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How to Adopt a Dog: Step-by-Step Guide to Bringing Home a New Pup

How to Adopt a Dog: Step-by-Step Guide to Bringing Home a New Pup

The relationship between a dog and its owner is very special. And it’s hard to beat the love and devotion of an adopted pup. While you can purchase a dog from a pet store or breeder, adoption is a unique opportunity to give a previously unwanted pet a forever home. But knowing how to adopt a dog requires some tips.

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about dog adoption. 

Is It Better to Adopt or Buy a Dog?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. In some cases, such as for breeding, competition, finding a hypoallergenic dog, or other situations, owners may want to pick a purebred dog so they are sure of their lineage. In these cases, ensuring the humane breeding and raising of a dog is vital. 

a woman hugging a golden retriever
Adopting a pet is a win-win for your and the dog.

But for other would-be dog parents, adopting may be the way to go. It helps give a needy pup a loving home. And it frees up shelter space and resources to help other dogs in need. It also decreases demand for unsavory “puppy mills” that churn out poorly raised dogs bred in often dangerous and inhumane conditions. 

Often, there are breed-specific rescues that rehome purebred dogs. So, if you’re looking for that French bulldog or even a rarer long-haired Weimeraner, you may still be able to adopt rather than shop.

Plus, adopting is generally cheaper than purchasing purebred dogs. Better yet, shelters often waive adoption fees during special events or for specific dogs. 

Where Do You Go to Adopt a Dog? 

The good news is that there’s no shortage of places with dogs ready for you to adopt. First, check with local animal shelters, which are generally the easiest and best resources. Various websites and national organizations also offer online adoption listings and services. 

You may also consider joining Facebook groups for certain dog breeds. There may be adoption opportunities that arise through group members. In addition, you may find insight on how to adopt a dog in your area.

pet adoption day at dog shelter
Look for local shelter dog adoption events.

How to Adopt a Dog

The process of how to adopt a dog isn’t always as simple as walking in and pointing to the one you want. However, it’s relatively straightforward for most would-be owners. Here are some of the most common steps. 

Age Requirements of Pet Parents

Generally, all shelters require you to be 18 years old or older to adopt a dog. However, some organizations may raise this age limit to 21 or higher. Whether it’s fair or not, these groups have concluded the extra years lead to better outcomes for both pets and new owners. Keep in mind that some shelters may also have age requirements for children and will be reluctant to allow adoptions to homes with infants or toddlers.

Fenced in Back Yard Requirement

In some cases, shelters will want to know you have adequately secured outdoor space for your future pup to play, exercise, and do their business. Don’t take it personally – it isn’t a judgment of your living situation or yard choices. Some dogs may simply need the space and structure of a fenced yard. 

You may be asked about a fenced-in yard during the adoption process. And some organizations will verify your setup during a home visit, which we’ll discuss later. 

Passing the Pet Adoption Interview

Many animal shelters and pet adoption organizations may have a long list of questions to see if dog adoption is right for you. Questions can range from the size of your family and home to your experience with animals, other pets, and your plans to care for the dog. 

Shelters may even ask you who would care for the pup if something like a serious injury or death should happen to you. Other questions may include your frequency of travel or ability to provide the dog with proper medical treatment.

Home Visit 

Many pet adoption organizations will want to see the environment the dog would be living in. These can be in-person or virtual visits. They may range from a quick look around to a more detailed inspection. 

They won’t be checking how clean your home is per se, but it’s crucial to show the shelter you have a suitable home for a dog and can take care of it. In some cases, they’ll make recommendations for adjustments before the dog can come home. Knowing how to adopt a dog and prepare for their homecoming is key.


Once you’ve cleared all the required hurdles, the final thing to do is pay any adoption fees. In most local animal shelters, these can often be as low as under $100. In special circumstances like purebred or special training rescues, adoption fees can be over $1000. The fees provide the means to pay some of the many food, medical, and care costs that shelters incur before finding new adoptive dog parents. 

As mentioned before, in some cases, fees may be waived thanks to donations from individuals or groups. Or the cost may be reduced to help clear space in shelters.  

Pro Tip: Learn how to avoid pet adoption scams! Look out for these red flags.

What Is the First Thing to Do When Adopting a Dog? 

When considering how to adopt a dog, it’s vital to remember you’re choosing a new family member. That’s why you’ll need to gather information ahead of adoption. Start by visiting a local shelter and observing the dogs.

How to observe dogs in a shelter and adopt the one that’s right for you.

After your shelter visit, research the breed of the dog you’re interested in to better understand common traits. Next, ask the shelter whether the dog you want to adopt has been potty trained, how many past owners it had, and the circumstances for how it ended up at the shelter. Request all paperwork, including health history, immunization records, and any other medical information the shelter is aware of. 

The information you gather can help determine whether the dog is right for you. For example, you may learn a particular pup doesn’t play well with other animals or children. You may discover medical or other special needs you’re unprepared to handle. Or you may find an overlooked dog you’re in a unique position to help. 

The more information you have, the better for everyone involved. 

How to Prepare for Your Dog’s Homecoming

So you’ve selected your new dog, and they’re just days away from arriving at their “furever home.” Congratulations! But your job isn’t done yet. Part of knowing how to adopt a dog includes taking care of essential tasks before your new four-legged friend makes an appearance. 

Dog Proof Your Home and Create a Safe Place

If this is your first dog, chances are your home isn’t optimally set up for a four-legged resident. Go room-by-room to assess your home. Remove poisonous decorative plants or other potentially dangerous items, and consider relocating things your new dog may damage that would upset you. You should also consider potential ways your pup may try to escape and add window screens or more tightly secure doors. 

