Adopting a dog is one of the most exciting, life-altering, amazing decisions you can possibly make. There are so many dogs in shelters around the country looking for homes and so if you've made the decision to adopt, major props to you. Adopting a dog can be challenging, but also fills your life with more abundance than you can imagine.

For all the fun and joy involved in it, it's also a really big decision. Making sure you're bringing the right dog home for you and for your lifestyle is so important to setting up this relationship for success. Here are some important questions to ask the rescue or shelter before bringing a dog home, as well as the questions you shoud ask yourself before adopting to make sure your life is ready for this incredible change.

Questions to ask shelter employees and volunteers:

  • What's this dog's history? Try to gather as much information about your future dog's history as you possibly can. How did he wind up at the shelter? Was he a stray or did his previous owner turn him back in? How many different homes has he lived in? All of this information helps you better understand your new dog's behavioral and training needs and how they line up with your life.
  • Does this dog have any history of abuse? This fits squarely into the question above, but it's very important to ask this question explicitly. Abuse histories can have lingering effects on your dog's behavior or level of trust. You shouldn't write off an abused dog, but it's important to note that abused dogs need time to learn to trust again and be less fearful of humans. It will require you to create opportunities to build your dog's confidence and protect him from his fears. It will require a lot of patience and is oftentimes very worth it, but is something that should be asked about so you can set each other up for success.
  • Has she been behavior tested? And if so, how extensively? Most large shelters and rescue organizations perform basic behavior testing to assess the adoptability of the dogs they bring in. They have a big interest in bringing in dogs who will be good fits in homes because they don't want their dogs to sit by and eventually have to be put down. It's worth asking what kind of behavior testing your rescue organization has done because some shelters go so far as to determine what kind of lifestyles your dog will work best in. So if the dog you're looking at is more of a lapdog and you're looking for a running buddy, that's super important information to have upfront. Understanding the dog's sociability and independence are also big factors to consider.
  • What veterinary care has the dog gotten since arriving at the shelter and can I get a copy of those veterinary records? This one sounds obvious enough, but it's worth knowing whether or not your potential dog is up-to-date on vaccinations, deworming, etc. Oftentimes shelters and rescue organizations partner with local vets to provide a first exam within a few days of adoption at no charge to you so you can get an outside opinion and get to know your dog's medical history upfront.
  • Is she housebroken? This one's simple - you'll want to know if your new dog is housebroken, if you'll have to do the training or if they're mostly housebroken with the occasional accident.
  • What food has he been eating? Some shelters might send you home with the food your dog's been eating while in their care, but if they aren't doing that, it's important to know what they're eating so you can continue feeding that diet for another week or two after they come home with you. It's likely that you'll want to transition your dog onto a new food once they come home, but in the beginning, the easiest way to transition is to keep their diet the same for the first week or two and then gradually move onto a new food.
  • Will the shelter or rescue organization take the dog back if it doesn't work out? We know it's the absolute worst-case scenario and no one likes to even think about it, but sometimes extenuating circumstances emerge, life changes or the fit just isn't right. There might be a chance where rehoming is actually in the dog's best interest and in the interest of their wellbeing. Again, we know this is absolute worst case scenario, but knowing how to handle that situation responsibly and respectfully requires knowing what the shelter's protocol is.

Questions to ask yourself before stepping into the shelter:

  • Why do you want a dog and what kind of lifestyle are you hoping to cultivate with your dog (and new life partner)? This will inform what kind of dog you should get: a puppy, a young adult dog, an older dog, what breeds fit best in your lifestyle.
  • Who's going to care for the dog? If you're doing this alone then it's pretty obvious who is responsible for the caretaking. But if you have a roommate or partner or kids involved, it's worth discussing how (and if) you're going to split the walking, feeding, training, etc. responsibilities. It's worth level setting these things at the beginning, so that surprises or resentments don't build up later.
  • Is your budget ready for a dog? Dogs are more expensive than people often think. Between food, vet visits, dog walking, doggy daycare if you end up needing it and boarding - these costs add up. It's important to be honest with yourself about your financial situation and budget to ensure that you can provide the best possible life for your dog.
  • Are you ready for your life to change? Oftentimes people underestimate the impact of bringing a dog home. When we grew up with dogs, we oftentimes didn't share in all the responsibilities. We didn't realize how much effort and attention dogs require. When we see people out with their dogs on walks or out to brunch with their dogs, we oftentimes only see the picture perfect moments of dog ownership. It isn't all brunch and sunny walks and couch snuggles though. Your life is going to fundamentally change (for the better), but it's going to change. And making sure you're ready to say goodbye to your old life and hello to an even fuller life is a serious question to ask yourself.