Successfully Adopting a Dog, Part 1: Establishing Adoption Criteria

So, you’re thinking about adopting a dog. wonderful! Your entire future with your future new dog is right in front of you, and anything is possible. Dreams of agility, rally, obedience, stunts, and/or nose drills may be dancing in your head, or perhaps a leisurely walk in a nearby park, snuggling in front of the fireplace on a cold winter night. Maybe you want to give back to the community with the warm comfort of a therapy dog. Maybe you’re looking for a friend for your child.

No matter your reason for adoption, with so many dogs looking for their forever humans, how does a dog lover know which one is best for her family? While it’s not easy to sort through all of your adoption options, and there’s no guarantee you’ll end up with the perfect dog, there are steps you can take to help you make an informed, informed choice and increase your odds of finding the adoption dog you’re hoping for. dog.

What kind of dog do you want?

First, get the family together to discuss what kind of dog you want. If you live alone, discuss this with yourself. Some things to consider:


Purebred? Mixed race? Don’t care? Today, more and more shows are opening up to mixed breeds, so the desire to compete no longer limits you to purebred dogs. I own and love purebred and mixed breeds. While purebred dogs may be more predictable in terms of size and behavioral tendencies, there are no guarantees. I know several dog training professionals who got purebred puppies from reputable breeders and still had severe behavioral issues. Some of my mutts are the best dogs ever.

(notes: If you decide to purchase a puppy from a breeder, the process will be very different from the one described below. A good breeder will guide you in your selection. Just be sure to avoid puppies that seem scared and/or poorly socialized. )


Even if you don’t like a specific breed, size matters. I have always been a “big dog” person – until we adopted our first Pomeranian. Now I am obsessed with both small and large dogs. Toy-sized dogs may be too fragile for some small children and may become aggressive to protect themselves from unpredictable toddler behavior. Large dogs can be a danger to small children, especially active large dogs who can easily knock over a small human. A child’s bite from a large dog can be much more serious than a bite from a small dog. Small dogs can get underfoot, while larger dogs can counter-surf more easily.


There is no denying that long-haired dogs are very beautiful. However, most coats need work—some a lot of work. Do you have time to do a lot of touch-ups? Do you still want it? A professional groomer is an additional pet care expense that you need to factor into your budget. Don’t expect children to commit to doing all the brushing; this can be a source of stress, and it’s unfair to the dog to neglect grooming just because children are supposed to do it. Both long-haired and short-haired dogs can shed.


Do you care about color? Maybe you don’t know, but maybe someone else in the family does. There’s one more thing to figure out before venturing out to meet the dogs.


puppy? teenager? aldult? Advanced? Puppies are adorable and can be rare, especially if you have small children at home. (I always tell clients, “I’m a dog training/behavior expert, I don’t adopt puppies!”)

My favorite age is six months to one year old – old enough to get through the worst of the puppy years, but still young enough to be a relatively clean one with many years to look forward to spending together. That said, one of the cutest dogs I’ve ever adopted was an eight-year-old rough collie. Deciding in advance what age you will consider can help prevent impulsive adoption.


calm? high energy? Snugglers? independent? bold? cautious? It helps to have a mental picture of your ideal temperament.


I respect and admire those who adopt dogs with serious health or behavioral issues, but I encourage clients to look for dogs that are physically and behaviorally healthy.

It’s easy to feel sorry for someone who is hurt and frightened, but people should realize that they may require a significant investment of time, energy, and finances but may still never become the satisfying partner you hoped for. If you do decide to get a “project dog,” be fully aware that you could be in big trouble. It’s important that your new family member doesn’t become a source of tension, so the more agreement you have in advance, the better.

When you’re inundated with all the pleading looks at the shelter, thinking about these qualities in advance can again help you make an informed choice.

Make a list of your dog’s standards

Now is the time to collect your thoughts and identify the qualities you want to find in your new canine family member, and the qualities you don’t want to deal with. Write your likes and dislikes in the fields titled these categories:

  • Must have
  • want to have
  • OK
  • Would rather not
  • Absolutely not

Take this list with you when you go to meet your adoption prospect. You don’t have to strictly adhere to all of these, but if you’re tempted by a dog that has few of the “must have” traits for your family and many that you “don’t like,” then at least you’ll ask Remember, you are making a conscious choice to step outside the boundaries you have drawn. Additionally, this checklist may be useful if you need to remind other family members that they agree to certain standards (no puppies, no dogs over 50 pounds, etc.).

