dog (1-6 years old). They are usually already potty and sometimes obedience trained. No surprises on how big they’ll get and their personality is usually more apparent as they age. This is a great option if you still want a lot of energy in your dog and are willing to exercise and train as needed.

Senior dogs have so many benefits, they are usually already potty and obedience trained and require less exercise. And best of all they can slide right into our busy lives.

📖 READ: Pros and cons of adopting an older or senior dog

13. Dogs are very social animals

Dogs are social animals, they want to be with you. This doesn’t mean you have to be together 24/7 but plan on walking and feeding your dog before going to work. And when you come home, plan on your dog wanting to eat and play with you for the rest of the evening.

Young puppies need to be let outside every few hours, can you be home to do this? Even older dogs need to go outside every 8 hours or so. If you work long hours, who will let your dog outside? Dog walkers are a great option but can be expensive.

14. Dogs will find trouble

Even if you adopt an adult dog, puppy-proofing your house is a must. Cords, medicines, chocolate, and plants, all can be deadly in the wrong situation. Check your house, crawl on your hands and knees and what do you see?

A bored dog will self-entertain and that usually results in doing something they shouldn’t. First, make sure your dog is getting enough physical and mental exercise. But for safety, I recommend using baby gates or a playpen when you can’t watch your new dog. You will be able to give them more freedom as they adjust to your loving home.

📖 READ: Puppy Proofing Checklist

15. Rescue dogs do come with baggage

Some rescue dogs have separation anxiety, resource guarding, and potty accidents… but these same issues can occur in a puppy purchased from a breeder.

The most common struggle that new dog owners face is helping their dogs not be so afraid. Some of these dogs have had a rough past life with their previous owner and need extra time to learn to trust again. 

You may need to seek professional help from a dog behaviorist. This can cost you hundreds and even thousands of dollars. 

So the short story is, don’t expect your new rescue dog to be perfect. Be prepared for the dog’s behavior to evolve over the first few months in your home. And understand that health issues can crop up that need veterinary care. 

📖 READ: 

How to Temperament Test a Dog Before You Adopt - Taking the dog for a walk

16. Walking your dog is a requirement

Most dogs need a daily walk, even if you have a yard they can play in. Dogs need to get outside of the confinement of your house and backyard. 

Every dog has different exercise requirements but be prepared to take at least a 30-60-minute walk every day.

This is a great way to get outside with the family too! Taking long walks together will help strengthen the family bond with the dog.

📖 READ: How often you should walk your dog and why.

17. Training a dog is a daily, lifetime commitment

A lot of people who get a dog have an idea of how they want that dog to behave. TV shows and movies put this picture-perfect dog in our heads, a dog that runs around off-leash comes when called, and never gets into trouble! But the fact is those TV dogs have been through countless hours of training and of course, the beauty of editing doesn’t hurt. 

Training your dog is NOT an option. Dogs aren’t born to understand humans, it’s our duty as dog parents to train our dogs to understand us.

So please don’t expect to adopt a dog, walk through your front door, and be perfectly behaved. This doesn’t mean you have to attend expensive puppy classes. You may decide training your dog at home is a better fit. 

Keep in mind that training doesn’t stop after a 6-week class. Training occurs all day every day, with every action you take. 

📖 READ: How to train your dog in just 3 minutes a day.

18. Hair, nails, teeth, oh my!

All dogs need some grooming. Brushing their coat, bathing, trimming their nails, brushing their teeth, and cleaning their ears.

Trimming a dog’s nails is usually the most challenging necessity. So many people struggle with nail trimming, myself included. We have one dog that doesn’t care and another dog that would rather die than have her nails trimmed!

Of course, you could always take your dog to the groomer. But in my opinion, unless you have a dog that needs special grooming skills, you should save your money and use this time to bond with your dog. 