You’ll also want to create a safe place for your pup to retreat if they feel overwhelmed. Many owners use a crate or large carrier for this, or even an extra room they can go to. 

Pro Tip: They may experience some car anxiety riding home with you in the car for the first time.

a dog standing on a welcome home mat
Knowing how to adopt a dog includes preparing for your pup’s homecoming.

Stock Up on Dog Supplies

It may surprise you just how many items and accessories you’ll need for your new life as a pet parent. This includes obvious things like a collar, a leash, and food. But don’t forget about toys to help you bond with your new dog, treats, and a dog bed. 

There’s no shortage of dog supplies to make your and your dog’s lives easier and more fun. A shopping trip to your local pet store may help you discover some unexpected ones. Or spend some time browsing on an online shop like

What Is the 3-3-3 Rule for Dog Adoptions?

The process of learning how to adopt a dog and bringing it home can be a whirlwind. To stay grounded, it’s helpful to remember that most dogs are alike, and one of these ways is typically what’s known as the “3-3-3 Rule.” This rule (more of a guideline) gives new pet parents a sense of what to expect over the early days, weeks, and months after bringing their dog home. 

For the first three days in new surroundings with a new family, you can expect your pup to be fairly nervous, scared, and overwhelmed. It’s a big transition from a shelter or previous home, and they may also withdraw or not eat or drink much. Some may also act out to see what they can get away with. Don’t worry. This is normal but may be uncomfortable for all involved as you adjust. 

After three weeks with you, your not-as-new dog will start to settle into your home. With any luck, you’ll have established a routine for feeding, walks, and playtime. Many experts say this is when dogs begin to show their true personalities rather than the guarded version of the earlier days. Unfortunately, this may also be where behavior issues emerge and must be addressed as soon as possible. 

By the end of the third month, your adopted dog is officially and fully “yours.” You’ve both become comfortable around each other and have started to build a rewarding and meaningful bond. Of course, you may need to continue managing behavior or other issues lingering from its former life. Still, the hardest part is typically over. You can exhale and enjoy your new family member! 

Steps for Welcoming Your Dog Home

Once you’ve brought your pup home, it’s time to get them acquainted. This means a lot more than just letting them out to explore the house! Remember these key steps to help them settle in as easily as possible.

1. Give Your Dog a Tour of the House

Since it’s your dog’s first time at your house, give them a tour like you would with any house guest. Take them around from room to room, or at least the rooms they’re allowed in, and help them figure out the lay of the land. By keeping a careful eye on them, you may also discover some last-minute dog-proofing you might have missed. 

2. Take Your Dog Around the Yard on a Leash 

Give a tour of your outdoor space or year with your dog on a leash. Your adopted dog will likely have plenty of sniffing and exploring to take care of as they get familiar with their new area. And you can use the time as an opportunity to better observe your new dog’s behavior on a leash and outdoors. 

a person walking a canine
Give your new dog a tour of your outdoor space.

3. Start Your Dog on a Routine 

Routines are critical to helping your pup settle into life with you and its new surroundings. Figure out a feeding schedule that you can consistently and reliably meet within your schedule and life demands. The same goes for walks and bedtime. Unpredictability can wreak havoc on you and a new dog, so do your best to stick to a routine once established. 

4. Slowly Introduce Your Dog to Family and Friends

Once your pup feels more at home with you, take it as a signal to start slowly introducing your dog to the people it’ll regularly see, like your friends and family. Use caution when making initial introductions, especially if your dog is nervous or skittish. Most dogs will start to trust the people you trust over time. 

5. Address Any Behavioral Issues 

As you get to know your dog’s personality, you’ll also determine any behavioral problems that need correcting. This can include guarding behavior, jumping, damaging items, eating issues, and more. Some owners may be able to give rudimentary training, but many pups can also benefit from training schools and other professional instruction. 

Pro Tip: If you adopted an older dog, don’t worry! Old dogs CAN learn new tricks.

At What Age Are Dogs Ready to Be Adopted?

Raising a puppy requires a different skill set than a typical dog owner, which means newborn dogs need some time before they’re ready for adoption. These puppies often wait in foster care with their mother and siblings until at least eight weeks of age. Some shelters or organizations will push it as late as 12 weeks before sending them onto the adoption floor. 

However, those learning how to adopt a dog should remember there are dogs of all ages looking for their forever homes. People often overlook senior dogs because they’re concerned about their lifespan or potential medical needs. Loving an older pup can be wonderful, especially giving them a comfortable home to live out their last days.

Is Adopting a Dog Right for Me? 

As we mentioned at the outset, there are cases where purebred purchased dogs may be the right call for some owners. And to be sure, not every adoptable dog is right for every would-be pet parent. Some may require more care than owners are prepared for or simply have a personality that doesn’t fit. 

However, for most future dog owners, adoption is an excellent way to go. You’ll provide a dog with a loving home and free up shelter space and resources for other pups. It’s a win-win!

Adopting a dog can be one of the most rewarding experiences. Now that you know how to adopt a dog, consider going out to find your new furry best friend.

Are you ready to adopt a dog into your home? Drop a comment below.

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Petrics was born out of a love of helping animals and their owners live life to their fullest! Established in 2022, Petrics was founded by Caitlin and Tom Morton of Mortons on the Move, Discovery TV Show hosts and successful RV Travel Experts. They are a full-time RVing couple who loved traveling with their beloved rescue dogs. This Petrics team strives to share the most interesting questions answered, the most entertaining news and culture, and the most inspiring rescue stories. Additionally, our mission is to give back to animal welfare organizations so they can continue their good work in saving the constant stream of animals in need. In fact, 5% of all profits from Petrics are donated to animal-saving initiatives!

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