Three Lessons to Consider Before Adopting a Dog

By John Woods dog trainer, author, and founder of All Things Dogs.

Few things in life are more joyful than a dog’s unconditional love. The friendship shared between human and canine is unlike any other. From daily, side-by-side walks to rollicking games of tug of war to shared quiet time in the home, the bond grows stronger with each interaction and passing day. 

If you’re considering adopting a dog, it’s important to balance the amazing joy a dog brings to a home and family with the important responsibilities of being a pet parent.

Up to 20 percent of rescue dogs adopted from shelters are returned or given away within the first six months. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month and a good time to discuss rescue dog adoption.

It’s a sad fact that in the U.S., over 3 million dogs enter shelters and rescue centers each year. No doubt, if you’re a “dog person” or “dog-parent,” you’re aware of some of the challenges facing first-time dog owners: socialization, house-breaking, training and more!

The needs of a shelter dog, no matter its age, are not much different than those of a puppy: patience, trust, and love.

To that end, I wanted to share my best advice as a dog trainer when it comes to adopting a dog.

Understand your commitments before adopting a dog

The fact that one in five rescue dogs adopted from shelters don’t last more than six months in their new family is striking.

Why is that number so high? The most common reason given by ex-dog-parents is that their current landlord or apartment won’t allow dogs — something they should’ve found out before bringing a dog home.

Beyond your landlord’s rules, it’s important, before you step foot into a rescue center, to understand your own commitments first. How much time can you spare? Are you willing to not move because of your dog? Do you have the time to exercise, train, and care for your dog?

Understand a dog’s temperament before adopting

If you pass the commitment test, you now need to match in a compatibility test.

Most shelters and rescue centers will use an “in-house matching criteria.” That is to say, they’ll try to understand if you can meet the needs of the dog — and vice versa.

This is no different than a breeder using a puppy aptitude test and a breed’s behavioral tendencies to place pups from their litters to the best-matched homes.

In your scenario, you should be your own matcher. While shelters will do the best they can using their dog-matching techniques, only you will know your lifestyle and temperament — and how a new four-legged family member may fit in.

Take some time to think about your activity levels, your social activity, and time spent away from home. They will all influence the type of dog you adopt.

Understand your responsibilities when adopting a dog

Once you are comfortable with the type of dog you wish to adopt, the final stage is to understand the responsibilities involved.

When adopting a dog, you become responsible from the moment you take your rescue dog home.

Being responsible means learning how to re-train and re-socialize your dog while re-building the trust that the dog may have lost along the way.

Even for existing dog parents, this can mean learning some new tricks to help their rescue dog becoming well-adjusted in their new family.

The average annual expenses of dog ownership are more than $1,500. You’ll be responsible for paying your dog’s veterinarian bills, as well as paying for food, grooming, walking, and any other expenses.

Are you ready to adopt a dog?

If you’re ready to learn about committing to a dog, understanding their temperament, and being wholly responsible for keeping them safe and loved, not to mention accountable for their actions, then you’re well on your way to being a responsible rescue dog parent.

Along with all the responsibility and cost that comes with your new family member, there’s also a lot of fun and companionship. And of course, unconditional love.