📖 READ: 

19. Dog hair will become an accessory

Yup. Dog hair everywhere. On your clothes, on your floor, couch, bed, food, and in your car. If you are a clean freak, a dog may not be the best choice.

I swear I can spend hours cleaning and the dogs walk across the floor and I wonder why I just cleaned. But I love them despite the balls of fur rolling across the floor.

📖 READ: 21 Proven Methods to Remove Pet Odor From Your Home

shelter dog standing in the grass

20. Say goodbye to your lush green lawn

If you cherish your lush green lawn be prepared to have your dog redecorate your backyard with brown patches and maybe even add a new hole here and there.  

And go ahead and cancel the lawn service. You will need to be extra careful not to spray chemicals to kill weeds. Some companies claim they are pet safe… but do you want your dog eating those chemicals? Dogs eat grass, and they walk in the grass, come inside, and lick their paws. I have a long story to share about my Ginger’s paws, email me if you want to hear it. 

📖 READ: 5 Simple Ways to Stop Your Dog’s Pee from Killing Your Grass

21. There is no such thing as a perfect dog

If you think by adopting a dog you’ll end up with a dog like in Lassie, then you are in a rude awakening. 

Dogs aren’t perfect, just humans. We all have our faults. Your adopted dog may have potty accidents, chew your shoes, or have separation anxiety. These behavior issues come with any dog you bring home.

You will need to be open to the fact your dog will take 3 months, 6 months, or even a year before they learn to be a dog again. 

A few questions to ask yourself: Do I have the patience to give a dog the space they need to decompress even if it takes several months? Can I love a dog that is afraid of me? Am I willing to train a dog even when I don’t have time? Can I afford a professional dog trainer or behaviorist to help me? Can I deal with dog hair everywhere?

22. A new best friend

There’s no denying it, dogs are our best friends. They have a way of stealing our hearts in a blink of an eye. They love us unconditionally, will listen to your complaints about your bad day, lower your heart rate, lick your face, and curl up next to you when you aren’t feeling well.

While adopting a dog is a long-term commitment, you will eventually have to say goodbye. Dogs don’t live nearly long enough. It is the hardest part of adopting a dog.

From rescue to home your survival checklist contents

In Conclusion

Remember, adopting a dog is an emotional decision and you don’t always get the dog you thought you were getting.

All family members need to be on the same page. The adoption process can be frustrating and not all rescues and shelters are reputable.

Rescue dogs come with some baggage, and your life will change forever, as dogs can live 10-20 years.

Renting when having a dog can get complicated. Dogs are expensive. And you will need to be patient.

When choosing a dog, energy level matters, and puppies aren’t always better. Dogs are very social animals and they will find trouble if you don’t give them the physical and mental exercise they need.

Walking, training, and grooming your dog are all part of owning a dog. Dog hair will become part of your life, and your yard may never look the same again. And although there is no such thing as a perfect dog, you will be gaining a new best friend for life.

You can avoid many of the surprises and mistakes by being prepared before giving a dog a second chance at life. And for that, you are in the right place. Rescue Dogs 101 has all of the resources you need to help you in your journey of adopting and raising a rescue dog. 

Getting a dog is a lot like having kids. Dogs need YOU. You give them everything they need, and they will repay you with all the love in the world. Make sure you are ready to make a long-term commitment to your new family member. It isn’t fair to any dog to be bounced from home to home. With that said, there are times when things don’t work out as planned and the dog is better off in a different home environment.

What’s Next?

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. Recently, we moved to a bigger house with a large yard, and we think it's a perfect place to have a puppy. We'd like to adopt a puppy soon, but first, we'll read your post carefully to ensure we'll take the right decision. Thanks for explaining how much money we'll need to adapt and keep a dog happy and healthy.

  2. There are a lot of things to think about before adopting a dog, but one of the most important things to consider is whether or not you have the time and energy to commit to a new furry friend. Dogs require a lot of care and attention, and if you're not prepared to give them the time and attention they need, it's not fair to them.

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