Best Dog Adoption Sources

As you consider the characteristics you want in your next dog, start doing your homework and understanding your potential adoptee pool. Is your local shelter reputable? Are veterinarians seeing a lot of health issues from some of the rescues or shelters in your area? If you’re looking beyond your immediate area, you need to be willing to travel. always Meet your potential new family members in person before agreeing to adopt.

Good options for where to source your next dog are:

Reputable shelter

There are all kinds of shelters, some good and some bad. Visit people in your area. Avoid adopting from a shelter that is overcrowded, dirty, or has unfriendly staff. Ask if they have an adoption counselor to help you make your choice. Good shelters will insist on all family members meeting potential dog adopters and may also insist on a meet and greet with the existing dogs in your home.

Reputable rescue organization

There are many excellent rescue groups from which you can adopt your canine companion. Ask your local animal control agency and veterinarian if the organization is reputable; both may interact with local rescuers and rescue animals. It’s best to check with online sites such as and to confirm whether an organization is a legitimate 501(c)3 nonprofit.

A good rescue should be able to provide veterinary and vaccination records for its wards. Ask for references from previous owners or adopters and give them a call. Visit a dog shelter. If you encounter red flags, such as reluctance to answer questions, trust your instincts.

responsible breeder

A good breeder will screen you as carefully as you want to screen them. They will have complete health records of all puppies and will not object to you visiting the puppy’s living area and meeting mom and dad (if he is present). They do a lot of the basic socialization (ask them!). If the puppy is not intended to be shown or bred, they may sign a contract that includes a spay/neuter requirement and a commitment to bring the dog back at any time during its lifetime if necessary.

A breeder who sells puppies to anyone with a purchase price is not a responsible breeder.

pet adoption website

There are many websites that serve as clearinghouses for shelters and rescue groups, listing various breeds and mixes of dogs from across the country (and some in Canada). The most well-known are, and

friends or family. Sometimes, sadly, one must give up a dog for the right reasons. If a dog can be placed in a new home without having to go through the stress of being in a shelter or rescue, and the new owner can communicate directly with the previous owner about the dog’s behavior and health history, this is a major advantage for everyone involved.

Pet Adoption Sources to Avoid at All Costs

pet shop

Never. No matter what store employees tell you, no responsible breeder will sell a puppy to a pet store. If you purchase a puppy from a pet store, there is no doubt that you are purchasing a puppy mill puppy. No. Do. it.

(notes: This is different than adopting from a non-profit organization that holds adoption events at a pet store. This is acceptable. )


There are many scammers on Enough said.


Hoarders and notorious rescuers are notorious for agreeing to meet you somewhere halfway to “save you the hassle of a long drive.” If you are not allowed to see the living conditions of a potential adoptee, then the situation is most likely not a good one.

dog agent

Many people don’t realize this is a “thing” – trust me, it is. Dog brokers collect dogs and puppies from shelters, rescue groups, puppy mills, online ads, etc. and then sell them for a profit. Considering these dogs are more likely to be well treated, accurately represented, and carefully placed with screened homes (with lower adoption fees) from the time they first enter a shelter or rescue center, this is It is unreasonable for them to pay broker fees.

Dog brokers often advertise various dogs on their websites that they do not actually own. When you express interest in a dog, they might say, “Oh, she just got adopted, but I can find you another dog of (insert breed of your choice) and get back to you.” And then they’ll Search all resources to find one and contact you. Or, they may simply come across a dog that looks similar and try to pass it off as the dog you see in the photo.

Disreputable shelters, rescue groups, breeders, hoarders, etc.

It may be tempting to rescue a dog from distress; please note that any support provided to these organizations helps keep their efforts alive.

OK! Is your new dog standard set and ready? See Part 2 of this article to learn everything you need to do once you arrive at the shelter. Now go out and meet some dogs!