Having a four-legged best friend is incredibly rewarding, and adoption is a great way to help find a home for a dog in need. But adopting a dog is also a big responsibility, and you’ll need some additional information to find your perfect match.
“There are a few important questions you should ask the rescue or shelter before getting a dog, because at the end of the day, adopting a dog is a pretty big deal.” Sabrina KongDVM at WeLoveDoodles, says The Best Life. “You need to know you’re 100 percent prepared and have all the essentials to take good care of your new fur baby.”
There is no limit to how many questions you can ask, and in fact, Linda Simon, MVB, MRCVS, consulting vet for FiveBarks, advises you to ask as many as you need to. Adoption counselors are generally willing to provide you with the information you need, and if a shelter or re-homer isn’t willing to address your questions, that’s actually a red flag, she says.
Reputable animal shelters want to make sure they send every dog home to the right owner, so being prepared with a list of questions can make the adoption process even easier. Read on to find out what Kong, Simon and their fellow vets say you should ask before adopting a dog.
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Just like with friends and other people, we want to have a good relationship with our dogs. Just like people, dogs have unique personalities and behavioral tendencies that you’ll want to get to know.
“A dog’s personality will tell you right away if they will get along with you, your family, or any other pets you may have” Alex Crow, veterinarian with HappiestDog, explains. “Always ask the shelter what their temperament is like and try to visit the dog a few times before making a decision. [so you can] get a good idea for yourself.”
according to Georgina Ushi PhillipsShelters, who advise the DVM, veterinarian and writer for NotABully.org, will also often perform a formal behavioral assessment such as SAFER, Match-Up II, Assess-a-Pet or a special test.
“You can call the shelters you plan to visit ahead of time and find out if they use one of these programs and familiarize yourself with it before you visit,” Phillips said. “Although there are some differences, the purpose of these programs is to test the dog’s reaction in different situations.”
Some dogs are wary of strangers, and if the dog has not been in contact with children, they may be afraid when they meet them for the first time. So Phillips recommends asking the shelter how a dog interacts with children.
“Even if you don’t have children or plan to have them, this question is key to understanding how your dog will function in the world,” she explains. “Children can be unpredictable and it’s important to learn a lot about how your dog will interact with them before the interaction takes place.”
You can also ask how the dog behaves around strangers and other dogs, as this will tell you if you need to do extra work with your new pet.
“The answer to these questions will help you know if the dog needs additional training, which of course takes a lot of time and not everyone is ready for the challenge,” Kong said.
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Asking about a dog’s medical history and current condition is another important inquiry, so ask about vaccinations, allergies and whether they have been neutered.
“This is especially important when the shelter will not fund any medical care. [as] Simon explains: “For example, a dog with itchy skin can mean you have to go to the vet every few months for expensive medication. Things like this should always be discussed in detail so you know exactly what you’re getting into.”
You should ask the shelter for full medical records, as well as information on who has completed the dog’s exams and what qualifications they have.
“Not every exam will be completed by the vet—that’s okay—but you’ll want to know ahead of time,” Phillips explains. “Some conditions can have lifelong effects, and it’s important to know exactly what you’re dealing with before adopting.”
Often, dogs are placed with temporary caregivers or foster parents who provide direct care while a puppy waits for adoption. According to Kong, you’ll want to know if the dog you’re interested in is in foster care, as former foster parents can be a good point of contact.
“Shelters may use foster parents to help a dog recover from extensive surgery, to review their behavior, or simply because there isn’t enough space at the shelter,” Kong said. “In many cases, you can talk to the foster parent. Most are eager to talk about the animals they care for and are happy to answer your specific questions!”
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Unfortunately, dogs in shelters are surrendered for one reason or another. That’s not always a negative, but it’s important to know a little background, vets say.
“Some dogs had a normal, happy life, and some may have come from an abusive or neglectful home,” says Crow. The Best Life. “It’s important to know this information because it can affect how the dog reacts in certain situations.”
For example, some dogs may be surrendered if they are excessive barkers and suffer from separation anxiety, Simon says. This can be difficult if you have a busier lifestyle and spend hours away from home. Other dogs may have ended up at the shelter because the previous owner failed to train them enough, and you should ask yourself if you can take on that responsibility.
One of the advantages of adopting an older dog (or at least not a puppy) is that they have received some training, including potty training, basic commands, and socialization.
“Some dogs are older and already have a lot of exercise, while others are neglected, not potty trained or know how to behave around others,” Crow explains. “If they’re not well trained, that means you’re going to have to commit to doing it, and that can take a lot of time and energy.”
According to Crow, you need to consider your commitment levels and how much time you can realistically spend on training a new dog. If you can’t meet a particular dog’s needs, it’s not a good fit, he says.